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The 2756TB/C is gorgeous to both car and eye, yet remains something of an understated gem in the Ferrari canon
writer Richard Heseltine, photographer Tim Scott/Fluid Images

There is every possibility that this could go horribly wrong. Hyde Park Corner in the wet — in early morning rush hour — is not the ideal environment in which to become acquainted with a competition Ferrari.

Traffic is threatening to set like concrete as black cabs and red buses vie to turn an inch into a mile. It has become a free for all, even the faintest hairline crack in congestion an opportunity to make up ground. There’s no room for dawdling. Depress the clutch, plait a few hamstrings and then… stop. It doesn’t help that the 275GTB/C has the longest bonnet in Christendom, the final few feet dropping away from view from the driver’s seat. The race roundels and decals also leave you feeling a mite exposed: everyone stares. Apparently the carnival is in town and we’re it.

It’s only once clear of the capital’s clogged core, on arrival at our Surrey test track, that the car’s duality of character emerges. It might be a road car, but its racer DNA is self-evident. It’s just that this glorious machine — this Le Mans class winner no less — is that rarest of things: an underrated Ferrari. In the general pecking order of Ferrari racing cars, the 275GTB/C is a low-totem fixture when compared with its 250-series GT predecessors. It deserves better.

It is often claimed that Enzo Ferrari viewed road cars as a means to an end, a method of bankrolling his precious Scuderia. Scroll back to the early ’60s and Ferrari the marque had made the leap from penny number coachbuilt offerings to volume road car production, all things being relative, but with varying degrees of success. Unveiled in late ’64, the importance of the 275 Gran Turismo Berlinetta in marque lore cannot be overestimated. This was the last two-seater GT car built by Ferrari as an independent player and without any Fiat influence. It is one of the brand’s true exemplars, blessed with a jaw-slackening outline that only Pininfarina in its pomp could muster (or, rather, the Turin firm’s unheralded stylist, Francesco Salamone). This wasn’t mere smoke and mirrors: all four wheels were independently suspended (a first for Maranello road cars), while the single-cam-perbank V12 was sited far back for a 50:50 split, with a five-speed transaxle — a feature that first appeared on competition Ferraris a decade earlier — further aiding weight distribution.

The original 3-litre 275GTB was a polished performer, too, just as long as you remained below 130mph (otherwise the front-end became a mite floaty) and could somehow block out the excessive propshaft resonance. From the spring of ’66, there was an unofficial second-series edition, Pininfarina elongating the nose in an effort to keep it planted, the addition of a torque tube ensuring that the engine and transaxle stayed rigidly in-line. However, with challengers muscling into its territory, not least upstart operations such as Lamborghini from over the hill in Sant’Agata, there were constant updates during the 275GTB’s four-year existence in a bid to maintain its standing. Six Weber carbs became an option early on and, with the arrival of the 3.3-litre quad-cam 275GTB/4 from October ’66, it received a substantial makeover with revised gearing and dry-sump lubrication. The factory’s performance figures claimed an optimistic top speed of 160mph and 0-60mph time of 5.5sec.

*

And just as night follows day, more adventurous customers demanded a competition variant. The gran turismo category had long been a happy hunting ground for the marque, even if the firm’s recent attempts at duping the Commission Sportive Internationale (CSI) into believing the 250/275LM was a GT car had come unstuck — this being in essence a 250P sports-racer with a roof; the same model that won the Le Mans 24 Hours outright in ’63. The 275GTB/C, however, was very much a road car-derived competition tool, even if no two examples were ever strictly alike.

There had been prior attempts at building a 275GTB racer, not least the four Competizione Speciale editions laid out for the 1965 season, each being powered by 3.3-litre 250LM-derived V12s. The first example was fielded by Ecurie Francorchamps and driven to third place overall in that year’s Le Mans 24 Hours by Willie Mairesse and ‘Beurlys’ (Jean Blaton), albeit in a race of high attrition. However, this latest strain was something else altogether. While the outline was familiar, the 275GTB/C was significantly different from the road car beneath the Rizla-thin aluminium coachwork, a Mauro Forghieri-conceived lightweight tubular steel chassis also contributing towards an alleged 150kg weight saving over the standard car.

