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.
|1951 Ferrari 340 America Spyder
This car, Lot 19, sold for $2,530,000 at Gooding & Company’s Pebble Beach Auction on Saturday, August 14, 2010
The 340 America was Enzo Ferrari’s first attempt to market a Lampredi-powered Ferrari—and his first attempt to market a car directly to the lucrative U.S. market. In Europe, cars are taxed based on their displacement. Small-displacement cars are the norm, and high revving 2-liter and 2.5-liter Ferraris were considered prestigious.
The United States had no such restrictions, and Americans were used to big displacement and big torque. Enzo Ferrari recognized that the U.S. was the perfect place to market cars featuring his new, large-displacement Lampredi engine. In the fashion of all early Ferraris, the 340 America’s chassis was assembled at Ferrari, where it was fitted with the Ferrari-built Lampredi engine. The coachwork was then outsourced to one of several Italian coachbuilders. A total of 25 340 Americas were built, with no two being exactly alike.
The Lampredi engines are legendary for their tremendous torque, but they are large and heavy and require a substantial chassis to handle the power. Lampredi-powered touring Ferraris are in a class by themselves for being luxury cruisers.
Terror in the turns
Touring 340 Americas are capable of 41 mph in first gear and 150 mph in top gear. This kind of speed made the continent smaller—and the America popular for fast touring. Racing a Lampredi-powered Ferrari was another story. The 340 chassis was primitive, with a transverse leaf spring front end, solid axle rear end and Houdaille shocks all around. The heavy engine could easily overpower the chassis, making acceleration breathtaking—but stopping and turning terrifying.
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. The 340’s race performance came up short, and the less-expensive Jaguars regularly beat the 340s on the track.
The first time I heard of Gil Nickel, it was the answer to my question of who was driving the Lotus 26R that was drifting sideways up a hill at an Atlanta vintage race. It was an image that I remember 20 years later—and an impressive display of getting the most performance out of a car. I would later learn Nickel was a consummate car guy, the man behind the prestigious Far Niente Winery, and someone who was always associated with the best. His 340 America was no exception.
The value spread for 340 Americas is quite wide, which is mostly due to the diverse array of body styles available. There are open-top and closed-top versions of 340 Americas in both sport and touring configurations. Ghia, Touring, and Vignale all produced bodies for 340s, and the executions ranged from dowdy to beautiful.
The lesser 340s are a tough sell, while the most attractive cars are an asset to any collection. This Gil Nickel 340 America, with its beautiful Vignale spyder body and exceptional pedigree, is near the top of its class. 0140 A’s well-documented and storied history only adds to its appeal. The Nickel car sold for all of today’s money, but the owner got an important car with entry to any auto event on the planet. Mark this one well bought and well sold.