Diana Varga ©2019 Courtesy of RM Sotheby’s
The 1950s was the golden era of sports-car racing in the United States, and California was the epicenter. On any given weekend, hundreds of spectators would come out to watch sports cars go toe-to-toe on racetracks and airfields. Dangerous, albeit thrilling at the same time, the grids were made up of a cast of extraordinary individuals and automobiles.

SCM Analysis


Vehicle:1954 Ferrari 500 Mondial Spyder by Pinin Farina
Years Produced:1953–54
Number Produced:33
Original List Price:$10,000
SCM Valuation:$4,152,500
Tune Up Cost:$3,500
Chassis Number Location:On front cross member
Engine Number Location:Center left crankcase above water inlet
Club Info:Ferrari Club of America, Ferrari Owner’s Club
Alternatives:1954 Aston Martin DB3S, 1955 Ferrari 750 Monza, 1953 Maserati A6GCS
Investment Grade:A

This car, 500 Mondial 0448MD, was the 12th of 13 Pinin Farina Spyders built and one of only five built with the unusual “covered-headlight”-style bodywork.

It was sold new to Tony Parravano on November 5, 1954, and soon thereafter hit the California tracks.

This car, Lot 148, sold for $4,158,767, including buyer’s commission, at RM Sotheby’s Villa Erba auction in Cernobbio, Italy, on May 25, 2019.

Millionaire West Coast contractor flees to Mexico with trailers of Ferraris and the Internal Revenue Service hot on his heels.

The disappearance of Tony Parravano is one of the most intriguing stories in the sports-car world. Parravano was an Italian immigrant who used skills learned as a cement contractor in Chicago to become a very successful Southern California homebuilder after World War II.

Through a chance meeting with a mechanic named Jack McAfee, he was introduced to racing. Parravano was soon building a stable of Ferrari and Maserati race cars.

Parravano was long on cash but short on driving skills, so he recruited some of the best drivers of the time to pilot his cars. Jack McAfee along with Ernie McAfee (no relation) and Carroll Shelby are just a few of the drivers who raced for Parravano.

Famously, Dan Gurney was dismissed after an off-road excursion during a test damaged one of Parravano’s cars.

The timeline of Parravano’s disappearance is a bit muddy, but sometime in 1956, he attracted the attention of the IRS. He was indicted for tax evasion in 1957 and was scheduled to go to trial. The day before the trial, Parravano took off for Mexico with a couple of trailers of his prized race cars.

The story goes that some cars got across the border — and some didn’t.

The cars that made it into Mexico were eventually sold there and are all accounted for. The IRS confiscated those that didn’t — and auctioned them off to satisfy the tax debt.

Despite reported sightings of Parravano in Italy, Mexico and the United States, he has never officially resurfaced, and his disappearance is sports-car legend.

About the time the indictment was coming down, Parravano ran an ad offering our subject car, 500 Mondial 0448MD, for sale. Not long after, Javier Valesquez, a Mexican racer and an organizer of the Mexican Grand Prix, appeared with the car.

Valesquez reportedly raced the car in a few local races and retired it to a personal collection, where it remained until 1972.

Almost every Mondial is unique

Like many early Ferrari race cars, there are a few variations of 500 Mondials. There are Pininfarina- and Scaglietti-bodied cars, there are open cars and closed cars, open-headlight cars and closed-headlight cars, Series I and Series II models.

As expected with early Ferraris, nearly every Mondial is unique in some way.

The 500 Mondials got their power from 1,984-cc, 4-cylinder engines. The engine was developed to give Ferrari an option to their 12-cylinder units. Aurelio Lampredi designed the Ferrari 4-cylinder engine. The engine was based on Lampredi’s “long-block” 12s.

There were several advantages to the 4-cylinder engines. A big advantage is less weight. If you have ever held a connecting rod, it’s easy to understand how four rods are much lighter than 12. The same goes with pistons, piston pins, bearings, valves, valve springs — and the mass that contains them.

A second advantage is torque. The power produced in the large-displacement cylinders of the 4-cylinder engine comes on at lower rpms than in the small cylinders of a 12-cylinder engine. That added torque gave the 4-cylinder more power coming out of a corner, which is a serious advantage on a short, twisty track.

Our subject Mondial 500 Spyder

Chassis 0448MD is a Series I example with a Pinin Farina-built, covered-headlight body.

The Pinin Farina examples were built in two styles. Our subject car has the most-desirable “riveted” body. Pinin Farina built their bodies over a framework of lightweight tubing. They found that if they riveted the body to the tubing, they could substantially strengthen the car.

While the purpose of the rivets was functional, the look emphasized the Mondial’s competition breeding.

A big change

Despite decades of intense studying by Ferrari historians and enthusiasts, the Ferrari genome is still not totally mapped. RM Sotheby’s had previously auctioned 0448MD at their 2017 Monterey sale. At the time, the car was represented as a 1954 Ferrari 500/735 Mondial Spider rather than a 500 Mondial as it was represented at this most recent auction.

It was explained in 2017 that the chassis and engine were both stamped 0448, but the stamp font was somehow different. The implication was that the factory had replaced the 500 engine with a 735 (2.9 liter) engine, which had then been stamped to match the chassis.

The 500 and 735 engines were visually similar, so that could have been the case.

The issue could have been easily addressed by measuring the displacement of the engine, but apparently that wasn’t done. Maybe having a cool 735 engine was judged to be better than having a restamped 500 engine, so the displacement was left ambiguous.

RM Sotheby’s sold 0448MD for $3,850,000 in 2017. SCM’s Platinum Auction Database called the sale “a touch under expectations.”

At Villa Erba in 2019, the engine size was no longer ambiguous. The car was presented as a 500 Mondial.

This time, the car brought $4,158,767. No explanation was offered. Ferrari Classiche certification was provided, which implied that the factory had inspected the engine and confirmed it was indeed a 500 engine with the correct number.

The sale barely broke the low end of RM Sotheby’s $4 million–$5.4 million estimate. The sale price was not unexpected or disappointing.

The high-water mark was set last year with the $5 million sale of a Series II model with serious competition history, an exemplary concours record and impeccable provenance.

There’s no slighting 0448MD, but it’s a lesser car than the $5 million example.

Chassis 0448MD has a well-documented, low-ownership history. It is Classiche certified and is a well-known car. Unfortunately, it has little in the way of competition success and no event background.

It’s a great car, though, as confirmed by its over-$4 million sale. The seller probably went backwards on the deal — but got a good number.

The new owner has a car that will be welcome at virtually every event in the world. The new owner will also be the first to present this car at the events. No one should be disappointed with this sale. ♦

(Introductory description courtesy of RM Sotheby’s.)

Comments are closed.