Indy 500, Monzanapolis and an F1 makeover – this car has a multiple history. Now the factory invites a GP driver to try it round Fiorano…
By Damien Smith
Alook of wonder has spread over the face of Marc Gené. He’s never sat in anything like this before, and the sound, a throaty 12-bore roar – that’s new, too. The oldest car he’s driven is a Jaguar E-type at the Goodwood Revival in September. And sadly, so it will remain. The Ferrari Formula 1 test driver flew in from Spain this morning especially for this, but Fiorano’s gloss-black asphalt glistens under a sheen of water. Rain stops play today.
Inside the test track’s famous Shell garage, Gené must be content to blip the single-seater’s throttle. It’s as close as he’ll get to discovering what it meant to race without seat belts, rollbars or any other form of cockpit protection. A different world, just 60 years out of arm’s reach.
Still, it was worth coming for the rest of us, to see a unique curio restored to perfection in the heart of Maranello. This is chassis number 0388, based on a 375 Grand Prix car, but intended instead for America’s greatest race. This is the grandly-titled Monoposto Corsa Indianapolis.
In March 1953 plans for a special project called ‘250 Indianapolis’ were under way. Ferrari’s Indy 500 bid in 1952 with a quartet of 375s had ended in failure, only Alberto Ascari qualifying for the race. He started 19th, but retired when a hub seized. Now, a specially modified car would be built for the new World Champion.
But 0388 never made it to the race, a cablegram from Modena informing the Indy officials that “unforeseen circumstances” had forced Ferrari to scratch its entry. Less than two months to build, test and ship the car to the US at the start of a busy racing season might have had something to do with it.
Efforts were made to save Ascari’s bid, even if it couldn’t be in a Ferrari. Ernie Ruiz offered his Travelon Trailer Special, originally meant for an injured Troy Ruttman. The reply followed 24 hours later: “Please accept my heartfelt thanks but a previous engagement with Ferrari prevents my taking part in the race. Thanks very much for your friendly and courteous offer and all consideration. Am looking forward to 1954, at Indianapolis. ASCARI”
He would never make it back to the Brickyard, although 0388 would get there – albeit briefly.
The car doesn’t exactly have a golden competition record. It was sold to North American importer Luigi Chinetti in January 1954 and subsequently featured at the New York Auto Show. In February ’55 Bob Said took it to the Daytona Speed Week, while Carroll Shelby tackled a pair of SCCA hillclimbs with the car in July 1956. It was earlier that year when 0388 made its only appearance at Indianapolis, tested by Giuseppe Farina during his ill-starred attempt to make the race.
In 1958 this curio was returned to Maranello to be modified for the curio race of the decade: the 500 Miglia di Monza – aka the Race of Two Worlds, aka ‘Monzanapolis’ – which pitched Indy and F1 stars against each other on Monza’s fearsome banked circuit. Harry Schell drove the car, now sporting the blue and white of Chinetti’s nascent North American Racing Team.
Schell and the old V12 hardly shone at Monza, Jenks dismissing the car in Motor Sport as ‘very old and scruffy’. Schell managed to finish 12th in the first heat, but failed to finish the second – ‘mechanical boredom’, reckons Jenks – and didn’t start the third. DSJ had a final barb for Schell, who didn’t seem to enjoy the experience: ‘The Indianapolis crowd have a sense of humour that’s different which makes a change. Harry Schell was bleating about the race being “stupid and silly” and a voice was heard to say: “how’d he know, he was so far behind he didn’t even see it”.’ Ouch…
The car was returned to the factory and was later rebodied by Carrozzeria Fantuzzi – in a style resembling a 1960 Dino F1 car, Ferrari’s last front-engined GP racer. Records show it was tested at Modena by Cliff Allison before departing for its new owner.
Today, it is far from scruffy, thanks to Ferrari’s Classiche division which has surely restored the car way beyond anything that can be described as its former glory. But sadly not in blue and white. The current owner ordered it in traditional red, and in the spec it left Maranello in 1960.
Recognised by Classiche and awarded Ferrari’s trademark ‘certificate of authenticity’, we can be assured this car is what it claims to be. And as an official restoration it has benefited from Ferrari’s exhaustive archive of drawings and parts records. But even with the support of the archive, there is still room for speculation: is this one of the four cars sent to Indy in 1952, then subsequently modified for Ascari’s aborted assault in ’53? There’s no proof, just the knowledge that only three of the four Indy 375s are currently accounted for.
What the records do tell us is that the car featured double Houdaille shock absorbers, unique among Ferrari single-seaters of the era. Its tubular chassis featured extra braces for the rigours of Indy, while dual pannier fuel tanks are visible on photos from the New York show in ’54, only one of which (the left) was retained for the Race of Two Worlds. Neither feature on the restored car, in keeping with its rebuild in 1960.
Records also show the car was originally supposed to feature an experimental engine that never ran in this, or any other, chassis. A V12 designated as Tipo 250 I with a displacement of 2963cc was intended, although the motor was only bench-tested in September ’53. Whatever the results of those tests, the car was sold to Chinetti with a standard 375 engine, as it has today. Thanks to the authority only Classiche can command, the engine in the restored car is stamped with a new, official number. That’s what you pay for if you go back to the factory for restoration.
Jenks showed little interest, but this extraordinary hybrid has gained in fascination with the passing of time. For Marc Gené at Fiorano, it promises an experience totally alien to his modern, high-downforce sensitivities. What a shame, then, about the rain. But perhaps it’s fitting that a new life for the Monoposto Corsa Indianapolis should get off to a non-starter, just as it did back in 1953.