The Mercedes-Benz Parts Centre at Hayes
I have seen some very impressive spare-parts depots in my time but the one opened…
”. . . as the solid pack of big sports cars thundered away towards Curva Grande it made Grand Prix racing seem a bit tame.” MOTOR SPORT, June 1970, Monza, Northern Italy.
THE quote belongs to D.S.J. of course, but it seemed particularly apt to sum up the sheer vitality of a 1969-built Ferrari 512S that I was recently privileged to drive at Goodwood. Some 12 years after this magnificent machine first appeared, part of a series built by Ferrari for Group 5 World Championship sports car racing against the Porsche 917, I found none of the enthusiasm for such a 5-litre V12 racing sports car had diminished. One hardened eighties Grand Prix photographer summing it up beautifully by saying; “look no Turbo — and suspension movement: a real racing car!”
The best stories always happen with a degree of luck, and mine was phenomenal the Friday that Modena Engineering had picked for their annual Sussex test day at Goodwood. Now the motoring equivalent of a members social outing in the horse racing World, the Modena day had been signalled for me by an increasing awareness that this was one day that couldn’t be missed for fun and Ferraris. Originally, a Le Mans-bodied 512 BB had been my steed for the day, but when the oil cooler went on this vehicle, which I had felt would be something of an ultimate tuning test, Pink Floyd drummer and Morntane Racing Ltd proprietor Nick Mason turned up trumps with a vengeance.
Instead of the usual, “I’m sorry it’s broken; go away,” reply to my enquiry after the BB512’s location, l was greeted with, “do you think you’d mind driving the 512S instead?” Mind! I was overwhelmed. Gentlemen do not discuss these things, but plebeian journalists such as myself know that such a vehicle is worth the thick end of £100,000 these days. Even that pales beside the fact that Ferrari built these 5-litre machines in such limited quantity (25 were demanded by the regulations: some experts estimate 30 or so were actually made) that each one is likely to have an interesting history, besides being the summit of Ferrari sports car racing power in Europe. This prior to the 3-litre flat 12 (312P) which won them their last sports car World title in 1972. In 1973 Ferrari were beaten by Matra and withdrew, concentrating on GP racing ever since, though persistent rumours say we will have Ferrari back in sports car racing before the close of the 1982 season.
I seized the opportunity of driving the car, but I should make it clear that appearing in these pages does not make it an authenticated historic car. I drove it simply for the experience and I think Nick Mason owns it purely for the pleasure it gives, which is why some details have been altered to enhance such pleasure, rather than preserved in the name of history, which was impossible in this case. This is a working vehicle: two days after I drove it Mason appeared with it at Donington, racing under that often lucky number 7, when it won the Atlantic Computer Ferrari Challenge at an average of 79.97 m.p.h. with a new record lap for the category that averaged 85 m.p.h. (1m 22.9s). Not once was the subject of it racing so soon after my test mentioned, and two separate sorties on to the moderately crowded Goodwood circuit were permitted.
A fiery history would be a popular press verdict on this Ferrari red Spyder presented before the marquee at the Sussex circuit. Working with Doug Nye’s factory Ferrari listings and contemporary MOTOR SPORT reports, we established that chassis 1026 had raced both in closed (Berlinetta) and open (Spider) trim, the car presented in very suitable topless form for the hot June test day.
If anything, Mason is modest about the chassis plate’s history. The original chassis is only claimed to have covered four world championship events, but the factory list pinpoints a fifth. Built in 1969 the original listing began: Jan. 31st and Feb. 1st 1970: Daytona 24 hours, 34rd overall. In this event Ickx replaced Merzario in the car (race number 28) to team up with Andretti, but they still lost their safe second place with welding stops to locate the rear suspension, giving best to Porsche. March 21st, 1970 and the 512 S appeared as Berlinetta for Giunti and Vaccarella in the Sebring 12 hours. When Andretti suffered gearbox failure in his pole position-winning Spider (race numbered 19) he transferred into Chassis 1026 (carrying 21) and completed Ferrari’s only 1970 win in the World Championship. They covered 1,289.6 miles at an average 107.03 m.p.h., beating the surprisingly effective Steve McQueen / Peter Revson Porsche 308 combination by 22 seconds. Next date in chassis 1026 history was April 25th at Monza, where the factory lists it as a Spider and contemporary journalism as a closed Berlinetta coupe, but both agree it was for Amon and Merzario to finish fourth: in fact Chris Amon took over the second placed Ferrari in the closing stages. In MOTOR SPORT’s colour section for Monza the original Amon 512, wearing number 1, looks to have a roof.
