Ferrari 250 Testa Rossa: Refined to perfection

| 1 May 2020
Classic & Sports Car – Ferrari 250 Testa Rossa: Refined to perfection

The art of marginal gains is knowing what to improve and how to improve it.

That’s the key, and this relies on experience.

So while Jaguar burst on to the Le Mans scene in the 1950s, suddenly and with great success, it’s easy to forget that, in the background, a certain team from Modena was building on its quarter-century of racing experience.

By the end of the decade, the Scuderia punched a red-headed slingshot into the ’60s with stunning ferocity.

Classic & Sports Car – Ferrari 250 Testa Rossa: Refined to perfection

The first Testa Rossa, fitted with a 180bhp four-cylinder engine and called the 500, was introduced in 1956, two years after the most recent Ferrari victory at La Sarthe.

With regulation changes in 1957 came the sleeker and Scaglietti-bodied TRC that Richie Ginther said was the easiest Ferrari yet to race. Each year, marginal gains.

The introduction of the 12-cylinder 3-litre came in 1958, and the famous ‘pontoon’ body was standardised after some prototypes the previous year.

By this point Jaguar had burnt out, and Porsche and Aston Martin were looking to pick up the torch.

The latter ditched its DBR4 Grand Prix programme and threw everything it could at its challenge for the World Sportscar Championship.

Yet Ferrari proved to have an all-rounder for all circuits and won four of the first five races, from Buenos Aires to the old airfield of Sebring, the dusty roads of Sicily, and on to Le Mans.

Classic & Sports Car – Ferrari 250 Testa Rossa: Refined to perfection

And so to 1959, when for the first time the Testa Rossa was no longer available for client purchase and was only to be raced as a factory car.

With coachwork by Pinin Farina, four examples were built including this, chassis 0774.

During the season, Ferrari experimented with four- and five-speed ’boxes, and a de Dion rear axle.

Finally, and probably as a reaction to the Jaguar C- and then D-type, four-wheel disc brakes were fitted at last (a marginal percentage gain significantly higher than 1%).

Chassis 0774 made its debut at Le Mans that year as part of the four-car works team of three TRs and one 196S.

The objective? Keep Aston Martin and the now-ageing Jaguar D-type of Ecurie Ecosse away from the podium.

Classic & Sports Car – Ferrari 250 Testa Rossa: Refined to perfection

Three privately entered ’58 TRs and four 250GTOs bolstered the Prancing Horse’s presence.

The three previous rounds of the 1959 season had been split: Ferrari claimed Sebring, Porsche the Targa Florio, and Aston Martin famously the Nürburgring.

The Porsche 718’s small engine rendered it uncompetitive at Le Mans, so it was going to be between the DBR1 and Testa Rossa.

In the hands of Jean Behra and Dan Gurney, 0774 led practice, although grid position for the Le Mans start was based on engine capacity so smaller-engined cars didn’t hold up the big boys.

The whip-quick Stirling Moss got the best start in the Aston Martin, with 0774 struggling to get off the line and distant from the main pack. 

It took an hour of relentless chasing for Behra to get on to the tail of the leading Moss DBR1 and pass, handing over to Gurney to head the field into the darkness.

Classic & Sports Car – Ferrari 250 Testa Rossa: Refined to perfection

Moss and Fairman dropped a valve after six hours but on went 0774, until the blistering early pace caught up with it.

Just before the halfway point, either the gearbox failed (officially) or the engine gave up (what everyone actually saw happen) and the pair had to take solace in setting the race’s fastest laps.

The engine problems had been due to oil starvation, which led to the cars being converted to dry-sump lubrication ahead of the final round of the World Sportscar Championship, September’s six-hour RAC Tourist Trophy at Goodwood.

The title fight was still very much an open book, with Porsche, Ferrari and Aston Martin all in a position to win.

And, for the first time, full points were on the table; in 1958, the TT had been only four hours and therefore only half championship points were on offer.

Classic & Sports Car – Ferrari 250 Testa Rossa: Refined to perfection

Ferrari arrived in West Sussex at the top of the scoreboard on 18 points, with Aston Martin two adrift on 16 and Porsche a further point back.

The Venezuelan Grand Prix was still to come, but none of the teams had made any arrangements on the assumption it wasn’t going ahead.

Goodwood being such a fast circuit, Porsche knew it was up against it, meaning another head to head between Ferrari and Aston Martin.

