Sir In reply to the letter on Special T Fords by Mr. H. F. Spong,…
Racing cars, in general, have short lives. After one or two seasons they are uncompetitive, overtaken in both senses. Today, with the expansion of the historic scene, huge numbers of them have been recommissioned and have returned to the track. But certain cars have been lucky enough to have owners who kept the faith, who continued to use them for their proper purpose even when out of fashion, and when it was hard to find a class to race in. These are the warhorses time-served, hard-raced, fixtures in the paddock, cars with glowing histories and, frequently, glowing exhausts.
David Piper is such an owner. Arguably Britain’s best-known privateer racer, successful with 908 and 917 Porsches, but more famously a favoured customer of Enzo Ferrari. A regular at races large and small for 40 years, he bought his Ferraris straight from the factory and has never stopped racing them. Perhaps his 250LM is better-known, but he reckons his 330P2 is the purer racer. Providing an important stage in the steady development of the Scuderia’s V12 sportsprototypes from 250P to the sensuous P4, the P2 arrived in 1965, and Piper bought his from Maranello towards the end of that year.
In its single season as a factory entry it had won the Monza 1000 Kilometres in the hands of Mike Parkes and Jean Guichet The same pairing also led that year’s Le Mans 24-hour race, but unfortunately 0836 spent 50 minutes in the pits changing discs all of the new P2s suffered brake problems. Despite this, the car was lying fifth in the 23rd hour when the gearbox, overstretched by being used for compensatory braking, jammed in fifth, and it retired.
As was usual for Ferrari, the factory, already evolving next season’s P3 version, arranged to sell the P2s to select privateers Luigi Chinetti, Col Ronnie Hoare, Jacques Swaters and Piper-but with slightly less sophisticated versions of the V12. Customers received twocam 4.4-litre units of 380bhp, the factory retaining the magnesium four-cam 410bhp 4-litre units to fit to the new P3. But it was nevertheless a jump on from the 250LM.
“A brilliant car,” says Piper. “Loads of torque with the bigger engine, and we could stay with a P3, except on the long straights.”
Both Hoare and Piper ordered their cars in Group 7 spec, seeing opportunities on the other side of the Atlantic in the shape of the new Can-Am series which would begin in 1966. That meant ditching the full-width ‘touring’ screen “like a sail”, Piper recalls for a cut-down version, and replacing the distinctive faired roll-hoop with simpler, tougher tubing. The mods didn’t affect the price: “I paid £6000. That was my standard price for all my Ferraris, the GT0s, the LM…” All painted, of course, in Piper’s own shade of bright green. As soon as Piper collected his new machine, he set out on a tour of duty which took him to Canada and Africa, and quiddy proved the car’s effectiveness. After a second at Ste Jovite and fifth at Mosport Park, he was asked to do the whole Can-Am series but chose instead to fly the car to Kyalami in South Africa for the Nine Hours where, co-driven by Richard Attwood, he added a fifth victory to his tally in that event. Then he loaded the car onto a scruffy Portuguese cork freighter and headed for the Grand Prix of Angola.
“Luanda was a wealthy place then, like a small version of Monte Carlo,” he recalls. “The Auto Club was almost as lavish as the RAC Club in Pall Mall, all gilt and marble. I remember watching National Service men welding down the drain-covers and building up sandbags to stop the cars flying into the foyer of the Hotel Continental.”
This was a tough event because of the intense tropical heat: “I carried a flask of iced lemon water. And I won. Very satisfying. Especially as, in those days, starting and prize money for a longer race could totalL3000. That was what kept the wheels going round. It got you to the next race.” And especially rewarding because the boat from Europe, which docked the day after Piper had arrived, disgorged from its bowels Ecurie Francorchamps Ferraris for Willy Mairesse, Lucien Bianchi and Jean Blaton to drive, a Filipinetti-entered 7-litre AC Cobraforlo Schlesser and a nimble Brabham BT8 for Denny Hulme, no less. Piper’s earlier aside to his mechanic that the race would be “a piece of cake” rebounded on him. But he still had it. And ate it.
