Thorough breadwinners: Paul Frere's Le Mans-winning Ferrari included a road test

Alain de Cadenet spent the last few years travelling the world and driving as many Ferrari Sports-racers as he could. At the end, he was left with only one possible conclusion: That these, not F1, were the cars that created the legend.

Formula One is the sport’s ultimate showcase. And Ferrari has been its 50 year constant, its pivot, its most famous team and, by association, the most famous marque in the world — the most charismatic, the most coveted. But Formula One is not, I contend, what made Ferrari great. That role fell to their super-successful sports-racers and GTs of the 1950s and ’60s. Everything since has been the icing on an already tasty cake. Don’t just take my word for it: Henry Ford knew it 30 plus years ago, which is why he wooed Enzo so mercilessly.

But on the verge of buckling under the weight of the Yankee dollar, II Commendatore had second thoughts, a snub that triggered off the Blue Oval’s scorchedearth Le Mans assault in the ’60s. And before you mention the DFV’s Fl domination, remember that Keith Duckworth’s masterpiece was a £100,000 drop in Detroit’s vast reserve; the ‘big banger’ sportscar budget was akin to that of a Third World country’s gross national product. Le Mans, Ferrari’s ass, was the priority, no question.

Jaguar had shown the way, their five wins at La Sarthe in the ’50s allowing them to pierce American consciousness and, from the stable platform of the world’s biggest single market, create a global presence which has stood them in good stead ever since. A key man in Ferrari’s worldwide growth, therefore, was Luigi Chinetti, Maranello’s American importer and an arch racing enthusiast. He scored the marque’s first Le Mans win in 1949, and urged Enzo to take the event, the category, more seriously. While the boss viewed building road cars merely as a way of funding his racing activities, Chinetti saw that there was money to be made here, money that could be ploughed back in, money for growth rather than simply existence. His victorious 166MM was a 2-litre V12 jewel, which he was sure was insufficient to win the race again and/or impress America.


Two years later, basically the same car finished fifth — except this version was called a 340 (4.1-litre) America. There’s a clue there somewhere. Two years later still, the brutal 4.9-litre 375 Plus of Froilan Gonzalez and Maurice Trintignant bludgeoned its way to Ferrari’s second Le Mans victory. And across The Pond, fearsome Ferraris were making hay in the burgeoning American racing scene. It had begun. As had the following step: the Berlinettas, the ‘little sedans’, the street link.

From the archive

If Chinetti had ensured Ferrari now had a marketing strategy of sorts, so Ferrari had to produce cars that would create and meet the demand. The last-known 166 chassis was one of the earliest Ferraris to be handed to Pinin Farina (they only became Pininfarina in ’61), and the resultant 166MM/53 launched the classic hunkered-down, aggressive stance, the Borrani-wheeled, long-bonnet look that is so intrinsically linked to the most famous Ferraris of all.

Those street-legal road-racers to which I refer, Tour de France, SWB and GTO — readily available to wealthy enthusiasts — were Enzo’s crucial third string. Imagine the strain on his staff as they fought to keep abreast of Formula One, Prototypes and GTs. The foundry, the core of his operation, must have been running flat out all hours. A strong pragmatic streak, though, kept it all together. And therein lies the next key to Ferrari’s growth, stability and success — the 60-degree V12, single-cam-per-bank 250 engine.

Gone is the vintage feel so characteristic of the front-engined cars.

This fantastic, beautifully simple motor (plugs, points, carbs — all owner/driver stuff) came off the drawing board in November 1951, but can be traced back to Gioacchino Colombo’s 1946 design. And yet, in a variety of capacity sizes, fore or aft the driver, it scored seven Le Mans wins in eight years (1958 and 1960-65). And right in the wheel tracks of the Prototypes were the GTs, same engine, picking up the pieces in the overall standings and, barring a single-lap Cobra win in 1964, wiping the floor with their class opposition. From Testa Rossa to GTO to the most ‘shopping’ of Ferraris, you could have virtually the same V12 under your right foot. The link was mechanical as well as passionate. Ferrari had every base covered.

It couldn’t last. By the mid-’60s the sport was becoming more specialised: Henry’s Fords, which finally whupped Ferrari at Le Mans in 1966, ushered computers into the fray; budgets were spiralling, teams expanding, technology accelerating. Which is where our three featured cars come in — and out.


