Model history: When Enzo Ferrari set up shop for himself he was joined by engineer Gioachino Colombo, with whom he had also worked in his final years as an independent contractor for Alfa Romeo. Never lacking ambition, Ferrari wanted to perform on the highest level, which meant he would have to take on his old employer in Grand Prix racing and more specifically the 158 'Alfetta' racer, which he had Colombo design at the end of the 1930s. The regulations dictated a maximum displaced of 1.5 litre with forced induction or 4.5 litre Naturally Aspirated. Like he did for Alfa Romeo, Colombo opted for the forced induction route for Ferrari's first engine.
Other than sharing its displacement, there was very little in common between Alfa Romeo's straight eight and Ferrari's V12. With a multi purpose application in mind the Ferrari engine was designed with natural aspiration first. Colombo also penned the first chassis for Ferrari, but he jumped ship before either was completed. His replacement was former Fiat employee Aurelio Lampredi, who continued the development of Colombo's V12. The natural aspirated version was installed in sportscar chassis and quickly grew in size to two, and eventually three litres. Equipped with a blower the V12 was fitted in the first Ferrari Grand Prix cars, but failed to match the performance of the Alfettas.
Disappointed with the gas-guzzling supercharged V12's performance, Enzo Ferrari had Lampredi start working on a much larger V12 engine to power his second generation of Grand Prix racers. Although it was not expected that the output of the Alfa Romeo's could be matched, the engineer was confident that a better fuel economy and longer tyre life would result in far less pit-stops. Today known as the 'long-block' V12, Lampredi's new engine first saw the light of day early in 1950 with a displacement of just over 3.3 litres. Other than being larger in every aspect, the engine was actually fairly similar to Colombo's, using a light alloy construction, single overhead camshafts, two valves per cylinder and three twin-choke Webers.
The new engine was installed in Ferrari's conventional tubular ladder frame chassis consisting of two elliptical side members. From its conception in 1946, the basic chassis design would serve for almost two decades, of course with detail changes here and there. Suspension was by double wishbones at the front with a transverse leaf spring and a live axle at the rear. Two examples were constructed and bodied by Touring for the 1950 Mille Miglia and known as the 275 S. The racing debut of the Lampredi V12 was not a happy one with both cars being forced to retire with a mix of gearbox and tyre problems. Development continued throughout the year, and obviously the engine was further increased in size to reach the 4.5 litre required for Grand Prix racing.
For its sportscar racing application a displacement of 4.1 litres was deemed sufficient and that was reached by increasing the bore size from 72 mm to 80 mm. Producing a modest 220 bhp, the engine was installed in a slightly longer version of the 275 S chassis and the completed package was dubbed 340 America. The first example was shown at the Paris Auto Show late in 1950 equipped with a Touring Barchetta body, but Vignale and Ghia also supplied bodies for numerous machines. The first major sportscar win for the Lampredi came in 1951 when Luigi Villoresi won the Mille Miglia in a 340 America. With 23 examples produced, the big Ferrari proved popular with independent racers on both sides of the Atlantic. In the meantime the 375 F1 had also brought Grand Prix glory to Ferrari and at the end of the season, the team missed the 1951 Formula 1 championship by only one point.
Rule changes left the Lampredi engine obsolete for Grand Prix racing, but its development continued. Aimed at the richest of clients, Ferrari introduced the 342 America; a road going version of the successful racer. Its production run of only six examples underlines its exclusivity. The next major racing development was the 340 Mexico, of which four were built specifically for the gruelling 1952 Carrera PanAmericana race. They sported a longer wheelbase chassis and three quad-choke Webers, bumping the power to 280 bhp. The true replacement of the 340 America came in 1953 in the form of the 340 MM, which used a 2500 mm wheelbase chassis and a 300 bhp version of the long-block V12.
Featured is one of the five 340 Americas that originally received a Vignale Spyder body with its trademark large grille and oval portholes in the fenders. Being one of the Scuderia Ferrari Works cars, it was raced at the 1952 Mille Miglia and 24 Hours of Le Mans, but failed to finish on both occasions. It was subsequently fitted with a Berlinetta body by Vignale and possibly also with a larger, 4.5 litre V12 engine. It has been restored to its original shape in recent year and as can been seen above, is actively raced. S/N 0196A is pictured above at the 2006 Monaco Historic Grand Prix, Le Mans Classic and Goodwood Revival.