Phil Hill and Cliff Allison would drive 0774, while the usual Aston Martin suspects of Moss and Roy Salvadori were in the lead DBR1 and claimed pole position. Hill and Allison struggled for pace and 0774 was down the ladder in sixth.

As usual, the energetic Moss was first to his car and off into the distance, with 0774 left to crawl around the first lap with a broken valve and retire.

With Ferrari down from four cars to three before the race had properly got going, only a miracle could pull victory from the jaws of defeat.

Classic & Sports Car – Ferrari 250 Testa Rossa: Refined to perfection

Aston Martin truly kicked that miracle into touch when, during the pitstops, it pulled a trump card with built-in pneumatic jacks that saved around 7 secs per visit.

It didn’t all go Aston’s way – a hasty mechanic spilled petrol on an exhaust manifold and Moss’ DBR1 went up in flames, along with the entire Aston Martin pit.

Regardless of the smoky drama, Moss moved to the sister DBR1 to clinch the race and Aston’s Championship, making its withdrawal from racing even more surprising.

Updated during the winter to 1960 regulations and re-designated 250TR 59/60, 0774 was to be driven by Hill and Allison at the season opener in Buenos Aires for the 1000km, where it joined stablemate 0770 in the works squad.

Flagged away by Juan Manuel Fangio, 0774 chased the new Maserati ‘Birdcage’ of Gurney, but the promise of a race-long Ferrari vs Maserati duel faded at half distance.

The Tipo 61 retired with gearbox problems, leaving 0774 to score the first win of the season.

Classic & Sports Car – Ferrari 250 Testa Rossa: Refined to perfection

Seven weeks later, at bumpy old Sebring, the tension between the race organisers and the teams intensified.

In Argentina it had been about the new tall windscreens, which the drivers announced publicly to be dangerous; in Florida it was being forced to use the fuel supplied by event sponsor Amoco.

This was unacceptable to both Ferrari and Porsche, who were contracted to Shell and BP respectively. Enzo Ferrari, in a fit of pique, withdrew his entries and threatened not to take part in any more races in the Championship except Le Mans.

Eventually, Ferrari and Porsche re-classified themselves as private entrants (in the case of Ferrari this was under the banner of Luigi Chinetti’s NART, its North American importer).

The driver line-ups reflected the American private entries, with 0774 now being driven by Ginther and Chuck Daigh.

As the Maserati of Moss bogged down getting off the line, the TRs made good starts and rapid amateur Pete Lovely led Ginther.

It wouldn’t last: Moss soon recovered to lead until transmission problems, 0774 retired with more engine woes, and Porsche eventually took a 1-2 ahead of Lovely and fellow amateur teammate Jack Nethercutt.

Classic & Sports Car – Ferrari 250 Testa Rossa: Refined to perfection

Everyone (read: Enzo) had calmed down by the Targa Florio in early May, probably because it was a race taking place on home turf.

Ferrari arrived with a small army of cars, including 0774 as the back-up. Conditions were especially tricky, with Saharan sand – supposedly fallout from the French nuclear test – mixing with rain.

A crash in practice for one TR meant 0774 was pressed into action, to be driven by Allison and Ginther.

By the end of the third lap Allison was up to third place, but Ginther and 0774 later left the track and ultimately the race.

The focus was always Le Mans, though, the final round of the 1960 World Sportscar Championship. Ferrari trailed Porsche, so the Italians had to win the race to take the title.

Thus, four works 250 Testa Rossas were entered, backed up by a NART entry, with a further seven privateer Ferraris running in the 3-litre GT class to total 12 Prancing Horses in the 55-car field.

The privately entered Aston Martin DBR1s were a threat, as well as the all-new Jaguar E2A.

Classic & Sports Car – Ferrari 250 Testa Rossa: Refined to perfection

Wearing race number 11, 0774 went to the Belgian duo of Olivier Gendebien and Paul Frère.

Jim Clark in the Border Reivers DBR1 made the best getaway, but a Maserati led lap one and continued to pull away from the chasing Ferraris, which had settled down to occupy positions second through sixth during the first hour.

By the second, the Maserati drew into the pits, wouldn’t restart, lost the lead and fell back.

Two works Ferraris fell in quick succession, both stopping far from the pits due to poor fuel calculations, and the remaining hope was divided between 0774 and the NART-entered TR of the prodigiously talented Ricardo Rodríguez and Belgian teammate André Pilette.

