340/375MM coupes are hot, claustrophobic, cacophonous, and demanding to drive. The spyders are simply demanding
|Vehicle:||1953 Ferrari 340/375 MM|
|Number Produced:||10 (3 coupes, 7 Spyders)|
|Original List Price:||$8,000 approx.|
|Chassis Number Location:||Left frame rail, at third header|
|Engine Number Location:||Right rear near magneto drive|
|Club Info:||Ferrari Club of America P.O. Box 720597 Atlanta, GA 30358|
This 1953 Ferrari 340/375 MM sold for $5,717,250 at RM’s Maranello, Italy, sale on May 20, 2007.
The 340/375 series of competition Ferraris poses an interesting conundrum for vintage racing car collectors. As collectors, we get all itchy about Italian coachwork, thundering V12 engines, often huge and impressive competition resumes, and the aura of history that seems to emanate from every pore as the car crouches in front of us.
As racers, we are addicted to the adrenaline and sheer, joyous, emotional rush as a great car speeds down the track, with car and driver united as the curves uncoil in an oncoming rush. We live for the joy that comes from driving a great and wonderful car very quickly. The problem with these Ferraris is that though greatness is a given and they ooze collector lust, they’re just not wonderful cars. As a matter of fact, from a driver’s perspective, they’re really pretty awful.
Ferrari started business after the war with a chief engineer named Colombo and the concept that a supercharged 1.5-liter V12 was the way to win in the Grand Prix circus. They developed the basic architecture we know as the Colombo, or “short-block” engine. In 1947, they hired a man named Lampredi to serve as Colombo’s technical assistant. Though not a trained engineer, he was a brilliantly intuitive one, and he came to believe that a 4.5-liter normally aspirated engine made more sense.
He designed one, and it was developed into what we know as the Lampredi or “long-block” engine. It was physically larger and heavier than the Colombo engine, but it made tons of horsepower. The short-block engine was effectively limited to 3-liter capacity, while the new long block went from three liters up to almost five liters.
Possibly as a result of entreaties from his friend Luigi Chinetti, who had moved to New York, Ferrari started to wonder what cars would sell and be competitive in the lucrative American market, with its wide-open spaces and preoccupation with horsepower. The obvious decision was to put the long-block engine into cars bound for America, and the result is that all sports cars using the Lampredi engine are designated with an “A” (AM, AL, AT) following the chassis number, standing for “America.” If you see a 340 MM, its chassis number will end with AM. “MM” was reserved for the Colombo-engined cars.
Ferrari’s all about the engine
The old saying that early Ferraris were all about the engine holds particularly true with the 340/375 cars. The engines were enormous, intimidating aluminum packages of horsepower generation, and the bodies were hand-built examples of the Italian coachbuilder’s art. But the chassis and suspension were only slightly better than crude.
Don’t get me wrong, the workmanship was fine, but I don’t think anyone at Ferrari in the early ’50s ever thought about chassis dynamics or design. They just hung different engines on minor variations of the same chassis and sent them off to the coachbuilders for bodies. The 212 and 250 cars pretty much got away with it, staying relatively balanced and agile, but the weight and huge horsepower of the Lampredi engines completely overwhelmed the chassis and brakes.
The result was cars that were brutally fast in a straight line and merely difficult and uncomfortable as long as the turns were open. When the roads narrowed down, the turns tightened up, and the conditions got nasty, these cars were a supreme challenge to drive fast. With way too much weight on the front axle, they were hard to steer and difficult to slow down and turn in. Having done all that, they were still challenging to drive through the corners.
This brings us to one of the most visually impressive components of the engine, the carburetors. I’ve dealt with a lot of these, and when people look at the engine there’s a sharp inhalation, followed by “Ohmygosh! Four-barrel Webers?” Yep. They are impressive, they’re beautiful, and they’re extremely rare. Have you ever wondered why they’re so rare? They’re absolutely awful. As soon as engine designers had a reasonable alternative, they dumped those carbs like week-old fish.
The problem is that with tiny little side-mounted float bowls, they go like jack the bear in a straight line, but as soon as you side-load them in a corner the floats lock up and they go lean, shutting down the engine until the car straightens out and the float bowls refill, at which point it comes back like gangbusters. You can understand how this would inhibit cornering technique and the joy of hard driving.
Fabulous collector cars, lousy drivers
Back to my original thesis. These Ferrari 340/375 MMs are fabulous collector cars, but they’re lousy drivers. The coupes in particular are hot, claustrophobic, cacophonous, and demanding to drive. The spyders are simply demanding. I’ve got quite a few tour miles in both an open 375 MM and a Jaguar C-type, and the difference is astounding. The Ferrari is far more powerful, but you have to will yourself to go fast. It’s happy and willing at speed but not exuberant; it will go as fast as you make it go. The Jag, on the other hand, just loves to run. It is light, agile, and balanced. It loves to dive into a corner, storm through, and leap back out, sharing the joy with the driver. You’ll get more envious stares while driving the Ferrari, but the starers don’t have to live with the car.
So there you have it. 340/375 Ferraris are among the greatest and most collectible of all post-war racing cars and anchor many of the great collections, but nobody I know who owns them actually drives them much. This was a hugely desirable collector car, and the price reflected the combined judgment of a number of very knowledgeable bidders, so I have no doubt that it fairly reflects today’s market and was fairly bought. Just keep something else around to go play with.