Daytona across France. A high-speed 1970s-style trip to the Reims-Gueux circuit and then Le Touquet by nightfall, in the ultimate playboy GT. Joining The Playboy Club. Nothing says Gran Turismo more convincingly than a Ferrari Daytona. Time for a blast to the Reims-Gueux circuit in France, to recapture a playboy lifestyle of 40 years ago. Words Keith Adams. Photography Paul Harmer.
FERRARI DAYTONA & F12 On the road in the legend and the brand new supercar FERRARI SPECIAL DAYTONA DRIVE
Playboys. They’re either out schmoozing beautiful women or beating the croupier at the Roulette table. Admit it: you’d love a bit of that, wouldn’t you? Another reason: Mr Playboy ploughs his money into a dramatic two-seater Gran Turismo like today’s Ferrari F12 and uses it for regular commutes to his haunts in the nicer parts of France. And 40 years ago, he was probably a Ferrari 365GTB/4 Daytona driver.
Standing by the roadside on a beautiful Sunday morning, shadowing photographer Paul Harmer and watching Daytona owner Matthew Lange roaring along a tree-lined French Route Nationale, should be about as far from the romantic dreams of our ’70s playboy as it’s possible to be. I should be behind the wheel, with my leather driving gloves on, but instead I’m soaking up the noise and drama like a pre-pubescent Ferrari fan-boy.
But what noise! What drama! As the Daytona pulls out of the side-road, accelerates under the bridge and spears towards the horizon, it’s hard not to be impressed. Gioacchino Colombo’s deep-chested V12 is amplified by the makeshift concrete echo-chamber, its exhaust loudhailing the musical bellow from low revs. By the time Matthew’s further up the rev range he’s in open countryside, yet the now-shrieking engine sounds even more wonderful. Distance dulls the volume, but not the quality. Each gearchange punctuates the rise in revs that shatters the silence of this still morning.
But driving – and lots of it – is what this trip to France in a Daytona is all about. In 1970s playboy-style. We’d join Matthew at Dover, catch the most luxurious Channel crossing we can find, drive rapidly along some of the 1972 Tour de France Auto route, and finish up at the sort of luxury resort hotel where our playboy would have retired for the night with his beautiful, sparkling, cocktail-dressed and high-heeled companion.
Okay, so I’m not playboy material, but with a Daytona at my disposal and a Continental road trip ahead, I can dream. There is no question of the Daytona’s playboy qualifications, though. Those who’ve not been fortunate enough to spend significant time with one tend to think of it as a brutish thing, all muscle and no subtlety – but, as we roll into Dover and line-up for our cross-Channel P&O ferry (in the priority lane, of course), the Ferrari looks low, lean and aristocratic among the modern cars. And not at all beastly.
That reputation for brutishness probably stems back to its launch in 1968. Although few failed to agree that Leonardo Fioravanti had penned a styling masterpiece, in the post-Lamborghini Miura world this front-engined, rear- wheel-drive super-tourer seemed a little passé. Yet conservatism suited Enzo Ferrari perfectly, as his cars were traditional in their technical make-up, and the company would only adopt the latest technology after it had been fully tried and tested by the opposition.
Under the skin, the Daytona was a development of its predecessor, the 275GTB/4. Similarly, its steel body was built by Scaglietti and underpinned by a tubular frame chassis. The wheelbase was identical at 94.5in, but the track was widened by half an inch. In its suspension set-up the Daytona remained true to its roots, with upper and lower wishbones, coil springs, telescopic dampers and fat anti-roll bars front and rear. Race proven, it was an arrangement that worked. Bloody well.
Ferrari retained its meaty worm-and-nut steering, and employed huge vented Girling disc brakes all-round with dual-split servo assistance. The classic five-spoke light alloy wheels were shod with 215/70×15 Michelin XAS tyres; Matthew’s car features Pirelli P4000s, a more modern replacement for the originals.
