Ferrari 500 Superfast: the last temptation

| 1 Jan 2024
Classic & Sports Car – Ferrari 500 Superfast: the last temptation

There will always be people with more money than sense, and it was for this rarified clientele that Enzo Ferrari sanctioned the creation of the 500 Superfast.

That is not the same as saying you had to be an idiot to buy one: there were few straightforward fools among the tycoons, industrialists and high-flyers who special-ordered these 37 extraordinarily expensive super-luxury Ferraris between 1964 and 1966.

Perhaps a kinder way of putting it was that, as a potential 500 Superfast owner, you were likely a person more sensitive to status and exclusivity than cost.

Classic & Sports Car – Ferrari 500 Superfast: the last temptation

At well over 16ft long, the beautiful Ferrari 500 Superfast is an imposing sight

At £11,518 15s, the sheer immensity of the price-tag was possibly part of the attraction for some.

The 500 Superfast was (almost) the final word on a certain kind of very low-volume, large-engined Ferrari developed to appeal to the American market, where pockets were deepest, roads widest and fuel cheapest.

The name was first used on a conspicuously tail-finned, Pinin Farina-bodied Superamerica Turin show car in 1956.

Beyond that, it is a story that is difficult to recount succinctly.

Classic & Sports Car – Ferrari 500 Superfast: the last temptation

‘The 500 Superfast was (almost) the final word on a certain kind of very low-volume, large-engined Ferrari developed to appeal to the American market’

Suffice to say it has its origins in the Lampredi- (as opposed to Colombo-) engined 340/342/375 America cars of the early ’50s, and takes more manageable shape with the arrival of the 410 Superamerica series, built in three short batches from 1956-’59 – mostly with Farina bodywork – and featuring the latest coil-sprung front suspension and the Type 126, 4692cc version of the long-block, fixed-cylinder-head Lampredi V12.

This unit, with its 108mm bore spacing, is a recurring theme in the story of these ‘big-banger’ Ferrari grand-touring cars, except that when the 400 Superamerica arrived in 1959 it was abandoned in favour of an enlarged Colombo engine, bored out to 77mm and stroked to 71mm by way of a new crank, for a total swept volume of 3967cc.

Styling and production were now strictly by Battista Farina, who was gradually refining the ‘Aerodinamico’ idea on his 400 Superamerica-based Superfast II, III and IV show cars.

Classic & Sports Car – Ferrari 500 Superfast: the last temptation

The large wheel dominates the Ferrari’s simply finished but high-quality cabin

In an era before type approval, Farina was also blurring the lines between one-off and production vehicles by building two batches of customer Coupé Aerodinamicos: 13 short-wheelbase cars and, post-’62, 19 Superamericas on the longer, 2.6m-wheelbase chassis.

After reaping the rewards of a successful run of 48 400 Superamericas – including show cars – Enzo Ferrari must have sensed that, with his mainstream models now produced in batches of hundreds rather than dozens, an appetite remained for a truly coachbuilt Ferrari, made at the rate of one or two a month to the highest standards of fit and finish that Pininfarina (as it was renamed in 1961) could achieve.

Enter, at Geneva in 1964, the prototype 500 Superfast, a metallic-blue two-seater with strong visual ties to the last 400 Superamericas, but with a neater, truncated tail treatment, open rather than Perspex-cowled single headlamps and smooth, unadorned flanks.

Classic & Sports Car – Ferrari 500 Superfast: the last temptation

‘There is an epic quality to the acceleration: the sort of thrust that must have given owners a serious superiority complex’

It had an elegant simplicity that drew a line under Pininfarina’s fussier previous experiments on the Aerodinamico theme.

Every car was to special order, but individual styling touches for each customer were not entertained in the way they had been on earlier cars.

Each 500 Superfast would be put together by hand at the Pininfarina works in Turin.

Depending on options – including a heated rear window, air conditioning and almost any special request – build time could be up to four or even six months.

Classic & Sports Car – Ferrari 500 Superfast: the last temptation

Ferrari’s glorious 4962cc V12 engine is a blend of Lampredi and Colombo designs

Under the elegant skin lay traditional and deeply conservative chassis architecture.

