1966 Serenissima Spyder

2019 Bernard Rouffignac/Motorsport Images

Erenissima forgotten Ferrari-Chaser. Untouched for 50 years, the Serenissima Spyder was a failed attempt to beat Ferrari at its own game Words Richard Heseltine. Photography Bernard Rouffignac/Motorsport Images.


GLORIOUS FAILURE Richard Heseltine tells the story of the short-lived Serenissima marque

All it took was a slap. It was a seminal event, and one that had far-reaching consequences for all save, perhaps, the one doing the slapping. Laura Ferrari, the evervolatile wife of Enzo, had a frank exchange of views with Ferrari’s commercial director, Girolamo Gardini, and matters rather snowballed thereon. He was tired of her constant interference and told her so. She responded in her own inimitable way and the rest is history. Gardini gave Il Commendatore an ultimatum: either she stopped meddling, or he would walk. Ferrari fired him on the spot. Gardini was well-liked and respected, so several Ferrari insiders sided with him. They petitioned for his return, only to join Gardini in looking for a new employer. Nobody told Enzo Ferrari what to do (apart from Laura).

1966 Serenissima Spyder

1966 Serenissima Spyder

The story of the ‘Palace Coup’ at Maranello has been recounted many times, and is rarely told the same way twice. In fact, there is more than one version, but this is the most entertaining. What is beyond all doubt is this: in October 1961, shortly after Scuderia Ferrari had claimed both Formula One world titles, Enzo fired his brains trust – which included the likes of Giotto Bizzarrini and Carlo Chiti. They responded as the jilted often do, and set about plotting a little payback. The car you see here, the Serenissima Spyder, was in a roundabout way brought about by this desire to exact revenge on the house of the Prancing Horse… Sort of.

‘The Spyder was driven at the sort of pace you might euphemistically describe as “steady”, only to drop out with a broken gearbox’

Except that it failed on just about every level – not that anyone really noticed. The Spyder, for example, didn’t cover itself in glory, making only one frontline race appearance in period, before being parked for more than half a century. It’s still packing the same dry-sump, 3.5-litre quad-cam, 90º V8 as it did at Le Mans in 1966. Even the paint is original, and deliciously patinated with it. It’s a non-runner, but you cannot help falling for its dramatic outline, and the romance behind how – and why – it came to be. The story of Serenissima is a compelling one. The narrative encompasses such characters as a 20-something Venetian nobleman, Stirling Moss’ racing mechanic, the fledgling McLaren Grand Prix squad and a brilliant American-born designer. Call it six degrees of separation and you will be on the right lines, although two – possibly three – might be closer. But first came ATS. Once it became clear that Enzo Ferrari wasn’t about to take a turn for the contrite, Gardini, Bizzarrini, Chiti and others embarked on creating a rival marque; one that would vanquish anything made by their former employer in Grands Prix and the exotica market. With backing from Tuscan industrialist Giorgio Billi and French-born tin-mining heir Jaime Ortiz-Patiño, a new company was formed in Bologna under the Società per Azioni Automobili Turismo Sport Serenissima banner. The partners were astute enough to realise that this was a bit of a mouthful, so it was soon changed to ATS (Automobili Turismo e Sport).

1966 Serenissima Spyder - Competition vehicle

1966 Serenissima Spyder – Competition vehicle

1966 Serenissima Spyder

1966 Serenissima Spyder – interior / Sole surviving Serenissima Spyder has spent 50 years in Count Volpi’s collection, untouched since Le Mans. Right: Jean-Claude Sauer/ Jean de Mortemart during their brief run at La Sarthe in 1966 before gearbox failure forced retirement.

Late to the table was Count Giovanni Volpi di Misurata, who was offered a 20% stake in the firm. His father founded the Venice Film Festival and had been a close friend of Benito Mussolini, the Count using his vast inheritance to fund his motorsport forays. Scuderia Serenissima (aka Scuderia SSS Repubblica di Venezia) enjoyed great success with assorted Ferrari sports-racers and GTs, not least claiming outright honours in the 1962 Sebring 12 Hours. Volpi bought into the scheme on the condition that, at some point in the near future, ATS would be renamed ‘Serenissima’.