For the following season, 1966, Piper again selected his favourite races to enter his stable for. 0836 brought him yet more South African wins — the Kyalami Nine Hours and Cape Town Three Hours — a fifth in the Scott Brown Trophy at Snetterton and a ninth in the Tourist Trophy at Oulton Park. But his favourite result was the win he secured in the Auvergne Trophy around the snaking Clermont-Ferrand circuit, backed up by Attwood taking second in Piper’s 250LM. In 1967, Piper was living in Modena: “I had a workshop near the Autodrome, and they let me test there for free.” Handy, as new FIA regulations meant altering the car to carry twin vertical luggage boxes slipped in each side of the exhausts. The car also received revised and updated bodywork with yet another windscreen, the present sleek allenclosing affair. It still carries its token baggage lockers, their drop-down bottom panels closed with self-tappers as if to drive home the tokenism of this rule.
Piper still has the old tail, as well as the original tall screen, different spoilers and the car’s original set of Dunlop-style pierced wheels, replaced by a set of the famous gold five-spoked Campagnolos when Maranello upgraded it with some of the P3 modifications. In fact, if it weren’t for the air-intakes over the rear wheels, instead of chiselled into the doors, you might think it was a P3.
The new bodywork, though, lasted only days. On the way to ship the car to Daytona, a cement lorry ran into the trailer, damaging the tail, and Piper rushed back to Modena, where Piero Drogo hastily repaired it. By catching a plane, they just made it to Daytona, only to retire with gearbox failure when lying in second place. The same fault caused another DNF at Sebring. There was drama in the Reims 12-hour PH race, where he shared the car with with Jo Siffert. While Siffert was driving and the car was leading, and with only two laps to go to the finish, a rod came out of the engine. Jabby Crombac, who was nearby, shouted to Siffert not to start another lap, and instead he pushed the P2 over the line to finish second, losing their lead to Guy Ligier and Schlesser in a 7-litre Ford MkIV. Quite an achievement, but the social side impressed too: “Afterwards Moet et Chandon threw a tremendous party at their chateau — huntsmen in red coats blowing bugles, fireworks, and Toto Roche presiding. The French really know how to throw a party. There’s no style left nowadays, except maybe at Goodwood.”
But it wasn’t only high-profile events: with racing in his blood and start money as the essential lubricant, Piper used his exotic machine in almost any race it could enter, be it at Croft or Crystal Palace (“I crashed — brake pipe broke”). He keeps notes, but his patience doesn’t run to making a full list: “I used to do about 35 races a year, you know.”
It’s here that 0836 has a brief holiday in its extensive career. With Ford overshadowing Ferrari at the Le Mans showpiece, the older prototypes had become also-rans, though Piper still sought class honours in his 250LM. But the P2 seemed redundant, and he sold it through Colin Crabbe to a Swiss collector. It sat still for a couple of years, until sentiment got the better of Piper and, in 1970, he repurchased it: “I just felt I ought to have it back — I was rather fond of it.”
He also made an approach to Enzo Ferrari for a quad-cam engine, to return the car to factory specification — and got it. He always got on well with Il Commendatore: “A real patriarch, but great fun and a good sense of humour.” Because of this mutual respect, 0836 is now the only P2 fitted with the 4litre magnesium power unit. Trouble was, at that time there were no suitable races for an old sports-racing car, no matter how significant or beautiful, so there it sat, looking gorgeous and desperate for action — until the arrival of the FIA historic championships. Now Piper was faced with a dilemma. Ferrari offered him sponsorship for 1979, but only if he repainted his green cars: ‘They thought all Ferraris should be red, whereas I liked being the odd one out. But I had to do it to get the deal.” And 0836 has been red ever since, though he would love to revert: “It’s just the cost. But we returned the LM to green fixthis year’s Le Mans event; perhaps this one will be done next year.”