Finally in the Morntame record there is the listing for Le Mans of 1970, Bell and Peterson withdrawing after 4 hours as Bell was included in that expensive 512 rain pile up of that year which eliminated the bulk of Ferrari factory 512s. At that 1970 Le Mans, 11 examples of 512 were entered, four of them factory entries.
However the works history also lists chassis 1026 as having competed in the Spa 1,000 kms. of 1970 (May 17th, nearly a month before Le Mans 1970) where it qualified fifth fastest and finished fourth, wearing race number 7 in an event dominated by the 160 m.p.h. plus pace of the now 5-litre JW Porsche 917s. The drivers on the latter occasion were Giunti and Vaccarella.
An honourable history, but much of the car was wiped out in its next assignment. Solar Productions and Steve McQueen acquired the works machine for filming the epic Le Mans. Once again Derek Bell ran out of Le Mans luck and the car, not for the first time according to my less than perfect research, was engulfed in flames. The fire, which had been intended for confinement within the cockpit, spread totally out of control and original machine was gutted.
At this point the car disappears from view in the custody of a Frenchman who eventually brought it to Britain for a rebuild. Nick Mason tells us, “upon seeing the estimate, he was given oxygen and fled back to France in an ambulance”.
Enter Bob Houghton. A former employee of Graypaul Motors — and very well aware of the debt in experience gathered at that employment — Bob Houghton moved on to be a partner of Vic Norman’s in Rosso, the restoration specialists, before setting up on his own six months ago. Working from premises at 30a Elliott Road, Lovelane Industrial Estate, Cirencester, Bob has been involved with this 512S throughout its British restoration and subsequent racing career in the hands of Mason. Since almost every Ferrari seems to now wear the tag ex-N. Mason it seems worth recording the fact that said quiet rock star is a director of Modena Engineering and that he actually owns, “5 ½ Ferraris! I share the BB 512 Le Mans with Steve O’Rourke”, he told us before declaring sole ownership of a very pretty Dino 206 racer that also appeared at Goodwood; then there is the GTO that C.R. once drove for this magazine (250 GTO); a fairly recently arrived Daytona that once belonged to J. Ickx and the 512S. As he is not the boasting type he didn’t add that there are now close to 30 cars in his personal armoury, including a D-type, the Monte Carlo-winning Tyrrell and many more. . . .
Bob Houghton described the restoration in these terms, “the chassis work from a basket of bits was started at Graypaul and followed we after a month or so to Rosso. We had to use a jig to square it up and there were a few repairs to make, but it is the original tube and aluminium mixture. The body was new: we had a 512 tail section, but we had to mould a new nose. That windscreen doesn’t quite fit because it is intended for the later M and the headlamps are Lucas instead of Marchal, but the inner Carello lamps are right.
“The suspension is fabricated from a T45 steel and it was really just a question of crack testing, just as we used for many of the engine components. We made up tie roads and fitted new rose joints and, of course, the magnesium steering each had burnt out in the fire, so that had to be replaced too.
“The braking system was just a question of getting straightforward replacements from Girling: discs, calipers and suns. As you’d expect we had to renew the master cylinders and hydraulic system too.
