The "815"

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In the issue of Motor Sport of January 1965 reader R.M. Kitchingman wrote asking if anyone knew the where-abouts or the fate of the two sports cars that Enzo Ferrari built in 1940. This occasioned a reply from Hans Tanner, in the United States, who explained that one had been modified out of all recognition by Enrico Nardi and the other had been broken up by a Modena scrap dealer. That appeared to be the final answer to Kitchingman’s query, but a little while later I was in Modena and my friend Peter Coltrin, who lives there, said that he had met a man in Bologna who claimed to know of the existence of one of these Ferrari sports cars of 1940. I left Coltrin starting a research programme that was to occupy many months and when I met him again at the time of the Italian Grand Prix he showed me a photograph he had taken at a village near Bologna. It was an “815” Ferrari, complete and unaltered from the day it raced in 1940, so somewhere Hans Tanner had got hold of the wrong information; either the Modena scrap dealer had not broken up his car, or the car that Nardi modified had not been an “815.”

Coltrin continued his researches and on my last visit to Modena he lent me the file of papers and information he had collected after conversations with innumerable people connected with the “815” affair and we sorted out the whole story, as well as putting right a number of misconceptions that have been perpetrated about these cars by various motoring historians over the years. One story was that today Enzo Ferrari did not want to know about these cars and the designer, Alberto Massimino, brushed them aside as hopeless and preferred to forget about them. Coltrin found that Enzo Ferrari was very helpful, and pictures of them still exist on the walls of the Modena offices, while Massimino could not have been more helpful, producing facts and figures and making sketches, as well as writing long letters about the affair.

The beginnings go back to 1938-39 when Alfa Romeo re-opened their racing department in Milan and took back the racing activities of Alfa Romeo cars from the Scuderia Ferrari at Modena. Enzo Ferrari, Alberto Massimino and Luigi Bazzi left Modena and went to work at the Alfa Romeo factory in Milan, but as Ferrari has made very clear in his autobiography he soon fell out with Wilfredo Rican who was in charge of Alfa Romeo racing engines. The war between Germany and Great Britain had already begun when Ferrari and Massimino left Milan to return home to Modena and start a firm known as Auto Avio Costruzioni, doing contract machine-shop and design work. Ferrari had been forced to sign a contract that forbad him to reconstitute the Scuderia Ferrari or to build racing cars that would in any way be opposition to Alfa Romeo for a period of four years. At the time Italy were not involved in the war and racing was continuing. Around Christmas 1939, with the 1940 racing calendar already announced, Ferrari made plans to build cars to take part in the Brescia G.P. in April 1940. The Mille Miglia had been last run in 1938 when there had been a serious accident and the Government had banned the race in 1939, but the Automobile Club of Brescia planned a new race tor 1940, over 1,000 miles on a triangular course running from Brescia-Cremona-Mantova-Brescia, a lap length of 167 kilometres. Although the official title was the Gran Premio di Brescia, the race was considered by the sporting world to be the revived Mine Miglia, When Ferrari and Massimino sat down to plan a new car for this race there were a number of factors that were to influence their decisions. Time was short, less than four months, money was limited, and Fiat were offering a cash prize to any class winner using Fiat components. They were agreed that production parts should be used as far as possible, Fiat was the obvious choice and there was a rich driver in Modena who would sponsor their project. This was the Marquis Lotario Rangoni Machiavelli, who lived in Modena and had been racing Fiats tuned by Stanguellini, whose garage was just up the road from the Ferrari works. The very successful 4-cylinder Fiat 1100 saloon, the 508C, was taken as a basis and Massimino set to work to design an engine using as many standard Fiat parts as possible. He started with two Fiat 1100 cylinder heads, which were of aluminium, and placed them end to end to make a straight eight configuration, using standard valves, and rockers. A one piece cylinder block and crankcase was cast for them by the Calzoni Foundry of Bologna, and they used wet-iron liners, while Calzoni also cast an aluminium sump and rocker box. As Ferrari could not put his name on the car he called it the “815,” for 8-cylinder, 1.5-litre, but there was more to it than that. Before leaving Alfa Romeo he and Massimino had been working on the Alfa Romeo designated the Tipo 158, so Ferrari found great delight in using the same numbers for his new car. The numbers 815 were cast on the one-piece aluminium rocker box and also appeared on the badge on the nose of the car. This 8-cylinder engine had a bore and stroke of 63 >

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