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Forza Italia, Classic Italian Racers At Salon Privé

By Tim Dunlop

The beauty of a Concours event is the journey the cars take you on. One minute you are back in the early part of the 20th century and the next you are right up to date with a supercar capable of mind-warping acceleration.

For this article, the cars on display took me back to Italy, to the height of the classic racing era and where better to start than perhaps a truly special Ferrari.

The ex-works Ferrari 166MM Barchetta chassis #0008M is regarded by aficionados of the brand as the most historically significant car from the Maranello based manufacturer.

The body of this car was ordered by Enzo Ferrari himself in 1948 from the legendary coachbuilders Carrozzeria Touring. The stylists presented a scale model of their proposed design (which was based on an earlier design they had produced for German firm BMW) to Ferrari which he then approved. Touring then turned the scale model into reality with the car making its public debut at the 1948 Turin Auto Show, one journalist who’d been invited to the launch nicknamed the car on first sight ‘Barchetta’ which translates as little boat.

The 17th running of Le Mans in 1949 was the first for ten years as the race had taken a hiatus due to the outbreak of war in 1939. Racing in 1949 was obviously very different to today, the lack of driver aids and the fact safety was not of paramount importance makes the fact that one of the cars drivers, Luigi Chinetti drove over 23 hours of the great race. His co-driver Brit Peter Mitchell-Thompson (aka Lord Selsdon) managed just 20 minutes driving according to the history books. Chinetti even had to nurse a slipping clutch in the final hours of the race but still crossed the finish line almost a lap ahead of the 2nd place Delage.

Italian born Chinetti, would by the time of his retirement from racing have competed in 12 running’s of the Le Mans 24hrs. He had been himself ill in the 1932 running of the race where his co-driver Raymond Sommer did most of the driving before their Alfa Romeo 8C 2300 crossed the line in first place earning Chinetti his first win.

His second win would come two years later in 1934, again the winning car would be an Alfa 8C 2300.

After racing again in an Alfa Romeo in 1935 and scoring a DNF he would make the switch to a French built Talbot for the next three years in which he would also fail to finish each race, before making the switch to Ferrari when the race returned in 1949.

He would stay with the Ferrari team until 1953 at which point, he left racing to concentrate on running a race team. The team Chinetti founded backed by wealthy racers George Arents and Jan de Vroomwould was the legendary NART (North American Racing Team) which remained active from 1958 until 1982.

With the 166MM on one end of the ‘Post War Sports Car’ Concours class, the car on the other end was also worth a mention. Whilst not as historically significant as the Berlinetta the yellow and black Ferrari 500TRC certainly has a few major results under its belt. This car (chassis 0682MTDR) scored a class win and 7th place overall at Le Mans in 1957, and a class win at the Targa Florio. However, after the car was wrecked at the 1959 running of the Sicilian road race it’s the more recent race results following its rebuilding/restoration which are also of note.

The cars current owner has competed with the car in over 150 races over the 30 plus years he has owned it including trips to Le Mans for the classic event and Goodwood for the revival.

At the 2017 running of the Le Mans 24hrs this car was driven by its current owner David Cottingham competed in the hour-long Le Mans Legends race which took place on the morning of the main event. The 500TRC took a class win almost exactly 50 years to the day from its memorable class win in period.

Making a superb trio of vintage racing Ferrari’s and tucked away at the back of the display of prestige car dealer DK Engineering was the Yellow Ferrari 250LM (chassis 6313). Salon Prive would be the second time this year I had seen this car up close as it was featured in the ‘Ford vs Ferrari’ display at the Concours of Elegance earlier in the month (see the previous article).

Across the lawn from the 166MM and the 500 TRC was a stunning collection of vintage Alfa Romeos. This display had been put together to commemorate the 110th anniversary of the Italian Marque.

There is a very significant link between Ferrari and Alfa Romeo before he started building cars under his own name, Enzo Ferrari rose to international prominence by running Alfa Romeo’s works racing team during the 1930s. Bentley had dominated at Le Mans in the late 1920’s but the four consecutive wins by Alfa Romeo in the early 30’s really put the brand on the endurance motorsport map. On all four occasions, the winning car was the touring bodied 8C 2300 and an example of this was lined up with various other cars from Alfa’s past.

Whilst the car on display (chassis 2311210) does not have any competition history it was built to the exact specification of the cars that competed at Le Mans and at the Tourist Trophy races. It was imported into the UK in 1937 by Thompson and Taylor who were based at the famous Brooklands circuit.

One of the new Concours classes debuting at this year’s event was entitled ‘Milestones of Endurance Racing’. The class was split into pre- and post-1985 and I will cover some of the more modern entrants in this class in my next article.

For the pre 1985 selection and given one of the themes at Salon Prive was the 100th anniversary of Alfa Romeo it was only fitting that there should be examples of some of the Italian marques endurance racers, the 1972 Tipo 33 TT3 and 1974 Tipo 33 TT12.

Alfa Romeo chassis records from this time in the brand’s history are notoriously difficult to track.

However, we do know from Stefano d’Amico, President of the Alfa Romeo Registro Storico that the Tipo 33 TT3 presented at this event (chassis AR 11572 01) is the car that was entered by the Alfa Romeo factory run Autodelta team at Le Mans in 1972 as part of a three-car entry. Further information from d’Amico confirms that this car was assigned to Andrea de Adamich for the 1972 season.

