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  Serenissima 308 Jet Competizione

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Country of origin:Italy
Produced in:1965
Designed by:Francesco Salamone
Author:Wouter Melissen
Last updated:October 09, 2006
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Click here to download printer friendly versionCount Giovanni Volpi di Misurata was one of Italy's most prominent privateers in the early 1960s. Under the Scuderia Serenissima Republica di Venezia (Scuderia ssS) banner he fielded mostly Ferraris for the country's finest drivers. When a number of Ferrari's finest engineers left the Maranello based manufacturer after the palace revolution of 1961, the young Count was one of a number of financial backers of their new company; Automobili Turismo e Sport (ATS). Understandably this did not make Enzo Ferrari particularly happy and all of the Count's orders were cancelled. Internal conflicts at ATS prevented the company from ever really taking off, so Count Volpi was short of racing cars for the 1962 season. As a stop-gap he had former Ferrari and ATS engineer Giotto Bizzarrini modify two older Ferraris, but neither proved to be very successful.

Reluctant to give up, Count Volpi decided to have a sportsracer built carrying the Serenissima name. By this time his friend Bizzarrini was employed by ASA and was thus unable to provide his services. In Alberto Massimino of Lancia-Ferrari D50 and Maserati 250F fame, a worthy replacement was found. Third party suppliers were used to construct the mechanicals to the designs of Massimino. Following the latest trends in motor racing the Italian engineer penned a spaceframe design with a mid-engined layout. The V8 powerplant featured double overhead camshafts and dual ignition. It has long been thought that the engine was derived from the ATS V8 unit, but we were told that it was in fact designed new from scratch. Displacing just under three litres, it was mated to a Colotti five speed gearbox. Founded by another ex-Ferrari and ex-ATS man Gerolamo Gardini, Sassamotors of Modena, Italy was commissioned to construct the parts.

Late in 1964 the package was completed with an elegant coupe bodywork designed by Francisco Salomone and constructed by Carrozeria Gransport / Vaccari & Baccarini. A final finishing touch was a custom Serenissima badge on the nose supplied to the Count by Gianni Bulgari. Dubbed the '308V GT Prototyp', the first chassis was shaken down at the Aerautodromo Modena on December 20th 1964. It did not receive universal acclaim and Le Mans winning journalist Paul Frere was particularly critical of the new car and even its instigator. Apparently not happy with the results of that first test both Massimino and Salamone returned to their drawing boards and a few months later a completely revised version of the Serenissima surfaced. A completely new body and a modified, shortened chassis were the main changes. This second incarnation was optimistically dubbed 'Jet'. Carrying chassis number 003, the first Jet debuted in October 1965 and was continuously tested and modified in the following months. The specification eventually deemed ready to take on the competition was aptly named Competizione.

After three years of hard work the Jet Competizione made its competition debut in the Le Mans trials in April of 1966. Frenchman Louis Corberto recorded a best time of 4'18.2, which was almost two seconds slower than Andre de Cortanze in the Count's old Ferrari 250 GTO. Not satisfied with the results, it was back to the drawing boards once more. A larger engine and a new Fantuzzi constructed open bodywork were fitted to a sister car, which was readied for the 24 Hours race. In the mean time the Jet Competizione was fielded in an Italian hillclimb where it finished second in the prototype class. Subsequently the three litre engine from the Jet Competizione 003 was removed to be fitted in Bruce McLaren's first Formula 1 car. The best result scored by the Serenissima engined McLaren M2B was a sixth position at Brands Hatch, scoring the team's first World Championship point. For the 1967 McLaren switched to more reliable BRM power. Despite the engineers' best efforts the open Serenissima faired even worse at Le Mans and did not come close to the lap times recorded earlier that year with smaller engined coupe. A broken gearbox four hours into the race meant the end of Serenissima's brief sports racing career.

Count Volpi and to a lesser extent Enzo Ferrari experienced in 1966 that the days of the low volume racing car manufacturers were numbered. Although he was the heir to one of Italy's largest fortunes, the brave Count Volpi did not feel capable of dicing it out with the likes of Ford and Porsche, who complemented their financial means with an abundance of talented engineers on the payroll. Since his withdrawal from motorsport the Count retained most of the Serenissima project with the exception of the Jet Competizione 003 chassis and one of the three litre engines. The engineless car was sold to Switzerland in the early 1970s and the engine spent a long time in the back of one of the Lola Mk6s, which was owned by Serenissima's former technical manager Alf Francis. Francis parted with the engine in 1978 and since then the chassis and engine have been reunited. Cleaned, but still in completely original condition the highly interesting Serenissima made its first public appearance at the 2006 Concorso d'Eleganza Villa d'Este. One of the very few original bits missing from the car is the photo-camera originally fitted in the engine-bay to observe the car's behaviour during testing. After a search of many months, it was decided to fit a similar camera in its place.

We would like to thank Noel Rieben for his patience in letting us examine the unique car in detail at Villa d'Este and for supplying many of the missing pieces of the puzzle that is this racer's fascinating history.

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  Article Image gallery (16) Specifications User Comments (1)