Octane, Jul. 2006
Ferrari 410 Superamerica, Winner of Best in Show at this year's Villa d'Este concours, this Pininfarina-bodied 4.9-litre Ferrari represented the very height of luxery and power in the late 1960s.
Somehow it seemed a foregone conclusion. Sure it was shiny, gorgeous even, but then so was the car next to it. And the one next to that. No, there was something special about this one and it had nothing to do with the outer tinsel. More the noise, the sound of unruly horses waiting their turn to trot on the red carpet; a 4962cc V12 being revved within a natural amphitheatre. Classic '50s Ferrari GTs don't get any bigger, bolder -- or more voluble -- than Peter Kalikow's sublime 410 Superamerica. The Concorso d'Eleganza Villa d'Este jury evidently thought so too, the billionaire real-estate tycoon taking the Trofeo BMW Group award for Best of Show back home to New York.
Even if you're inured to Ferrari's classic front-engined super-coupes through time-related weariness (and really you shouldn't be), this big-boned and full-bodied strain commands your curiosity. Which is to be expected, considering this model was seldom written about in period, egregiously expensive (roughly twice the price of a Mercedes-Benz 300SL Gullwing in 1958), and very much built to order. You're not exactly tripping over them at classic car meets.
That Ferrari built the Superamerica in the first place is remarkable, given ;il Commendatore's notorious ambivalence to all things stars and stripey and his lack of enthusiasm for road cars: they were a means to an end, a method of raising funds to go racing after all. And it's not as though they were built in anything like volume, construction traditionally being limited to one-offs or penny-number runs for favoured customers. For much of the early-'50s, it's doubtful that manufacture of road cars ran to more than one a month.
Among these small batches was the 342 America. First shown in 1952 with bodywork by Touring, this was essentially a variation of the 340 America sports-racer retaining the classic Aurelio Lampredi-designed, GP-derived V12 in 'long-block' 4.1-litre form, mounted in a slightly augmented chassis (to free up cabin space). Its production life was a brief one.
Roof was painted silver shortly before car was voted Best of Show at Villa d'Este. Big Borrani wires fill out wheelarches to help create an impression of power.
Flawless in black - but chassis 1449 SA was originally white with blue stripes, with a blue leather interior.
Just six were reputedly made between October '52 and January '53, most wearing not-altogether-pretty Pinin Farina coachwork which, if nothing else, would mark the beginning of a 50-plus-year relationship between the manufacturer and the Turin styling house. One that flourished with the arrival of the next variation. Or rather, both of them. To replace the longer-serving 212 Inter and the 342 America, Ferrari elected to build a brace of new models - except they were nothing of the sort. First displayed at the October '53 Paris Salon, the new 250 Europa and 375 America were effectively the same car, just with different expectations. The former was intended for Europe (quelle surprise) with a 3-litre version of the Lampredi classic; its bigger-capacity sibling (so called for its 375cc per cylinder displacement) with an eye on the burgeoning US market. As many as ten of these big-bangers were made in two years, some (over)bodied by Ghia and Vignale. So not exactly mass-production, then.
Not that Ferrari was done with über-luxury. Two years later, the marque returned to extravagant GTs once more, if only in rolling (Tipo 514) chassis form at the '55 Paris Salon. As was standard Ferrari practice back then, this was a fairly ordinary ladderframe made up of oval- and round-section tubing, sharing the 375's 110in wheelbase but with wider front and rear tracks. Following on from 250GT custom, coil springs replaced the earlier single transverse leaf spring arrangement, the live rear axle on trailing arms and leaf springs. The Lampredi V12 engine was retained but with the bore increased by 4mm to 86 (so 4962cc), with the factory claiming a likely optimistic 340bhp at 6000rpm. Allied to this was a four-speed 'box and a range of axle ratios.
The definitive 410 Superamerica, or what could pass for definitive, would arrive at the following January's Brussels Motor Show, complete with Pinin Farina coachwork. Though seemingly outwardly alike to the contemporaneous Boano/ Ellena GT offering on the 'lesser' chassis, it offered a mite more cockpit space and extra creature comforts to help validate a significantly higher price tag: in the US, the 250GT cost a heady $12,800, the Superamerica an eye-watering $4,000 on top. It's no great surprise to hear that there weren't many takers. Sixteen of them, in fact: nine chassis featuring Pinin Farina's 'standard' outline, others clothed by Ghia (the dramatic dart-like '510' built for Indycar team owner Robert Wilke) and Boano.
For 1956, the unofficially dubbed 'Series 2' edition arrived with the same Tipo 126 engine and a wheelbase shortened by 20cm (although the same chassis designation was retained). Carrying over Pinin Farina's regular silhouette, this length reduction was evident in the stumpier doors, although, as was so typical of the breed, all cars differed in detail. Of the six believed made into '57, four copped an extra 20bhp thanks to wilder cams and bigger carbs.