De Adamich had been an Alfa works driver since the mid 60’s having campaigned with the Italian marque at Sebring and Le Mans in the Guilia TZ and TZ2 before moving over to the T33 program in 1967. He would stay with the team as the car evolved from the initial T33 through the T33/2 and T33/3, de Adamich would also spend some time with the English McLaren team in Formula 1 and was entered by them in the four grand prix in the 1970 season.

He would continue his role with Alfa in 1971 taking a 3 rd place at the Sebring 12hrs and a second at the Targa Florio in the same year. Notably, he took a win at the Watkins Glen 6hrs and Brands Hatch 1000km (where his co-driver was none other than Henri Pescarolo), alongside his endurance racing programme de Adamich would in this season join the March team for selected F1 races. The following year saw a move in F1 to the Surtees team before another switch in 1973 to the Brabham team.

From the three cars entered by Autodelta at Le Mans in 72 chassis, AR11572 01 was the most successful. The car driven by de Adamich and his teammate Nino Vaccarella would complete the race in 4th place behind the 1st and second-placed Matra Simca’s and the third-placed Porsche 908 LH, this was a great achievement by the works Alfa team.

De Adamich would continue to drive for Alfa Romeo into 1974 and the debut of the T33/TT/12, but never again did he have the same success that he had with previous iterations of the car.

An example of the TT/12 would be parked alongside the TT3, this chassis 11512-008 was the car that won the Targa Florio in 1975 driven by Arturo Merzario and Nino Vaccarella. Described by Alfa enthusiasts and historians as one of the most important Alfa Romeo racing cars ever, having been a six-time race winner and four-time pole position setter.

The success of this car was partly due to the fearsome 3.0-litre flat 12-cylinder engine it was fitted with, capable of producing an enormous 500 bhp at a colossal 11,500 rpm this engine inspired by Ferrari’s highly competitive 312P was built to comply with the regulations for not just the World Sportscar Championship, but also Formula One.

The second part of the winning formula was the superb driving talent. In period, the TT/12 was driven by not just Merzario and Vaccarella but also household names such as Jacky Ickx, Mario Andretti, Brian Redman, Jochen Mass, and Jacques Laffite.

1975 saw an all-out attempt by Alfa to win the World Sportscar Championship for Makes. They had first entered this in 1967 and by 75 were desperate for an overall win. Alfa chose to move the operation of the team away from Autodelta and appointed the German Willi Kauhsen Racing Team (W.K.R.T) to run the factory-supported race effort.

This chassis alone won four of the nine Championship races with the team’s main driver Arturo Merzario splitting his time between this chassis and its sister car. Along with Merzario swapping between two cars, rotating co-drivers would also be deployed at different rounds to maximise Alfa’s chances of an overall championship victory.

Wins at Dijon and Monza in the #2 car and Nurburgring in the #1 would see Merzario joined by Laffite with Jochen Mass on co-driving duties for the win at Pergusa again in the #1 car. Wins by the #2 car driven by Henri Pescarolo and Derek Bell at Spa and the Österreichring plus another win at Watkins Glen in the #4 car would see Alfa seal the victory they had long strived for.

The last of the pre 1985 cars in this all Italian class was a Ferrari and a striking one at that. The 512 BB/LM (chassis 32129) is a car I have seen on a few occasions. Not only is the shape of this car stunning with the long front end, bulging rear arches and a rear wing that although huge looks just right on this car, the blue and yellow livery of sponsors ‘European University’ works really well.

Entered in the IMSA class at the 1980 Le Mans 24hrs by the Charles Pozzi/JMS Racing team the car driven by the Belgian trio of Jean Xhenceval, Pierre Dieudonné and Hervé Regout would finish third in class and 10th overall behind two Porsche 935’s.

The 512 BB/LM was a Ferrari factory project and very like the 550/575 GT cars from the early 2000’s, this car was only developed by Ferrari after they saw the success privateer teams were having. Luigi Chinetti’s North American Racing Team developed a racing variant of the 365 GT4 BB to replace the team’s Daytonas for use in sports car racing. NART’s car debuted at the 24 Hours of Daytona in 1975 before earning a sixth-place finish at the 12 Hours of Sebring.

Ferrari watched this programme with interest before developing their own version of the now updated 512BB for the 1978 season. Four cars would be built and entered in Le Mans but none of the cars would finish, this lead to Ferrari launching a development programme in late 78 which would see the car’s bodywork completely redesigned by Pininfarina who would extend it by 16 inches to the maximum allowed under the regulations leaving very little of the original car’s styling remaining.

Nine cars were built for 1979 with further refinements made on a batch of sixteen cars that would be built between 1980 and 82. Amongst the BB LM’s best finishes was a fifth overall and first in the GTX class at the 1981 24 Hours of Le Mans.

A total of six 512 BB/LM’s would be entered for the 1980 running of the Le Mans 24hr. Luigi Chinetti Sr’s car would not make the start due to a blown engine in practice. The two team cars to the chassis on show at Blenheim Palace would fail to finish the race as would the number 79 car entered by Scudéria Super Car Bellancauto. The only other 512BB/LM to finish was the EMKA Productions car (number 78 in the race) which would finish 23 rd driven by an all British crew of Steve O’Rourke, Richard Down, Simon Phillips.

O’Rourke (better known for being the manager of the rock band Pink Floyd) would go on to compete in a further nine Le Mans 24hr races and as the owner of EMKA racing would also enter cars in series including British and FIA GT championships. In a strange case of coincidence and bringing this article full circle O’Rourke had also prior to his death in 2003 owned the Alfa Romeo Tipo 33 T3 that was also entered in this class.

All images copyright of Tim Dunlop and www.dunlopix.co.uk