1963 Ferrari 275 P

2018 Remi Dargegen and Drive-My EN/UK

‘P’ is for perfection The amazing story of a true Le Mans great… Victorious at both Le Mans and at Sebring, the 275 P cued up Ferrari’s domination in sports car racing for years to come. Now one of the precious few made is up for sale – here’s its story… Story Peter Collins. Images by Remi Dargegen / RM Sotheby’s.

1963 FERRARI 275 P  Le Mans superstar

This is a tale about one of the real legends of Maranello. Ferrari’s 275 P was the result of steady and logical development built on a bedrock of 15 years of solid race experience. It may well be flawed, being based on Maranello’s first-ever rear-engined sports prototype, but it stands as a monument to the real story behind the Ferrari legend we know today.

 Remi Dargegen FERRARI 275 P

1963 Ferrari 275 P driven

Grand Prix cars may come and go, but the nuts and bolts of the Prancing Horse business is, and always has been, sports and GT road cars and racers. It was these machines that held the Ferrari name high throughout the often long years of F1 drought and it is a pleasure to be able to recount the 275 P’s contribution to that story.

There’s more to it than just a relentlessly rising graph of racetrack success, though. Deeply embedded in all this was a battle that started in the boardroom and spilled over on to the race circuits of the world. It is also the story of the evolution of one of the most gorgeous race cars ever to drive around a track. In its day, it was the automotive equivalent of Sophia Loren or Gina Lollobrigida. 1960s Ferrari racers had the lot – and before you scoff, bear in mind that down-to-earth engineer Derek Bennett designed his beautiful Chevron B16 sports racer “to look like a Ferrari P4 because it’s the best-looking racecar ever” (or words to that effect).

From the beginning of Ferrari, though, it was the sportscars that held the public attention more than the GP cars, especially at the annual 24-hour grind of Le Mans. During the early 1960s the Prancing Horse made La Sarthe its own, winning many times and once finishing 1-2-3-4-5-6.

The forerunners of the car you see here, which is a 275 P, were the thundering front-engined prototypes and berlinettas of the 1950s, such as the 375 MM and Plus cars with their enormously powerful 4.5-litre V12 engines and very little else. These machines required equally enormous amounts of skill and courage to drive quickly. It is well known that Enzo was conservative in his approach to sophisticated car design and so Maranello’s offerings often appeared to lag behind their opposition technically. The late Paul Frère, doyen of motoring journalists and winner of the 24 Heures du Mans, used to say that Enzo dismissed aerodynamics as “something he would leave to those people who were unable to muster enough horsepower” offering as evidence the 250 Testa Rossa with which he gained his endurance race win. This car was slower down the straights than the winner of the race three years previously, yet it had more power.

Engineer Carlo Chiti’s adoption of a rear-engined chassis for Grand Prix racing in 1961, with the famous Sharknose cars, finally put Maranello on the right path for another series of successful single-seaters and this, in turn, was reflected in the sportscars. The traditional Ferrari Press Conference, held each year early in March at Maranello, introduced the new season of racing cars to the world’s journalists. They were all stunned, not by the move to rear engines for Grand Prix racing, but by the sensational sight of a midengined sports prototype. With a multi-tubular frame and double wishbone suspension front and rear, Carlo Chiti’s car was dragging Ferrari into the future – possibly kicking and screaming.

These cars were 246s, enjoying the then-ubiquitous racing Ferrari V6 of Vittorio Jano origin. They also pioneered the spoiler. During tests with Richie Ginther at Monza, he was bothered with the problem of the rear deck lifting at speed so overnight a thin strip of metal was fixed to the rear edge of the tail to help keep it down and, abracadabra, the handling was improved immensely because the rear wheels were suddenly given a fighting chance of staying connected with the road surface. A probably apocryphal story (supposedly cooked up by the team to put others off the scent) suggested that the lip was to prevent excess petrol running down the back onto the hot exhausts after a pit-stop.

