Extravagant 375 MM Ghia Speciale at RM Sotheby’s Monterey
In the early years of Ferrari, every original owner tended to be an exceptionally distinctive individual. Few met that criteria more than Robert C. Wilke, owner of the Leader Card Company of Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Wilke loved speed; he began sponsoring an Indianapolis team in the 1930s and continued until his death in 1970, a familiar figure in the paddock for his boisterous manner and ever-present cowboy hat.
Bob Wilke was a personal friend of Enzo Ferrari and, with his racing buddies Bill Spear and Jim Kimberly, frequently made pilgrimages to Maranello to view the latest offerings. The businessman would eventually own seven Ferraris, almost all of them custom-built, unique cars, built to flamboyant bespoke design in equally dramatic colors.
Among the most special of the Wilke Ferraris, and perhaps the most historically significant, was this automobile, s/n 0476 AM. It was based upon a 375 MM chassis, the second-to-last built, with a competition 340 horsepower, F1-derived Lampredi V-12 boasting three Weber type 42 DCZ 3 carburetors, Magneti Marelli ignition, and Borrani knockoff wire wheels. The chassis did not receive Pinin Farina bodywork for the track; however, it was instead shipped at its November 1954 completion to Ghia of Turin. There, in the coming winter and spring, it was coachbuilt as an extraordinary coupe - bodied, befitting the chassis’ competition origin, in alloy with a steel inner structure. It is one of only nine road-going coupes built on the 375 MM chassis and the only one of these finished by Ghia - as well as, as it would turn out, the final Ferrari bodied by that firm.
Ghia’s design for the 375 MM was similar to their Supersonic coupes and DeSoto Adventurer II show car, with an extremely long hood and front fenders flanking a wide egg-crate grille and emphasizing the power to be found lurking beneath. The two-tone color scheme of Salmon and Anthracite Grey was set off by subtle chrome molding. The hues were an unlikely combination, but on the Ghia Ferrari, it worked - such a bold, flamboyant design was deserving of colors of equal impact.
Following its completion in early April 1955, the car was exhibited on Ghia’s stand at the annual Torino Motor Show alongside. A month later, the 375 MM was, as Ghia had perhaps intended all along, sold through Luigi Chinetti to Robert Wilke as the fourth of his distinctive Ferraris. Like most of those cars, he would own it for the rest of his life, driving it just over 12,000 km and largely preserving its original condition.
Mr. Wilke’s son, Ralph, inherited the Ferrari and, in 1974, sold it to Dr. Robert E. Steiner of Milwaukee. Steiner kept the car for another ten years before selling it to the renowned early dealer Ed Jurist of the Vintage Car Store in Nyack, New York, who passed it to the Blackhawk Collection of Danville, California. Only three years later, the car was sold via Thomas Barrett to Erich Traber and moved to Europe. It was shown by Traber at Retromobile in 1990, then driven by him two years later in a Ferrari Owners Club Switzerland meeting. During Mr. Traber’s ownership his own Sportgarage Graber rebuilt the 375 MM’s original engine. In August 2007 the car was acquired by its present owner and has remained in their collection for over a decade, making only a handful of public appearances, including at the Concorso Ferrari in Pasadena, California, in May 2013.
The car is still very satisfyingly original; it was repainted some years ago in the original striking color scheme but retains its Ghia interior, enjoyed by the Wilke family, in remarkable condition with a fabulous patina evident throughout, extending even to the well-preserved gauges, delightful switch gear, and dashboard facing. The odometer shows 13,366 km at the time of cataloguing, of which all but the last thousand were covered by its original owner. Significantly the car has received Ferrari Classiche certification.
As one of only nine road going 375 MM coupes produced, the only example by Ghia, and a true one-off design exhibited at Turin and sold to legendary tifoso Robert Wilke, its provenance is outstanding. Most important, it still packs immense visual power, just as it must have at Torino in 1955.
Information from RM Sotheby’s. Images by Darin Schnabel.
See more info on this unique Ferrari in Cavallino 78: “Robert C. Wilke, A History of his Collection” by Marcel Massini, with photos and chassis list.
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