Patrick Ernzen ©2021, courtesy of RM Sotheby’s

In 1960, following the lead taken by Cooper and Lotus, Ferrari began to experiment with rear-engine placement in its Formula One and sports-racing cars. The dual overhead-cam V6 engine co-engineered by Vittorio Jano and credited to the late Dino Ferrari was the powerplant of choice, and potential applications ranged from Grand Prix to sports-car racing.

With displacement increased to 2.4 liters, the engine was dropped into two new sports cars, chassis numbers 0790 and 0796, which used purpose-built Type 561 chassis based on the 156 F1 Grand Prix car.

The most dramatic aspect of the SP was surely its breathtaking spider coachwork by Fantuzzi. A complete departure from prior Maranello styling, the new open design featured a low-rise windscreen, delicately curved rear fenders and the innovative sharp spoiler at the edge of the tail. Fantuzzi’s bodywork was punctuated with an aerodynamic protruding nose featuring a twin-nostril grille, similar to that of the Ferrari 156 Formula One driven by Phil Hill in the World Championship in 1961.

While the first two 246 SPs showed significant promise during the 1961 season with a 1st overall finish at the Targa Florio and 3rd place at the Nürburgring 1000 km, they also suffered their share of early retirements. Encouraged by the promising results, Ferrari developed the SP into a broader range in 1962, debuting four SP examples featuring four different engines.

In addition to the 246’s original 2.4-liter displacement, the lineup now featured smaller and larger versions of the Dino V6 (respectively the 196 SP and the 286 SP), as well as a brand-new, extremely unusual V8. The so-called 248 SP featured a 2.4-liter engine that was essentially two-thirds of a 400 Superamerica V12. This motor was initially used on just two cars: the one shown at the press conference, chassis number 0806, and the example presented here, chassis number 0798.

SCM Analysis

Detailing

Vehicle:1962 Ferrari 268 SP
Years Produced:1961–62
Number Produced:6 (including 196, 246 SP)
Chassis Number Location:Tag on tube in engine compartment
Engine Number Location:Top of block at flywheel
Club Info:Ferrari Owners Club
Website:http://www.ferrariownersclub.org
Alternatives:1961–62 Porsche RS 1961–63 Maserati Tipo 61 “Birdcage” 1961–62 Porsche Abarth Carrera GTL

This car, Lot 234, sold for $7,705,000, including buyer’s premium, at RM Sotheby’s Monterey auction, on August 13, 2021.

By 1960, the writing was on the wall in letters large enough to convince even the conservative Enzo Ferrari that the future of racing belonged to mid-engine cars. Beginning in 1961, the Grand Prix formula changed from 2.5 liters to 1.5, so Formula One was the logical place to initiate the design change. Carlo Chiti designed a rather conventional four-tube chassis to carry Vittorio Jano’s Dino 1.5-liter GP engine, and the resulting Type 156 easily won the 1961 championship. (Admittedly more because of an excellent engine and underdeveloped competition from the British than overall greatness.)

The SP is born

On the sports-car side, the front-engine Testa Rossas were still extremely competitive with 3- and 4-liter V12s, so Ferrari stuck its toes in the water by widening the 156 F1 chassis to accommodate two seats and installing the 2.4-liter V6 engine. With gorgeous Fantuzzi bodywork, the resulting 246 SP was notably smaller than the Testa Rossa, lighter (1,300 pounds dry) and far nimbler. The two 1961 cars performed well, considering new-concept development issues, and for 1962 Ferrari built four more. Our subject car was the first of these.

A fun sidelight is that Ferrari ran into high-speed lift problems at the back of the car, and driver Richie Ginther, with some aircraft background, suggested a rear-mounted spoiler. It was a new idea and, apparently, one they didn’t want to share. I distinctly remember being a high-school kid studying my Road & Track magazine, which explained that the spoiler was there to prevent exhaust from getting into the cockpit.