‘Ferrari labelled Volpi a traitor and anulled his order for a brace of 250GTOs; the Count fought back with the blisteringly quick “Breadvan”, based on a 250GT SWB’

The plan soon began to unravel. Chiti and Bizzarrini fell out almost immediately over what should power the road car. Within a few weeks of this start-up operation coming into being, Bizzarrini departed to form his own design and engineering consultancy, Società Autostar.

1966 Serenissima Spyder

1966 Serenissima Spyder / Gorgeous 985kg Spyder hints at Ferrari 250LM, and more than doubled top estimate to sell for €4.2m. Below, l-r: three-spoke wheel fronts Dymolabelled dash; fuel tanks carried 119 litres; Fantuzzi body has wonderful patina.

Chiti was tasked with simultaneously developing a Grand Prix chassis and an engine, plus a template-setting supercar with its V8 powerplant mounted amidships, but unwanted distractions from warring paymasters threatened to derail his efforts from the start. Not that Chiti was above playing politics himself…

When the ATS Tipo 100 finally appeared at Spa-Francorchamps for the 1963 Belgian Grand Prix, it proved an unmitigated disaster. Phil Hill failed to register a solitary point to the end of the season. Appalling reliability hobbled the American’s efforts, as did a lack of pace. He finished only one race. The ATS 2500 GT, meanwhile, broke cover at that year’s Paris motor show amid much hoopla, but this gorgeous Franco Scaglione-styled supercar was doomed. The firm shut up shop in 1964.

Then matters took a turn for the torturous. Volpi’s relationship with Billi and Ortiz-Patiño had proved rocky from the outset. He didn’t see eye to eye with Chiti, either, and opined that ATS had been weakened by Bizzarrini’s departure.

The Count sold his shares long before ATS turned turtle, and had planned to concentrate his efforts on the racing team, except Enzo Ferrari labelled him a traitor and annulled his order for a brace of 250GTOs. Volpi fought back with the blisteringly quick, Bizzarrini-reworked 250GT SWB-based ‘Breadvan’, while also fielding cars from other marques including Maserati, De Tomaso and Porsche. He did eventually land a 250GTO via a friend, but Ferrari and the Count didn’t speak again for another 20 years.

1966 Serenissima Spyder

1966 Serenissima Spyder – engine V8 / The Serenissima’s dohc 90º V8 has four twinchoke Weber carburettors, dry sump and dual Marelli ignition, and is mated to a Massimino-designed transaxle. Above right: Girling discs nestle behind Campagnolo 15in alloys.

While Serenissima is widely touted as being derivative of previous ATS efforts, this isn’t really fair. Or accurate. After ATS crashed, Stirling Moss’ former spannerman Alf Francis had tried working his magic on its Grand Prix car with the help of his business partner, gearbox king Valerio Colotti. With a new, shorter spaceframe and revised bodywork, the renamed Derrington-Francis appeared at the 1964 Italian Grand Prix, where Portuguese blueblood Mário Cabral qualified last before retiring the car from the race with ignition problems. Little more came of the scheme, but the connection led to Volpi returning to car manufacture under the alias Automobili Serenissima after what was left of the ATS supercar construction arm was deposited at Francis’ Modena facility. Even then, there was precious little carry-over.

That said, it took a while for Volpi to be convinced there was any worth in building cars in his own image. He admitted in later years that he had kicked himself for passing on a V12 engine design that his friend Bizzarrini had offered to him first. Instead, it was adopted by Ferruccio Lamborghini, but, once again, the specifics of this story are a little hazy. It was only via Gardini’s entreaties that Volpi came round to the idea of making the leap from team patron to constructor, with Gardini acting as matchmaker between the Count and his new chief designer, Alberto Massimino.

From a freshly erected factory in Formigine, the veteran ingegnere created the ‘Tipo 358V’ 3-litre V8 – with twin overhead cams per bank – from scratch. Period figures quoted 307bhp at 8000rpm, with Massimino also designing the gearbox allied to it. Former Pininfarina artiste Francesco Salomone (who has retrospectively been credited with shaping the Ferrari 275GTB) penned a sleek, if unattractive, shape to clothe the vaguely ATS-rooted frame, the aluminium body being crafted by Carrozzeria Gransport. The prototype broke cover at the Aerautodromo di Modena on 20 December 1964. After being evaluated by journalist and Le Mans winner Paul Frère, chassis 001 then underwent a redesign (completed in April ’1965) with a further revised chassis and much prettier Salomone-styled body. This ‘new’ version was subsequently referred to as the Jet in (alleged) roadgoing trim, or Jet Competizione for circuit use.

