Racing Ferraris don’t come more original than this ex-works Testa Rossa. Mick Walsh marvels at the remarkable chassis 0704
The Henry Ford Museum in Dearborn was a surprising place to discover one of the most historic Ferraris, but on my first visit in the 1990s it was a timewarp 250 Testa Rossa that upstaged all of the other mechanical greats. Still carrying the Gothic-style race number 38 from its final competitive SCCA outing in October 1963 at Pacific Raceways in Kent, Washington, this wonderful tatty Ferrari kept drawing me back. The dents, burnished paint, dried-out seats and chipped interior captivated me as few restored cars can.
This outdated 10-year-old exotic had been donated to the Henry Ford Museum by the Seattle-based family of its last racer, Arthur True, after his death aged just 35 from liver cancer. For the next three decades, chassis 0704 remained untouched, right down to the lattice of tape over the headlamp cowls.
Back home, I dug out a prized copy of Joel Finn’s superb history of the Testa Rossa, and discovered the preserved beauty’s fantastic race log. Before it was sold to America to join John von Neumann’s glamorous team in California, 0704 had been gunned by the greatest Ferrari works drivers, and scored key championship wins in the 1958 Buenos Aires 1000km and Sebring 12 Hours.
Then, in 1997, rumours started to filter through that 0704 had been traded for a famous Edwardian racing car. Following the death of the renowned American automotive artist Peter Helck, his family was left with his treasured Locomobile, the 1906 Vanderbilt Cup-winning racer best known as ‘Old Number 16’. The Ford Museum had turned down many offers to buy the Testa Rossa, but Connecticut dealer Manny Dragone hit upon the idea of swapping the famous early racer for the Ferrari. The Locomobile’s significant American race history, original condition and links to illustrator Helck swayed the museum’s directors to agree to the deal with a cash adjustment. With spiralling values of Maranello’s finest, the Dearborn staff have no doubt been kicking themselves ever since. Dragone quickly sold the Testa Rossa to Brazilian collector Abba Kogan, and for the next six years 0704 vanished into private storage.
In 2004, the still-untouched Ferrari was sent to British specialist Terry Hoyle to be returned to its ‘works’ livery because Kogan felt that the earlier history was more important than its American club-racing years. This important car’s precious patina came perilously close to being wiped away with a ground-up rebuild to a spotless, better-than-new state.
Thankfully, London dealer Gregor Fisken happened to be visiting Hoyle’s workshops in Essex, and couldn’t believe his eyes when he saw the stripped Testa Rossa being readied for shotblasting. Fisken agreed a temporary halt with Hoyle so that he could phone around to secure an owner who would preserve rather than restore this important 1950s sports-racer.
Thankfully, two French brothers, Pierre and Thierry Morin, whose background included historic furniture, had started collecting very original cars, and 0704 perfectly fitted their far-sighted philosophy regarding preservation. A deal was done, and the dismantled Testa Rossa was packed up in May 2004. It was delivered to Twyman Racing, the Hertfordshire-based specialist with a reputation both for preservation and 250 Testa Rossas.
“There were about 30 boxes,” remembers Neil Twyman, “and even the transaxle had been stripped down to the last needle roller. The project was very secretive, but Pierre backed us all the way through.”
The first challenge was the bodywork. “It had been hastily repaired in the 1950s and ’60s, and the flux was corroding in the thin aluminium,” says Neil’s brother Craig. “We cut out the small problem areas and inserted new metal. Most of the paint was preserved, and we matched the colour where the corrosion was repaired.
“The whole process was fascinating because you could read the car’s history and development through the drilled holes, modifications and repairs. We found evidence of the panel work from where Peter Collins bashed it on the Targa Florio, and where the inner wings had later been cut and welded after the factory converted the bodywork from the early ‘Pontoon’ style to the enveloping front in May 1958.”
The more Twyman’s team investigated the chassis and body, the more they unearthed of its colourful story. “Under the driver’s seat we found an old French sweet wrapper,” recalls Craig, “and in a corner of the cockpit we pulled out an old rag that had been stuffed in to stop the rain coming into the cockpit at Le Mans in ’58.
“It had been painted with underseal and was rock solid. Two drilled triangular pieces in the rear cockpit corners mystified us before we found a picture of the makeshift hood at Le Mans, and realised that they were holes for the stays. Also, Ferrari would use different panel-beaters for the left- and right-hand sides, and on 0704 we found different styles of welding.
“I’ve never seen two Testa Rossas the same. This body is more muscular at the rear with bigger arches. As a works car, this might just have been to make wheel-changing easier.”