Over the winter of 1961-1962, Ferrari suffered the famous mass walkout of many top competition engineers, including Chiti and Bizzarrini, but seemingly unfazed by this, Enzo replaced Chiti with a young talent called Mauro Forghieri. Whilst trying to deal with the problem of updating the Sharknose grand prix cars, Forghieri had witnessed the remarkable success demonstrated by the 250 GTO, and for 1963 had John Surtees on board as the new number one driver. John was also a development engineer and between them they realised that by the simple expedient of shoehorning the 3.0-litre Testa Rossa/GTO V12 into the back of one of the nostril-nosed Dino V6 246 prototypes, they could maybe develop another winner.

With testing starting in November 1962 on the Modena Auto Avio circuit, and working on his usual basis of engine power was everything, Enzo saw this development as an obvious way to improve the relatively unreliable V6-powered cars and give them more performance.

By this time, the youthful Mauro Forghieri had been thrust into the limelight as the new Chief Engineer at Ferrari. How willingly is another question, as the pragmatic Enzo was not prepared to show he had been fazed by his loss of staff and merely informed those left that they were now Ferrari’s front-line men so they had better get on with it.

Clearly, though, Forghieri had considerable talent. With the developmental skills of Mike Parkes and John Surtees and the results of those first November 1962 tests, an all-new prototype dubbed the 250 P was rolled out for the March 1963 press day at Monza. This car retained the Testa Rossa single-cam 3.0- litre V12, which was placed under the rear of a much cleaner aerodynamic body by Pininfarina. It also had much simpler suspension than previous Chiti Dinos with their extreme camber changes and gawky styling. 310hp at 7500rpm powered the car through a five-speed gearbox mounted at the rear to facilitate quick changes. The wheelbase was increased by 8cm over the previous Dinos to 240cm, and width by 19cm to 167cm.

It seems that four 250 Ps were constructed – chassis 0810/12/14/16. Ferrari was still numbering its chassis with even numbers for competition cars and odd numbers for road cars, but more about that later. The 250 P was very successful immediately, winning, amongst others, at Sebring, Nürburgring and Le Mans. But there was something much more fundamental going on in the office of power at Maranello at the same time. Something that concerned a lot more than just winning races; something that intimately involved the very future of the whole Ferrari business.

Enzo was no longer young and he could foresee his future and that of the company as being in their twilight years, and he really ought to do something about it. So he decided to sell his company. According to Brock Yates, Enzo first floated the idea of selling Ferrari to the immensely rich oil family of John Mecom in 1962. The discussed amount was around $25m and apparently the deal was going well, when the potential punters were unceremoniously dumped at the altar of another bidder which Ferrari considered to have much more clout – the Ford Motor Company. Ironically, Ford ended up bidding less, having done a full inventory, and Ford being Ford, it wanted full control. After many months of time-wasting haggling, Donald Frey, Ford’s assistant general manager, arrived in Maranello one Saturday morning for a meeting with Enzo to clear up details. Brock Yates records that Ferrari asked what would happen if he wanted to enter cars at Indianapolis and Ford didn’t. “Then you don’t,” replied Frey. After all the discussions, paperwork and time, Enzo got up and said, “It’s been nice knowing you” and walked out. The deal was over.

On his return to Detroit, Frey was told by Henry Ford that instead the Ford Motor Company would “whip Ferrari’s ass” on the race tracks and so began the battle for domination of the World Sportscar Championship between the US leviathan and the wily Italians.

For 1964, then, things started to get even more serious than usual, with new Fords to beat. The 250 P had largely dominated during its first season but nothing stands still. Mike Parkes tried a car uprated to 330P with a 4.0-litre engine which was fast but too powerful for its transmission, so it was decided that for 1964 the main thrust of development would be a 3.3-litre upgrade of the TR V12. To achieve this increase, the bore was increased from 73mm to 77mm and the power went up from 310hp to 320hp (officially) which seems modest, but Ferrari’s power figures were often quoted with a hidden agenda behind them.

The updated new 275 also enjoyed more aerodynamic bodywork, with a longer and lower nose and a curvaceous rear end that was now hinged at the front edge. Three new chassis, 0818/20/22, were built to accommodate this new specification but these alterations could be (and were) fitted retrospectively to the 1963 cars.