But the Daytona was really developed to play to Ferrari’s greatest strengths. The venerable Colombo V12, by then in 4.4-litre 365 form, proved its worth in a number of front-engined Ferraris. With double overhead camshafts and six downdraught Webers, twin coils and distributors, this was the most powerful iteration of the long-lived V12 so far. The five-speed transaxle also allowed Pininfarina to hone a thing of beauty out of Maranello’s conceptual orthodoxy – for its maker, this was the true state of the supercar art. And what a design it was. Pure, with a long bonnet, short cabin and Kamm tail, this was an indulgent two-seater with superior aerodynamics capable of turning 352bhp and 318lb ft into 175mph without histrionics.
As we wait to board our ferry, we soak up the finer points of the Daytona’s styling. The delicious details add even more drama to the car’s proportions. Those intricately detailed wheels, the huge cooling slats in the bonnet, and the swooping front indicators grab your attention initially, but it’s the way the light dances off the heavily curved bonnet and rear haunches that will transfix you. There’s no doubt that the Daytona looks its best on sunny days.
The crowd queuing for the ferry certainly agree. They point and stare, asking all manner of questions. ‘How old?’ and ‘How fast?’ are predictable; ‘What is it?’ from the more curious youngsters comes as a surprise. They’d never have mistaken the Daytona in 1972.
Just over 90 minutes later we’re on French soil. Finally, Matthew hands me the keys to his ‘tipo A’ Daytona. ‘Careful, you’re only the fourth person to drive it in 20 years,’ he smiles. There’s some nervousness behind this amiability, and it’s understandable. His car’s immaculate – despite being used regularly, clocking up 55,000 miles – and it has been in the family since late 1974, after being delivered new to the UK in September the previous year. ‘Dad bought the car for around £7500, some 30% off what it would have cost new. This was the least rusty one he’d been looking at.’
It racked up 40,000 hard miles over the next three years. A repaint followed, with a colour change from Dino Blue Metallic to Rosso Chiaro, and the interior changed from light blue to black. It was passed to Matthew for his 30th birthday, since when it’s received an uprated starter motor, stainless steel exhausts, and a Ferrari 400 power steering set-up. It’s this final upgrade that really piques my interest. Standard Daytonas are a bit truculent around town, but utterly planted at speed. Would power assistance alter the balance? Time to have my shot at being the playboy, and find out for myself. Even the door release is unusual – a discreet little chrome catch at the top of the door. It opens wide, and it’s surprisingly easy to get in over the sill, especially compared with the Lambo-limbo dance of collapsing into a Miura or Countach. Once you’re settled into the reclined, supportive leather bucket seat, there’s ample leg- and elbow-room – and fabulous all-round visibility – for those who like an old-school stretched-leg, straight-armed driving position. Clearly Ferrari understood that its customers weren’t all built like slim-hipped race drivers. Even the playboys.
Best of all is that the dashboard and steering wheel are a work of industrial art. The three-spoke wheel, leather-bound with aluminium spokes, is perfectly positioned for those who drive with their fingertips. The instruments – a large speedometer and tacho, split by four auxiliary gauges, and flanked by a further pair – are housed in a lovely oval binnacle and all easily read. It’s businesslike in here. Perfect for high- speed work. We have a rendezvous with a racing circuit, we’re aspiring playboys, and we don’t want to be late.
The V12 fires into life quickly and cleanly, and despite its complex induction system it settles to an even, steady idle after its first dramatic bark. Trickling away, it’s impossible not to be impressed by the smooth power take-up and friendly, albeit weighty, clutch. Changing gear in a cold Daytona is an exercise for the sympathetic. For now, the dogleg first-to- second is taken deliberately and in an unhurried fashion, but I’m soon revelling in the feel that gearshift transmits.