It eschewed the latest thoughts on transaxles and fully independent suspension (as practised by the 275GTB) in favour of a solid rear axle. This simplicity lent itself to a bespoke approach.

In fact, the 500 Superfast mirrored the 330GT exactly in all but engine, by using the same type of electrically welded oval-tube chassis, four-speed gearbox with overdrive, and dual-circuit four-wheel Dunlop discs with twin servos.

Sitting on larger, 7x15in Borrani wires, the track was wider than that of the 330GT and its overall length was similar to a Jaguar S-type, but at 3076lb the Italian car was c500lb lighter.

Classic & Sports Car – Ferrari 500 Superfast: the last temptation

There are pronounced gills in the Ferrari’s front wings

As before, it was to be powered by Enzo’s largest and most powerful V12, this time a blend of Lampredi and Colombo thinking with detachable cylinder heads, 108mm bore spacing, push-fit liners and 12 intake ports. The ‘500’ designation was the rounded-up swept volume of each cylinder.

Rated at 360 to 400bhp (depending on whose figures you believe), this 4962cc, single-cam-per-bank 60° V12 was designated Type 208 and, claimed Ferrari, when mated to the appropriate gearing could top 170mph, making the 500 Superfast the quickest grand-touring car built purely for use on public roads – although this never appears to have been officially confirmed.

It was a claim that would certainly have helped gain the attention of the wealthiest super-sports-car buyers.

Classic & Sports Car – Ferrari 500 Superfast: the last temptation

The Ferrari 500 Superfast has an elegantly tapering roofline

Like Maserati with its 5000GT, Ferrari was very aware of the Superfast’s audience, even stating in the brochure that the new car was intended for ‘Sovereigns, performers and great industrialists’.

Although not everyone who bought a Superfast was a household name, it comes as no surprise that the Aga Khan captured one of the first examples and the Shah of Iran had two.

Neither should it be shocking to discover that, of 29 left-hand-drive examples, a dozen were delivered new in the North American market that had always been the intended destination for this elite group of large-engined, custom-bodied Modenese cars.

Classic & Sports Car – Ferrari 500 Superfast: the last temptation

The Ferrari’s Carello lights have a red surround

But there was no lack of appetite for the car in Great Britain, where a property boom had created a new breed of relatively young, self-made tycoons such as Jack Durlacher, Harry Hyams and James Hanson, to whom a 170mph, £11,500 super-GT had great attraction.

Interestingly, Maranello would sell you a new 275LM for exactly the same price. You could almost have bought a pair of 275GTBs for that figure, or splashed out on the most expensive, James Young-bodied Rolls-Royce Phantom V Touring limousine – and still have enough left to buy a new Rover 3 Litre saloon.

No context-making extrapolation on the price of a ’60s Ferrari is complete without the customary E-type reference: but rather than bore you with how many you could buy for £11,518, perhaps the point is better made by saying that the £2000 import duty paid to the Exchequer by the British customer was enough to buy the Jag and still get £75 in change.

Classic & Sports Car – Ferrari 500 Superfast: the last temptation

‘Not everyone who had a Ferrari 500 Superfast was a household name, but the Aga Khan bought one of the first and the Shah of Iran had two’

Out of the 37 500 Superfasts built across 28 months, just eight were UK-market right-hookers with a further two left-hand-drive cars being UK delivered: one of those was the James Hanson (later Lord Hanson) car.

The German market took at least two, including the Geneva show prototype with a larger bonnet bulge, and different tail-lights and front indicators, while one each went to Greece, Belgium and France.

Towards the end of 1965, after 25 cars had been built, a 500 Superfast Series 2 quietly took over, mainly as a way of establishing technical compatibility with the latest version of the 330GT.

The only outward difference attributed to these dozen cars was the treatment of the front-wing vents, but the Series 2 cars had a five-speed gearbox, and suspended rather than floor-hinged brake and clutch pedals.