While the FIA series offered some competition, Piper had a dream of a proper grid of Sixties Le Mans cars, and finally accepted that it was up to him to make it happen.
“In 1982, Mike Knight and I started the SuperSports series. At first there weren’t enough Le Mans cars so we ran with CanAms, but as more and more prototypes came out of museums, grids improved, until Charlie Agg and I agreed that he would run the Can-Ams and I the Le Mans cars.”
For a while the series supported the grands prix, allowing Piper to exercise the P2 and his other charges at Spa-Francorchamps, Osterreichring and Dallas, but before long the novelty faded for organisers.
“The money dried up,” says Piper, cutting to the quick as usual. Despite having been a professional until 1970, Piper is the archetypal privateer and laments the passing of the start money system. “It was John Webb [Brands Hatch’s supremo] who stopped paying it. First he only paid finish money, then he stopped that too. Now you have to pay them. And there are many wealthy people who didn’t have the chance to race these cars new who are prepared to do it.” During the Eighties the Oldtirner Grand Prix at the Niirburgring was drawing huge crowds, and the British were winning all the races, yet there was no equivalent here. Piper, who became FIA historic champion in 1990 with 0836, saw the potential: “I was on the BRDC board and wanted to bring a British equivalent of the °lamer GP to Silverstone.” Thus was born the Christies (later Coys) Festival, the first and biggest of the historic race meetings which have been such a popular success.
From the Eighties on, the number of historic meets expanded, and more recently the Shell Ferrari Challenge has tempted yet more Le Mans Ferraris on the track. Now there are as many suitable races for the P2 as there were in its youth, and Piper has campaigned it continuously, either driving himself or loaning it to trusted pilots. How many races? Even Piper isn’t sure: “I keep saying Ill write a book about it all, but I’m too busy keeping the cars going. I do about 10 races a year, and if the 512s fall off, I’m usually on the podium with the P2.” In all that time, 0836 has never suffered a ‘restoration’ — it still features the extended footwell and adjustable pedal-box demanded by Parkes’ lanky frame — instead merely the ongoing maintenance of a racing car, carried out by Piper’s own two-man team in his packed workshop.
There’s barely any room between his 330P, the famous 250LM (its engine removed for overhaul ready for January’s Kyalami race) and the P2 we have come to see. Behind another door, four wheels showing beneath a blanket turn out to be attached to the wonderful Matra MS650. Resting on top of the Matra is a spare, fibreglass tail for the LM, which is fitted if the team consider a race to contain a high risk of contact. On the high-lift ramp above is yet another Ferrari, the green 365P. Rows of trophies crowd the shelves, not on display, merely stored here along with lamps and coils and bearings. Outside, cars clearly come first: where once there might have been flower borders or lawns, there’s concrete, transporters and trailers. The P2 has just been rolled out of its trailer, after returning from Mugello where John
Lewis finished fifth in it and won his class. From a distance it gleams; closer up it shows all the signs of hard work. There’s race dirt on the Campagnolos, scrapes on the corners. In the cockpit the chassis tubes are polished with wear, the wheel’s leather rim scuffed. There are no scrutineers’ tags from its days as a factory entry, or even from the scores of races it’s done since — they are stripped off ready for each new race.
Under the skin it’s conventional Sixties Ferrari: tubular frame, wishbones up front, trailing arms behind. The row of paired Weber carb intakes dominate the engine, like the missile silos on a nuclear submarine, and the block is enmeshed in cables for the twinplug, twin-distributor ignition.
For simpler access the clutch is on the tail of the gearbox. Piper’s own mods are few: a Gurney flap, some air trunking to the rear discs, a forward intake to improve demisting. It’s not bulled up; it’s just a well-used 35-yearold racing car.
I spot black rubber scuff marks and dented aluminium. Evidence of hard racing? “No, someone ran into the trailer on the way back.” Sometimes history repeats itself.
Sir In reply to the letter on Special T Fords by Mr. H. F. Spong,…
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