IT was a day of great opportunity when PETER COSTER was offered a Ferrari for five thousand pounds. He regrets not having had the money at the time but reckons that probably saved his life:
A FORMULA ONE car has a reverse gear. This seems unnecessary when the object is to go only forward, as former world champion Nigel Mansell found out when he backed up his Ferrari after overshooting the pit box and was black flagged.
Such ridiculous regulations don’t affect this column as we back up to last week when your correspondent revealed how he was offered a fabulous Ferrari Daytona for five thousand pounds.
It was 1973, the last year the Daytona, more properly designated as the 365GTB/4, was manufactured at Maranello. It was also the last front-engined Ferrari to be made when the Old Man was in charge.Backing up even further, the Daytona was introduced at the Paris Salon in 1968 when the aficionados believed the Commendatore would bow to the inevitable and produce a mid-engined car to compete with the Lamborghini Miura.
But Ferrari bowed to no man, certainly not Ferruccio Lamborghini, who started the company as a manufacturer of tractors in 1947, a product Ferrari said he was still producing. Lamborghini’s cars carried the symbol of a raging bull compared with Ferrari’s Prancing horse.
The Miura launched the era of mid-engined super cars but it was the Daytona that captured the purists who believed that you did not put the cart before the horse.
Daytona was the name bestowed by the media after Ferrari’s victory in the 24-hour race at Daytona Beach in Florida when Ferraris took the first three placings.
The Daytona did not exist until it was showcased at the Paris Auto Salon the following year, but such was the adulation for the car that followed the race that the name became part of the Ferrari legend.
The race itself reflected Ferrari’s history of triumph and tragedy. Lorenzo Bandini won at Daytona, but was to die three months later in a fiery crash at the Monaco Grand Prix.
The Italian’s co-driver was the New Zealander, Chris Amon, one of the finest drivers never to win an F1 world championship. Amon retired to his family’s sheep farm. He died little more than a year ago at the age of 73.
The cars that won at Daytona in 1967 were 330s but it was the Daytona that became associated with their success.
The nomenclature was an example of Ferrari’s idiosyncratic approach to everything he did. Each of the Daytona’s 12 cylinders had a 365cc displacement, which made up its almost 4.4 litre capacity.
The GTB stood for Gran Turismo Berlinetta, a grand touring car with a coupe body designed by Leonardo Fioravanto of Pininfarina. It looked the predator it was.
American racer Dan Gurney said after winning the first Cannonball Run from New York to California in a Daytona in 1971: “We never went above 175 mph at any stage.”
The 4 at the end of the Daytona’s designation stood for its four overhead camshafts. The car was unbreakable and I was in thrall to see it race at Le Mans, my face buffeted by its slipstream as it roared down the six-kilometre long Mulsanne Straight, where I sat in the dark in a camp chair and could only imagine what it was like to be behind the wheel of this glorious beast in the falling rain; so fast it seemed it was catching up to its own headlights.
It was the last year of the Daytona and the last of the front-engined masterpieces from Maranello, the last of the cars that put the horse before the cart. It was a “real” Ferrari. Everything that has followed might carry the bloodlines, but not the blood of the Old Man himself.
Backing up once more, this time to 1969, a one-off 365GTB/4 was ordered by Luciano Conti, a friend of Ferrari. The car had lightweight panels hand beaten by Scaglietti, an artist in aluminium whose workshop was across the road from Ferrari’s Maranello factory.
A total of 1,284 Daytonas were to be built by Ferrari, but Chassis 12653 was to be the only lightweight road car.
Conti, the owner of Autosprint magazine, sold the Daytona to the first of two other Italian owners before the car was exported to Japan, where it passed through the hands of two Japanese owners before being bought by Makoto Takai.
It remained hidden from the eyes of the avaricious for nearly 40 years until it was discovered under its decades of dust and dirt in its original condition and with only 22,611 miles on the clock.
Such a find is the “Holy Grail” of car collectors, who dream of driving down a country road in search of a Ferrari or a Rolls-Royce under the possum-poo, discovered in a shed by the inquisitive relatives of its long-dead owner.
Racing driver Peter Janson and I were in Delhi when approached by an articulate Indian gentleman who wanted to sell us a Rolls-Royce. He said the Silver Ghost was in a garage nearby and could be seen around midnight down a dark street when those who might steal it were long abed.
Janson, who had been aide-de-camp to the King of Bhutan, said he had heard this story before.
We turned up but the Indian gentleman failed to materialise after we told him we were not prepared to pay any sort of deposit before we saw the Roller. The car was likely more “ghost” than Silver Ghost.
But the Ferrari Daytona discovered in a Japanese garage last year was the real thing, a wonderful piece of Italian artistry that sold for US$2.2 million ($2.8 million Australian) in September when it was put on the block at Sotheby’s Ferrari-only sale in Maranello.
It was somewhat more than the five thousand pounds I was told would buy me a Ferrari Daytona when I was standing in the paddock admiring a Rolls-Royce Corniche owned by boxer “Aussie Joe” Bugner at the British Grand Prix in 1973.
But had I bought it, neither the Ferrari nor I would have been likely to survive. Like the redundant reverse gear on Formula One cars, the Daytona’s gearbox would never have been used to go backwards.