Classic & Sports Car – Ferrari 500 Superfast: the last temptation

This Ferrari 500 Superfast has a tan-leather interior and colour-matched seatbelts

Chassis 8897SF, shown here, is not only a Series 2, but the last 500 Superfast built, a right-hand-drive car first registered to Col Ronnie Hoare of Maranello Concessionaires in August 1966, having been ordered the previous April.

It is one of 10 with factory air conditioning and one of two with power steering from the works.

The car’s first ‘civilian’ owner was a Mr Samuels, a surveyor from Mayfair who bought it through famed Jaguar dealer John Coombs.

Samuels paid £11,637, with £1250 allowance against a used E-type. He specified beige leather, a heated rear window – you didn’t even get one of those for eleven grand? – colour-matched seatbelts and a fuel cut-off switch in the boot, but he appears never to have got the built-in compass he asked for.

Classic & Sports Car – Ferrari 500 Superfast: the last temptation

The open headlamps differ from the Perspex-cowled items on Ferrari’s 400 Superamerica

Other additional requests (after registering the car KGH 8D on 23 August 1966) included having the rear parcel shelf retrimmed to match the leather, fitting a door mirror and raising the driver’s seat.

When the power steering failed at 1200 miles, Samuels decided not to reinstate it because he was not happy with the lack of feel at high speed or in the wet.

The fastidious buyer was emphatic that his car had to do the advertised 170mph, and even talked to Mike Parkes at the Earls Court show about raising the power output.

Classic & Sports Car – Ferrari 500 Superfast: the last temptation

This Ferrari 500 Superfast was fitted with a door mirror upon the request of its first owner, Mr Samuels

Later, the white Superfast went back to the factory, were Parkes himself established that chassis 8897SF would indeed hit 170mph.

The prevailing tyre technology appears to have been more of an issue – Pirelli would not guarantee its Cinturato above 150mph – and Samuels was looking into having Dunlop R7 racing tyres fitted.

He never got the chance: he died in early ’67 and Maranello Concessionaires was instructed to dispose of the Superfast and the MG 1100 with which it shared garage space.

Classic & Sports Car – Ferrari 500 Superfast: the last temptation

The classic Ferrari 500 Superfast is a prince among Maranello’s road cars

The second owner was Jack Pearce of JAP Engineering, who had a rear wiper fitted, changed the colour slightly (to Bianco Polo), added a set of his famous racing alloy wheels and re-registered the Ferrari JAP 1.

Pearce only kept the Superfast for a year; the third owner was pioneer Ferrari collector Jack Crowther, who kept the 500 – by then registered NAN 399D – in his collection until 1985, taking the mileage up to 64,000.

Via Coys and Christie’s Monaco sales, the car went through three further changes of ownership, notably Hans Thulin in 1988 who the previous year had bought the ex-Briggs Cunningham Bugatti Type 41 Royale.

His tenure was short-lived and, after a reclusive foreign collector captured chassis 8897SF in 1991, it fell off the radar for 25 years, forgotten by almost everyone bar specialist broker Simon Kidston, who had been involved in selling the car to Thulin in the ’80s.

Classic & Sports Car – Ferrari 500 Superfast: the last temptation

The fully stocked instrument binnacle found its way into other Ferrari models

In 2017 Simon acquired the Superfast, had it recommissioned by GTO Engineering and has since sold it twice, latterly on behalf of a deceased estate to its current keeper.

We caught up with NAN 399D (Simon managed to get the old number reassigned) at Bob Houghton’s Gloucestershire-based Ferrari emporium, where everything from 250GTOs downwards are tended to.

Sitting on deeply inset Borrani wires, shod with full-sidewall doughnut tyres, the Superfast looks longer and wider than it really is.

Classic & Sports Car – Ferrari 500 Superfast: the last temptation

Inside, there is every convenience – except an automatic gearbox

It might not be as pretty as a Lusso, but as an expression of dignified, elegant aggression I can’t of think anything better.

It looks quite a simple shape, but it is what the eye does not immediately acknowledge – such as the long, unbroken crown line of the front wings – that makes this car such an object of beauty.

It’s not perfect – I have never quite got on with the interplay between the back side windows and rear ’screen – but the way each panel flows into the next with such beautifully tight panel gaps is mesmerising.