Experience tells us that the first hundred or so miles of France should be covered as quickly as possible. We start on A-roads that link grey identikit towns, but the 175mph Daytona feels like a caged leopard and, although it’s happy and unfussed ambling behind locals driving their smoky old diesel hatchbacks at 45mph, we are not. We do what any self-respecting playboy does, and head for the autoroute.
This Italian certainly has long legs. Fifth gear pulls happily from 25mph yet also makes for a restful cruise, ticking over at less than 3000rpm for 80mph. Ride quality is excellent and damping surprisingly good, too – for bottoms used to modern sports cars, the compliancy of a 70-series-shod Ferrari will come as a revelation. Funny to think that back in the day it was criticised for being too firm. I briefly consider flicking on the radio. Does it work? ‘I don’t know,’ says Matthew, looking at me questioningly. ‘I’ve never tried it.’ Quite.
As for the steering, you won’t even notice its power assistance. Matthew reckons that his Daytona starts to feel light above 120mph, and at a legalish cruise it’s accurate and capable of transmitting far more road feel than you’d expect of a fully fledged Gran Turismo.
We soon find ourselves within shouting distance of the ancient walled city of Laon. Its cathedral stands proud on the horizon, towering above the rolling plains like a stern overlord. And I’m relishing the prospect of the open road that we can see stretching between the city and us. This is Daytona country.
We press on. The weather is improving, summer sun peeking through broken cloud. Matthew summons the Daytona’s air conditioning, admitting that it’s not really up to the task of cooling an interior superheated by a vast glass area. It’s not the end of the world; the electric windows work just fine, and when they’re open we can mainline on a first-class rendition of V12, echoing off the walls.
That gives us encouragement to crack on and, now the Daytona and I have grown comfortable together, I can push harder along the straights and through the corners. From around 30mph, and on half-throttle in third, the power makes itself felt in a wonderfully linear way, and acceleration is rapid without feeling spiky. As I hook it into fourth and progressively apply more throttle, the tacho needle sweeps round, the engine note deepens and urgency increases. It’s difficult to recall a car whose throttle response is so well synchronised with the acceleration it metes out.
On these sweeping roads we’re constantly catching other drivers, but passing poses no problem. Consider these numbers: 70-90mph in third takes 3.0sec; in fourth, it’s 4.0; and in fifth, it’s still only 5.5. In the real world, that means a floored throttle in third gets you to three- figure speeds far too quickly, whereas fourth gear is quick enough but also effortless, so you don’t look like you’re trying too hard. And that’s just as it should be.
In Laon, where we fill the 126-litre (27.7-gallon) fuel tank, we’re really enjoying the Daytona lifestyle. It attracts attention – the right sort – and the ease with which it covers long distances is truly impressive. In 1972, it was so far ahead of the mass-market morass that the possibilities it could open up were reserved solely for the rich. We’re within sight of Reims now. We want to visit the old track, as it was part of the 1972 Tour de France for automobiles. Despite being launched in 1968, the Daytona took until ‘1972 to come good in racing. It was homologated at 402bhp, and gained 11in-wide wheels at the rear, as well as a raft of aerodynamic alterations. After dominating its class at the Le Mans 24 Hours, taking the first five places, the Daytona arrived at the Tour de France with high expectations.
The eight-day event, which combined circuit racing, hillclimbs, rally special stages and long road sections, offered up a truly unique challenge. The Daytonas driven by Jean-Claude Andruet and Vic Elford ended up duelling for race victory. The pair traded fastest times in all stages, hillclimbs and finished 1-2 in the races – but Elford retired after an off at the Ballon d’Alsace special stage and left Andruet free and clear to take the win.
We arrive at the Reims-Gueux start/finish straight, and the ghosts of those V12 racing Daytonas going wheel-to-wheel at more than 150mph are ringing in our ears. The sun sets on the pit buildings and grandstands that line the D27 between Gueux and Reims, and the atmosphere builds – even if it’s a shadow of how things must have been when racing here was at its peak. It’s impossible to avoid the temptation to run the Daytona up and down the site of its former glories, windows down, once again experiencing in glorious stereo the soundtrack echoing off the empty grandstands.