Ferrari’s final Le Mans win, their ninth, was secured in 1965 by a totally unexpected source. The 250LM was a turning-point for the marque — their first mid-engined streetlegal (at a push) production car. Barring the 275GTB /Daytona strain, any Ferrari that made an impact during the ’70s, ’80s and early ’90s followed its mid-engined lead. The blueprint. The black sheep, too. The beginning of the end, the end of the beginning.

It was supposed to be Ferrari’s answer to the increasing threat from Carroll Shelby’s Ford-engined Cobras. According to Enzo, it was an evolution of the GTO. Except that its engine, the same engine, was in the back, not the front. Everything might have looked okay through his one-way shades, but not everybody saw it his way. The governing body, the CSI, had turned a blind eye to the fact that he built just 42 GTOs, as opposed to the 100 demanded by homologation, after he’d persuaded them it was an evolution of the SWB, which was already available in sufficient numbers. This time, however, the CSI dug their heels in — the 250LM was ‘a Prototype with a roof’. A fair description. It certainly drives like one.

Gone is the vintage feel so characteristic of the front-engined cars. There are clues to its heritage: it has the same wheelbase as the GTO (2400mm), for instance. Equally, there are subtle detail changes that hint at the new era: the extra row of spokes buttressing the front Borranis against the increased forces created by a lower centre of gravity and polar moment, and the new, lower profile, wider section M series Dunlops.


Just by sitting in the LM you can tell we’re entering a different dimension. Everything is much smaller, hemmed in. It’s a quantum leap in feel: backside on the road, driving seat almost central, pedals even further offiet The famous ‘gate’ remains, but the beefy gear lever has become a slim wand. Gone, too, is the synchro and the ability to miss out gears, a special linkage ensuring you make sequential shifts.

From the archive

The LM is much more positive on the move than its predecessors. Rack and pinion has replaced recirculating ball; suspension is independent front and rear; inboard rear discs have reduced unsprung weight. Cornering speeds are up as a result, but steering weight is reduced, for this car is over 200kg lighter than a GTO, at 850kg. Yes, this is a Ferrari you can ‘brew up’ and drive off in — Chinetti had a road car version — but the CSI were right: this was only really meant to go racing.

And race it did, in a kind of performance limbo between Gland Prototype categories. Even in 3.3-litre (only the first LM was a 3-litre) 330bhp form, it was no match for the Ford GT40, but it was strong and generally reliable — as all Ferraris of the period were — and it meant that Enzo’s privateers could compete even if he refused to dish out the more complicated Prototypes to all and sundry. The 250LMs were orphans; Enzo kept a fatherly eye on them, but never entered one in an official capacity. You can imagine his grin, however, when he discovered that the NART example, under Chinetti, had staved off Ford one last time at Le Mans, the unlikely duo of Masten Gregory and a young Jochen Rindt taking the spoils in ’65.

Brakes and tyres were such that wear, tear and replacement would have been negligible in a gentleman racer’s budget.

But that was that. Things had changed so much, so quickly. Ferrari had dominated Le Mans; now their work was done. Ford and Porsche, by contrast, had yet to break their duck. Ferrari would contest the event in an official capacity until 1973, after which they withdrew from sportscar racing in order to concentrate on Fl. This series was becoming global courtesy of TV, and the arrival of a single-minded Niki Lauda meant there was only one direction in which to travel. Besides which Ferrari had moved into (relative term) mass-production during the mid-60s, and their offerings were, in general, further removed from the racers.

The 1965 275GTB was a better, more civilised road car than the SWB and GTO and, in many ways, better for the track — larger capacity twin-cam (then quad-) engine, improved weight distribution, independent rear end — but this was all negated by it being far heavier. It was successful, winning the Le Mans GT category in 196567, but its track link was less overt, its drivers and overall results less prominent. This mattered little, because it was able to bask in the reflected glory of the GTOs.

