The only concern of the Porsche drivers was that they stay well clear of the 512s. The handling of the three overweight Ferraris was as diabolical as anything that had ever emerged from Maranello
Ferrari's opposed 12-cylinder Formula One technology worked its way into the production lineup in 1971 with the introduction of the 365 Berlinetta Boxer. A super high performance mid-engined berlinetta for Ferrari's most performance-oriented clients, production of the 365 GT4/BB began in 1974. Ferrari made no attempt, however, to develop a GT racing version of the Boxer. Thus, in 1976 there were no Ferraris on the starting grid for the 24 hours of Le Mans for the first time since the Sarthe classic resumed after World War II. Several clients picked up where Ferrari left off, developing GT versions of the 365 GT4/BB. In 1977 one won its class at Le Mans, entered by Luigi Chinetti's North American Racing Team. The 365's days were numbered, however, by the introduction of the five-liter 512 BB. The Ferrari factory recognized the market for IMSA class racing cars and began to develop a race-prepared, but still largely stock version of the 512 BB through its Assistenza Clienti department. Three were delivered in 1978 but all failed to finish at Le Mans. Development took on a new urgency at Ferrari and for 1979 a series of "silhouette" 512 BBs were built. The accepted model designation, 512 BB/LM left no doubt about Ferrari's intention. These cars were aimed at Le Mans and they benefited from completely new lightweight bodywork developed in Pininfarina's wind tunnel. With dramatically re-shaped and lengthened bodies, wide wheels and tires, a rear wing, and weight reduced to some 1,100 kg the 512 BB/LMs were capable of a 200 miles per hour top speed. After the 1979 season's experience and development, a series of further-developed 512 BB/LMs were built for 1980 benefiting from the hard-earned lessons of a year's competition. These "Series II" 512 BB/LMs had 500 horsepower, further refined bodywork, and shed another 100 kg. The car offered here, chassis number 30559, is the first of the 1980 512 BB/LM Series IIs and the 14th of only 29 built. Delivered to Luigi Chinetti's North American Racing Team in May 1980, it was entered by NART in the 1980 Le Mans 24 hours. An engine problem in qualifying kept it from starting, but it returned to Le Mans in 1982 where it suffered an engine failure during the third hour. Presented in good, original condition, the car is offered with a quantity of spares, an excellent opportunity to acquire an important part of Ferrari racing history at a reasonable price.

SCM Analysis


Vehicle:1980 Ferrari 512 BB/LM

This Ferrari 512 sold for $350,857, including buyer’s premium, at the Bonhams Gstaad auction, December 19, 2003.

Anyone who is convinced that a purpose-built racing car carrying the prancing horse insignia, particularly a 200-mph one, must be worth at least seven figures is going to be confused here. After all, this is a 500-horsepower, four-cam flat 12 with Le Mans provenance, apparently in good condition. So why did it sell for only three hundred and fifty grand?

There are multiple answers to this. For those of you keeping up with my earlier discussions of weapons grade vs. collector grade race cars (see the February 2004 Lola T600 profile), the 512 BB/LM is as close to a pure weapons-grade car as you’ll find in a factory racing Ferrari.

Let’s count the strikes against high-end collectibility. The 512 BB/LM is production-based, fiberglass-bodied, too new for participation in any of the prestige events, and so long, low and wide that it’s a pain to move around. Plus the car is utterly un-streetable. Whether it’s pretty or not is purely personal taste, but its race history is less open to interpretation-the car had a semi-catastrophic failure nearly everywhere it ran.

Agreed then-this is a car to own because you want to go play with it, not because you want to anchor a collection.

Only one problem: The 512 BB/LMs just weren’t very good cars. The layout has the flat 12 engine feeding power out the back through a gear stack to the transaxle, which is located directly underneath the engine. Though this makes for a wonderfully compact package, it puts a large mass high in the back of the car. This is fine if you’re streaking down the autobahn, but when flicking the car into a fast chicane at racing speeds, all that weight up high in back is not doing you any favors.

The first 512 BB/LMs were just flat-out awful. Janos Wimpffen, in Time & Two Seats, describes their debut at Daytona in 1979 thusly: “The only concern of the Porsche drivers was that they stay well clear of the 512s. The handling of the three overweight cars was as diabolical as anything that had ever emerged from Maranello. The wheels rarely seemed to point in the same direction and the long-tailed beasts routinely skipped from one side of the banking to the other.” While the Series II cars improved things, they were never competitive with the Porsche 935s that so dominated the era.

So what’s the upside? It is a Ferrari, and a real fast race car. It’s production-based, so it will go a long time between rebuilds, making the car relatively inexpensive to run. The flat 12 sounds great and the car is bound to attract attention in the paddock.

And then there’s that price, which isn’t a lot for a real Ferrari racer. As long as the buyer knew what he was getting into, and doesn’t mind a few white-knuckle experiences whenever he encounters a high-speed chicane, I’d say this was well bought.-Thor Thorson

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