Ferrari 375 Better than a 250GTO? For sale: the Le Mans Ferrari driven by three world champions. Brutal truth 1953 Ferrari 375MM Berlinetta is one of the most aggressive Ferraris ever made. This one was driven by Ascari, Farina and Hawthorn, and raced at Le Mans. Here is its story. Words John Starkey. Photography Hardy Mutschler & Tim Scott.
‘At 170mph, foot to the firewall, riding on cart springs and with brakes next to useless, you certainly didn’t want to make a mistake’
The 1953 Ferrari 375MM Berlinetta very aggressive and brutal. Very Fast. Just three epithets that were applied to this racing Ferrari 375MM Berlinetta when it first appeared – and they still apply today. In 1950, the Ferrari factory was only three years old but Enzo Ferrari had set his sights high from the start and, with the wealth of experience of having been first a works driver and then head of the Alfa Romeo racing team, he entered the world of Grand Prix racing almost immediately.
Ferrari’s first efforts with the Gioacchino Colombo-designed two-stage supercharged 1.5-litre V12 were not successful in Formula 1 and so Ferrari decided to take the route of a bigger, normally aspirated V12 to develop the necessary power to beat the all-conquering supercharged 1.5-litre Alfa Romeo Tipo 158 and 159s. The F1 capacity limits were then 1.5 litres supercharged or up to 4.5 litres if not.
To this end, Ferrari engaged Colombo’s deputy, Aurelio Lampredi (22 in 1949 and with no formal engineering training), to design a new series of engines. Colombo had by then resigned from Ferrari and Lampredi had stepped into the breach to develop the initial 1.5-litre engine of Colombo’s design. Before going to work for Ferrari he had worked for Societa Anonima Piaggio & C, an aircraft company, that had produced the Vespa motor scooter immediately post-war. He had also worked at Isotta-Fraschini on its last rearengined car, the V8-powered Monterosa.
Lampredi was well aware of what was needed and it is said that it was he who suggested abandoning the supercharged engine and going for a larger, less stressed engine. Enzo Ferrari responded by giving him the job. Lampredi came up with an engine of 3322.34cc capacity first of all, which was known as the 275 F1 and gave some 280bhp at 7000rpm. This engine debuted on 18 June 1950 at the Belgian Grand Prix, and the F1 car it was installed in finished fifth. Alberto Ascari, Ferrari’s chief factory driver, had only to wait six more weeks before he was driving a 320bhp 340 F1 in the GP des Nations at Geneva. Lampredi’s V12 differed from Colombo’s in that the heads were in unit with the blocks, both being bolted to the crankcase, with gaskets separating the oil and water. This obviated the risk of a blown head gasket.
Large-diameter bearings supported the crankshaft and the conrods were made from steel billets. Triple Weber 40IF4C four-choke carburettors were employed and the plugs situated within the vee. Ignition was by twin magnetos (one per cylinder bank), and valve opening (two per cylinder) was by rockers operated from a single camshaft per bank. By September, for the Italian Grand Prix, Lampredi’s big V12 had been opened up to 80 x 74.5mm for a capacity of 4493.73 cc and some 330bhp (Tipo 375, the capacity of one cylinder).
For 1951, power was up to 350bhp and Froilán González took Ferrari’s first F1 victory in the British Grand Prix at Silverstone, after which Ascari won at the Nürburgring and Monza. Alfa Romeo, seeing the writing on the wall, retired at the end of the 1951 season after a lucky final victory at Barcelona. As there was now no opposition to Ferrari, the FIA changed the formula for 1952 and ’1953 to the F2 specification: 2.0 litres, unsupercharged.
As an aside, Aurelio Lampredi designed a very simple twin-overhead-camshaft four-cylinder engine that went into the Tipo F500; with Ascari driving, it simply swept the board in the next two years, earning Ferrari two more F1 Championships.
The Tipo 340 V12 engine went into several big sports, racing and luxury Ferraris, starting in the autumn of 1950, but Lampredi kept on developing the 4.1-litre V12.
Are you still with me? Good, it gets easier from here, I promise…
Into 1953. Having raced several 340-engined cars from 1951, Ferrari realised that, in the big V12, he had an ideal engine to enlarge even more in the interests of reliability and power in World Championship sports car racing. Enzo Ferrari directed that it should be used in a Pinin Farina berlinetta-bodied Tipo 342 America sports car chassis for the Le Mans 24 Hours race in June. This engine was reputed to have been the twin-plug engine fitted to Alberto Ascari’s 1952 Indianapolis car and was probably producing some 350bhp when it was put into chassis no 0318AM.