The location weaves its evening magic, and we blast quickly along the straight, unleashing mighty acceleration. Contemporary road tests reported 0-60mph in 5.5sec and 0-100 in 12.5. Right now, it doesn’t feel much slower.
The next morning dawns grey and overcast. Are we in England again? No, but we’re some distance from the Westminster Hotel in Le Touquet. It’s a grand stopover in ‘Paris by the sea’, the former playground of the rich and famous, epitomised by Noel Coward and the smart set. With all day to get there, we decide to bypass the autoroutes. The Daytona communicates so well through the seats, the wheel and the pedals that straight-lining it seems like a tragic waste.
Taking these twistier roads leads to more revelations. At higher speeds there’s the merest hint of understeer on turn-in, but this can be dialled out by playing with the ultra-accurate throttle – a little more results in neutrality; and a lot more equals controlled oversteer. On the road I’ll take neutrality every time.
Either way, it’s a Joy feeding a Daytona into a corner, allowing it to settle and adopt its line, and then play tentatively with the balance of the car, feeling it shift around you. There’s a delicacy and level of feel here that you simply won’t find in any of its contemporaries – and there we have it. The Daytona does bends, and it does them quickly, too.
It’s this discovery – to add to the armoury of talents that we’ve already uncovered about the Daytona on our road trip – that convinces us we’re experiencing a car of true greatness first-hand. Technically it might have been a generation behind the Lamborghini Miura, and yet it was – and is – the faster, safer car by some margin.
The Daytona might lack the Lamborghini’s drama and even its undoubted beauty, but it’s a far more capable car. Lest we forget, the Daytona was documented as being the fastest of them all during its five-year production run, and that’s quite an achievement. Yet it’s not Just towering speed that sets the Daytona apart, but also its usability. Many times over the weekend I found myself uttering five dangerous words: ‘I could live with this.’
And so we roll into Le Touquet, allowing the Westminster’s concierge to unload our bags from the Daytona’s ample boot – 1972’s playboy really did have it all if he used his Ferrari the way Enzo intended. There was nothing else like it at the time for making a dramatic entrance in one piece, after driving 1000 miles to get there. Mr Playboy was one lucky guy.
Below and right Crossing the Channel by car ferry is all part of the GT experience; the historic Reims-Gueux circuit (or rather the remains of it) makes for a stunningly evocative travel destination.
Above and right Playboy paradise: sit in here and you have command over a mighty, bellowing 352bhp V12; and this is the mighty bit that does the bellowing, as gorgeous to look at as it is to listen to. Left and above Northern France at its prettiest – medieval towns and châteaux galore on the way into Champagne country. Lightly trafficked roads are a regular feature too – this is definitely Daytona territory. Above The Westminster Hotel: natural habitat for Mr Playboy to retire to after a lengthy high-speed drive and an evening at the casino. Le Touquet is ‘Paris by the sea’, after all.
‘Each gearchange punctuates the rise in revs that shatters the silence of this still morning’
‘The 175mph Daytona feels like a caged leopard. So we do what any self-respecting playboy does, and head for the autoroute’
TECHNICAL DATA FILE SPECIFICATIONS 1973 FERRARI 365GTB/4 DAYTONA
ENGINE 4390cc V12, DOHC, dual ignition, six Weber 40 carburettors
MAX POWER 352bhp @ 7500rpm / DIN nett
MAX TORQUE 318lb ft @ 5500rpm / DIN nett
TRANSMISSION Five-speed manual transaxle, rear-wheel drive
SUSPENSION Front and rear: double wishbones, coil springs, telescopic dampers, anti-roll bar
BRAKES Discs, servo-assisted
PERFORMANCE Top speed 175mph. 0-60mph 5.5sec