10 cars that were built to beat Ferrari

| 12 Apr 2019
Classic & Sports Car – 10 cars that were built to beat Ferrari

Though not without a certain charm, Enzo Ferrari, in his career as a builder of race and road cars, certainly upset one or two people; his arrogance, determination, and an ability to manipulate those around him inevitability resulted in a few falling outs.

Many foreheads wore his boot print and his ruthlessness in ascending the greasy pole of motorsport dominance – while simultaneously creating a dynasty of roadgoing sports and GT cars that defined the parameters of the ‘exotic’ automobile – meant he was not a man to be crossed.

The price of success was a high rate of attrition among his staff, annoyed customers and a long list of would-be rivals among ex-staff or other owners, who were either envious of his success or out for simple revenge.

Yet, with two or three notable exceptions, few of the vehicles that emerged from this febrile atmosphere of Machiavellian intrigue ever challenged the dominance of his cars; though pig-headed and set in his ways, Mr Ferrari had an annoying habit of being right!

1. Ferruccio Lamborghini: Lamborghini 350GT

Classic & Sports Car – 10 cars that were built to beat Ferrari

This car is perhaps the most famous Ferrari-beater of all.

The story goes that Ferruccio Lamborghini, noted and wealthy maker of tractors and heating equipment, visited Maranello one day to tell Enzo about a modification he had made to his personal Ferrari road car to improve the clutch.

He was treated with high-handed contempt by Enzo, who said something along the lines of ‘You stick to making tractors, and I will stick to building my cars.’

Mr Lamborghini decided, virtually on the spot, that he was going to take revenge on Enzo by building the ‘best GT car in the world’.

He assembled a talented young team around him, including ex-Ferrari engineers Giotto Bizzarrini and Giampaolo Dallara, and set about creating a front-engined two-seater powered by a four-cam 3.5-litre V12 engine that was probably the best of its kind; certainly the chassis, with wishbones and coil springs all round, was well in advance of what Ferrari was offering his road car customers.

The Lamborghini 350GTV was first seen at Turin in 1963, although the true production 350GTs, with a more subtly shaped production bodywork by Touring – complete with bug-eyed headlamps – did not become available until 1964.

Meanwhile, a modern new factory had been erected to build the cars and the myth of Lamborghini was underway.

Connoisseurs recognised the excellence of these first Lamborghinis – as did the press – but only with the introduction of the ground-breaking mid-engined Miura (and to a certain extent the four-place Espada) did Lamborghini build road cars that challenged – and even exceeded – the mystique of Ferrari.

Fewer than 400 of the early front-engined Lambos were built, but their sophistication caused Ferrari to improve the technology underpinning his own road cars, which had to be a good thing.

2. Peter Monteverdi: Monteverdi 375S/375L

Classic & Sports Car – 10 cars that were built to beat Ferrari

Many and varied are the American-engined, European grand touring cars that have fleetingly challenged Ferrari on the road.

The Monteverdi 375 was one of the better examples, created by former racing driver and BMW importer Peter Monteverdi who, as the Ferrari concessionaire for Switzerland, fell out with Enzo over a payment for a consignment 100 cars he claimed he had not agreed to take.

That was in 1963. By 1967, his 375S was making its debut at the Frankfurt show, a sleek Frua-styled coupé powered by a 7.2-litre Chrysler V8.

The 375 was fast, but no racing machine. Monteverdi merely wanted to build a reliable luxury GT cast somewhat in the mould of the Jensen Interceptor, but with a more sophisticated spaceframe chassis and a De Dion rear axle.

After the first 11 had been built, Frua and Monteverdi had a parting of the ways (Mr M was possibly an even more difficult character than Enzo Ferrari when it came to business) and the 375S became the 375L 2+2 in 1969, with a rather similar body by Fissore.

Anyone with a weakness for Top Trumps will recall the Monteverdi name, as the cars often had the biggest engines, highest top speeds and largest price tags.

