For Luigi "Coco" Chinetti, circa 1970, there was only one conceivable way to drive the Ferrari 365P: flanked on either side by two luscious ladies. A second option--wife on one side, mother-in-law on the other--would certainly never do for the international playboy, son of Luigi Chinetti, the first American Ferrari importer. No doubt British motoring cartoonist Russell Brockman got it right when he penned a delectably difficult moment in the life of this automobile: the 365P is parked, with both doors thrown open, and the two lovely lady occupants fight tooth-and-nail while the male driver smirks nearby.
That cartoon driver might have been Giovanni Agnelli, though, the only other owner of a 365P. Agnelli, heir to the Fiat fortune, had to wait a year longer for his, the second and last 365P Berlinetta Speciale. Chinetti took delivery of this car after it debuted at the 1966 Paris Auto Show and made an appearance at London's Earls Court Motor Show. It was the last Ferrari prototype developed specially for a private customer. Once received, Chinetti Senior delivered the car to a New York City man who found it a tad impractical for big city driving, so returned it to Chinetti barely used. That's when "Coco" got ahold of it, for a few fun drives between 1970 and 1973 or so. After that, the car sat in storage, but recently re-emerged, after a careful restoration by Carini Carrozzeria in Portland, Connt. Since then, the car returned to England to participate in the Goodwood Festival of Speed, then came back Stateside and cross country to California's Concorso Italiano.
The three front seats are only the most obvious innovation in this car, which allowed Pininfarina to play with several new ideas. One glance confirms that the 365P is a stylistic sister to the Dino prototype which debuted a year earlier, but the 365P is larger, as it's built around the engine and chassis of the 365P2 and 365P2/3 racers. Ferrari developed those powerful race cars for Chinetti's North American Racing Team (NART) and other non-factory teams. Like the Dino, the 365P has the high rising front fenders and the prominent side air scoops. The convex rear windscreen is another Dino echo, while the roof sports a unique feature: a specially tinted non-heat-transmitting glass.
Like most custom-ordered cars, the 365P sported the best of both worlds: a luxurious interior, and a kick-ass 4390cc V12 engine. Posting 380 bhp at 7300 rpm, the engine can reach a top speed of 186 mph (300 kph)--if the driver keeps his eyes on the road instead of on his two passengers. The central driver's seat is mounted on runners and has a rotating base so the driver can get in and out easily. This unique driving position lends the car better overall balance, or at least that's the theory, and Wayne Carini believes it's true. Wayne (of the restoration shop mentioned), and his buddy Pete Vasques, had the enviable job of caretaking the 365P for Mr. Chinetti during the car's California stay. So while Chinetti enjoyed a champagne brunch with his latest play-mates, Wayne and Pete and I talked about the Ferrari.
"This was a great concept, having the center steering," Wayne enthused. "It's a totally different feeling going down the road. I have a customer with a Mclaren, and I get to drive that every once in a while, and this car feels totally different from the Mclaren. The Mclaren seems awkward, because the seats are so far back compared to this. And also, these wheel arches give you that centering feeling; they give you great balance because you can see those wheel arches directing you right down the road."
Pete, who'd been riding on one side of Wayne, said the close-set passenger seat felt completely natural, though we all agreed a degree of familiarity would be a prerequisite for the passenger list. Pete had the privilege of meeting the car when he was just a kid. "My dad was Charlie Rezzaghi's general manager. Rezzaghi was Chinetti's west coast counterpart. There are pictures of me in this car when I was seven years old. Coco did the initial sketches for this car in my dad's office in '64 or '65. He did sketches on some paper towels at the shop, and my dad still has them somewhere."
Wayne confirmed Pete's memory and said "this car was jointly penned by Luigi Junior as well as by Sergio Pininfarina. Supposedly, this was really the first car that Sergio did on his own without his father's help." While stories abound about the younger Chinetti's habit of sketching cars on everything from cocktail napkins to tablecloths, I was unable to confirm that his sketches influenced the design of the 365P. And it is a charming bit of automotive legend that credits Sergio himself with the car's design. By the time of the 365P's conception, Sergio had been directing his father's company for years, and he had been in charge of the Ferrari account since 1952. More likely, Sergio's role in the 365P's construction was to use it as additional proof that the rear/mid-engine configuration could be highly desirable. The writing was already on the wall that the transverse mid-engine configuration would be the wave of the future, but Enzo Ferrari harbored an almost irrational fear that a high-powered mid-engine car would lead his customers into dreadful crashes. "He kept insisting it was too dangerous," Sergio Pininfarina recalled. "For racing, he felt it was fine, but for nonprofessional drivers, it was too much...I was constantly telling Ferrari that we should also make a midengine car, and all the salesmen were with me," said Sergio. "When Mr. Ferrari finally relented, he said, 'You make it not with a Ferrari name, but as a Dino.' Because it was a less powerful car, for him, this meant less danger." So it is easy to imagine that the two-off Ferrari 365P would serve Sergio as clever proof that the mid-engine arrangement was not only workable, but desirable, even with the powerful 4.4-liter engine. And, at least in the hands of special customers like Chinetti and Agnelli, it certainly wouldn't be too much to handle.
As for who penned the original design, Pininfarina prefers not to credit individual cars to individual designers. However, other sources credit Mr. Aldo Bravarone for the 365P's design. Bravarone had a long career at Pininfarina, and continues to design today in his retirement. He recently penned several cars (among them the Abarth Monotipo and Porsche S82 Spyder) for Turin-based prototype producer Gruppo Stola. Bravarone's later project for Pininfarina, the 1967 Ferrari 365 GT 2+2, carried through the nose design developed on this car.
A two-car run of this type immediately invites comparison. Agnelli's car is distinctly different in one major aspect: a large stainless-steel spoiler bisects the second car's rear edge. A second notable difference is the more prominent fuel filler cap, a la Le Mans, perched above one side's air intake. One assumes Mr. Agnelli ordered the spoiler as he was concerned about high-speed stability, but perhaps it was just another experiment on Pininfarina's part; in any case, critics agree that the first 365P with its cleaner lines--the one featured here--is the more successful design. Critics have not always been kind to the car; one popular book from the early 1980s declares that the three-front-seat arrangement is "hardly conducive to safe driving," and calls the 365P "a pretty car, but somewhat senseless."
Somehow, I don't think "sensible" or even "safe" are words found near the top of either Agnelli's or Chinetti's automotive wish-lists.