This Ferrari 750 Monza was raced on ice, then disappeared for 30 years. Richard Hese!tine tries it on asphalt. Photography by Peter Spinney/LAT
Beneath the thin veil of civility, Ferrari’s 750 Monza is springloaded with malevolence. Slipping the clutch results in a kind of cardiopulmonary writhing, jerking forwards, the twin-cam four hunting and misfiring with a whip-crack detonation of sound that shatters all pretence of composure. This isn’t going to be easy.
Into second; up, across the gate and forwards. Ker-clunk as metal meets metal. The extreme valve timing makes it chunter before all the cylinders come on song and wheelspin kicks in with unforeseen brusqueness. More revs and more noise. Not the sonorous and viscerally intense wail you expect, more a strung-out, disquieting clamour that’s implausibly matched for volume by transmission whine.
Acceleration is urgent. Violent too, pulling just as cleanly in the upper gears as in the lower ratios, the vexed issue of the fierce clutch soon forgotten once on the move. Despite the lack of mechanical synchronisation, cog swapping on the stubby, central remote lever is easy with familiarity, each blip on up and down changes ushering in a new regime of commotion that you feel in the pit of your stomach. This is epic stuff.
It should be. This is, after all, a sportscar easily capable of around 160mph, not too far adrift of the performance of the Scuderia’s contemporary single-seaters with which it shares some ancestry: the 2999cc Monza is a direct descendent of the 2-litre 500 with which Alberto Ascari won the 1952 and ’53 World Championships.
Ferrari first toyed with the idea of a four-cylinder sportscar in 1953, reasoning that it could make for a profitable customer racer. Starting with Aurelio Lampredi’s proven oversquare four, a 2.5-litre variation was fitted into a 250MM for initial experiments. From there a prototype 3-litre sportscar, the Tipo 735, was entered at Senigallia that year — in Umberto Maglioli’s hands it displayed tremendous speed but unfortunate fragility. Further races during the season fortified Enzo’s resolve that there was merit to the idea, and the result was the Monza.
Lampredi devised a multi-tubular frame that was effectively a pair of cross-braced main girders with smaller round steel tubes anchoring the body. The front end was suspended by unequal length wishbones (early examples featured transverse leaf springs, later ones switched to coils), the rear by a de Dion axle located fore and aft by two pairs of parallel trailing arms and laterally by a central pin sliding in a block.
Using the Tipo 555 four-pot as a basis, the Monza engine featured twin overhead camshafts with integral heads and cylinders, fed by a brace of twin-choke Weber 58DCOE carbs. With a bore and stroke of 103mm x 90mm, the result was 750cc per cylinder, hence the numerical designation. Clothing the ensemble on production cars was coachwork by Sergio Scaglietti, the overall outline said to have been the work of Ferrari’s son, Dino.
The car made its debut at Monza in June ’54, where Mike Hawthorn and Maglioli became embroiled in a race-long dispute with the Fangio/Marimón Maserati, the Englishman taking the flag in the works 750 after the Bologna challenger blew up in the final stages. He would later drive an immaculate race to take that year’s Tourist Trophy with Maurice Trintignant.
‘Our’ car enjoyed considerable success, but not on the world stage — or necessarily in what you would call traditional arenas. Delivered new to Jean Estager, the Frenchman entered it in the 1955 Grand Prix of Portugal, only to retire. That same year he moved it on, via Scuderia Ferrari, to the marque’s Swedish concessionaire Tore Bjurström, who in turn sold it to Gunnar Carlsson in early ’56.
The son of successful racer Axel Carlsson, Gunnar made his competition debut in the late ’40s, swiftly proving a tough and popular driver in his Ford V8 special before upgrading, at the age of 29, to the Ferrari. Not that their relationship got off to a good start. More used to the bullet-proof qualities of his old Flathead-equipped racer, his maiden outing with the altogether more exotic Ferrari at the Hindas circuit — for an ice race — saw him grenade the engine after over-revving: this resulted in a conrod being jettisoned through the engine block, piercing the front wing and damaging Joakim Bonnier’s Alfa Romeo 3 Disco Volante which happened to be alongside. A 625 Monoposto unit was then substituted.
Yet he soon got to grips with it, taking third place in the 1956 Helsinki GP (when it wore blue and yellow national racing colours) and fourth the following year (by now in red with a white stripe). At Karuna for the Midnight Sun Auto Race, he defeated his biggest rival Curt Lincoln in his Ferrari 500TR for the top spot, while at the Gelleråsen circuit at Karlskoga, near his home village of Persberg, he proved near unbeatable, often besting overseas visitors. But arguably the most celebrated of his victories was at the Roskilde Ring in Denmark in August ’58, when he beat Stirling Moss’s Maserati 300S for overall honours. Carlsson would continue campaigning the car until ’62, having by now notched up numerous wins at local level on asphalt and ice, before selling the car on. Not that he had finished with racing, proving a front runner into the mid-60s in a variety of machines from Lotus 23 to Porsche 904, despite losing an eye in a (non-car-related) accident. The Monza meanwhile effectively disappeared from view before emerging in the early ’90s.
Now dazzling in its original rosso corsa (what else?), the 750 Monza is truly — really— breathtaking, the gossamer thin aluminium bodywork a reminder of just how beautiful sports-racers were before they went all geometric and slab of side. The muscular haunches and pointy snout lend it a confrontational attitude, although you doubt they were made with this much care in period. It really is perfect.
Inside there are all the traditional Ferrari reference points that have latterly become bourgeois clichés on road cars: alloy-spoked wheel, polished H-gate, here canted over slightly to the right with shift pattern designated from I to V (the ‘box being in line with the ZF diff). There’s not much in the way of extraneous baggage but there’s artistry among the functionality, the Veglia instrumentation — naturally dominated by the rev counter — bearing levels of detail that would send beauty arbiters into rapture. And of course the view ahead is sublime.
The Monza isn’t happy idling. It isn’t happy doing much of anything below about 4000rpm. At trundling speeds, continual use of first gear is necessary to keep the revs up otherwise the car will kangaroo. Or stall. Never smooth or remotely easy to drive at low speeds, the Ferrari is a revelation when allowed free rein. Delivering something like 250bhp at 6000rpm, it just builds and builds with a brutal menace that is nerve-jangling yet exhilarating at the same time. This is a short, compact car, with a wheelbase of only 7ft 4.5 in, so it’s no surprise that it’s a little fidgety, especially over undulating surfaces: it doesn’t like camber changes at all. Despite not exactly pushing the car anywhere near its limits — it had done all of six miles or so since restoration — you’re all too aware that the rear end is hard sprung and a mite bouncy even though the steering is always communicative, the column avoiding the carbs by advantageously placed universal joints, the three-piece track rod being operated by a worm and wheel box.
To be perfectly honest, most early Ferraris are pretty horrible to drive. Before you warm the Acetone and pluck the chicken, I should point out that this isn’t one of them. When you’re at speed, when you get it right, this is one of the most exciting cars imaginable. It’s just that unlike some of its contemporaries which smudge the boundaries between fury and calm, the Monza is a resolute racer. Aboard a Jaguar C-type you could conceivably drive to the supermarket. In the Ferrari you’d be pummelled by the Polite Society long before. There’s no duality of character here.
So the Monza makes no concessions to anything other than its purpose. More time with the car would help, but what is patently clear is that to get the most out of a 750 you’ll need to be very handy. Quite how Carlsson raced this car on ice — and remained shiny side up — is a mystery. He must have had superhuman levels of car control or been altogether lacking in imagination. Or more likely both.