By Historian Alan Boe
Ferrari historians may quibble the point, because some earlier 4.1 liter 340 models were changed to 4.5 liter 375s, but the first pure 375 Ferrari sports car meant for racing was serial number 0358 AM, a Pinin Farina berlinetta completed in the latter half of 1953 and sold to Franco Cornacchia, whose Scuderia Guastalla operated out of Milan, Italy. Cornacchia immediately resold the car, and it popped up in Mexico in November of 1953 for the fourth Carrera Panamericana, assigned to Umberto Maglioli and Pasquale Cassani. The initial 375 built for road use was a rather prosaic and staid looking blue-gray 2+2 coupe bodied by Pinin Farina, chassis number 0293 AL, which was first seen at the October 1953 Paris Salon, and then was displayed at the Geneva Auto Show the following March.
But whether built for road or racing, Ferrari 375s were no nonsense vehicles which shared a fantastic Aurelio Lampredi conceived V-12 engine displacing 4.5 liters (or 4.9 liters in the case of the extra fast 375 Plus spyders, but see later). While the competition versions were certainly successful in their own right, winning the British, German, and Italian Grands Prix in 1951, and the Le Mans 24 Hours and Carrera Panamericana in 1954, it is the street versions that receive our attention here.
The Paris Auto Salon in October of 1953 was noteworthy, not only for the introduction of Ferrariís 375 America, but also because the company displayed for the first time its 250 Europa model equipped with a Lampredi V-12 scaled down to three liters. Both Ferraris used a 2,800 millimeter wheelbase tubular steel chassis, the longest yet made by Ferrari, and shared a four speed gearbox. Except for the occasional Vignale bodied car, most (but not all) received very similar Pinin Farina shapes.
However, the 375 Americaís heritage was not Europa related. Rather, it was a natural continuation of the brief 342 America line from late 1952 and early 1953. The twelve cylinder engine used in the 342s was enlarged by Ferrari from 4,101 to 4,522 cubic centimeters for the 375, while Pinin Farina reworked the body design. Only ten original 375 America Ferraris were completed between 1953 and 1955, which was four more than the number of 342s built, and one of those started out with a 375 engine. Seven of the 375 Americas received Pinin Farina coupe bodies, the other three going to Vignale for coachwork.
While the first six Pinin Farina coupes were
similarly bodied, the last example was a drastic departure. It was received at
the Pinin Farina plant on November 10, 1954 (job number 13442), was finished in
the spring of 1955, and was assigned chassis number 0355 AL.
Its steel body below the belt line was finished in dark green, with ruby red paint surrounding the windshield, windows, and most of the clear roof panel. A lipstick red leather two seat interior completed the package. This was s/n 0355 AL, an innovation in several respects. Show goers noticed its tall, vertical (rather than horizontal) grill with red slats; its wrap around windshield with forward leaning A-pillars; its unique tempered glass sunroof; and its vertical rear window which could be lowered several inches via a pair of electric motors concealed in each sail panel. But there was no trunk opening, and luggage space under the rear deck was compromised by the spare tire.
Perhaps the carís most distinctive feature was its
flying buttresses trailing down the back deck from the rear window. This was
only the second Ferrari to exhibit this racy feature, which was introduced on
the 375 MM Pinin Farina berlinetta (s/n 0456 AM) built in 1954 for Ingrid
Bergman, and which would be seen later on production Ferraris such as the six
cylinder Dinos. Other stylists must have noticed the Pinin Farina coupe, because
its vertical grill showed up a few years later on Fordís Edsel, and its
wraparound windshield with the unique A-pillars appeared on Detroit products in
the mid to late 1950s.
The engine used in s/n 0355 AL was identified by Ferrari as a type 104, as used in the 375 America series, but its bore was 88 millimeters, not 84 millimeters as found in the 4.5 liter 375 Americas. Since the engineís stroke remained at 68 millimeters, the total displacement of the engine in s/n 0355 AL is 4.9 liters. Accordingly, it received three 42 millimeter Weber DCZ3 carburetors, instead of the 40 DCFs normally found on 375 Americas. This was one of the first road Ferraris to receive the big 4.9 liter engine, which would be identified as the type 126 when used in the 410 Superamerica and 410 Sport Ferraris.
