These difficult cars have finally gotten the development they didn't get when racing in anger and have become superb vintage racers


In 1968, the rules for sports car racing were changed, limiting Group 6 prototypes to a maximum 3-liter engine capacity. For the 1970 season, Ferrari decided to do what Porsche had done earlier with the 917; that is, build 25 examples of a 5-liter car to allow homologation into the FIA's Group 5 sports car category (renamed from Group 4 for 1970).

Ferrari's 512 S represented yet another attempt by a manufacturer to thwart the homologation rules laid down by the Commission Sportive Internationale. It was a practice the CSI tried hard to avoid: Manufacturers would build prototype racers, produce them in the required quantities, and then fit them with lights, horns, and spare wheels, ostensibly to look like a road car. In reality, the 512 was the fastest car Ferrari had ever built, capable of speeds in excess of 235 mph.

Assembly of the first 512s began at the end of 1969. The chassis was similar to the one used on the P4. The engine was a direct development of the 612 CanAm series unit, now fitted with twin overhead camshafts, four valves per cylinder, and Lucas indirect fuel injection. All of the completed chassis were originally built in berlinetta configuration, but then modified as open cars. The 512's competition debut took place when five identical cars lined up for the Daytona 24-Hour race on January 31, 1970. Mario Andretti put the 512 S on pole position, but in the race, the Porsche 917s led throughout. Only one 512 S survived the race, finishing a remarkable third.

After Le Mans, the Mauro Forghieri-led development team started to work on a slimmed-down and more powerful version of the Ferrari 512 S. Called the 512 M (for Modificato), the revised car produced 620 hp and weighed 1,793 lb, compared to the 512 S Spyder's 1,883 lb. Bodywork revisions included a more aerodynamic nose and a large airbox mounted on top of the engine to force air into the intake trumpets. Further modifications included new rear bodywork, and no spyder version was available. Fifteen of the 25 512 Ss were converted to M-spec.

SCM Analysis


Vehicle:1971 Ferrari 512 M
Original List Price:$38,400
Engine Number Location:Back of the block, with Tipo #; also under #7 exhaust port, very difficult to spot
Club Info:Ferrari Owners Club
Investment Grade:A

This 1971 Ferrari 512 M sold for $3,234,275 at RM’s Maranello sale on May 18, 2008.

It’s all Porsche’s fault. In 1967, the CSI was unhappy with how fast the cars were going under the existing unlimited engine size rule, so they changed the formula for Group 6 Prototypes to 3-liter engine displacement and no production requirement. This solved the speed problem but created another; now there weren’t enough cars to fill the racing grid and put on a show. So they added Group 4 Competition Sports Cars-cars with 5-liter engines and a minimum of 50 produced.

This allowed the Ford GT40s, Lola T70 coupes, and Ferrari 250 LMs to continue filling the grids, but still excluded the lower-production racers. The following year, 1968, was disappointing, with few Group 6 entries and small grids comprised mostly of earlier Group 4 cars with 5-liter engines. Trying to expand the entry lists, CSI dropped Group 4 production requirements to 25 cars, primarily to accommodate Porsche’s 910 and Alfa’s T33. With these additional Group 4 cars filling out the grids and Ferrari’s new 312P joining Porsche’s 908 in Group 6, 1969 started out working pretty much the way the CSI had hoped.

As history knows well, though, Porsche had another plan. On April 20, 1969, Porsche publicly rolled out 25 Type 917s, fully legal Group 4 Competition Sports Cars (but effectively 4.5-liter Group 6 Prototypes). Nobody saw them coming. It was immediately apparent that the rules of engagement had been changed and success through 1971 was going to require a 5-liter car.

Ferrari had the resources to respond

Like the others, Ferrari was caught completely by surprise, but for once had the resources to respond. Fiat had just bought Ferrari, so there was some capital to work with, and what better use for it than to defend Italian glory against the Germans? The 512 project was immediately started so cars would be ready for the 1970 season.

The 312 P that Ferrari had fielded in 1969 for Group 6 was a jewel of a car, effectively a two-seat 3-liter Formula One car with an engine detuned for distance racing. There was no way it could be adapted to a 5-liter engine, so Ferrari went back to the 330 P4 chassis design of 1967 and proceeded to beef it up to take the power and chassis loads of a 5-liter engine. There wasn’t time to design a purpose-built engine, so they took the 612 CanAm engine and modified it, dropping capacity from 6 to 5 liters while adding twin-cam, 4-valve heads with Lucas fuel injection.

Much wider wheels and a greatly improved understanding of aerodynamics, particularly downforce, combined to make the body design far different from any previous Ferrari, with flat planes replacing the voluptuous curves of earlier cars. The 512 was the first Ferrari to carry fiberglass bodywork and, historically, the last time Ferrari responded to a challenge by dusting off an earlier design, strengthening it, and stuffing in a bigger engine. Enzo didn’t have much choice if he was going to match the 917, but it was very different from the way Ferrari liked to do things, and my feeling is that the company’s heart was never really in the 512 project. It was something it had been forced into doing.

Ferrari managed to get the 512 S homologated and put five cars on the starting line for the season opener at Daytona in January. The 1970 season proved to be one of the great ones, with monumental battles between the 512 S and 917 at virtually every race, but Ferrari could never overcome Porsche’s head start. Porsche dominated the championship points for the year and Ferrari looked to the future. The 5-liter loophole was going to close for the 1972 season, so Ferrari set their attention for 1971 on the new 312 PB, which would take them into the new rules. They updated 15 of the 512 S into 512 M (Modificato) for the privateers to run and more or less cast them loose. The 512 M enjoyed modest success at best through the 1971 season, then lost the international stage with the new 1972 3-liter rules.

A car with immense potential was finally sorted

Though a car with immense potential, the Ferrari 512, either S or M, never really worked right in its time. This is evident in comments from people who have driven them. Harley Cluxton, who drove them for NART in the era, uses terms like “not fun to drive,” “undeveloped,” and “daunting” to describe his experiences. They were very softly sprung, with huge weight transfer issues (read “push”), and when this was fixed they developed a snap oversteer.

Cluxton observed dryly, “The car was not on your side.” On the other hand, SCM’s Michael Sheehan, who knows Ferrari 512s very well, but only as a contemporary vintage racer, thinks there may be no better racing Ferrari, ever. To him they are sweet, fun, and predictable. The difference is clearly that the cars Sheehan knows have finally gotten the development they didn’t get when racing in anger. A difficult and challenging racer of its time has become a superb vintage racer.

It’s still not a car for an amateur. 512s are immensely powerful, fast, and sit on a lot of tire, with all the commensurate risks and intimidation that go with that. Things can happen very fast in a car capable of over 200 mph, and mistakes can be very expensive, painful, or both. It doesn’t help that if you’re over 5′ 10″ tall, you can forget about fitting into a 512 coupe.

This limits the market for a car like this, with the result that they’ve never come close to carrying the value of earlier Ferraris. Though in many ways a development of the 330 P3/4, they’re worth maybe a third as much. It’s also interesting to note that this is probably the only racing Ferrari worth substantially less than its Porsche equivalent; good 917s are worth over $4.5 million these days.

That said, all cars in this category have appreciated substantially in the past few years. I think as younger collectors who know and revere the ’70s more than the ’60s have come into the market, they have driven the values of these cars and will continue to do so. It’s the last of the big, robust V12 racers, the last of the privateer Ferraris (it even came with an owner’s manual), and even if not the most successful in its time, it’s a lot of car. At $3.3 million, I’d say market correct and a good hold.

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