1966 Serenissima Spyder

1966 Serenissima Spyder

Two cars were provisionally entered for the 1966 Le Mans 24 Hours, with assistance from legendary team owner Rob Walker. During the test weekend, however, Louis Corberto lapped the Jet – by that time with the engine enlarged to 3.5 litres – to a best of 4 mins 18.6 secs, which was way off the pace. For the race proper a new variant, the Fantuzzi-bodied Spyder (aka Torpedo Competizione) pictured here, was the only Serenissima to make the start.

On paper, the Spyder appeared a promising prospect. For starters, it tipped the scales at just 985kg, and its quad-cam V8 – fed by a quartet of gurgling twin-choke Webers – was competitive in terms of horsepower. That said, its likeness to a Ferrari 250LM was palpable. Things didn’t get off to a great start, mind, as the team fell foul of the scrutineers after failing to turn up on time to have the car weighed; a fine was bestowed. Come the race, car 24 was driven by Paris Match journalist Jean-Claude Sauer and 50-something industrialist Jean de Mortemart at the sort of pace you might euphemistically describe as ‘steady’, only for the car to drop out with a broken gearbox five hours in. Only 15 cars from 55 starters made it to the flag that year. The Spyder – one of two believed made – never raced again. Instead, it was parked in Volpi’s garage.

Serenissima was clearly scrabbling to find a foothold. Nevertheless, matters had taken a turn for the unexpected a month before the Le Mans bid, when an alliance with a Formula One team threatened to lend credibility. In May 1966, Bruce McLaren approached Volpi with a view to adopting Serenissima’s engine for his fledgling F1 team in place of the existing Ford IndyCar-based unit. With a displacement of 3 litres, and running on Weber 42IDM carbs, it produced around 280bhp (some sources claim that it was closer to 310bhp). The relationship got off to a poor start at Spa-Francorchamps, though, after the V8 let go in qualifying. It did the same at the following round at Zandvoort. Fortunately, the engine held together long enough to propel the Kiwi’s McLaren M2B-2 to sixth place in the British Grand Prix at Brands Hatch, scoring his team’s first-ever World Championship point – and a small piece of motorsport history – in the process.

1966 Serenissima Spyder

1966 Serenissima Spyder

Not that Serenissima got to bask in the reflected glow of this success. The Jungla road car had appeared in the paddock at the 1966 Le Mans 24 Hours; it never entered series manufacture. Neither did the 3.5-litre Agena, another attempt at a production model, which similarly remained unique. The same was true of the Ghia Coupé, which was powered by an Alf Francis-designed, 3470cc ‘M-167’ engine.

The Count’s interest withered from that point on. Experiments with an old Lola MkVI amounted to little, while Volpi disowned a Formule Libre single-seater devised by Francis and reputedly based on an ancient BRP F1 car chassis. Apart from a McLaren-based sports-racer, that was it.

In 1970, Volpi called it quits. Rights to the name were sold to Moreno Baldi, but nothing was heard of the marque subsequently. Or rather, it all went quiet prior to Artcurial’s sale at Rétromobile in February, when the Count decided to have a garage clearout. The Spyder sold for a thumping €4,218,800, a result that led to a Serenissima racing car making headlines for the first time ever. Better late than never.



Automobili Serenissima was quietly axed in 1967, only to be reborn under the imaginative alias of Serenissima Automobili shortly thereafter. Volpi took delivery of a McLaren Can-Am chassis in ’1968, which was subsequently transformed into the romantically named Mk168. Powered by an Alf Francis-designed Tipo 167 V8 that boasted three valves per cylinder, this brave new world variously wore two bodies, a closed version and an open variant with bodywork fashioned from Avional (lightweight alloy, below). Following several no-shows in events such as the Targa Florio and Nürburgring 1000km, there were a few minor placings with ex-Scuderia Ferrari alumnus Jonathan Williams as the works driver. The Mk168’s best result was second to Jo Siffert’s Porsche 910 in the 1968 Coppa Cittá di Enna Pergusa. Following a few appearances in 1970, it was game over for Serenissima.