And the ‘Competizione’ made an instant impression, the Maranello Concessionaires car driven by Piers Courage and Roy Pike placing eighth overall and winning its class in the 1966 Le Mans 24 Hours, while two places further down the road, and second in the 5-litre GT category, was the Ecurie Francorchamps car of Pierre Noblet and Claude Dubois. This 1-2 result did at least spare a few blushes for the men from Maranello as Ford steamrollered its way to outright victory.

Nonetheless, ‘our’ car, chassis 9079, is perhaps the most celebrated of the 12 Competiziones believed built. Originally fielded by Scuderia Filipinetti, the team that had largely run Ford or Shelby products in 1965-66, the Ferrari was entered for the ’67 24 Hours where the Swiss pairing Dieter Spoerry and Rico Steinemann completed 317 laps to finish 11th overall. They also claimed class honours.

Steinemann recalled in Ed Heuvink’s Scuderia Filipinetti: “Since the organisers refused the Porsche 906 of Dieter and myself, the invitation of Georges Filipinetti was very welcome… During scrutineering, the car was lined up behind one of the new 7-litre Ford MkIVs. Mario Andretti, who was scheduled to drive that car, came up to me asking what I was going to do with ‘that museum piece’. Looking at the Ford and then at the Ferrari with real spoke wheels, he had a point… It was my birthday that weekend. I really wanted to do well. In practice we managed a 4min 10sec lap; not amazing but starting 24th was OK. It was a good, comfortable car to drive; not fast — it would do 250km/h max — but as a Gran Turismo car it was well equipped. It only missed the radio.” Steinemann went on to recall: “After the race, Filipinetti offered us the car for 25,000 Swiss francs. But the engine was a little used, so Dieter and I decided not to do it…”

Unbowed, Filipinetti soon found a buyer in fellow Swiss Jacques Rey, who would continue to run it in the Scuderia’s colours. The car’s next appearance was the April ’68 Le Mans test weekend, with Frenchman Sylvain Garant posting 11th-fastest time. However, student protests and union unrest across France prompted the Automobile Club de l’Ouest to postpone the 24 Hours for the first time ever. The race would now take place in September, with Scuderia Flipinetti fielding the 275GTB/C alongside a 250LM and a brace of big-block Chevrolet Corvettes. With Garant being requisitioned to drive one of the American cars, Rey was teamed with Le Mans rookie Claude Haldi. Having qualified 38th, the 275GTB/C made the 3pm kick off (an hour earlier than the traditional June start time) but retired eight hours in with Rey at the wheel. It would prove a miserable weekend for the team, with all four entries dropping out by Sunday morning.

Nonetheless, while in no way the class of the GT field, ‘9079’ continued to rack up the miles, with gentleman driver Rey being joined by experienced Swiss Edgar Berney for an assault on the May ’69 Spa 1000Kms. They would finish 14th overall and first in class, 13 laps down on the victorious Porsche 910 of Jo Siffert and Brian Redman. And then came another Le Mans bid, with Haldi being reunited with Rey for what would prove a troubled outing. The Ferrari developed an early oil leak, which prompted a visit to the pits for an unscheduled top-up. The game was up by Saturday evening when the car was disqualified. The old stager then bowed out of contemporary racing in the best way possible, with another class win in September’s Imola 500Kms, admittedly against limited opposition.

Rey sold the car that same year for $6000, the Ferrari heading Stateside. New owner Phil Henney hoped to run it in the 1970 Daytona 24 Hours, but a holed piston ended his bid before qualifying. It subsequently passed through several hands only to be damaged in a garage fire in 1985. More recently, the Competizione was comprehensively restored and reconfigured by Fossil Motorsport of California before placing second in the competition Ferrari class at Pebble Beach in 2006. Returning to Europe shortly thereafter, it has been campaigned extensively in historic events, claiming the outright Italian Historic Car Cup prize in 2010.