From the archive

If the LM is a ‘pretend’ GT, then its front-engined predecessors are the very epitome of the breed. The GTO 64 model seen here was Ferrari’s GT ‘banker’ while the LM’s homologation wrangle rumbled on. It was, however, on the drawing board before the all-Pininfarina LM, according to Mauro Forghieri, whose project this was, in conjunction with Mike Parkes. Their reworking of the GTO cabin and tail is closely echoed by the mid-engined machine: pinched at the shoulder, steeply-raked goldfish-bowl screen, rear window deeply recessed, faired-in roof spoiler (seen on three of the seven GTO 64s and some early LMs) and smaller Kamm tail. Ferrari shapes were now being dictated by wind tunnels as well as by eye. Original GTOs generated tail-end lift, unloading the live, but well located, rear axle. That glorious, sweeping rear window was discovered to be the root of the trouble — so it was brutally pruned. Everything was geared to channelling more airflow over the tail, while this was to be balanced out by a flatter, wider nose.

It showed well in the wind tunnel but any improvement proved marginal on the track. It handled better, but that could be put down to a half-inch of extra rubber (6.5in front, 7.5in rear) at each corner. This particular version, the Maranello Concessionaires car, was particularly successful, but then it won a lot of races in its ’63 guise, too — and it did tend to have talents like Graham Hill or Mike Parkes at its wheel.

How those two guys drove it, though, amazes me. I’m 5ft 9in and my head almost rubs against the lowered roofline. Come to think of it, my knees almost foul the steering wheel. Yet Parkes was well over 6ft. Comfort is being compromised for performance.The pressure was building. There is much more of a pure-bred factory racer feel to this car. But then it was one of only three to be sent to Maranello and updated by Sergio Scaglietti. This is the beginning of a subtle shift: some privateers — Maranello, Piper, Filipinetti, Francorchamps — were more equal than others. Survival of the fittest. Like I said, the pressure was building.


Some prefer this shape to the original GTO. I do not, but agree that it’s more purposeful. It’s the same inside the cockpit: smaller steering wheel, shorter gear lever, pure aggression. What’s more important for me, however, is that under the skin beats the same heart. Twist the key and push — classic Ferrari quirk — and you just know it’s going to start. You know, too, that this V12, with its six twinchoke Webers is nigh-on unburstable — 9000rpm in a panic. It’s GTO from the tips of its spinners to its gas-extracting exhaust ‘snaps’. A car designed for the high-speed tracks of the day.

It remains the most famous, most charismatic, most coveted Ferrari of them all. The very best of an era when the Scuderia was allconquering.

Balance is the word that springs to mind for any GTO. In many ways they’re crude, yet the sum of all the parts is superb. Just enough weight over the front for good turnin. Just enough over the rear for good traction. Just enough power for the grip. Just about perfect. They demand consistent, smooth driving. Brakes and tyres were such that wear, tear and replacement would have been negligible in a gentleman racer’s budget; the disc brakes (Dunlop calipers and pads) were adequate, but could soon be fried. They were cats meant to be driven on the throttle. Meant to be driven a long way too. GTOs are viewed as delicate thoroughbreds. In fact, they’re as tough as old boots, perfectly capable of winning the cross-country Tour de France. There’s a bit of Shire in this Prancing Horse.

Added to that, the original GTO is just a blessed shape. The right weight of metal over the front wheels, those offset Borranis, that tapering nose, the sweeping wheel arches, those aggressive louvres — all created in-house by designer Giotto Bizzarrini and Scaglietti, a man fluent in aluminium. Five-speed gearbox instead of the SWB’s four, dry sump instead of wet, better balance from its longer chassis — the ’62-63 GTO was an instant winner. It might soon have been superseded in terms of performance, but it remains the most famous, most charismatic, most coveted Ferrari of them all. The very best of an era when the Scuderia was allconquering. The looks, the sound, the results, the legacy. All that made Ferrari great.

Our thanks to Sir Anthony Bamford and Adrian Hamilton for their help in making this feature happen.



That Ferrari got it so spot-on so early in their history is extremely impressive. It’s not as if they weren’t ambitious:V 12 and a five-speed gearbox. And it’s not as if it was a box of tricks: it won Le Mans, the Mille Miglia and Targa Florio. Tough stuff. Under that lovely Barchetta body lies a very rugged car.

Unsurprisingly, this early model possesses the most vintage feel of all the Ferraris in this article: a crash gearbox that takes a bit of finessing and primitive drum brakes. But it’s so willing that you can forgive it any shortcomings.

It doesn’t have masses of power (140bhp) but that means you can use all of it all of the time. It’s surprisingly torquey too, making it a very useable car that always does its best for you. You can’t ask for more.

