Image credits: Wouter Melissen / Rob Clements / Shooterz.biz for RM Auctions
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.
This was the first of the four Ferrari 340 Mexicos prepared for the 1952 Carrera Panamericana. Gigi Villoresi drove the car in the event but failed to reach the finish Together with 0226AT, it was subsequently sold to American Allen Guiberson. He failed to reach the finish. A year later Phil Hill and Richie Ginther suffered a similar fate. Hill raced the car again early in 1954 but chassis 0222AT did not make it to the end. In the following years the Ferrari V12 was replaced by an easier to maintain Chevrolet V8. During the 1980s the car was re-engined once more. Fittingly the striking Ferrari is today in Mexican ownership. It is seen here during the 2005 Quail, a Motorsports Gathering where the Carrera Panamericana was one of the featured themes.
Sold new to Franco Cornacchia's Scuderia Guestella, this 340 Mexico was raced in the 1952 Carrera Panamericana by Luigi Chinetti. He placed a commendable third behind two of the Mercedes. Chinetti acquired the car in 1953 and entered it in the Mille Miglia for Eugenio Castellotti, who failed to reach the finish. Phil Hill joined Chinetti behind the wheel for the Reims 12 Hours that year but it again retired early. Chassis 0224AT was sold to a Californian enthusiast, who showed the car at the 5th Pebble Beach Concours d'Elegance. In the following years, it changed a few more times before it was acquired by the current owner in 1979. During his ownership it was displayed at various museums including Blackhawk and the Auburn-Cord-Duesenberg Museum. It was offered for the first time in decades by RM Auctions in their 2011 Amelia Island auction. The hammer-price of $4,290,000 (including premiums) far exceeded the pre-sale estimate of $2,750,000-$3,500,000 US.
Chassis 0226AT was the third and final 340 Mexico clothed by Vignale with a Berlinetta body. It was entered in the Carrera Panamericana by Scuderia Ferrari for Alberto Ascari. An accident ended his race prematurely. Along with 0222AT, this car was sold soon after the Carrera to American Allen Guiberson. He subsequently sold it to a fellow Texan, who entered the big Ferrari for Carroll Shelby in the summer of 1953 with a second as the best result. With the exception of a brief spell in Britain in the late 1990s the car has remained in American hands ever since. The current owner has regularly raced and shown the car and it is seen here during the 2006 Monterey Historics and at Pebble Beach a year later. He has now decided to part with the car and it will be offered by RM in their annual Monterey auction on Saturday, August 20th. The pre-sale estimate is available upon request.
These Mexico Berlinettas are my favorite Vignale coupes of all time. I have heard rumors that the reason for the extended fenders on these cars was so that if the driver hit a side rail or livestock, the headlights and grill would not be damaged. However, to my knowledge this is unconfirmed.