1971 Ferrari 512 M

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

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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.

Thor Thorson

Thor Thorson - SCM Contributing Editor

Thor grew up in northern Iowa. His father bought a red Jag XK 150 in the late 1950s, and that was all it took; he has been in love with sports cars , racing cars and the associated adrenaline rush ever since. He has vintage raced for more than 20 years, the bulk of them spent behind the wheel of a blue Elva 7. When he’s not racing, he is president of Vintage Racing Motors Inc., a collector-car dealer and vintage-racing support company based in Redmond, WA. His knowledge runs the full spectrum of vintage racing, and he has put that expertise to good use for SCM since 2003.

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