NOTHING SHORT OF THE MOST EXCLUSIVE
FERRARIS ON THE ROAD.
AN APPRECIATION OF ONE EXAMPLE: S/N 1477 SA.
A RARE COMPANY BUILDS FOR RARE COMPANY.
As often happens in our world of Ferrari, studying and investigating, as we do, the various individual stories that every model possesses, especially when they were built in limited numbers and by hand, say before 1966, we still come across a specific example that brings us up short, engages our attention, and invites a further inspection. We don't want to appear in any way blasé, that's not our point at all, since we firmly believe that every Ferrari holds an adequate measure of interest, and is duly noted, cataloged and appreciated by your staff of enthusiasts at the magazine.
Rather, it is usually a Ferrari not seen in public for a long time that we very often meet, almost accidentally, and it is the immediate poise, the presence, the self-possession of the animal that captures our curiosity and propels our fascination.
One most recent example is the Series III 410 Superamerica, s/n 1477 SA, and unexpectedly large and certainly handsome Ferrari which gained
initial fame as being part of the immense stable of automobiles (over 800) owned by the gambling entrepreneur William Harrah. It had a particular
moment of singular notoriety in 1962 when Road & Track magazine had it as a cover car and performed a full road test, singing its praises
in somewhat purple prose, surprising even for the era, and especially, in a determinedly staid car magazine: "This is, without a doubt, one of the
most fantastic cars ever built for touring rather than racing use," and "the unmistakable sound of power lets you know this is not a toy, and a small
inner voice warns you to be careful." And finally the acceleration: "Nothing we can say will adequately describe the sensation."
Yes, we are often as guilty as they in using such breathless prose to describe a Ferrari, but we highlight their effusions here because is was
unusual for them. Road & Track certainly loved all mechanical things on four wheels, but their evaluations and comments were generally well measured and
precise, giving a car the praise it was due, no more, no less. To be this enamored of this 410 Ferrari was a testimony to the overriding emotions and sensations engendered
by the car.
We have covered this series, or rather this series of three types of 410 SAs, in Cavallino 87, through the able observations and narrations
of Alan Boe, and the Series III machines were dissected in even more detail by Dyke Ridgley in his monograph on the subject (and now somewhat of a cult classic),
published in 1983. Therefore, we refer you to their work, and here we will distill only the basics - thirty four or five examples in three distinct series
made from 1955 to 1959; large 4.9 liter Lampredi engines; oversized reinforced chassis; individually designed and crafted bodies; luxurious interior appointments.
The model was aimed squarely at the individual who needed to explore ands enjoy the finest experiences available in any given area of life, in this case, driving a powerful automobile at speed.
That he could afford the best was, of course, not discussed.
Bill Harrah was one such person, who had already amassed a considerable fortune by bringing gambling to central and northern California, through the
establishment of casino operations conveniently situated over the state line in Reno, Nevada. As part of his growing businesses, he founded an automotive museum
which became the largest in the world for a time, before its sad dispersal after his death many years later. Most of the cars were bought, restored, and displayed,
but a select few were driven on a steady basis. Harrah was an active man, keeping speedboats in the water at nearby Lake Tahoe, and airplanes overhead in the high
desert air. One of his favorite modes of transport on the ground was the 410 SA, s.n 1477 SA.
The car was ordered for Harrah through John von Neumann's Ferrari of California in Los Angeles, but it actually was part of a package of three ordered for American
clients. Two friends of Harrah, Detroit car dealer Bill Markley and GM designer Bill Mitchell, also requested 410s (Mitchell actually wanting a cabriolet, but receiving
a coupe instead). Harrah's car was originally white, Max Meyer 10319 to be exact,and the Tito Anselmi bible on Pinin Farina coachwork extolls the particular correctness
of this color on this body. But Harrah did not like white, or rather, wanted the car to be red, so the story goes, and it was duly repainted before delivery.
There is uncertainty whether the repaint was done in Italy before shipment, or in the U.S. afterward, but it has been described as poorly done! Just a basic quick respray to
change the color, and nothing more.
In any event, Harrah was pleased with his purchase, and proceeded to put 34,000 miles on it by the time of the Road & Track test in 1962. Business
took him to Las Vegas regularly, and it has often been retold (and is now part of Nevada legend) how he always did the 425 miles in about 3 3/4 hours, including fuel and food stops. (That's
113.33 mph average point to point with the stops, so what would the average straightline speed be between stops? 120, 130, 140 mph?) Impressive, but this was after the car
had received "the laying on of hands."