What the cards did not say was quite how rare these big V8 mongrels really were: it is thought that production barely got into three figures before the fuel crisis gave Monteverdi cause to change direction and build oddly modified Plymouths plus his own version of the International Harvester Scout off-road car called the Safari.

3. Henry Ford II: Ford GT40

Classic & Sports Car – 10 cars that were built to beat Ferrari

Henry Ford II was set to buy Ferrari in the early ’60s, but was jilted at the alter when he and Enzo fell out over the Italians’ rights to race at Indianapolis.

When Enzo walked away, a furious Henry II sanctioned his competition department to find a company who could build a car for Ford that would beat all-comers in endurance racing, particularly the Le Mans 24 Hours and even more particularly the Ferraris.

They found a ready-made basis for a winner in Eric Broadley’s Lola GT, which had showed potential at Le Mans already – and used a mid-mounted Ford V8.

Former Aston Martin Competition manager John Wyer was hired to develop the car into a winner that would triumph at Le Mans in 1966, ’67, ’68 and ’69, including the famous 1-2-3 finish in ’66 pictured above. Point proven.

It is unlikely that Monteverdi stole many sales from Ferrari, but the GT40 really hit Enzo where it hurt.

READ MORE: How the Lola Mk6 annoyed Ford bosses and inspired the GT40

4. Carroll Shelby: Shelby Daytona Coupe

Classic & Sports Car – 10 cars that were built to beat Ferrari

Carroll Shelby, only the second American to win the Le Mans 24 Hours, had witnessed exactly how Enzo Ferrari worked at close quarters during his spell racing in Europe and didn’t like what he saw in terms of the way he treated his drivers; he even blamed him for the death of his friend, Luigi Musso.

A former chicken farmer, Shelby was not exactly an easy man himself. Also like Ferrari, however, commercial success for the cars that bore his name – the Shelby Cobras – depended on racing glory.

In 1963, the Ford V8-engined roadsters were the cars to beat in local SCCA events, but it was the promise of racing success in Europe, and particularly at Le Mans, that would give Shelby’s cars the final stamp of credibility. The idea of beating Ferrari at his own game, on his home turf, merely added lustre to a plan that was shaping up nicely.

The Daytona Coupes became the second part of Henry Ford II’s dual-pronged attack on Ferrari and the racing world: the GT40s were built for outright victory in the prototype class, while the Daytonas were homologated for the GT class to take on the Ferrari GTOs.

Mindful that the standard version could not take full advantage of the Mulsanne straight, it was decided that a new and much more aerodynamic closed body was required for Le Mans success. Enter Pete Brock, first paid Shelby employee, who created a completely new shape that would allow for nearly 200mph.

Six Daytona Coupes were built and, as well as winning their class at Le Mans in 1964, they also scored victories in the Sebring 12 Hours (1964 and 1965), the RAC Tourist Trophy, the Daytona 24 Hours and the Nurburgring 1000 Kilometres, to name just a few.

READ MORE: What it's like to drive the Shelby Daytona Coupe

5. Giotto Bizzarrini: Bizzarrini 5300 GT Strada

Classic & Sports Car – 10 cars that were built to beat Ferrari

Giotto Bizzarrini worked at Ferrari from 1957 to 1961 in the roles of designer, developer, test driver and chief engineer and put his mark on all-time greats such as the 250 TR, the 250GT SWB and the 250GTO.

His 1961 departure was part of a great cull of Maranello talent. With the firm’s sales manager no longer able to suffer the interference of Mrs Ferrari, he threatened to walk out unless she was removed from the company. What’s more, he said he’d be taking several other key and supportive employees with him, including Carlo Chiti and Bizzarrini.

Enzo was in no mood for threats and sacked the protesting group on the spot, despite the fact that his 250GTO was not yet finished and that there were no obvious replacements for the departing technical personnel waiting in the wings.

The result of this so called ‘Palace Revolt’ was not only the formation of ATS (see below) but also the launching of the freelance career of the prolifically gifted Bizzarrini, who went on to design not only the V12 engine for Lamborghini but also the chassis for the new Corvette-powered ISO Grifo, which in lightweight racing form, as the A3C (with pop-riveted body), could have rivalled the 250GTO in competition.