The ‘new’ 340/375MM Berlinetta was built on a Tipo 102 ladder type chassis made of welded steel tube and the chassis and suspension of 0320AM – the car you see here – were completed at the factory on 27 April. This car also featured a four-speed all-syncromesh gearbox and multi-disc clutch plus the stronger Tipo 342 rear axle. Suspension was independent at the front, via a transverse leaf spring and unequal-length wishbones, and a solid rear axle was used at the rear, mounted upon longitudinal leaf springs and parallel trailing arms. Damping was taken care of by Houdaille lever-arms and braking was via huge finned aluminium drums, mounted tightly inside the 16in wheels. Wheelbase was 102.3in and track was 52.0in at the rear, 52.2in at the front. The huge fuel tank could take over 47 gallons and weight was quoted (probably optimistically!) at 1980lb, or 898kg.
When finished, the three Berlinettas, 0318AM with the 375MM engine, and 0320AM and 0322AM, each fitted with 340MM engines, were handed over to Franco Cornacchia’s Scuderia Guastalla racing team for testing and evaluation. In 0318AM, Ascari and Villoresi set a lap record at Le Mans of some 112.8mph but the Pinin Farina-designed berlinetta was out after ten hours, with clutch failure.
It was at this race that 0320AM, along with 0322AM, both also bodied by Pinin Farina as berlinettas, made their first appearance, using 4.1-litre engines. 0320AM, wearing race number 14 and piloted by Mike Hawthorn and Nino Farina, was quickly up to second place after 12 laps before being disqualified for adding brake fluid during a pit stop, violating the pre-war rule that prohibited the addition of fluids before any car completed 28 laps. Despite Ferrari’s protests on the grounds of safety, the car was disqualified. That rule was rescinded for 1954. The third 340MM Berlinetta, 0322AM, went on to finish fifth overall, crewed by the Marzotto brothers, Gianni and Paolo.
By July the three works berlinettas were ready for the rest of the season. They had been returned to Pinin Farina and their noses had been given a lower, more aggressive look and the headlights were now encased behind Perspex covers. The rear window was also different to the Le Mans coupés’, with glass instead of Perspex, and the rear upper body sides were cowled in aluminium, perhaps to reduce glare from following cars at night. And what a brutal-looking berlinetta the 375MM is. From the covered headlights, past the bug-catcher screen on the bonnet, the sliding side-windows and enlarged rear wheelarches to the slots behind the rear wheels, it was an out and out racer. Both 0320’s and 0322’s 4.1-litre engines were disassembled after Le Mans and the bore increased to 84mm, to bring the engines up to full 375MM specification. The capacity was then 4493.73cc and the compression ratio 9.0:1. A look at the specification sheet of a 375MM engine will show a mixture of parts taken from the 375 itself to parts from the Tipo 340 and even the old Tipo 275 engine of 1950. The engine number of 0320AM was – and remains – 70/M.
At the 24 Hours of Spa, 0320AM retired on 25 July, driven by Ascari and Luigi Villoresi, and then retired again at the race in Senegallia with Villoresi at the wheel. It then won the 12 Hours of Pescara, with Mike Hawthorn and Umberto Maglioli driving. After this, the car was reconditioned by the factory and fitted with new brakes.
Franco Cornacchia’s Scuderia Guastalla then entered the car in the Carrera Pan Americana in October along with four other 375MMs. This has to be seen as a quasi-works effort and 0320AM was driven in this long race by Mario Ricci and Foresi Salviati. However, when Umberto Maglioli’s 0358MM lost a wheel on the fifth stage, Maglioli took over the driver’s seat of 0320AM.
Maglioli took 0320AM from eighth place to sixth overall at the finish. Averaging over 138mph, Maglioli and 0320AM set a public road record that has yet to be broken. Imagine: this car must have reached more than 170mph on the straights, with Maglioli hanging on grimly to the steering wheel, foot to the firewall, riding a chassis suspended on cart springs and brakes that were next to useless at such speeds. You certainly didn’t want to make a mistake in a car like this.
The points from this race gave the factory enough to claim the 1953 Manufacturers’ Championship ahead of Jaguar. Just one more raceremained in the 1953 World Championship and Maglioli won again in 0320AM at the Circuit of Guadeloupe in December.
Ferrari built 26 375MMs in total. Nearly all 375MM bodywork, in both spider and berlinetta form, was built by Vignale and Pinin Farina, with one coupé by Ghia. Some were pure competition cars while a few were made for Ferrari’s wealthier clientele and were luxuriously upholstered. Some even had bumpers! The cars built for King Leopold of Belgium, Ingrid Bergman and Roberto Rossellini were especially eye-catching.
