“Prime Motoring Fool” Bob Sutherland took a savage pleasure in driving anything, but said his 340 Mexico was just too awful
Intended primarily as a competition car for wealthy privateers, the 340 was directed specifically at a new and increasingly profitable market-the United States. Aptly named “America,” the 340 became the first of many subsequent sports racing Ferraris built to meet the demands of the American market, where it proved to be both competitive and profitable.
In the 340 America, the 4.1-liter Lampredi V12 engine developed 220 to 230 horsepower at 6,000 rpm. A 5-speed non-synchromesh gearbox was fitted behind the engine in the typical Ferrari twin-oval, parallel-tube chassis with its unequal length parallel wishbone and transverse leaf front suspension. Rear suspension was by solid axle with semi-elliptic longitudinal leaf springs, parallel trailing arms, and the same Houdaille shock absorbers as in front.
As was commonplace for Ferrari, body construction was handled by independent carrozzeria like Touring, Vignale, and in the case of 0150A, Ghia. Only 23 340 Americas were built, and of these Vignale accounted for eleven, Touring for eight, and Ghia for just four-the rarest of all. The lines and proportions of 0150A are well suited to the chassis. The larger Lampredi engine is reflected in the long hood and comparatively more compact passenger compartment; this is a large car, yet it seats only two.
Although the exact delivery date is unknown, the 1951 340 America Coupe was sold to noted Ferrari patron Antonio “Tony” Parravano. It was the first of many Ferraris he would own and race, and it was delivered much as it looks today. Chassis 0150A’s first appearance on the track was July 20, 1952, at Torrey Pines, with Bill Pollack driving.
Parravano had done well in the first two editions of the Carrera Panamericana, racing Cadillacs in 1950 and 1951, with Jack McAfee driving. As a result, he decided to enter his new Ferrari in the third running of the legendary Carrera Panamericana in November 1952. The Carrera was one of the toughest events of its time, and McAfee’s 5th-place finish was a startling achievement in a field dominated by factory entries.
|1951 Ferrari 340 America
|Original List Price:
|Chassis Number Location:
|Left frame rail at third header
|Engine Number Location:
|Right rear near magneto drive
|Ferrari Club of America PO Box 720597 Atlanta, GA 30358
This 1951 Ferrari 340 America Coupe sold for $889,813 at the RM Auctions Ferrari sale in Maranello, Italy, on May 18, 2008.
Everything Enzo Ferrari touched, seems to be collectible these days. I wouldn’t be surprised to see a bidding frenzy over the bathroom fixtures from his office at some Italian-themed auction or another (I wonder if they’re all Rosso Corsa as well).
That said, everything Ferrari is not equally desirable or collectible, even the cars with real competition history. While it’s been booming over the past few years, the Ferrari market has also been evolving substantially, with the result that some cars that you’d expect to be sought after really aren’t.
All Ferrari cognoscenti claim to revere history, speaking in hushed, respectful terms of the glorious early years and early cars that set the stage for the truly great cars to come, but few are actually willing to buy them. The market reality is that even while queues form to pay historic prices for SWBs and 275s (even 2+2s and GTEs, for heaven’s sake), it’s extremely tough to sell Ferraris built before the 750 Monza came along.
Ferraris should be sexy, fast, and huge fun
If you think about it, there are plenty of reasons for this. We lust after Ferraris for multiple reasons. They should be beautiful, sexy, fast, mythically unattainable (like any worthwhile dream), and ideally huge fun to drive and be seen in. Did I say sexy? Okay, now let’s talk about the 340 America.
Despite the early romantic notions of dozens of tiny, prancing cylinders running away from the competition, Ferrari quickly realized that if you want to go faster, there is no substitute for cubic inches. The original Colombo V12 was effectively limited to 3 liters because of cylinder bore spacing issues, so Aurelio Lampredi was charged with designing a new V12 to fill the large engine niche of Ferrari’s product line.
European markets at the time faced highly punitive displacement taxes on large engines, but the American market did not, and Enzo had high expectations of getting his share of our postwar prosperity. The new “long-block” engine was aimed squarely at our shores. As evidence, all Lampredi-engined, closed-wheel cars Ferrari built are designated with an A (for America) in their chassis numbers.
The 340 Americas were big cars. Trying to make a 2 or 2.5 liter car go fast required a lot of design restraint, because the cars had to be somewhere between small and tiny to keep the weight under control, but having a 4-plus-liter engine to power things changed the rules. Ferrari also made the assumption (possibly correct) that Americans wanted big, hefty, resilient cars in their garages, with the result that the “Americas” were anything but svelte.
Big and long-legged were the design goals; heavy and clumsy just sort of tagged along. It didn’t help that Ferrari’s legendary passion for technical excellence pretty much stopped with the drivetrain; the chassis and suspension Ferrari used were truck-like even by 1952 standards.
The 340 body designs didn’t help either. It has been pointed out to me that Ferrari was so obsessed by the mechanical package (mostly the engine) and winning races that it had no vision of what the “brand” should look like. Jaguar and Mercedes had corporate teams of designers working on sexy designs for their flagship cars, but Ferrari just sent chassis off to various coachbuilders who pretty much built what they wanted.
“Interesting” seems to trump “beautiful”
The result was a few very pretty cars and a lot of really clunky ones, particularly in the 340 America series, where “distinctive” and “interesting” seem to trump “beautiful” when it comes to adjectives. It’s subjective, I know, but it seems to me that this particular 1951 340 America Coupe is anything but sexy.
The icing on the (un)desirability cake is that all of the 340/375 America cars were notoriously uncomfortable to drive. I haven’t sat in or driven this car, so I’m guessing, but I know many people who have owned the Lampredi coupes, and nobody has ever mentioned how much they love driving them. Bob Sutherland created the Colorado Grand and personified the “Prime Motoring Fool” that remains the ultimate Grand award. He took a savage pleasure in driving anything. Well, not quite anything; he refused to drive his 340 Mexico after a few tries, and said it was just too awful.
As we’ve watched the Ferrari market go crazy in the past few years, it’s been easy to lose track of the fact that they are just cars, and their individual value is still a function of both static components like historic importance and beauty, and dynamic components like sex, fun, and status. For cars to have serious collector value, they need to have all of these attributes, and the early Ferraris for the most part don’t.
At just under $900,000, this car sold for roughly half the published low estimate, but it did sell. We can only wonder whether the seller believed in the estimate but took a deep breath and accepted what the market offered, or whether he knew in his heart what the real value was but hoped a stratospheric estimate would push somebody to do something foolish.
Either way, I think this 1951 340 Coupe changed hands for very close to correct money for a car like this. The price might have been a little light, but these cars are tough to sell. I’d say fairly purchased.