Initially, Bill Harrah felt he could get more power out of the 410, so he had the engine reworked by none other than Bill Rudd, who many of you know in later years as the provider
of service and parts in California through his own Bill Rudd Motors. Retired now, Bill took care of many of the early Ferraris in the West, especially the racing models, which
was no mean feat, 6,000 miles from the factory. At this point in time, he was working for Harrah's Modern Classic Motors in Reno, and he performed a careful overhaul of the engine. He had Winfield
regrinding the cams to Tipo 130 specification (as used on the Testa Rossas, and GTOs), and this more than all the other alterations gave the engine its 450 bhp, 50 bhp more than the standard
street 4.9 liter engine, and equal to the 375 Plus race units.
Dyke Ridgley restored this 1477 SA recently, and he notes that the hotter cams produced all the benefits of enhanced acceleration and higher top end speed, without any of the typical
stumbling problems at the low end. The large displacement of the unit could handle the race cams, and the engine could pull the car easily from 1,500. At idle, a certain staccato note
in the exhaust was the only thing to give the game away.
Ironically, Harrah had Rudd install a single plate 250 GT clutch to mate with this more powerful engine in place of the multiple disc race type unit. At first this seems
woefully contradictory, but there was a certain logic to it. The 250 GT clutch made the car easier to drive in say to day traffic, and while it could never take the torque from the big
engine in a premeditated race from a stoplight, Harrah never really put it to that test. A Road & Track pointed out, he was not a drag racer; all the power was used for acceleration in the upper
gears once the car was well under way, where the clutch did not slip, and of course, it was used for obtaining greater high end speed.
Harrah also had the car converted to disk brakes from the huge aluminum drums, and this was prudent; he was often at sustained high speeds, from which slowing a heavy car
in an emergency could prove problematic at best. Disk brakes were an emerging technology at the time, and Ferrari was experimenting with them back in Italy. Rudd and his crew were more than
capable of handling the substitution, and we wonder if Harrah's experiences and opinions were relayed back to the factory. Ferrari often used his customers as test pilots in the field,
and the good fortune, or sometimes misfortune, suffered by a chassis was valuable information eagerly sought by the factory.
Harrah used s/n 1477 SA until he bought a 500 SA in 1964; thereafter, it was retired to the museum where it sat unused until after Harrah's death. Eventually,
it found its way to Tom Barrett in Arizona, then on to Sweden, where it was embroiled with many other cars in a failed personal collection that was soon
the property of a bank. 1477 SA came back to the U.S. to Rob Walton, at which point Dyke Ridgley, the expert on these Series III models, restored it. It was found to be in excellent overall shape, the dry
desert air preserving the body especially well, and there was no damage from its misguided trip to Sweden and back. During the restoration, everything mechanical was returned to original, except for the engine
upgrades and the disk brakes. A new modern multi-disc clutch was installed.
Since the car had been repainted once, it was decided to repaint s/n 1477 SA once again, this time in a deep green used by Pinin Farina on many of its special bodies of the era.
The purpose of these darker colors was to unite the body design as a whole, and also to accent and accentuate the generous amounts of thin chrome, around the windows and lights, in the grill and vents, and
in the wire wheels. This counterpoint of diamond hard brightness against the soft lustrous deep darkness is what helped to give these large coupes their immediate appearance of unspoiled luxury.
Red was not a good color for these land yachts, certainly no the medium bright red that Harrah received; it overpowers and emasculates the design. Interestingly, when Pinin Farina did paint one of its specials in a scarlet
hue, it was a deep ruby red, nothing lighter, again to set the body off against the glass and chrome.
Why were these thirty four or five examples so popular then with men like Bill Harrah, and why are they sought after now as prized collectibles of a special kind? It is simple. They were, and are,
a compendium of superlatives in all departments, from the powerful and of so enticingly complex engines, to the robust frames and vigorous suspensions, to the superbly detailed and intelligently
appointed interiors, to the individually styled bodies - every item was thought out with patience and care, and then crafted literally by hand by the cleverest
artisans in Italy at the time. The vehicles have lost none of their fascination.
We want to thank the current owner, William Kontes, for making s/n 1477 SA available to us to photograph and for you to enjoy.