Courtesy of Bonhams
Courtesy of Bonhams
In the winter of 1953–54, Enzo Ferrari concentrated his engineers’ attention upon perfecting a line of large-capacity sports-racing cars for customer sale, backed by a secondary line of smaller variants. To promote and publicize the new sports cars, he approved development of a muscle-bound, outsized “big bazooka” for his Works team. Mr. Ferrari authorized construction of a handful of very special, even larger-capacity Works team competition spiders, which were intended as his main defense of the World Sportscar Championship title. The result would become known by the French racing community as “Le Monstre” and by the British as “The Fearsome Four-Nine.” The Works car chassis to accept this outsized V12 featured two crucial differences from the 375 MM production model: an F1-style rear-mounted gearbox in unit with the final-drive, plus De Dion rear suspension in place of a live axle.

SCM Analysis


Vehicle:1954 Ferrari 375 MM Plus Competizione Spyder
Years Produced:1954
Number Produced:Five (four remain)
Original List Price:N/A
Chassis Number Location:Front left frame tube
Engine Number Location:Right rear of block
Club Info:Ferrari Owners Club
Investment Grade:A

This car, Lot 320, sold for $18,315,845, including buyer’s premium, at Bonhams’ Goodwood auction on June 27, 2014.

Wow! $18.3 million for a V12 factory-team Ferrari. That’s — well that’s either a whole lot of money, or maybe a lot less than it should be (or maybe about right) depending on a whole lot of factors that swirl around the very crazy business of collectible Ferraris these days.

I’ll admit right out front that I was figuring $14 million to $16 million. Ferrari market guru Mike Sheehan told me that the sale price “would start with a 20,” and I know the car was offered to several serious collectors pre-Bonhams for a $25 million ask. So, there was no shortage of differing opinions before the sale.

Bonhams talked the consignors into a no-reserve sale and did a great job of promoting the car, so the price realized is pretty much by definition “fair market” for that car that day (although the dust may not be settled on the sale — see “Legal Files,” p. 58). My task here is not to pass judgment on what the market said — but to try to make sense out of why.

The ultimate temptation

Ferraris have become the ultimate collectible automobile because they are seen as possessing all of the desirable qualities that are possible to have in a performance or racing car: grace, beauty, mechanical complexity combined with reliability, reflected glory, speed, brakes, handling, an incredible and accessible driving experience, fantastic noises from the exhaust, and a voluptuous sexiness that affects guys in ways that make Odysseus’ struggle with the sirens seem tame. Originality and purity of history can count for a lot as well.

The point, of course, is that not all Ferraris have all of these qualities, and certainly not all of them in excess. The few truly great ones, particularly the Testa Rossas and GTOs, do, and they now define the absolute top of the market, but these are the crown jewels, not the jeweler’s inventory. Their value certainly drives the expectation for anything Enzo-era with a prancing horse on it (how much for a 250 GTE?) but nothing is worth more than a percentage of the ultimate. The question is how big the share is.

The first of the big dogs

It’s time to introduce our subject: the 375 Plus. Ferrari was a racer from the beginning, but in the early days the primary focus was on Grand Prix racing, which had a defined championship, while the Mille Miglia, Le Mans, and others were stand-alone events.

For 1953, the FIA established the World Sportscar Championship, which tied seven long-distance races into a single championship, to be won by a marque, not a driver. This was right down Enzo Ferrari’s alley, and he jumped in immediately, winning the inaugural season with cars that were fundamentally the same as the cars he sold to privateer racers — engine-mounted transmissions with live-axle rear suspension.

There were various displacement classes, but until 1957 there was no upper limit on the size of the engines used for the fast class, so Ferrari chose horsepower over subtlety in the Team 375 MMs that won easily over Jaguar’s C-types.

As 1954 loomed, it became obvious that it wasn’t going to be so easy. Jaguar had the new and extremely sophisticated D-type, Lancia had its D 24, and Aston Martin’s DB3S was a serious contender. In response, Ferrari upped the ante and created a new line of team racers — the 375 Plus — that were fundamentally different than the street and privateer cars.

