It's been 50 years since Luigi Chinetti opened the first official U.S. Ferrari dealership on 11th Avenue in New York City. So a trip to Lime Rock in celebration seemed most appropriate.
Though talented in a race car, Enzo Ferrari's path to automotive glory truly took shape in 1929 with the formation of Scuderia Ferrari. Alfa Romeo had temporarily pulled out of racing in 1925 and Ferrari formed his team to assist customers of his Modena-based Alfa distributorship with their racing efforts. In less than a year the team was home to fifty drivers including Giuseppe Campari and the great Tazio Nuvolari. The Scuderia would become Alfa Romeo's official factory team within a few years and after WWII, go on to automotive glory with its own racing and road cars, under the now-famous prancing horse banner.
Early racers, with few exceptions, were wealthy persons well able to fund their passion for automobiles. There were no mutli-million dollar salaries or sponsorships; they raced for fame, trophies and whatever prize money there was. Gradually, professional drivers appeared, first leaving the back of the grid to the 'gentleman drivers' but over the years squeezing most out of the sport. But the support of these individuals, buying road cars and racing cast-off factory cars, has been vitally important to Ferrari's survival through the years and the company has never forgotten the faithful.
In 1993, Ferrari introduced a racing version of the new 348 along with plans for a racing series for "gentleman (and woman) drivers," which debuted in 1993 in Europe and '94 in the U.S. No professionals allowed, cars to be raced by their owners supported at the track by Ferrari dealers. Ferrari 355s joined the party the next year, recently replaced by racing versions of the 360 Modena.
"I've loved cars since I was a kid, like all of us here," said Emmanuel Anasssis, winner of the first 360 Challenge race of the weekend. "I didn't want to go pro but I wanted something with some exclusivity, some prestige and I always wanted to drive a Ferrari. The Challenge is a blast, fun and visceral. And this car, I think quite frankly, is the most beautiful of our generation."
The aluminum chassised 360 Challenge features lightweight body panels, racing Brembo brakes, a choice of 'soft' or 'hard' springs and swaybars to complement the racing dampers and a full complement of safety equipment. The driveline features an F1-style paddleshifted transmission coupled to a factory-sealed 400-bhp 3.6-liter V8. "The thing that keeps us all sane is the tires," said Anassis. "Specifically made for the series, these Pirellis overheat quickly and slow the cars down. Someone really pushing can get into trouble big time. The tires go away and it takes many laps to get them back."
The Ferrari Challenge proved a huge success both here in the U.S. and in Europe. In 1997, the Shell Ferrari Maserati Historic Challenge debuted alongside at the Nuerburgring. "We wanted to create an environment where people can see the history of Ferrari and Maserati right up to the most modern technology," said Ferrari North America Challenge Manager Maria Homann. "We understand our customers really enjoy driving their cars in the environment they were created for--the racetrack. We thought 'There are so many collectors with their cars in the barn who really don't get to enjoy them.' Historic Challenge cars must be original, no fakes, [recent] recently re-bodied or tuned cars. The drivers have fun. Some of the cars are in the six-figures, but they don't think about it. For them, they are continuing the heritage of Ferrari; they want to keep it alive. Enzo Ferrari said, 'The car lives when the engine is running and shrieking.' That's what they do."
Il Commenndatore would have been pleased with the banshee wails echoing through the Berkshires. That siren song attracted at least 10,000 fans of the marque to Lime Rock and they were well rewarded with close racing and a grand history lesson. Though the fields were smaller than usual due to three races in nearly as many weeks the cars were spectacular.
Take for example Chuck Wegner's 625LM. The factory pulled three Testa Rossas from the production line to use as factory cars for the 1956 season. Sporting a special body by Touring and fitted with a 2.5-liter four, it was leading at LeMans until retiring with accident damage. The other two factory cars were destroyed in period racing accidents, this is the only one left!
So imagine how he feels when John Shirley's 250 TR Prototype flashes past. Wearing the dark red common to early racing Ferraris, the 3.0-liter V12 was raced, rebodied by Scaglietti, crashed and burned at the 58 LeMans (Gurney and Kessler) and was rebuilt in Maranello before Rod Carveth brought it to the U.S. Reliable sources point to the recent, very quiet sale of prototype #2, currently dismantled, for $12 million.
Or Nick Colonna's 500TR. With a spyder body by Scaglietti, many consider this the most beautiful race car ever made. Built to Appendix C specifications, it is lower than other TRs. In an era when even Ferraris were just another race car and often came to America at the end of their European careers, original engines were often replaced with whatever was available. Since there was no road-going equivalent of #0670MDTR's racing 2.0-liter and hence no hope of spares, it is astounding the car survived with its original engine intact. The Jaeger tach's tattletale was 500rpm past redline after the morning practice.
Or 500 TRC #0618MD. Look it up, you won't find much, in fact the car's appearance at Lime Rock was a surprise and caused rather a stir among the Ferrarista. We do know the car raced in Europe briefly and then came to the U.S. California contractor Tony Parravano bought his cars directly from Enzo Ferrari himself, fielding a race team in the late '50s and early '60s. He vanished after some minor legal troubles and his cars scattered. All of Parravano's cars sported unique details, often including an "ice-cube-tray" insert in the fender vents, much like those on 0618MD. Was this mystery car once owned by this mystery man?
"The [50's technology] is part of the fun of driving these cars, the narrow tires, the sliding, keeping the throttle on through the turns and not relying on massive brakes," said Wegner. "I really enjoy driving cars with a historic provenance. This is a piece of history, we don't really own these cars, we're just caretakers. It's our obligation to take care of them, share them with people and enjoy them. These are rare, rare pieces that have to be looked after very carefully." Added another smiling owner, "You've got to use them, they wouldn't be much fun if you didn't."
"Why? That's a good question," said last year's 360 Challenge Champion Jim Kenton. "This is fun, a great thing to do. It's challenging, the atmosphere is great, the people are great. Little kids walk up, you let them get in the car. For them, to sit in a Ferrari is unbelievable and to be in a Ferrari race car...this is just a lot of fun."