One thing that the Superamerica didn't lack was horsepower but Ferrari went for broke with the final variation of the theme. Debuting at the '58 Paris Salon, the Series 3 iteration produced, according to period PR bumf, some 400bhp at 6500rpm. This time around, however, this was more than mere tuning. Or blind optimism. Lessons learned during the previous year's World Sports Car Championship campaign with the Testa Rossa account for some of the changes. The Lampredi block was carried over, for the simple reason that it was the only one in the range capable of accommodating the large bore dimensions, but with spark plugs relocated to the outside of the vee and above the exhaust manifolds. This allowed a more efficient combustion chamber design and, with redesigned heads, a raised compression ratio of 9.0:1 and triple Weber 42 DCF carbs, this highly potent Tipo 126/58 unit was the most powerful Lampredi engine ever fitted to a Ferrari road car.
To counter the increased loads, the running gear received a makeover, too, with the brake drums increasing in diameter to those used on the firm's sports-racers (the difference being that here they had to retard 3550lb) while the track was widened by more than 10cm. Also new was a four-speed 'box with a common shift pattern. The chassis even received a new(ish) designation: 514A.
With Pinin Farina being the couturier of choice, the first completed car echoed styling themes first explored on the Superfast show-stopper of three years before. The overall effect was sensational, with the gently arced roofline and Borrani wire wheels that filled out the arches conspiring to produce a brutishly attractive outline. With three cockpit variations on offer, and umpteen detail deviations, this was very much a bespoke machine.
Pinin Farina (one word from '59) would body all 12 of the Series 3 editions, seven of them featuring Perspex-enshrouded headlights, the remainder with recessed items. Production ended in November '59. There would be no Series 4 edition although the Superamerica tag would live on with the Colombo-powered 400 (and was recently revived for the inelegant and lid-less 575).
Considering the model's rarity, it's no surprise that the Superamerica didn't receive much in the way of ink in period. Road & Track managed to nab Bill Harrah's Series 3 car for its December '62 issue, by which time it was already three years old. The magazine's road testers came away deeply enamoured, stating: 'The instant the engine starts, the unmistakable sound of power lets you know this is not a toy, and a small inner voice warns you to be careful. The engine idles at 700rpm, and once first gear is engaged, getting underway requires nothing more than releasing the clutch; no throttle need be applied immediately and in fact everything should be completely engaged before the throttle is pressed...
'The big engine is somewhat noisier than the new 3-litre, though this seems to be more a matter of exhaust note than anything else. There is no sound like the scream of a 12-cylinder Ferrari engine and the forward thrust of the 4.9's seat has to be felt to be believed. Nothing we can say will adequately describe the sensation. The speeds available in each gear and the quickness with which they are reached are wonderful to behold; second gear can be used on the highway as a passing gear if the driver wishes (more for effect than of necessity).
'For example, with two in the car it will accelerate from 60 to 90mph in four secs flat and will do over lOOmph in second gear. In third, 6500rpm gives a true 128mph and the rev limit of 7000 must equate to 138mph. Harrah does like to drive the car often [he'd already clocked up 34,000 miles in it by this point] and when on the road (and there's no speed limit in Nevada other than that posted in-built areas) he likes to move.
'Move it does, and no mistake. The car came up to our wildest expectations, with only two exceptions: the clutch and the inaccurate speedometer. This withstanding, the Superamerica is one of the most exciting and appealing cars ever tested by our staff. All we can add is that if you ever get the opportunity to drive one of these cars, do it. Your only regret will be the same as ours - the lack of funds to buy one.'
One such who did have sufficient funds was Howard Fuller, the first owner of this example. A confirmed Ferrari fan and owner of the Fuller Brush Company, his love for the marque spilled over with a special catalogue produced in 1959 that featured full colour shots of his friend, future F1 World Champion Phil Hill, racing the scarlet cars. Delivered new to US distributor (and Le Mans winner) Luigi Chinetti, the car was displayed at that year's New York Auto Show, where Fuller bought it off the stand.
Chassis 1449 SA was originally finished in white with blue stripes and wore distinctive blue leather trim. At some point it was sold back to Chinetti Motors and then moved on to Scott McPhee in 1977. After passing through the hands of another two or three owners, in the course of which it was repainted grey and licensed to Montana, it was bought by Kalikow in 1998 and repatriated to New York.
Something of a god in this parish for his role as architect behind the tragically short-lived Italo-American Momo Mirage GT car of the early ‘70s, when he isn't busy being chairman of the Metropolitan Transport Authority, Kalikow tends to his collection of 40 or so Ferraris that also numbers a 400 Superamerica. Soon after obtaining the 410, he had it completely restored by a consortium of specialist companies and painted black with red leather interior. The period New York registration 'K 1' adds an appropriately exclusive touch.
In the years since its restoration, chassis 1449 SA has won numerous concours awards at prestigious US events. Before being airfreighted to Europe for Villa d'Este, it received a silver roof to complement the glossy black coachwork, and the result was another trophy. Given that he took delivery of his much commented upon Pininfarina-customised F612 Scaglietti that same weekend, Kalikow was presumably well content.
Thanks to Marcel Massini for help with the history of chassis 1449 SA.