The paintwork similarly confirmed more of 0704’s history. “Under the red we found the larger Le Mans ovals,” says Neil, “and around the nose the white American-style scallops from Jerry Grant’s racing days [1960-’62] were still clear. Over the years in the Ford Museum, the distinctive ‘38’ door numbers had been chipped, so we carefully cut sections to match the style.”
The prestigious project was managed by Paul Stretton, with the engine and transaxle undertaken by Mark Perry. “As a works team car, 0704 has many special features,” says Stretton. “The early Testa Rossas suffered from understeer, so development focused on transferring more weight to the rear. For 0704, this included extensive magnesium castings for the engine, a larger fuel tank, and a transaxle gearbox to improve the balance. That continuous evolution was very clear with the modifications throughout the car.”
Racing against the disc-braked Jaguar D-types, the Testa Rossas on drums were handicapped into corners: “The factory upgraded 0704 with bigger 315S brakes at the front, and put the front brakes (with extra finning) on the back with a crude handbrake modification. The foot pedal was also turned sideways because Hawthorn preferred a wider contact. Early Testa Rossas featured a centre throttle, but this was converted to the right. The factory mechanics just crudely cut into the scuttle to make the linkage change, which is all still clear today. Also, the tower for the new transaxle gearchange lever is very basic work, but this was a factory prototype, so the pressure was on to get the work done in time for the next big race.”
The engine was carefully rebuilt by Perry, and dyno-tested just to settle it down before refitting. “Ferrari claimed 300bhp,” says Stretton, “but typically that was nonsense. The engines were built for endurance racing, and we get a more honest 270bhp.” The detailing included keeping as much of the original loom as possible, while all of the oil and fuel lines were replaced with authentic Riga Salva hoses sourced from Italy. The instruments were cleaned and rebuilt, but their original finish retained. The driver’s seat was in a poor state, so a matching pair – upholstered with distressed leather – was made for Morin so that he could take out lucky passengers.
As is often the case, preservation took longer than restoration, but Twyman finished 0704 for the summer of 2005. After testing on local roads, the famous Testa Rossa was driven around the M25 for Morin’s first experience of it at Chobham. “We’ve driven it everywhere,” says Neil. “When Pierre wanted it delivered to Marseille to show his family, we drove it down – and back. With that huge tank brimmed, it’ll do the 600-mile trip each way without a fuel stop.”
Since its completion, 0704 has made selective public outings. At the 2005 Goodwood Festival of Speed, it became the first Testa Rossa to be driven by Stirling Moss. “I wished we’d had that engine and gearbox,” observed the former Aston Martin ace after a run up the hill. In 2006, it led the Phil Hill parade at the Goodwood Revival meeting. Son Derek acted as chauffeur for the popular 1961 World Champion, who raced 0704 three times for the factory.
Last August, dealer Tom Hartley Jnr shipped the car to California, where it was the star of the largest ever gathering of 20 Testa Rossas at Pebble Beach. Again, its remarkable condition captivated judges and enthusiasts. Not surprisingly, it collected several prestigious trophies and was chosen by the students of The Revs Program at Stanford as ‘the most historically significant car at Pebble Beach’.
“This car stood atop them all,” said Reilly P Brennan, director of the restoration course. “With its original engine, gearbox and bodywork, it’s miraculous how it has remained unrestored.” Little did he know how close 0704 came to a total rebuild just 10 years earlier.
Since that first sighting at the Ford Museum, I’ve long dreamt of driving this Ferrari. After it returned from California to Hartley’s Derbyshire base, a tentative approach was positively received and a day eagerly booked. For weeks before, I re-read Finn’s seminal book and studied the many photographs of its long history. On the cover is a vivid 1958 colour image of 0704 at the Nürburgring with Mike Hawthorn at the wheel, mouth open as he pushed to the limit en route to second behind Moss’ Aston DBR1.
Teamed with Peter Collins, the Farnham Flyer’s race had been full of drama. First, there was a tyre blowout while leading, and then, during the final chase, a wet surface at Schwalbenschwanz caused him to spin into a ditch. Hawthorn levered the Testa Rossa back onto the track using one of the fence posts that he’d knocked down. The crowd applauded his efforts and he even bowed before leaping back in.
Masten Gregory, Phil Hill and Richie Ginther all raced this Maranello warhorse, and never for a moment was my lucky privilege taken lightly. In a dream world, it would have been epic to return 0704 to one of its previous battlegrounds – the Nordschleife, Kristianstad, Le Mans or Sicily – but alone on a private test track was an atmospheric second best.