212 Inter – 1951

I have a lot of respect for the guys who tackled the Carrera Panamericana. Just a few miles in this Vignale Berlinetta had my head clanging: the closed body might keep the Mexican dust out, but it also keeps the smells, vapours and deafening noise in.

Driving this car on loose-surface roads like those you’d find on the Carrera, it feels positive and controllable over the bumps, despite a live axle/leaf spring rear end. Its engine (a 3-litre fitted by the factory in place of the original 2.5) pulls like the proverbial and fifth is an over drive — handy for those long straights.

The general impression, though, is that it’s a bit Gothic; you sit on it, not in it.We’re at the beginning of the GT line and, clearly, there’s lots of R&D still to come.

121LM 1955

The sixand four-cylinder racers don’t have the cachet of the V12s, which means this is one of the great ‘hidden’ Ferraris. Its combination of a 4.4-litre straight-six and lightweight body (verging on two-seater F1) makes it a startling performer: with a good compromise between four-cylinder torque and V I 2 revs, this unit gives 350bhp of grunt.

But there’s so much more to this car: the driving position is excellent, the shockers work well, the brakes are very impressive and the fivespeed transaxle, though slower than some, has a nice, engineered feel to it. Had the works bolted it together as well as this is now, it might have been the car to beat; Castenotti was ahead of Moss in the 1955 Mille Miglia until his tyres blew.

From the archive

860 Monza – 1956

Phenomenal torque is the key here.This 3.5-litre four-cylinder was in its element on the twisting mountain roads above Monterey, bursting out of uphill corners. There’s no need to row it along on the gearbox (a five-speed transaxle — early cars had a four) and it’s a lot more relaxing to drive for it. Power tails off early, at 6500rpm, so it would not be at its best on the faster, sweeping, circuits — especially as it had a reputation of being an understeerer.This shorter engine should have been easier to package, but Ferrari probably didn’t get the best out of the benefits and, in the end, missed out on a bit of weight over the front axle. It might have been cured had Ferrari not been building fours, sixes and V12s at the time.

250 Testa Rossa-1957

Typical Ferrari: take a 290MM chassis, a 250GT engine and a TR body and make it work — brilliantly. Enzo was not averse to sticking his head in the sand, but at times he showed great foresight. His entry for the new 3-litre sports. car championship was simple, light, powerful enough, and beautiful.

This early version has drum brakes, an allsynchro four-speeder, a live rear axle and Pontoon body — all to be replaced in future years. It’s also got the six-carb unit, albeit with the earlier hairpin valve springs and perhaps only 275bhp. Most of all it’s got the ability to bring out the best in a driver — lovely chassis, instant throttle response and superb steering. Ferrari have come a long way and are approaching their sportscar zenith.

TR59/60 – 1959

Although still resisting the mid-engined revolution, Enzo made sure the absolute maximum was extracted from the frontengined format.This car, the 1960 Frere/ car, Gendebien Le Mans winner, has a five-speed ‘box, disc brakes, and a de Dion rear end. It feels much tauter than its predecessor and has much better traction out of the corners. This extra grip at the rear makes it an understeerer, some of which was dialled out by switching from Englebert to Dunlop tyres. Within the cockpit you feel much more a part of the car. And those improved ergonomics and aerodynamics mark the next step in the sportscar process. And just look at that glorious Fantuzzi-built body. It has his mark all over!



250P – 1963

Mid-engined at last. Rack and pinion,too. Much-improved discs, tight gearbox and a positive clutch.We’re getting there. But then there’s that familiar, torquey, willing 3-litre 250 V12 behind you, and a surprisingly soft, understeering, user-friendly feel. Where the early mid-engined sportscars scored was on their improved traction; the others advantages lay untapped because the spaceframes of the period were not yet up to stiffer springs, nor were the tall-sidewall tyres. More importantly, the cars had to cosset their drivers over long distances and deal with bumpy surfaces.

The 250P’s record speaks for itself: it ushered Ferrari through their engine volte-face and triggered another period of domination.

275GTB – 1966

The most pleasant, tasty-looking Ferrari road car ever built — especially this longnose version, with alloy body and righthand drive. Pininfarina at his very best. Its longer wheelbase makes it more relaxing than the GTO, though its twin-cam (later quad-cam) 3.3-litre V12 has more than enough performance to keep you on your toes. The five-speed transaxle is superb, too. But all this doesn’t make for a great racing car weight is the problem here. And brakes. ‘Anchors’ are still lagging behind in the development stakes; the 275 needs four-pot calipers and vented discs, but has to make do with solid discs and two pots per corner.

