Driving the $30m Ferrari 412P: 'It was easy!'


A Ferrari 412P has just sold for more than $30m at auction and Andrew Frankel knows how special it is, having driven it at a landmark moment for Motor Sport and his own career

Ferrari 412P on road

A nine-year restoration has returned the 412P to its original Spa 1000Km-blasting state


Last week an old racing Ferrari sold at Bonhams’ Quail auction for $30.25 million, the fourth largest amount ever paid for a Ferrari at a public sale. But it wasn’t a 250 GTO nor a Testa Rossa. Nor was it a 250 LM or Spider California. Indeed it was none of the usual suspects. This car was never a factory racer and it never won a race in period. Even its name is one of the least known of all Ferraris. It’s a 412P, yet it remains one of the most special Ferraris ever to come on the open market. It is also a car to which I owe a very special debt. Of which more in a minute.

The 412P was a racing car sold by Maranello to its favourite customer teams for the 1967 season. There were four such teams: the North American Racing Team, Ecurie National Belge, Switzerland’s Scuderia Filipinetti and, in Britain, Ronnie Hoare’s famous Maranello Concessionaires. Now, of course what all those teams would have loved was a spanking new P4 like those raced by Ferrari itself, but this was an era when Enzo wasn’t going to be giving even his most favoured clients a chance of beating the factory team. These cars would be to a lower specification, there to mop up should the Scuderia itself fail which, incidentally, is how a NART 250LM won Le Mans in 1965 after all the works P2s either retired or fell out of contention.

Attwood and Bianchi blasted through the field to reach the podium: an astonishing result

So while a 412P looked just like a P4, its 4-litre engine had just two rather than three valves per cylinder, and was fed by carburettors rather than fuel injection. The result was around 420bhp, as opposed to the 450bhp enjoyed by the factory P4s.

The car has been called the P3/4 (and remains so named on Ferrari’s website to this day) but that term only accurately describes the NART and Filipinetti cars, which were ex-works 1966 P3s, brought up to date and 412P specification with the suspension, brakes, wheels and bodywork of the P4, but not its engine. Only the Belgian and British cars were true 412Ps, built as such from scratch for the 1967 season, and it was the Maranello Concessionaires car that just sold in the US.

Ferrari 412P side view

412P is registered and road-legal

Ferrari 412P rear view

4-litre V12 engine delivers 420bhp

The record books show its best result was to come third in its very first race, at the Spa 1000km, a customer car beaten only a works Mirage and Porsche; what they do not show are the circumstances. A fuelling problem meant it stalled at the start and by the time driver Richard Attwood had got going again, he’d lost almost an entire lap. But together with co-driver Lucien Bianchi they blasted back through the field to reach the podium: an astonishing result against a world class field.

Now spool forward 30 years to 1997, to a small desk in Teddington where you’d have found a young man scratching his head. As the newly appointed editor of this very magazine, he’d been charged with relaunching it as title devoted to the history of motor-racing because, at the time, it was owned by Haymarket Publishing which already had the rest of the automotive media landscape covered by its then many other titles.

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And my particular problem – for that young man was me – was what on earth to put on its cover. Because while we were now an historic racing magazine, I was adamant that we weren’t just going to be seen as a repository of stories from times gone by. Motor Sport was going to be as active as possible, putting some of the world’s greatest racing cars in their proper contexts by driving them today. So I needed a brand new image for that cover, and it needed to be of a car that was beautiful, instantly recognisable to anyone with the merest enthusiasm for old racing cars, and it needed to be being driven by a true great.

It was quite a combination of requirements and, having come from a world where I’d spent my life testing modern road cars, I had no connections in the world of historic racing at all. But I did know that our advertising manager had just hired the son of the late Adrian Hamilton, one of the best known dealers in the world of historics, with a contact book bulging with the names and numbers of those who owned the world’s finest road and racing cars. Perhaps he could help.

‘Of course old bean,’ he said, greeting me like a lifelong friend though we’d never even met at the time, ‘I’ll see what I can do.’

Which is how shortly thereafter I found myself at the Longcross test track – then a facility for testing army vehicles, now part of a sprawling studio system where everything from Bond to Star Wars gets filmed – watching the 412P being unloaded with none other than Richard Attwood standing next to me. We’d never met before and I found his desert-dry delivery, plus the fact he’d won Porsche’s first Le Mans quite intimidating. But he drove the car, told me all about his time racing it, what a wonderful thing it was and what a shame it had been that the factory refused to let the customers race on equal terms. I had my story.

April 1997 Motor Sport issue cover and ferrari feature

Ferrari 412P cover story from April 1997

Then it was my turn. I’d omitted to mentioned to Adrian that I’d never driven anything like it before, had no idea what to expect and was as out of my depth in such a car as a drowning man dropped into the Pacific directly above the Mariana Trench. But as well as being possibly the most beautiful thing I had ever seen and sounding like it was powered by angels, I discovered the car was exactly as described by Attwood. It was easy.

From the archive

That day was the start of so many things. It was the start of my life track testing racing cars – I don’t know how many I’ve driven since but it will be a number best measured in the hundreds. It was the start of a friendship with Richard that endures to this day – only last month he was holding his hand out for a tip having opened the door of the Porsche 917/30 I’d just driven up the Goodwood hill. And it was the start of a new and, happily, successful era for this title.

And for me, it marked a turning point in my life. Before I got the job I’d tried to make it as a freelance journalist, failed entirely and was financially on my knees when the possibility of editing Motor Sport arrived. I did the job for four years during which I took all the credit for everyone else’s hard work before going freelance again, bolstered by having that on my CV. It is a world in which I have somehow survived ever since. And when I think back to the moment my working life turned around, I think it was with this car, chassis 0854, one of just two true Ferrari 412Ps in the world and now residing with its new owner. I hope it is as lucky for them as it was for me.