Over the years I have been privileged to spend a lot of time with vintage Ferraris. These are notes, observations, pictures and stories about some of those experiences.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

A Roof for 844

A Roof For 844

Rob Shanahan had some business with Brooke, and 844 had recently arrived at Symbolic service center and so he and I headed down to check it out; Brooke knowing I am very interested in this series of cars.

Rob greeted us and we entered the shop where we found Lenert skillfully adding a new nose to the existing front fender clip. He used fiberglass plugs pulled off the body of 412P chassis #854 back in its racing days as a guide for the complex shape. The plugs were really amazing, every rivet faithfully reproduced, you could even see the relief of the roundels and sponsor stickers that were on the car when these duplicates of the front and rear clips were made. They were perfect to use as a body buck. As Rob and Brooke talked, I shot a few rolls film.

The car (844) was fabulous. Being at the heart of the Ferrari/Ford wars of the sixties, its history is one of evolution. It began as a 330 P3. In this guise it had an alloy V-12 with fuel injection down the middle of the vee. It had inboard rear brakes and an innovative sleek body style.

Over the course of 1966 it went through various little modifications, mostly concerning air control over the body. Although 844 had the lowest serial number of the three P3s, it was the last to be race ready, making its big debut at Le Mans where it’s gearbox failed.

For 1967, a new model was introduced, the 412P. Two new ones were built and two P3s were changed to 412P specs; which meant a change to outboard brakes and Campagnolo five-point star wheels, a new ZF gearbox, a single row of six 42 DCN/2 carbs down the middle of the vee and a new body which made it look more like the new P4.

In it’s first race of 1967 it finished third in a 1-2-3 victory at the 24 Hours of Daytona. This was its highlight as a 412P, retiring from other races it entered.

After Le Mans it was converted again, this time to race in the CanAm series. It finished 7th at Bridgehampton before being retired and that’s the way it stayed for years. In this configuration it had no roof, shortened rear deck with the big single snorkel over the row of six carbs, the front end was reshaped and without provisions for lights. About a foot of the rear sub-frame had been ruthlessly hacked away but the doors and rockers and mechanicals were largely untouched. The complex little front cover for the hydraulic cylinders was original and absolutely beautifully formed.

Above: this painting shows 844 in its three iterations. P3 on the bottom, 412P center and CanAm top. painting copyright Dave Maestrejuan

Below: the business end of 844. painting copyright Dave Maestrejuan

I took detail shots of all those little things that you never get access to and at some point put the fiberglass rear cover on to get an idea of the final shape. The four of us were standing there admiring its lines when I said, “All we need now is a roof”. At that precise moment, on some eerie cue, there was a knock at the side door. In walks this unknown kid with a large green shape under his arm. We all stared in disbelief. He walked over to us and bashfully explained, “My dad used to collect all kinds of car parts. This said Ferrari on it, so I looked in the phone book and you were listed under Ferrari and I thought you might want it. My mom was gonna throw it away” There under his arm was the green roof to 854, and written on it with Sharpie was “Ferrari P 3 4” and on the window frame said “854 P3”. He had come from Palm Springs or Phoenix (I can’t remember), told us his dad’s name (none of us knew him), that this had been stored for many years and he didn’t know where his dad got it. Pop had passed away and mom was evidently cleaning house. Knowing it meant something to dad he thought it might mean something to other people too; and here it is.

We were all a bit speechless; but here was the roof in Rob’s hands and he set it in place on the car. It fit as well as any competition Ferrari part fits. Lenert used a vise-grip and tape to hold it in place for a couple pictures.

That the roof existed at all was amazing (there are only four cars in the world with these roofs, 844, 848, 850 and 854); that some kid brought it here, where 844 was being restored, was beyond all odds. But the fact that he entered exactly on cue was just down right crazy.

Thursday, December 24, 2009


When I first went to see the Spyder Corsa, it was in need of attention. It is chassis number 014I and belonged to Norm Blank, who had owned it for a long time. Oddly, most provenance records leave Charles Betz out of the ownership chain, but he bought it from Michael Peake and sold it to Norm. In fact, I saw the receipt and (if memory serves me) Norm bought it from Chas around Christmas of 1969.

There’s a cool picture of it when Peake owned it along with a black TdF (0905GT), the first production TR (0710) and the Spyder Corsa (014I). Over time Charles bought the TdF (which became his business partner Fred Peter’s first Ferrari), looked at the TR but bought the first prototype TR instead, and sold the 166 to Norm.

014I is a beautiful example of the way cars were made and modified back in the day. Hand drilled lightening holes were everywhere. Things were cut off and welded on in the crudest ways you could imagine. At some point the body was removed and a new enclosed shell added. The body was clearly built by Scaglietti, their touch and technique is all over it. To me it looks like a little 410S, the side vents and squared wheel wells and proportions put it around 1955 or '56 to my eye. The way the old body was hacked away, leaving partial tubes here and there, was ugly. Yet someone cut the gas tank to a new low profile and did a superb job. There were things clearly original and things clearly updated. The block was a newer type 166 while the drive gear and brakes appeared to be original. There were several "Prancing Horse" bolts. It was just fascinating.

Here’s a story that blew me away. The first time I saw the car Norm was going through his lengthy starting procedure, filling the little priming funnels, fiddling with the ignition; and he lights it off. Charles is standing there, and we’re all enchanted as it rumbled and rocked on it’s mounts, and Chas says “These two plug wires are reversed”, motioning to a couple wires on the left bank. Norm had a buddy that had worked on the car. “No, it's fine, the wires haven't been touched in years and it’s just the way my guy left it. It always acts like this, it’s the way they were.” So Chas finally gets Norm to acquiesce and switches the wires (which were not in the traditional tubes at this point), and the engine settles into a glassy smooth idle. Not only does Chas immediately recognize that the issue is firing order, but which two cylinders are the ones in question. I’m in awe and Norm is a convert.

The original rock hard period tires were on 4 inch wheels. I don't know how racers drove on those things and Phil Hill said I could never imagine how bad they really were. Betz and Peters loaned Norm a set of 4 1/2 inch wheels with good tires so he could enjoy the car. One day I was driving him around in the hills overlooking the Rose Bowl and the oil pressure started to drop. We took it back and didn’t drive it again. Over time Tom Shaugnessey started spending time with Norm and he too loved the car. When Norm passed away Tom was able to buy the car and gave it a good home and drove the pants off of it. Happy to see it happen.

But I gotta tell you, that’s a spirited little car. You can really toss it around and the acceleration is amazing for a two-liter engine. It‘s so nimble! This car is actually one of the two (some say three) built on a shorter wheelbase and that may explain some of its agility, but it is really quick in the turns. I feel like I have a small taste of what the drivers of the period must have felt while driving this little gem. It is truly a champ.