The Ferrari 312P

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When the Le Mans organisers and the C.S.I. brought about the ill-conceived and hurriedly perpetrated limitation of 3-litres engine capacity to the Group 6 Sports-Prototype cars, Enzo Ferrari showed his distaste for the whole nasty affair by saying he would withdraw from Group 6 racing for 1968. This he did, and all the classic long-distance races, from the Daytona-24-hour race to the Le Mans 24-hour, were run without any works Ferraris. This complete abstention surprised a lot of people, many feeling that Ferrari would boycott Le Mans and events like Sebring or Watkins Glen, but relent when it came to nearby events like the Monza 1,000 kilometres, the Targa Florio or the Nurburgring 1,000 kilometres. However, he stuck to his word and no works Ferrari Prototypes appeared anywhere. Now he has returned to long-distance racing and the 1969 car will undoubtedly appear in all the important events this year.

This 3-litre Prototype is virtually a Grand Prix car with all enveloping bodywork and a slightly offset driving position. The 3-litre Prototype limit means he can use the latest development of his V12-cylinder Grand Prix engine, as well as the transmission, suspension, wheels and all the mechanical details. The new rules for Group 6 that no longer demand a full-size windscreen, a spare wheel or any luggage space, mean that a 3-litre Prototype can be very similar to a Grand Prix car. The absurdity of the present situation is that Formula One or Grand Prix rules forbid the use of all-enveloping bodywork, but by moving the driving seat slightly to one side and calling the car a Sports-Prototype you can fit an open cockpit all-enveloping body with no restrictions on streamlining. The new windscreen rules do not encourage closed bodywork and the new Ferrari 312P has solid covers over the whole of the cockpit, leaving only the driver’s head exposed. For years the designers of sports cars or sports-prototypes have skated round the rules and managed to get “thinly-disguised Grand Prix cars” in sports-car races, cars like the 2.9-litre and 3.8-litre Monoposto Alfa Romeos in the Mille Miglia of the mid-thirties, the 4½-litre Lago-Talbots of 1950/51 at Le Mans, the 300SLR Mercedes-Benz, or the 2½-litre Cooper-Climax all being classic examples. All the time the C.S.I. tried to think up legislation to ban these “thinly disguised Grand Prix cars”, and now they have produced rules which encourage them. With Ferrari leading the way, the Ford-Cosworth V8 of Alan Mann, the Matra V12 and the Alpine-Renault V8 following closely, together with new cars like the Mirage-B.R.M. V12 and the 3-litre Alfa Romeo, and no doubt some new cars using the 3-litre Cosworth V8 engine, sports-car racing is going to be very interesting and exciting and we are going to have some long-distance Grand Prix car events. I feel sure it was not what the C.S.I. intended, but it is too late now.

The Ferrari 312P, standing for 3-litre 12-cylinder Prototype, has a 60-degree vee engine with four valves per cylinder and a bore and stroke of 77 x 53.5 mm., giving a claimed 420 b.h.p. at 9.800 r.p.m. on an 11-to-1 compression ratio using Lucas fuel-injectors. The engine is coupled directly to the 5-speed and reverse gearbox and the car runs on 15-in. cast alloy wheels.—D. S. J.

Specification

Name : Ferrari 312P.
Type : Sports-Prototype Group 6.
Seats : Two.
Engine : Mounted amidships.
Fuel : Shell 98/100.
Oil : Shell 20W 50S.C.
Cylinders : 12 in vee at 60 degrees.
No. of valves : 48.
Bore and stroke : 77 x 53.5 mm.
Capacity : 2,989.556 c.c.
Compression : 11 to 1.
Engine speed : 9,800 r.p.m.
Horsepower : 420 b.h.p.
Fuel injection : Lucas indirect system.
Sparking plugs : Marelli 10mm.
Ignition : Marelli.
Transmission : 5-speed and reverse.
Suspension : Independent to all four wheels. Coil-spring/damper units.
Wheelbase : 2,370 mm.
Track : Front : 1,465 mm. Rear, 1,500 mm.
Height : 890 mm.
Weight : 680 kilogrammes.
Tyres : Firestone 4•75/10.30 x 15 in. front, 6.00/13.50 x 15 in. rear.