And it is truly, really fabulous. The 275GTB/C — any 275GTB — is a sensationallooking car, the addition of stripes, race roundels and decals only heightening the sense of drama. That long, priapic snout, gracefully swollen haunches and fat Borrani wire wheels conspire to produce arguably the last genuinely beautiful GT racer — the 365GTB/4 ‘Daytona’ Competizione is fab, but beautiful? Stoop to enter the cabin and the view through the shallow windscreen, and across the acreage of aluminium, lends a frisson of expectation before you’ve so much as turned the key. Despite the more recent additions of a roll-cage and kill switches, it appears much like a regular 275GTB right down to the classic white-on-black Veglia gauges. It’s patently road car-derived, the leather and corduroy-effect trim ensuring this. There’s a sense of muted glamour here, from the threespoke tiller (Nardi, naturally) to the fiercely spring-loaded ashtray. It is, quite simply, a pleasure to behold and even more so to sit in.

*

Classic Ferrari’s with a sense of expectation, and the 275GTB/C more than most. Much of this is due to the theatrics on start-up: press in the Autoflux rocker switch to prime the carbs, wait for the clack-clackclack from the fuel pumps to slacken off and then twist the key. There follows a frenzied whirr of the starter motor before the all-alloy 3286cc V12 powerhouse erupts into life. Loud doesn’t come close to describing it and, having adopted a lower, more manly tenor, you feel duty-bound to tell anyone within earshot who can still hear that the Competizione is simply the best thing ever. It’s all very — very — racy as chains turn cams which push valves which… It sounds super-exotic and super-expensive.

However, thanks to the bear trap-like clutch, a degree of effort is required to get off the line cleanly: it’s all too easy to perform an embarrassing bunny hop should you not dial in enough revs. This being an old-school Ferrari, and one with a transaxle at that, you do need to allow a little time for the cogs to become fully lubricated before attempting something so bold as a quick shift. At low speeds, the Competizione doesn’t feel particularly in step with the driver, but it’s more likely the other way around: the steering seems a little ponderous and the ker-klunk from the transmission as you engage second gear for the first time makes you wince.

Nonetheless, it becomes easier with familiarity. And then you drive it that bit faster. The Competizione surges forward, the V12 being blessed with an almost motorcycle-like lack of rotational inertia. Acceleration is seamless, the Ferrari barely pausing for breath into three figures. Once warmed up, the gearchange becomes light between planes but you do need to synchronise each shift with care as otherwise it will snatch a little. The steering, too, is more direct than a worm and roller arrangement might suggest. There is no sense of front-end lift and it doesn’t roll excessively, either. At some way south of ten-tenths, it’s basically neutral with a touch of oversteer. It isn’t exactly agile, but is far more nimble than you might imagine. The brakes, however, feel woefully wooden, but that could be down to a ‘long’ pedal rather than the four-wheel-disc set-up itself.

But the best bit by far is that mighty V12 bellow as all three Weber 40DF13 carbs gulp and gurgle. This sky-filling fanfare almost manifests itself as a physical presence such is its shiver-inducing intensity. Sadly, though, playtime is over too soon; the combination of a seven-figure price tag, a damp track and the close proximity of trees ensures this.

What you take away from even the briefest of sorties is how underappreciated the 275GTB/C is relative to other GT racers to emerge from Maranello in period. It might lack the cachet or the strike rate of the 250GTO, or the 250GT SWB for that matter, but consider this: variations on the theme scored Le Mans class wins three years in a row. That’s quite a tally. It’s just that this wonderful machine emerged from a manufacturer that was nothing if not an overachiever. For that reason alone, it was always going to be a footnote relative to the gong-garlanded works racers. But when a car looks and sounds this good, you ache for its continued company, which says it all, really.

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