Trouble was, the era of the true mid-engined GT sports cars was gaining momentum so, by the time the 5300 GT went into production as a Bizzarrini-badged car in 1965, its moment had passed as a force in racing.

However a few ‘street’, or GT Strada versions, were built for those who fancied the idea of a macho 160mph supercar with few luxuries.

6. Wifredo Ricart: Pegaso Z-102

Classic & Sports Car – 10 cars that were built to beat Ferrari

Ricart was a Spanish engineer who had somehow clashed with Enzo Ferrari when the two worked at Alfa Romeo in the ’30s. Ferrari believed the Spaniard was to blame for his dismissal from the firm and would certainly have seen the Ricart-designed Pegaso Z-102 sports cars of 1951-’58 as a challenge.

Nor did his antipathy towards the Spaniard diminish with time: in his memoirs, he poured particular scorn on Ricart’s choice of footwear (apparently, his shoes had thick crêpe soles).

Ricart no doubt relished the prospect of creating this cost-no-object car: with its magnificent four-camshaft V8 (which when supercharged, gave 275bhp) driving through a transaxle to the De Dion tube-suspended rear wheels, it was a car seemingly created with the express purpose of making Enzo Ferrari feel in adequate.

These were jewel-like creations bodied by the leading coachbuilders of the day: Serra of Barcelona, Saoutchik of Paris and, perhaps most famously, Touring of Milan all crafted Z-102s. 

But they were never really a commercial threat to the budding Ferrari empire: they were built in tiny quantities (110 in seven years) and mainly served as a government-sanctioned way of showcasing the potential of Spanish industry.

Pegaso’s real mission and destiny was as a builder of trucks and coaches, but the Z-102, the fastest and most expensive road car of its era, certainly caused a stir, with a specification so exotic it made the early Ferrari output look rather, well, truck-like.

7. Carlo Chiti: ATS 2500GT & Tipo 100

Classic & Sports Car – 10 cars that were built to beat Ferrari

Enzo was probably not entirely surprised when his former employees Chiti and Bizzarrini broke cover in April 1963 with a plan to build both a GT car and an F1 car under the Automobili Turismo e Sport – or ATS – banner.

The project was funded by two wealthy families and, on paper, was full of promise: the mid-engined 2500GT road car had a sleek Allemano-built body and with 245bhp, its four-camshaft V8 could take the 1000Ib two-seater to an alleged 160mph.

Had the F1 sister car proved more successful, perhaps ATS would have sold more than a dozen of the GTs.

Bizzarrini left the project early and even for the likes of Chiti the task of designing an engine and a chassis in such a short timeframe had proved a tall order, particularly when he felt under an obligation to listen to the disparate opinions of his financial backers Giorgio Billi, tin-mining heir Jaime Ortiz-Patiño and, latterly, Count Giovanni Volpi di Misurata of Ferrari ‘Breadvan’ and Serenissima fame.

Not even world champion Phil Hill could make a winner out of the horrifically unreliable Tipo 100, which failed to garner him a single point all season.

ATS folded in 1964, although the single-seater Tipo project lived on briefly as the Derrington-Francis; it proved equally immune to the ministrations of the former Stirling Moss racing mechanic and disappeared after a single ignominious appearance at the 1964 Italian GP.

8. Count Volpi: Serenissima Spyder

Classic & Sports Car – 10 cars that were built to beat Ferrari

A young Italian aristocrat and owner of the racing equipe Serenissima, Volpi had clashed with Ferrari after he took a 20% stake in ATS.

Enzo refused to sell him any more cars, so the decision to have a go at building his own cannot have been a difficult one. His chief engineer, Alberto Massimo, modified Chiti’s ATS chassis and devised a new four-camshaft V8.

As ever, the dream was Le Mans glory, but the 3.5-litre Fantuzzi-bodied Torpedo retired with gearbox failure in the 1965 event. Bruce McLaren used the engine in his early F1 cars but, while it earned him his first World Championship point, the Tipo 358V flew apart at regular intervals and McLaren didn’t finish the 1966 season with it.