Automobili Serenissima mk168

Automobili Serenissima Mk168


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Additional Info
  • Year: 1966
  • Type: Tipo 358V
  • Engine: Petrol 3.5-litre V8
  • Power: 307bhp at 8000rpm
  • Torque: 294lb ft at 5500rpm
  • Trnsms: 5-spd manual
  • Weight: 985 kg
  • Speed: 187mph
  • 0-60mph: 4.5sec
  • Club:

    Competition vehicle
    Chassis n°005

    - Participated in the 1966 Le Mans 24 Hours under n°24
    - The sole surviving spyder of two built
    - Aluminium body by Fantuzzi
    - The only Serenissima to have participated in the Le Mans 24 Hours
    - Exceptional, untouched, original condition
    - To be sold by the man responsible for its creation
    - The collector's ultimate dream: a competition car that has taken part in the Le Mans 24 Hours, in its racing livery, built by one of the great coachbuilders of the day

    This car corresponds to one of two spyders built on the base of the first 308 V berlinetta, and is the only one to survive. Designed with a tubular frame chassis, it was fitted with an engine developed by Alberto Massimino : a 3.5-litre twin overhead-cam V8 at 90° with twin-spark ignition, four twin-choke Weber 40 DCOE carburettors and a dry sump. The gearbox, in characteristically high, narrow form, was also built by Massimino. Girling disc brakes were fitted with 15-inch Campagnolo wheels. The aluminium body, built in the Fantuzzi workshops, bears a resemblance to the Ferrari 250 LM. It had a fuel capacity of 119 litres and weighed 985 kg.

    This car first appeared in " road-going " form, with bumpers and wire wheels. It was then race-prepared and entered, in the prototype category, for the 1966 Le Mans 24 Hours, driven by Jean-Claude Sauer and Jean de Mortemart. Certain books have claimed it was entered by the " Scuderia San Marco ", but this had nothing to do with the Scuderia Serenissima, and is not correct.

    The weight record book, with the car, is worth studying. It shows, for example, a fine of 100 francs for failing to present on time for weighing ! Further it notes : "missing extinguisher, lead-sealed oil tank, 2 lead-sealed breathers", all faults rectified before the start of the race. It also notes a limit of 500 litres of fuel for practice and 2500 litres for the race, giving a sense of the rigorous demands of this prestigious event.

    On 18 June 1966, one of 55 cars entered, the Serenissima n°24 lined up before the crowded stands. This was one of the most iconic Le Mans 24 Hour races in history, when the rivalry between Ford and Ferrari was at its height. The previous year, the Italian marque had secured victory for the ninth time. For 1966, Ford had deployed considerable resources. No less than fifteen official and private GT40s were entered. Not unusually at Le Mans, given the demanding nature of the race, there were numerous retirements and just 15 cars were classified at the finish. Of these, three Ford GT40s took the three podium places, putting an end to Italian domination. The Serenissima was one of 40 cars that retired, after the transmission broke in the fifth hour, sealing its fate.

    Giovanni Volpi recalls: "We took the 308 V berlinetta to the test session in April, but it stayed in Italy after that. In June, we also had the Jungla berlinetta with us, but that car didn't take part in the race. " This spyder is therefore the only Serenissima to ever have taken part in the Le Mans 24 Hours. " I remember, " Count Volpi continued, " that Jean-Claude Sauer stopped at one point to help get a driver out of a damaged car. He worked for Paris-Match. "

    Today, the car is presented in strictly original condition, looking as if it is has not been touched since returning to the pits after taking part at Le Mans. The aluminium bodywork bears signs of the passing years, but has not been altered. It has its original paint, with central red stripe, the team decals and all the accessories visible in period photos, such as the small lights used to illuminate the numbers. The cockpit has two bucket seats and a dashboard with a full set of instruments, including a speedometer graduated to 300 km/h. The windscreen has a slight split.

    The car is not running, and requires work before it can be driven. However, it is incredible to be in the presence of a car that has not been altered in any way since taking part in Le Mans 24 Hours, over 50 years ago. What makes this even more special is that, with its unique engine, this Serenissima has remained until now in the hands of the person that built it, Count Giovanni Volpi.

    A provenance such as this ensures eligibility for all the best historic events, including - of course - Le Mans Classic, where there will never be another car like it. An opportunity that rarely, if ever, comes the way of a collector.

    Participating in the auction on this lot is subject to a special registration process. If you would like to bid on this lot, please get in touch with the bidding office or the motorcars department at least 48 hours before the sale.

  • Type: Tipo 358V