Classic & Sports Car – Ferrari 500 Superfast: the last temptation

Slender pillars add to the Ferrari’s sense of lightness

The combination of white with a pale tan interior could have made it look washed-out, yet something about the light touch of the brightwork and the intriguing texture of those bespoke rear lights saves the day when you see it in the metal.

The doors and bootlid click shut with a hefty precision probably not achieved on any other Ferrari.

Likewise the bonnet, which hinges forward to show the crackle-finish V12 with its twin oil filters and distributors, and handsome machined-alloy filler caps.

It sits fairly well back and low down to make room for three Weber 40 DCZ/6 carburettors hidden under a giant airbox. The huge radiator appears to speak of the ruggedness expected from an endurance-racing engine.

Classic & Sports Car – Ferrari 500 Superfast: the last temptation

‘The ashtray, with the crossed flags of Ferrari and Pininfarina on its lid, is beautiful enough to make you want to take up smoking’

In some ways, the interior looks much like that of less rarefied Ferraris, but the fit and finish stand up to the closest scrutiny with a paucity of the exposed screwheads and untidy hidden corners that you find in most Italian exotica.

Even the ashtray, with the crossed flags of Ferrari and Pininfarina on its lid, is beautiful enough to make you want to take up smoking.

The handsome instrument binnacle and fluted headlining filtered down to less exalted Ferraris, and even some Lancias, but apparently not all Superfasts had the hidden lever under the dashboard to unlock the passenger door.

Classic & Sports Car – Ferrari 500 Superfast: the last temptation

The Ferrari 500 Superfast’s rounded nose has echoes of contemporary ‘lesser’ Ferraris such as the 330GTC

For me, at least, there are no driving-position problems – other than the fact that I feel as if I’m peering over the giant three-spoke Nardi wheel – so it’s time to turn the key to get ignition lights, then push it in to engage the starter.

With a dozen pistons and a light flywheel, the drone of the starter motor fades seamlessly into the smooth firing pulses, and you are ticking over almost before you’ve released the key.

The Superfast is simple to drive and the good vision makes placing it in traffic easy, although its woeful turning circle and conspicuous width mean this is not a handy shopping car.

Yet the clutch is only moderately heavy and redeems itself by being smooth and easily modulated.

Classic & Sports Car – Ferrari 500 Superfast: the last temptation

Naturale (beige) leather complements the Ferrari’s rare Avorio (ivory) paint

Brakes that feel slightly ordinary at low speeds pull up the big Ferrari straight and in very short order when you lean on them hard.

But if it seduces you with its luxury and cannot disguise the relative heft of its meaty controls, then rarely does the Superfast betray the primitive nature of its solid rear axle: the ride is flat and well insulated, and like almost everything about the car gets better with speed.

The same would usually apply to the steering, requiring quite coarse, sweeping movements when manoeuvring, but feeling relatively accurate above a brisk trot.

Classic & Sports Car – Ferrari 500 Superfast: the last temptation

A hidden lever under the dashboard unlocks the Ferrari’s passenger door

For once, I’m glad of the recent addition of electric power steering when the usual manoeuvres for photography are required, but become rather less keen on it when negotiating the long, fast, sweeping, full-visibility bends where it robs the 500 of the sort of feel that should have perfectly complemented its magnificent stability.

You would never tire of the engine noise, which is just as well because the posh, quilted sound-deadening on the inside of the bonnet does little to subdue the V12.

Even before you open the throttles (having warmed everything up), the engine has endeared itself to you with its supple flexibility and the sweet alacrity of its throttle response, beautifully matched to a gearbox that, once warm, feels precise and meaty without being heavy, with a glorious third gear that will whisk you from 20mph to deep into three figures, even when using a self-imposed 5000rpm limit.

Classic & Sports Car – Ferrari 500 Superfast: the last temptation

The Ferrari 500 Superfast’s indicators take a bite from the chrome bumpers

There is an epic quality to the acceleration that draws in the horizon with the sort of sustained turbine thrust that must have given the original 37 Superfast owners a serious superiority complex.