By then, Volpi had decided to pursue the idea of road-car production, first with the 1967 Agena (above) and then a more refined looking Tom Tjaarda/Ghia-designed GT presented at the Turin show in 1968.

Both were one-offs, and Volpi’s taste for building road cars was brought up short when Ghia boss De Tomaso informed him of how much tooling up for production was going to cost him.

After that the cars, and to a certain extent Volpi, disappeared – although the Le Mans car and the two GTs turned up in the Artcurial sale at Rétromobile this year, making close to £4.5m between them.

9. David Brown: Lagonda DP115 V12

Classic & Sports Car – 10 cars that were built to beat Ferrari

Having rescued both marques from oblivion after WW2, the patriotic engineering tycoon David Brown was as passionate about the Lagonda marque as he was Aston Martin.

He had fond memories of the pre-war V12 Lagondas and wanted to build a successor for the 1950s that would challenge the big 4-litre V12 Ferraris’ dominance at Le Mans: a Lagonda had, after all, won the 24 Hour endurance classic in 1935.

In the superior Aston chassis it was a concept that looked good on paper. A short-stroke four-camshaft, 4.4-litre V12 was conceived, all alloy in construction with dry sump lubrication and breathing through three four-choke Webers for a proposed output of 350bhp.

It was, essentially, two of Aston’s LB 6 engines on a common crankshaft, the flaw in this plan being that the ‘cheeses’ that supported the main bearings had a different co-efficient of expansion that did not suit the alloy-blocked Lagonda engine.

The resulting drop in oil pressure meant that the revs, and thus the power output, had to be limited well below the projected 7000rpm/350bhp expectations if the V12 was to stay in one piece.

The Lagonda DP115 ran at Le Mans in 1954 as part of a particularly disastrous works entry that left team manger John Wyer a nervous wreck.

He was not a fan of the Lagonda project in any case and was doubtless relieved to retire it after a spin crumpled the shapely Frank Feeley-designed bodywork: the real reason was probably down to rapidly disappearing oil pressure.

Still, a timed 172mph down the Mulsanne straight showed the potential and an improved car was fielded in 1955. DP116 had disc brakes all round and a stiffer body, but retired on lap 93, causing Brown to cut his losses and park his dreams of a British Ferrari-beating V12.

10. John DeLorean: Pontiac GTO

Classic & Sports Car – 10 cars that were built to beat Ferrari

John DeLorean and his lieutenants at Pontiac conceived the GTO package as a way of livening up the staid image of this GM division, rather than as a means of attacking Ferrari; but they must have felt smug about the furore their brainchild caused.

There were no real Pontiac racing connections, as competition involvement had been banned at GM, making DeLorean’s use of the Gran Turismo Omologato nomenclature even more of a nonsense on what was essentially a very ordinary mid-range car (the Tempest) with the biggest 6.4-litre engine in Pontiac’s armoury.

But the 1964 Pontiac GTO was the birth of the muscle car, inspiring dozen of imitators and notching up peak sales of 96,000 units in 1966 alone.

With its slow steering and near criminally inadequate drum brakes, the Pontiac GTO was certainly no Ferrari – but it was very fast.

Soon, the ‘GOAT’ became an American cultural phenomena of the ’60s second only to the Mustang. Any American with $2000 or so to spend could own a car that would leave a $14,000 Ferrari standing in a straight line.

Those Ferrari-lovers who were already outraged at Pontiac’s use of the hallowed GTO symbolism must have suffered near thrombosis when Car and Driver, always the most subversive of the American magazines, ran a story comparing a Pontiac with a Ferrari 330GT and, all things considered, declared the match a draw…

Images: Tony Baker, Malcolm Griffiths, James Mann, LAT, Brian Snelson/Creative Commons (ATS 2500GT, second photo), Ed Callow/Creative Commons (Lagonda DP115, second photo), RM Sotheby's (ATS 2500GT, first photo), Artcurial (Serenissima), Newspress


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