“I’m used to working with Ferrari engines and would say that they are usually very strong and reliable, providing you can spend the time on them. In this particular car the 48 valve motor needed about 300 hours to properly rebuild and it’s worth knowing that they are not that strong: they did have trouble with the connecting rods at 8,900 r.p.m. and more. I know one owner uses 9,500 r.p.m., but with this car we stick around 8,000 and pick an intermediate gearing that means Nick can have fun at a variety of tracks without the bother of changing ratios; that’s the difference when you are racing for fun. . .
In the same way the owner had Houghton build what amounts to a centre console to bring all the controls within carefully labelled reach and the starter is by push button rather than the original key. The seats are in blue Nomex rather than the Ferrari black with red inserts that you would have found in 1970.
Inside the engine there are a number of interesting details that were mortals don’t often hear about. Originally the cylinder liners within the aluminium alloy composite construction were of cast iron. Now they are of Chromal, as used in the 512M. The connecting rods are crack tested originals and the new pistons are by Borgo, as before. Vandervell bearings, and there are seven main bearings, are utilised as one would expect, but the back main bearing is designed to work in conjunction with the transmission arrangements and is of the Metal Indio type. The original crankshaft was used again, a magnificent piece of work that is machined from a solid steel billet with all the inherent strength you would hope for in a design intended to realise nearly 600 b.h.p. and work reliably for a 24 hour race.
Speaking of this, the fifth such 5-litre Ferrari V12 rebuild he has tackled Houghton felt, “the real problem in Ferrari work is not the engines or any other mechanical problem: it’s just getting the parts that is hard!”
While the road test Renault 5 Turbo attracted astonishing attention midst the ranks of sparkling Ferraris in the paddock, I entered the Ferrari in a manner that emphasised the feeling of sports car, rather than sports racing car. For the large red machine came complete with push button doors and interior pull cords like those of an old Mini. There was enough space to wriggle comfortably into position, whereas a modern formula car requires a great deal more skill in threading ankles and toes into the right places. The foot pedals were ideally spaced and at the right distance for the tester, the three spoke RHO steering wheel a convenient arm stretch away. I remembered Chris Craft once commenting of his Capri, after I had raced wearily around Donington in it: “if you think that’s heavy, you wait until you drive a 512 Ferrari, mate”, I was absolutely sure the experience would never come my way. Now that it had, Bob Houghton was swift to supply confirmation of that remark with the wry observation, “that’s right: they’ve got about 13 degrees of castor wound into ’em!” Incidentally Craft set this car up for Mason after the rebuild during a test session at Brands Hatch.
Thoughtfully attaching the seat belts I gazed in some awe at the instrumentation around the sparkling cockpit. Directly in front of me there was a big 0-10,000 r.p.m. tachometer with the redline indicated at 8,000 r.p.m. To my left three gauges, the first a combined fuel pressure and oil pressure dial with a vertical division and separate needles for the kg. / cm. scales. “Make sure the oil pressure is between six and nine, when you are going” Houghton advised: there was never a tremor, the needle staying stably between those two points. Next door was another combined gauge, this time with two needles reading off around the same 50 to 130°C scale, one indicating under 50 degrees for the oil most of the time and the water around 80°C. Finally there was an ammeter marked up to plus and minus 60 V.
The new centre console carried such racing sophistications as screen washers, wipers, lights and even flashing indicators! Ferrari and Porsche really had to make an identifiable two-seater sports car for the Group 5 of 1970. Reassuring one who was beginning to wonder if this was not all too comfortable and cosy were the ignition master switch with safety guard over the top and a separate master switch.
To the right of the fascia and the driver there was yet more pure racing equipment, including the high pressure electric fuel pump that has to be turned off after propelling this desirable detached property out on the circuit. The push button starter was located just above. Also on the right was found the distinct gear change gate that Ferrari provide with the layout R 2 4 / 1 3 5 and an interlock mechanism to prevent you missing out any gears on downchanges. Reverse is guarded by a small sprung bar, but willing helpers turned up instantly the engine was fired to move the car back out of the Goodwood pit lane, ready for a straight launch out to the circuit: she car was too wide to queue up behind more mundane Ferraris! Although the mood was surprisingly lighthearted (considering that a stranger was about to depart in such a powerful and expensive machine) I experienced a small insight into the way in which Mason must go racing. The laughter occasioned by driver and Mason both getting dollops of sticky new windscreen goo over their hands was suddenly stilled whilst the mirrors atop those elegant columns were accurately positioned for me. There should not have been anyone pressing me too hard on a light hearted day, especially as this must have been by far the most rapid Ferrari out on the circuit, but just in case.