It sounds expensively fussy at low speeds – as it should do, with so much going on. Sizzling cam chains, clicking tappets and buckets of super unleaded swilling down the hungry throats of the Webers chime in with the beat of 12 pistons to orchestrate themselves into a sound that cannot fail to leave you moved.

This is the third 500 Superfast I’ve driven, and the only one not mentioned in the famous (to me, at least) AA Drive magazine feature ‘The Superfast set’, published in the spring of 1967 and detailing the then-current owners of the eight known right-hookers.

Classic & Sports Car – Ferrari 500 Superfast: the last temptation

The flat ride and peerless stability make the Ferrari 500 Superfast feel confident in long, sweeping bends

Worldwide, 34 of the 37 Superfasts are accounted for, including two that were destroyed in accidents.

I can’t imagine any of them are in better order than this one.

Having sampled so many other cars in the three decades since I drove my first, I was prepared to be underwhelmed.

It might be me or it might be the car, but it’s nice to know some things do get better with age.

Images: Olgun Kordal

Thanks to: Bob Houghton Ltd; Kidston SA

The other right-hand-drive Ferrari 500 Superfasts

Classic & Sports Car – Ferrari 500 Superfast: the last temptation

This right-hand-drive Ferrari 500 Superfast is Blu Chiaro with natural hide inside

6345SF Red with black leather, sold new after display at Earls Court in 1964 to R Wilkins, and then to Northamptonshire farmer William Tompkins, replacing a Mercedes 300SL Gullwing. Destroyed in an accident on the A1 in early 1967.

6351SF First owned by retired Sudan cotton-planter John Hood, who lived on Jersey. A Series 1 overdrive car, in silver-grey with black hide.

6659SF Delivered new to Eric Millar in September 1965, in silver-grey with red leather. Five-speed ’box, air conditioning and special-order folding rear seats.

6661SF The first of two 500s owned by stockbroker Jack Durlacher, delivered in Blu Chiaro with natural hide (above). A five-speed (although officially an S1), 6661SF was returned to Maranello Concessionaires on the advice of John Coombs due to problems with the brakes, paint and a mystery engine noise

Classic & Sports Car – Ferrari 500 Superfast: the last temptation

Ferrari 500 Superfast 6673SF was rejected by its first owner

6673SF This car (above) was built for property tycoon Harry Hyams, who famously developed Centre Point on Tottenham Court Road. Like Durlacher, he was not very happy with his Superfast so rejected the car – then painted light blue with fawn leather – and put in an order for a 365 California Spider. Thus, the first true owner of 6673SF was Eric Hurst of the Brook Street Bureau.

6679SF Painted bronze and sold new in 1965 to actor Peter Sellers, who was then living full-time in The Dorchester hotel. He still owned 6679SF in 1967, which was a long-term relationship by Sellers’ standards of automotive promiscuity – he often sold cars after a single day.

8459SF The second Durlacher car, in light blue with tan interior and air conditioning.


Classic & Sports Car – Ferrari 500 Superfast: the last temptation

Ferrari 500 Superfast

  • Sold/number built 1964-’66/37
  • Construction tubular steel frame, steel body
  • Engine all-alloy, sohc-per-bank 4962cc V12, three Weber 40 DCZ/6 carburettors
  • Max power 400bhp @ 6500rpm
  • Max torque 304Ib ft @ 4000rpm
  • Transmission four-speed with overdrive or five-speed manual, RWD
  • Suspension: front independent, by wishbones, coil springs, anti-roll bar rear live axle, semi-elliptic leaf springs; telescopic dampers f/r
  • Steering worm and roller
  • Brakes discs, with twin servos
  • Length 16ft 6in (5029mm)
  • Width 5ft 10in (1778mm)
  • Height 4ft 3in (1295mm)
  • Wheelbase 8ft 8¼in (2650mm)
  • Weight 3076Ib (1395kg)
  • Mpg n/a
  • 0-60mph n/a
  • Top speed 173mph
  • Price new £11,637
  • Price now £2m (est)*

*Price correct at date of original publication

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