Our feature car, after its racing season in 1953 was over, was sold in 1954 to Luigi Chinetti Motors in New York and imported into the United States. It was initially purchased by Walter Luftman of Rye, New York. Luftman kept 0320AM for barely a year before selling it in late 1955 to Mark and Louise Schellenberg of Denver, Colorado (Mark Schellenberg has owned many significant cars, including the prototype 250GT Tour de France berlinetta). Sometime later, after a minor road accident, the nose was modified by Charlie Lyon of Denver, who also returned the rear window to the original style first created by Pinin Farina.
In 1958, 0320AM was brokered by Dick Merritt to William Boulder of Colorado and then went on to William de Creeft of California. Some time after 1964 it changed hands yet again, selling to a Mr Gene Curtis. Then, in 1974, 0320AM was restored by Steve Griswold of Berkeley, California, and sold two years later to another great enthusiast, Bob Sutherland of Denver. In August 1976, 0320AM competed at the Monterey Historic Races and was displayed at the Pebble Beach Concours, winning its class. Bob Sutherland showed 0320AM several times over the next 17 years, also racing the car at Watkins Glen, Elkhart Lake, and in the 1989 Mille Miglia. After being sold on in March 1993, 0320AM was soon restored again by Wayne Obry and then sold in 1999 to British enthusiast Sir Anthony Bamford, who showed it on 4 June 2000 at the Louis Vuitton Concours d’Elegance, winning the Best of Show and the TAG Heuer ‘Cheating the Wind’ trophy.
Sir Anthony sold 0320AM in July 2006 to the present owner, Paul Vestey. Staying in England, the car was further restored in August 2006, when Shapecraft Ltd enlarged the rear wheelarch fairings and reshaped the nose to its original style with non-covered headlights, so it looked as it did at Le Mans in 1953.
Paul recalls vividly what the 375MM is like to drive. ‘Where do I start?’ he says. ‘Well, you sit in, turn the key, start it up and it sounds like two D-type engines. Of course, it’s virtually a 4½-litre Grand Prix engine set in a berlinetta body. So there’s lots of noise going on. Gearbox is quite nice, though first is noisy, clutch is OK, off you go. There is a hell of a lot of torque; that engine is like a turbine. The Colombo engines always have a fair bit of valvegear noise but this Lampredi-designed engine doesn’t have that. The steering is firm, brakes are OK; it’s a surprisingly civilised car.’
Fast, too. ‘The fastest that I’ve had it up to is about 120mph, but the thought of Maglioli driving it in Mexico at over 170mph beggars belief – he must have been scared! I bet he didn’t get paid much either!’ says Paul. ‘When you think of who drove it – Hawthorn, Ascari, Villoresi, Maglioli – it makes the hairs on the back of your neck stand up.’
Here’s a car that has a great racing history and has been driven by no fewer than three world champions (Alberto Ascari, Nino Farina and Mike Hawthorn), and is one of the three original Ferrari factory competition berlinettas that ran at the 1953 Le Mans 24 Hours. It’s eligible today for Classic Le Mans, Mille Miglia, Pebble Beach, in fact all the world’s greatest motoring events, and is one of the world’s truly great cars.
Dean Batchelor, in his book Ferrari – the early Berlinettas and Competition Coupes (Dean Batchelor Publications, 1974), wrote that: ‘These cars were, and are, not for the timid or faint of heart. They required muscle, stamina, and full attention to every detail of driving to survive, let alone win a race.’
Today, the 1962-1963 Ferrari 250GTO Berlinetta is regarded as both the most beautiful and expensive Ferrari in the world, recent examples changing hands for more than $35m. To your author’s heretical eyes, the 1953 Ferrari 375MM Berlinetta, with its muscular, aggressive presence, is more desirable than a Ferrari 250GTO, fast, sounding equally wonderful and just being a real brute; a man’s man’s car if ever there was one. But beauty is in the eye of the beholder, isn’t it?
Thanks To RM Auctions, which will offer the 375MM at its Villa Erba sale on 25 May (www.rmauctions.com).
TECHNICAL DATA FILE SPECIFICATIONS 1953 Ferrari 375MM Berlinetta
ENGINE 4493.73cc V12, SOHC per bank, four Weber IF4C 40 carburettors
MAX POWER 350bhp @ 7000rpm / DIN
MAX TORQUE 300lb ft @ 5000rpm / DIN
TRANSMISSION Four-speed manual, rear-wheel drive
STEERING Worm and wheel
SUSPENSION Front: double wishbones, transverse leaf spring, lever-arm dampers. Rear: trailing arms, live axle, leaf springs, lever-arm dampers
PERFORMANCE Top speed >170mph