Eight isn’t enough

There was a problem with this design, though, and it was almost existential for Ferrari. In sports cars, Ferrari had always been the big gun on the long endurance races that defined the brand. The 2.4-liter engine just didn’t have the horsepower to be competitive. With the short-wheelbase, mid-engine design, the V6 was hard up against the driver’s seat; there simply wasn’t room to fit the traditional big Ferrari engine. The 246 SP acquitted itself wonderfully at twisty venues like the Nürburgring and Targa Florio, but Ferrari defined itself by winning at long tracks like Le Mans and Spa.

Looking for more horsepower with endurance-race reliability, Ferrari tried a variety of different engine approaches, none particularly successful. The overbored 2.8-liter V6 wasn’t reliable. It next tried a single-cam V8 (based on the 4-liter Colombo V12) in this and one other car, with middling results. They sounded fabulous but weren’t a match for the 3-liter competition. Four of these engines were built before the concept was abandoned as unsuccessful. The SP racers were retired by the factory after 1962.

This car, technically a 268 SP because of the engine, came to the U.S., where it did well in SCCA racing for years before joining the collectible ranks.

For the 1963 season, Ferrari refined the mid-engine concept, designing a stronger and more-evolved chassis that addressed issues of fragility and suspension geometry. It was a bit over three inches longer to fit the V12 engine and named the 250P. This bifurcated into the successive “P” cars and the 250LM, which for 1964 got a roof and imagined production-car status (nobody believed them; they had to run as prototypes). After 1964, all pure racing Ferraris were mid-engine.

Ferrari market realities

It’s time to step back and discuss some of the market realities for Ferrari sports racers, particularly as they apply to our subject. The first point is to understand that there are two separate categories: racing Ferraris and crown jewels. The “race cars” are wonderful, fun, gorgeous and very desirable, but they are still vulnerable to the market forces of supply and demand. Crown jewels are not. They are so desirable that their values are more like fine art, seemingly immune to normal market forces and subject only to which billionaire is able to persuade another one to part with his car.

The second essential point is that any under-12-cylinder Ferrari will sell for between a third and half of its 12-cylinder equivalent. The classic examples are 250 Monza vs. 750 Monza; 290 MM vs. 860 Monza; 250 Testa Rossa vs. 500 TRC. This applies across the board and always has.

The third observation is that there is no such thing as a crown-jewel Ferrari with fewer than 12 cylinders. (Well, maybe Formula One cars, but I am discussing sports racers.) It follows that any racer with less than a V12 will be subject to the same market forces as regular Ferraris: They go down as well as up.

Look to the stars

Some years ago, I introduced the concept of the “standard candle,” which allows astronomers to use a star with known brightness to help determine the immense distances of space. I argued then and do now that in the Ferrari markets, the 275 GTB serves this function well; it is an effective way of tracking an otherwise complex market. For example, a 275 GTB/C sold in January 2015 (generally considered the peak of the market) for $9.4m. The same car sold this year for $7.7m. A quick calculation shows that it lost value at just over 3% per year since 2015, which appears to mirror overall Ferrari values.

This 268 SP was offered by RM Sotheby’s at Monterey in 2016. It failed to sell, so the “real money” on the car before it failed is unknown, but rumor has it that it was in the high-$9m range. If true, this suggests that the value has pretty much followed the overall market in trending downward.

There may be other considerations in contemplating this particular car. This was Ferrari’s first mid-engine sports car and as such, was more experimental and undeveloped (read fragile and quirky) than the earlier TRs or the later juggernaut P cars. The engine is cool, but irreplaceable. Lord help you if anything ever goes bang. Also, the car is a bit unknown (they only built six) and big-money collectors hate to own stuff they have to explain. A great car tells its own story.

All in all, I suggest that this was a beautiful and generally fabulous Ferrari sports racer that had essential collectibility issues that prevented it from being extraordinary. Considering those and the market’s realities in 2021, I suggest that it was fairly bought and sold. ♦

(Introductory description courtesy of RM Sotheby’s.)

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