Not only was the engine even bigger at 4.9 liters, but the 4.5 Formula One transaxle and De Dion rear suspension were incorporated to achieve better balance and handling. The car also got the larger F1 brakes. From this point until 1958, the factory-team V12 racers (which were, then and now, the big dogs) would be a technically distinct line from the cars available to privateers. The 375 Plus was the first of these, and as such, is historically important.

A steep learning curve

Unfortunately the “fearsome four-nine” was also the car that taught Ferrari that more horsepower (and the weight that went with it) was not always the answer to winning races. Entered in the Giro di Sicilia, a very twisty race around Sicily, as a practice for the Mille Miglia, driver Umberto Maglioli found himself running out of brakes, steering, and luck in his 375 Plus, putting it off a curve upside down. Giuseppe Farina had the same experience in the Mille Miglia a month later, destroying his car and badly hurting both himself and his co-driver.

Maglioli, having learned his lesson in Sicily, was extremely careful to not overdrive his beast (today’s subject chassis) and was doing very well at about two-thirds distance when a minor part failed, putting him out. Although brutally powerful, the 375 Plus was just too big, heavy and clumsy for any course that required much stopping and turning.

Fortunately, the rest of the season only had one unfavorable race left, Ireland’s Tourist Trophy (in which Ferrari entered the 750 Monza). The rest of the venues were notoriously fast. Froilan Gonzalez won the non-Championship GP support race at Silverstone circuit in our subject chassis, and then came Le Mans. With its 2.5-mile Mulsanne Straight and generally open layout, Le Mans favored either the 375 Plus’ horsepower or the Jaguar D-type’s aerodynamics. As it turned out, it was a very wet race, which reduced wear on the 375 Plus’ tires and kept the brakes cool, giving advantage to Ferrari. Even so, victory was only by one lap after 24 hours of racing.

The final event of the year was the Carrera Panamericana. Ferrari and Porsche (1,500 cc) were the only factory team entrants, so the outcome was hardly in doubt. It was also a perfect venue for a powerful car, with Maglioli’s 375 Plus averaging 122 mph for the last thousand miles as he barely edged out Phil Hill’s year-old 375 MM for the win. After the season, the four remaining cars were sold off, as Ferrari concentrated on 4- and 6-cylinder cars for the 1955 season.

The first of the Ferrari team cars

So, the big question: How does this 375 Plus fit into the pantheon of collectible Ferraris? Grace and beauty are a matter of taste; the car was cool in 1954, but it is pretty heavy by later standards. It is wonderfully complicated, with all the cylinders and mechanical whirring of a Lampredi V12 — and the very specific exhaust note they have. As the first of the true Ferrari “team cars,” the historical value is unquestionable.

It is scary-fast, with brakes and handling that contribute to the former more than the latter. In today’s world of shows and tours, it’s unlikely that anyone will pretend to be Maglioli or Farina, so it may not be that important. This does speak to the driving experience, though, which is nowhere close to that offered by the TR we’d all love to have. I have extensive experience driving a 375 MM, and I can assure you that these are not particularly fun things to drive.

This gets us down to voluptuous sexiness and originality/purity issues. There is an old line about it being difficult to imagine a seduction in a Mercedes, and I think it applies here too. Although it is pretty enough, the 375 Plus is more brutal than sexy. On the originality side, this car has a very long story that goes with it, but virtually all racers of this era do, so I don’t think it had a major impact on value.

So this is what I think the market said: This 375 Plus was an excellent car, an important car, even a great car, but it didn’t have the particular extra strengths and desirability to push it past the magic $20 million figure.

Mostly, it’s not a Testa Rossa, and never will be. Owning it makes you a member of an exclusive club, certainly, but not The Club — that one is limited to owners of the glory-years cars: 1956–62 for the open cars. The market may well move, but for now I suggest that no open Ferrari earlier than the 1956 290 MM is worth more than the magic $20 million. The market has spoken: fairly bought and sold. ♦

(Introductory description courtesy of Bonhams.)


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