The car was equipped with 16 inch, rather than 15 inch, Borrani RW 3077 wire wheels, which allowed use of special oversized competition style drum brakes. Tires were 6.00 by 16. Instead of leaf springs, coils were used in the carís independent front suspension, while the suspension for the live rear axle was standard Ferrari Ė Houdaille shocks, upper and lower radius rods on each side, and parallel semi-elliptic leaf springs.
Another interesting touch that Ferrari used on s/n 0355 AL was the chrome plating on the front sway bar and links, and on the upper and lower external water pipes.
Inside, plenty of one-off features were provided, beginning with the metal instrument panel which reflected a stunning faux wood grain finish. The gear shift knob and window cranks were capped by matching wood pieces, and the chrome door release handles were surrounded by wood bezels. An unusual seven day Jaeger chronometric rally clock was located on the transmission tunnel.
The instrument panel was dominated by two, large,
seemingly hand built, jewel like dials, a tach to the left and speedometer to
the right. The tachometer also housed the water temperature and oil pressure
gauges, while the fuel gauge and a clock were located within the speedometer.
The shift pattern of the four speed gearbox was the normal H layout, with
reverse up and to the right of third gear.
Despite all its special features, the car was not
built for show but was created specially for the late Gianni Agnelli, who went
on to head Fiat for almost thirty seven years, and who guaranteed the long term
survival of Ferrari by infusing Fiat cash into the company in 1969.
Chief stylist at Pinin Farina at the time was Franco Martinengo. Under his guidance, and with minimal direction from Agnelli, the Turinese coachbuilder came up with the unique, special look that Agnelli sought. Itís important to remember that in 1954, the houses of Pinin Farina and Ferrari were just beginning what would become one of the most storied, long lasting, mutually beneficial industrial relationships in Europe or elsewhere. It was cars such as the Agnelli speciale that laid the groundwork for that association.
Agnelli kept his 375 until early 1959 when, on
April 2, it was shipped to Ferrariís North American distributor, Luigi Chinetti,
in New York City. Later that month, it was sold to George Shapiro of Waterbury,
Connecticut, and a year later to John Dietz, who kept the car about twelve
months. The carís fourth owner was Arthur Kyle, Jr., of Syracuse, New York, who
sold it back to Chinetti in 1967 for $3,500. It then went to Ed Andrews of
Evanston, Illinois, who purchased it from Chinetti on September 20, 1968, for
$5,000. By now, a full width front bumper had replaced the original two piece
unit, the grill opening had been shortened, and the vent windows had been
removed. Also, the Ferrari badge had been relocated from the grill top to the
bodywork above the grill. In 1979, Wayne Golomb from Springfield, Illinois,
acquired the car, but in 1985 it went to Charles Betz and Fred Peters in Orange,
California, via dealer Michael Sheehan. Four years ago, s/n 0355 AL went to Jack
E. Thomas of St. Louis, Missouri.
Down through the decades, the Agnelli Ferrari managed to maintain its originality, save for a blue respray many years ago. Although the thick repaint had begun to crack and flake off the car before Betz and Peters acquired it, Thomas managed to deposit even more of the blue flakes along various Arizona and Colorado highways, when s/n 0355 AL was run on the Copperstate 1,000 and Colorado Grand in 2001. In fact, admirers were encouraged to snap off a piece or two. In this condition, the car received a special award at the Amelia Island Concours in Florida, and was highlighted at the 2002 Cavallino Classic in Palm Beach.