When the heavens opened, drivers streamed into the pits for cushions so they could stick their heads over the rain-drenched glass.

Gendebien and Frère kept plugging away in 0774, leading through the darkness, and when the rain ceased the normal racing rhythm returned.

With the morning came fine weather and 0774 settled into a comfortable lead, crossing the line four laps clear and having been recorded in first position at every hour from two to 24, in the process reclaiming the World Championship.

Classic & Sports Car – Ferrari 250 Testa Rossa: Refined to perfection

There was one final race for 0774.

The factory overhauled the car, sold it to Eleanor von Neumann, and Phil Hill raced it for her at Riverside in October.

The usual suspects were there – Moss in a Lotus 19 Monte-Carlo, Salvadori in an Ecurie Ecosse Cooper Monaco T59 Climax, Joakim Bonnier in a Porsche 718 RSK and Jack Brabham in the Jaguar E2A – yet local hero Billy Krause won in a Maserati Tipo 61.

Hill and 0774 came a sober seventh.

Life after Ferrari has been relatively quiet for 0774, which probably explains why it remains so original.

Von Neumann sold 0774 to Tom O’Connor’s Rosebud Racing Team in Texas, and the engine was promptly removed and installed into a Lotus 19 that was crashed in 1963 by Innes Ireland.

The team disbanded, the engine was donated to a local college and the rolling chassis was given to Ireland, who sold it along with a Bentley 3 Litre to Anthony Bamford.

Classic & Sports Car – Ferrari 250 Testa Rossa: Refined to perfection

The Ferrari collector then had his fast friend Willie Green fit a 250LM engine, before the car eventually found its way to Colin Crabbe, who raced it for four years – including at a Le Mans support event in 1973.

Whenever asked about the TR, Crabbe proudly recalls how his wife, Fiona, used to use it to go to the shops. A Le Mans winner in the car park of Waitrose.

By 1977 it was owned by Paul Pappalardo, who reunited 0774 with its original engine and sent the car back to Maranello for a full restoration to 1960 specification.

He regularly used the TR at historic racing and concours events until he sold it to the current custodian in 2004.

Since then, it has been seen at events all over the world, including most recently the 2019 Goodwood Revival, where it took part in the 1959 TT Celebration that included an evocative smoke display referencing the Aston Martin pit fire.

Classic & Sports Car – Ferrari 250 Testa Rossa: Refined to perfection

Today, though, on a warm autumn day, we’re using the small test track at Bicester Heritage so the only interference will be the odd whir of the airfield’s glider pulley between runs.

To gain access, you pull a skeletal door before dropping down into the blue cloth seat.The car is enveloping, the gauges big and clear, all as though you are in a tiny submersible looking out into a different world.

The driving position is comfortable, with pedals, steering wheel and gearlever exactly where you would want them.

Pressing the starter button, the motor turns over for a few seconds longer than perhaps comfortable before the 12 cylinders detonate into life.

And what a sound! The angels and archangels of motorsport singing praise to their god.

Classic & Sports Car – Ferrari 250 Testa Rossa: Refined to perfection

With the TR already warmed up, first gear is engaged and it moves off on to the short and technical track, with only one brief straight to really open up the engine.

The gearbox is a surprise: rather than being Lotus-like, light and nimble, it is heavier. Like a DB ’box, although the weight doesn’t stop its well-oiled accuracy.

At Goodwood in September, the owner said that the TR is deceptively easy to drive. We all consider the drivers in period to be superhuman for their feats of endurance, but it is soon obvious that the TR looks after its pilot.

It is ridiculously user-friendly, and it doesn’t become harder as the speed rises. The chassis transmits to you every single thing that it is doing, with no fuss or drama. It simply gets on with it.

On the straight the 12-cylinder hymn builds, its army of divine choristers in full voice. It’s breathtaking.

Classic & Sports Car – Ferrari 250 Testa Rossa: Refined to perfection

Those marginal gains, the little developments over the course of a few years, came to a triumphant head with the win for 0774 at Le Mans in 1960.

From a 1950s peppered with success, Ferrari owned the first half of the new decade.

And this car, chassis 0774, was at the very heart of Enzo’s racing programme.

It represents one of the great cars, built by one of the greatest works racing departments, during possibly its greatest era of racing.

Images: Luc Lacey


Jaguar D-type vs Aston Martin DB3S: Won for the road

Motorsport memories: the year Aston aced it

A tribute to Sir Stirling Moss, 1929-2020