Of course the warmed engine fired immediately, but there was no chance of my listening to all the mechanical threshings that give journalists such acres of prose when driving the road cars. Just glorious exhaust trumpeting as I blipped the throttle between two and three thousand r.p.m. in an effort to avoid the inevitable stall. Failure left the motor silent only for a second and there was no mistake about our forward motion as I let the clutch in gradually between the two five and three thousand marks on the tachometer.
From the data panel you will see that this astonishing machine can exceed 100 m.p.h. in second gear, given an 8,500 r.p.m. use of crankshaft revolutions. I settled for 7,000 r.p.m. to learn the gearchange and car balance. This limit still provided a solid 62 m.p.h. in first, 88 m.p.h. in second and 111 m.p.h. in third. At first that was all I could manage: just prod gingerly up the tachometer scale beyond 5,500. Which maximum torque point sees the Spider Ferrari hurtle forward at its road-going brethren with a ferocity that left we — and I expect other drivers within those Daytonas, Dixon and an unexpected number of Porsches — quite startled.
The engine is the outstanding memory for a stranger. The power is just delivered to your right foot’s command in an unremitting stream. The astonishing 5-litre 12 is capable of pulling from 4,000 r.p.m., or even 3,500 in fifth, with road-passable manners. Yet the raison d’etre, sheer blood red performance, is so exciting; so instantly delivered, that one reminds oneself constantly that emotion most not over-rule the facts. This driver probably couldn’t afford one 24 valve bank of an engine rebuild, never mind up to 300 hours expertise for a split second’s recklessness.
Yet such dismal thoughts pass only fleetingly. There is an over riding joy in just handling the car, even at these initially pedestrian (by 512S standards) speeds. The gearchange is like the clutch and steering: a heavy initial feel of precise mechanical operations going on within. Push the changes through faster and you find that even this comparatively large ZF in capable of matching the speed at which you want to move your hand. Sometimes I would lose track of which ratio I was in, simply because there is so much flexible power available in any gear! However there was little chance of doing any serious motoring in fifth, for it was barely registering interest at 4,500 r.p.m. or so when I did experiment early on with this 200 m.p.h. ratio.
As confidence grew in the braking, which actually had quite a bit of gentle weave over Goodwood’s cambers, I found my courage extended only to giving the car full fourth gear throttle along the Lavant straight (6,800 r.p.m.) or along from Madgwick to Fordwater (6,500 r.p.m.). This brought me within kissing distance of 140 m.p.h., which seemed quite fast enough as the verges roared toward an apparently 20 ft. wide Ferrari. I must say the others on the circuit gave us a suitably wide berth, some practically clambering into the shrubbery in their efforts to avoid this majestic echo of the seventies.
Steering? Initially I just thought Craft et al had been kidding. Sure, it was not featherlight Lotus in feel, but neither could it be described as requiring any muscle to gain a response. Then the temptations of accelerating hard in third from St Mary’s to the Lavant hard right brought a revelation. Arriving more rapidly than before, I turned the wheel with an urgent command. Immediately the whole car began to respond. There was enough roll for the horizon to tilt across the top of that deep, deep, screen. The engine gruffly answered the call for power, while the steering load at the rim needed trebled effort to keep the car pointing in at the apex.