Unlatching the small door and slipping under the broad, alloy-spoked, wood-rimmed Nardi wheel, it never ceases to amaze me how basic is the workplace of a front-running Le Mans sports racer of the late 1950s. The compact crackle-black dash cluster, with the central Jaeger rev counter marked to 10,000rpm, could be out of any Latin special. There’s little to distract you other than the exposed chassis side rails, the wonderful hooked-back alloy handbrake, and a fuse panel under the passenger side. An extra aero ’screen, fitted for the 1958 Sebring win, sits behind the full-width Perspex item, while a single bullet mirror is the only way to see how close the D-types were getting into Mulsanne corner. Authentically, there are also no belts in this right-hand-drive prototype.
The most distinctive difference from a production Testa Rossa is the lofty gearchange tower with exposed linkage running back to the transaxle, plus a lever that is topped by a fatter knob rather than the classic alloy ball. Sitting there before cranking the engine, the car’s rich history feeds my imagination through every tactile feature, and I can’t help thinking about Hawthorn cursing his clumsy start at Le Mans when he wrecked the clutch in an attempt to keep pace with leader Moss in the DBR1. Before the transmission finally let go in the night, Hawthorn, who openly disliked Le Mans, set the race’s fastest lap at 121mph despite team orders to preserve the cars.
The V12 fires easily and, with virtually no silencing, the mechanical music of busy engine and exhaust bellow instantly assails you. On the move, your first impression is of the heavy, long clutch travel and clunky gearchange that is in contrast to the earlier front-mounted 250GT-type ’box. Only once 0704 is up to speed does the shift start to smooth out. Timing is critical, and the faster you change, the smoother the action.
Aware of its precious condition on this tight track, I’m relieved to discover that the brakes are strong with immediate feel right at the top of the pedal travel. The well-weighted, superbly geared worm-and-peg steering is similarly inspiring, but the view through the double screens is limited. It’s clear why Hill and Hawthorn wore visors and looked over the top.
The sensory assault of the exhaust roar is fantastic, the howling revs tuned through the Testa Rossa’s distinctive two-into-four system, but once you start to push on the scream of the transaxle dominates the cockpit sounds. The Alfa Romeo 8C-2900, particularly the coupé, has a similar character, the engine’s basso roar drowned out by the mechanical thrash behind.
With about 360bhp per ton, this 58-year-old beauty is still a seriously quick car. You can feel an extra surge at about 4500rpm, and the engine’s smooth, forceful response is awesome. Stretching the engine to 6000rpm through the gears, the back straight on our test track soon begins to feel very short.
Drive it more confidently, and the Ferrari starts to understeer into tighter bends when you’re off the throttle, while the light steering can feel slow. But out of corners, with that wave of power, the Testa Rossa is in its element. The handling feels neutral through longer turns, the de Dion rear being a major step over the live axle of most TRs. It may not have the balance of a Maserati 300S, but there are few driving experiences to match its wild noise and precise controls. It’s easy to imagine that you’re gunning it around the Nordschleife or Laguna Seca.
Genuine Testa Rossas have all but vanished from historic racing, where they were never competitive against hot Jaguar-powered opposition. Now, with stratospheric values, outings are limited to concours and private rallies. As seductive as they look on silent display, there’s no match for seeing and hearing them in full flight. All the star drivers of 0704 may have gone, but their brave exploits survive through this amazingly preserved machine. For me, it ranks as the greatest surviving Ferrari sports-racer.
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Produced/number built 1957-’59/24 (including prototypes and first experimental TR59 0746)Construction multi-tubular steel frame with aluminium bodywork by ScagliettiEngine all-alloy, sohc, 24-valve, 2953cc 60º V12, six Weber carburettorsMax power 270bhp @ 7200rpmMax torque 220lb ft @ 6200rpmTransmission four-speed Colotti-designed transaxle, driving rear wheels (replaced the front-mounted four-speed ZF with Porsche synchromesh) Suspension: front independent, by wishbones, anti-roll bar, coil springs
rear de Dion axle, transverse leaf spring; Houdaille dampers f/r Steering worm and peg Brakes drums Length 13ft (3962mm) Width 5ft (1524mm) Height 3ft 2in (965mm)Wheelbase 7ft 9in (2362mm) Weight 1760lb (798kg) 0-60mph 4.5 secs Top speed 160mph Value £25-30million
Words: Mick WalshPhotos: Tony Baker