1951 Ferrari 340 America Spyder

SCM’s Thor Thorson once reported that one 340 owner refused to take his car on a vintage rally, as driving it was just too awful

Some of the most fascinating Ferrari automobiles originate from the earliest years of the company, a time when Enzo Ferrari was still in the process of developing a recognizable identity for his cars. While his first sports cars generally featured small displacement V12s and minimal bodies, it was becoming clear that he would be forced to raise the bar in order to maintain a position of distinction in international motorsport and gain a foothold in the booming American marketplace.

The 340 America featured a massive Lampredi-designed long-block V12 that was, in essence, a detuned version of the engine that powered Ferrari’s Grand Prix cars. The Lampredi V12, when combined with the 5-speed gearbox and lightweight Italian coachwork, made the 340 America the fastest sports car of its time.

The 340 America presented here, chassis 0140 A, speaks directly to the story of how Ferraris came to represent unrivaled glamour, speed and passion. Five 340 Americas were fitted with similar coachwork, but this example carries a number of unique features, such as taillights recessed into sweeping rear fenders, parking lights mounted atop the front fenders and a notable lack of the typical Vignale “portholes.”

It is truly one of Vignale’s masterworks on the 340 chassis.

The factory build sheet indicates that 0140 A was built with the intention of completing a one-hour speed record run. Although this speed trial never came to be, the car was shipped to the United States’ official Ferrari dealer, Luigi Chinetti, and the 340 went on to gain notoriety at the New York Auto Show.

Chinetti sold the 340 to George Joseph Jr. of Colorado, who was the Ferrari representative in the western U.S. Joseph paid a staggering $20,000 for the car. In November 1952, an advertisement appeared in the SCCA newsletter describing the 340 America as “A new Le Mans competition Vignale Spyder body two-seater prototype with 260-hp, 4.1-liter engine, top speed 170 mph, never raced or abused, driven less than 500 miles, most potent sports car in U.S.A., asking price U.S. $15,000 or best offer.”

The following years are well documented, and in 1980, the car was sold to Gil Nickel of California. Mr. Nickel was a passionate collector with a keen eye for thoroughbred cars. He drove them with aplomb at historic races and events around the world. His superb talent behind the wheel gained him respect in the racing community, and a portrait of Mr. Nickel and Phil Hill seated in the 340 America was one of his prized possessions.

In 1982, Gil Nickel showed the car at the Pebble Beach Concours, winning the Hans Tanner Memorial Trophy for Best Ferrari. In 1986, 0140 A returned to Europe to participate in the Mille Miglia retrospective, a fitting event as Villoresi had won the event outright in 1951 driving a Vignale-bodied 340 America. In 1992, Phil Reilly & Company performed a cosmetic restoration, and 0140 A returned to Pebble Beach. The 340 America was invited to Pebble Beach for a third time in 1999.

Sadly, Mr. Nickel passed away in the fall of 2003, making this car available for the first time since 1980. This Ferrari benefits from decades of careful stewardship and its significance as an early, even-serial-numbered chassis cannot be ignored. It is one of the earliest examples of Enzo’s first large-displacement Ferrari sports cars, a prime example of Vignale’s skill, one of the first Ferraris to be delivered to the U.S., and a genuine, matching-numbers example with a proud history that includes formative auto shows and road races.

This spectacular 340 America offers a key to all the most celebrated events, from the upper concours at Cavallino to the starting ramp at the Mille Miglia.

Steve Ahlgrim

Steve Ahlgrim - SCM Contributing Editor

Steve taught high school auto shop before moving to Atlanta, GA, where his love of sports cars led him to FAF Motorcars, the former Ferrari dealer where he served as General Manager and Vice President. He has been a self-proclaimed “one-trick pony,” coveting the Ferrari marque. He has been involved in concours judging for over 25 years and is a member of the IAC/PFA, an international committee overseeing high-level Ferrari concours judging. He is chief judge of the Celebration Exotic Car Show in Celebration, FL.

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