It might’ve got them had it been intended as an out-and-out racer like the GTO was.

250GT SWB – 1961

An alloy-bodied SWB with a. 300bhp Testa Rossa engine makes for the best Ferrari road car. You can jump in it, fire it up and drive across the continent. A big petrol tank, genuinely quick and plenty of ground clearance. A fantastic-looking car with a fabulous history. Perhaps the epitome of the GT theme. Light steering but with lots of feedback — not yet rack and pinion but as developed as recirculating ball got. The four-speed box has a long throw but is delightful — like a big switch. The early disc brakes are surprisingly good, a firm feel through the pedal and no grabbing. You can really lean on this car. The Dunlops of the time were perfect for it: progressive, good in the dry, awesome in the wet. Just lovely.

330P3/412P – 1967

When I started out racing, this was the car I craved. It doesn’t disappoint. Momo, Veglia, Campagnolo, Magneti Marelli — so evocative. And that’s before we fire it up. We have entered a different realm here: four-litre, 420bhp, quadcam, three-valve head, fuel injection (for the works cars). Once on the move, it feels much smaller than it actually is. A not-too-knobby gearshift on the right, pedals that lighten once under way. Brakes are now girling off-the-shelf items — still only two-pot, but not bad. Most Ferraris are set up to be neutral handling on a trailing throttle, and the P3 does just that — an attitude that can be easily controlled and easily changed.

That curved screen causes distortion, but I could live with that!

512M – 1971

Comfortably the most powerful, fastest car I’d driven by 1971 (625 bhp, 220mph), yet it proved one the most comfortable to drive. I raced one for the first time, at Le Mans, while blind in one eye and on one leg following a Targa Florio shunt. I was scared stiff, but within one lap the 512M had put me at my ease. So you can imagine how good it felt when my damaged eye chimed in during the night! The car was incredibly well-behaved — sideways out of Arnage and the Ford Chicane, flat at 8200rpm through the Mulsanne Kink, and that was it.

All it lacked was the R&D Porsche put into their 917. Remember how bad that was on its debut. It’s a shame Enzo was disenchanted with sportscar racing at that time.



365GTB – 1972

I have got a soft spot for the Daytona. I picked one up from the factory in 1970 and drove it back to England, and it was just perfect for a trip like that. People moaned it had heavy steering but a few extra psi in the fronts eased that problem. And anyway, you could forgive it because of a superb, 4.4-litre, 352bhp, V12. But, like the 275GTB, this model did not star on the tracks. It still won the Le Mans GT category, of course. The car I drove here felt like a stripped-out road job and no more. A few lightweight panels — the bonnet, the boot, the doors. Bigger discs and (finally!) some four-pot calipers, but it still took a lot of stopping. And there was very little development Ferrari’s GT racing love affair was coming to an end.

312PB – 1972

It’s hard to imagine something so far removed from the mighty 512 than the 312 — minimal, compact, nimble — but Ferrari were once again ahead of the game and spot-on. This two-seater F1 car feels so sharp, even on 30 year-old firestones, and its flat-12 represents another quantum leap. The ‘Boxer’ is more willing than the DFV of the period (440bhp in sportscar trim at 12,000rpm) but lacks a little in the torque department. Switchlike gearbox, brakes (vented discs) that at last match the performance, and so stunningly beautiful. What a package!

Ferrari offered me one on the condition I wouldn’t race it, which is how Gordon Murray came to design for me a DFV version — but that’s a different story.

F333SP – 1994

Does this car still possess the Ferrari mystique? Yes, but only just. Carbonfibre is fantastic, but it’s also very impersonal. For a driver used to a flexing, twisting spaceframe, a modern monocoque seems to alienate you from the driving experience. I also find that the revs a modern racing engine can pull a little numbing. These units lack soul, somehow. I will admit that the sequential shift was addictive, the thump in the back was impressive (in any gear) and the brakes were sensational. What really intrigued me, though, was that IMSA bent the rules to allow Ferrari to race in their series, and that the 333 owners bought the cars ready-to-race.

It would seem that some things never really change, thankfully.