So let’s turn to ‘our’ featured car. This is chassis 0816, so it should be a 250 P of 1963 construction. Information seems vague as to which, if any, events it took part in that year. Interestingly, though, Antoine Prunet, in his Ferrari prototypes book, suggests that 0816 never was a 250 P and started its life as a 275 P – in 1963. It may possibly have been built to replace the badly burned 0812 that year, or just as a test car.

Prunet actually suggests that 0816, already as a 275 P, was one of the cars in which Mike Parkes and Umberto Maglioli won the 1964 Sebring 12 Hours in March of that year, or possibly Ludovico Scarfiotti/Nino Vaccarella took second in the same race. And new evidence suggests it’s actually also the 1963 Le Mans winner (see separate panel). Pity the poor historian.

What we do know is that, crewed by Nino Vaccarella and Jean Guichet, 0816 won the 1964 Le Mans 24 Hours. This makes it not just one of the most special Ferraris of all time, but also all racing cars. It is perhaps appropriate at this point that Henry Manney in his Road and Track 1964 Le Mans report signed off with the fact that, as Guichet was driving at the finish, the race commentator “went mad with joy”.

The next definite record from 0816’s racing career is not until 1965 at Sebring. This was the race that awakened the world to Chaparral cars. One of them survived what can only be described as a tropical storm with thunder, lightning and torrential rain bringing speeds, even on the straights, down to below 30mph for over an hour. 0816 was not entered by the Maranello factory team due to Enzo having one of his less-than-rare disputes with organisers, so the official entrant was Ferrari Clubs of America Inc, in which North American Racing Team (NART) probably had a hand. Crewed by Willy Mairesse and Mauro Bianchi it finally finished 23rd overall in a race where finishing at all was an achievement.

The car then remained in the USA, as it was acquired by Major William ‘Bill’ Cooper who campaigned the car right up until the summer of 1968, by which time it would have been uncompetitive and ‘just an old racing car’. During that time it was raced only at Road America, Elkhart Lake seven times, with varying results, the best of which being a ninth overall in September 1966 with experienced sportscar man Charlie Kolb sharing the driving.

Over the winter of 1968-1969, 0816 moved on to Luigi Chinetti, the boss of NART. The only race it took part in under the official NART flag was the 1969 Sebring 12 Hours when, updated with new American-style magnesium wheels, it was piloted by (American) Ricardo Rodriguez and Charlie Kolb. One point here is that the car would have had to be entered in Group 6, which had a 3.0-litre capacity limit, so presumably 0816 became a 250 P for this one race only. Anyway, it was up to tenth overall before transmission problems set in, leading to retirement.

And that was that. Apart from an appearance in Paris at a Cartier exhibition in 1987 and being a feature car at the 2000 Goodwood Festival of Speed, the car went into honourable retirement. It was then acquired by Pierre Bardinon for his world-famous Mas du Clos collection near Aubusson in France. Now RM Sotheby’s has the car up for sale on private tender – at an undisclosed but presumably stratospheric price. Let’s hope we will see it turn a wheel in anger once again at La Sarthe.


This historic car is currently being advertised on the RM Sotheby’s website as a private sale – price on application, naturally, but we’d be surprised if it were less than £30 million. The sales blurb indicates that this example is the 1963 Le Mans winning car, as well as being the 1964 winner. This new evidence would make this car even more significant, making it the only Ferrari to have won Le Mans twice. We look forward to hearing more news on this exciting car in due course.

“Enzo got up and said, ‘it’s been nice knowing you’ and walked out. The deal with Ford was over”

{module 1963 Ferrari 275P}

Ferrari’s 275 P made its name at Le Mans, where its winning ways lined Maranello up for an era of domination. TOP: The 275 P in action at Le Mans in 1964. ABOVE LEFT: Guichet and Vaccarella celebrate their ’1964 win. ABOVE RIGHT: Pierre Bardinot in the car.

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Additional Info
  • Year: 1963
  • Engine: Petrol V12 3.3-litre
  • Power: 320bhp at 7700rpm
  • Torque: 280lb ft at 4500rpm
  • Speed: 180MPH
  • 0-60mph: 5.0sec
  • Club:

    {module Ferrari P}