Even though the car ran like a Swiss watch and
pulled like a Clydesdale, cosmetically it was a mess, so in early 2002, Thomas
made the difficult decision to have the Agnelli Ferrari restored, and the car
landed at Motion Products in Neenah, Wisconsin, for a full back-to-original make
First, all trim pieces, glass, and the interior parts were removed, along with the carís mechanical parts, and then what was left of the blue repaint and its underlying primer were stripped off. All components, including the electrical and wiring systems, gauges, and switches, were rebuilt in house, as were the engine, gearbox, brakes, and differential. A new interior, faithful to the original, was fabricated by John Kies, Motion Productsí upholstery specialist and one of the founding owners of the company. Once in bare metal, the carís body revealed not a trace of rust, and no body panels required replacement. One of the more challenging aspects of the restoration involved recreating the faux wood grain finish on the metal instrument panel. This was accomplished magnificently by Dennis Bickford of Vintage Wood Works in Iola, Wisconsin.
Early on in the carís history, Pinin Farina made changes to the grill, front bumper, and windows, while at the same time repairing minor shunt damage in the left front fender around the headlight. Since the object of the restoration was to return the car to its Turin Show configuration, these changes had to be corrected. Working from pictures from the show, the grill shape was elongated to return it to original, the full width front bumper was changed back to the two piece unit shown in Turin, and the vent windows, which had been removed, were faithfully rebuilt. Finally, a two piece sliding shade, which had been added under the sun roof after the Turin Show, was removed. Now ready for the spray booth, specialists at Motion Products were able to digitally match the dark green and red colors, working from fragments of the original paint found on the car in several places.
The engine was dynoed just over two weeks prior to the restorationís goal, last yearís Pebble Beach Concours and, while it was only spun to 5,750 rpm, horsepower was 306 at that point and still climbing. Before the 6,500 rpm redline, it is reasonable to expect nearly 330 hp. The torque curve is very flat from 2,400 rpm (291 lb ft) to 5,750 rpm (280 lb ft), with a maximum reading of 319 lb ft at 4,462 rpm. This impressive mid-range torque is why Lampredi engines are noted for their strong, continuous pulling power.
While at the Motion Products shop, some measurements were taken that donít usually get published, but they are of interest nonetheless. For its vintage, the car is amazingly well balanced. Total weight with a half tank of fuel is 2,998 pounds, distributed as follows: Left front, 757 lbs.; right front, 760 lbs.; left rear, 744 lbs.; and right rear, 737 lbs. Overall length is almost exactly 15 feet, width is 64 inches, and s/n 0355 AL stands 52 inches tall.
After eighteen months of restoration work, the Agnelli Ferrari was ready for its first big test, last Augustís Pebble Beach Concours díElegance. Nothing like jumping in at the deep end! Although facing world class competition in an eight car GT class, Thomasís Ferrari drove off not only with a First Place Ribbon but also a perfect 100 point score.
This was followed up with an appearance at the 13th
Annual Palm Beach Cavallino Classic, where the Agnelli Ferrari took a Platinum
in Class, and then followed this up with one of the Best of Show Trophies, this
the Gran Turismo Ferrari Cup for the Finest GT Ferrari.
But to really appreciate the Agnelli Ferrari, it
has to be driven. As Jack Thomas describes it, the engine is powerful and
absolutely loaded with torque. It pulls aggressively from any rpm. It wonít snap
your head back, but it delivers power very smoothly and with great authority.
Itís probably best on long straights or big sweepers, but it also does a fine
job on mountain hairpins.
The easy going, smooth revving, V-12, so perfect for such an exceptional motorcar, allows cruising velocities well in excess of triple digit speeds. Accordingly, it is an excellent grand touring car, perfect for events such as the Colorado Grand or Copperstate 1,000, but, now restored, it was right at home crawling leisurely onto the lawns at Pebble Beach and Palm Beach.
The Agnelli 375 stands today as a great example of
how well Ferrari built cars in 1955.
Alan Boe is one of the foremost Ferrari historians and researchers of our day, and he writes intelligently, and extensively, on Ferraris for many serious publications. He is also Chief Judge of the Ferrari Class at the prestigious Pebble Beach Concours díElegance.
Copyright © 2005 Cavallino Magazine.