I could not imagine how those Ferrari works drivers kept up the kind of wheel lifting pace that Andretti demonstrated in that beautiful MOTOR SPORT 1970 colour shot from Sebring in an open 512S. The thought that such people had raced these cars at venues like Spa-Francorchamps and Le Mans was enough to confirm in my mind that these Ferraris, although comparatively unsuccessful against the 4.5 and later 5.0 litre 917s of the era, still belong in any motor racing roll of honour.
When I brought the 512S coasting into the pits after my first outing, Nick Mason reacted in a very unexpected and generous manner. “Come on, it’s time to really enjoy yourself. Take that awful helmet off and try some real fresh air motoring. . . Borrow my open face lid and try it again.”
At first I was terrified. The engine sounded so much louder, blaring away on sections that had produced a comparative whine with a full face helmet. Reassured that the oil pressure had not even thought about wavering, much less betray Bob Houghton’s justified confidence, I motored on.
If there is a Ferrari heaven on earth I think Mr. Mason discovered it for me at “Glorious Good wood.” I know now that the word blissful refers to the trance one goes into feeding a Ferrari through Police-free curves under a sun that threatens to fry you, should one be so unwise as to ever interrupt such perfect progress. As you would expect it’s not even draughty behind such a comprehensive windscreen, but enough cool air dives in through the roof aperture to make sure all the hot air coming from the driver’s brain is simmered toward reasonable behaviour.
Finally, courtesy demanded that I take the car back. End the glorious marriage of motor racing dreams and a car worthy of recreating such long lost proper motor racing ambitions as I used to have. I am sure if any of the real Ferrari sports car drivers from that era are reading this — lckx, Amon, Andretti and Surtees amongst them — they may well snort and think: “sure it was a nice engine but that truck just wasn’t good enough to beat Porsche. It was a racing car that didn’t quite do a winning job.” Maybe they will write and tell what they remember about the 512?
On behalf of MOTOR SPORT I should simply like to close by saying a heartfelt thank you to Nick Mason and Modena for letting us loose with such a gorgeous automobile. Chasing a Ferrari 512 tachometer up through the gears, until the World outside becomes a flickering blur against a soundtrack of the best Italian V12, is an experience that is unlikely to be emulated on my personal enjoyment scale. — J.W.
SPECIFICATION: Ferrari 512S (chassis 1026)
Body: external panels in glassfibre for nose, tail and doors; aluminium M-Type airbox and laminated windscreen. Chassis from tubular steel with aluminium skin section; tubular steel engine and rea framework section.
Engine: 60° V12 of 4,994 c.c . (bore x stroke; 87 x 70 mm.) with DOHC cylinder heads, four valves per cylinder and 11.5.1 cr Lucas fuel injection, Champion 56R spark plud per cylinder, single Magneti Marelli distributor. Originally rated 550 b.h.p. @ 8,500 r.p.m with 371 lb. ft. torque @ 5,500 r.p.m. Sebring 1970: another 40 b.h.p. claimed after engine breathing modifications.
Transmission: Triple plate Bord & Beck clutch. Five speed transaxle based on Ferrari-modified ZF with interlock sequential change patter. On 26/27 final drive @ 8,500 r.p.m. limit gear speeds are: 1st, 78 m.p.h.; 2nd, 104 m.p.h.; 3rd, 140 m.p.h.; 4th, 168 m.p.h; 5th, 202 m.p.h.
Suspension: Front, independent via double wishbones and coil sprin / shock absorber units. Rear, single upper link and long trailing rod, lower wishbone; coil spring / shock absorber units. Front and rear anti-roll bars. Koni damping.
Brakes: Outboard Girling four wheel ventilated disc.
Cooling: Side radiators, once placed forward of each rear wheel.
Lubrication: Dry sump fed at 100 to 128 p.s.i.
Wheels & tyres: Campagnola five spoke, 10.5 in wide (F) and 14 in wide (R) with M&H racing tyres for test.
Weight: 820 kg. / 1,804 lb.
Wheelbase: 2,400 mm. / 94.49 in.
Front track: 1,518 mm. / 59.76 in.
Rear track: 1,511 mm. / 59.49 in.
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