Feast your eyes on the 5 greatest Ferrari race cars in history

by Jason Barlow | Oct 8, 2022
Ferrari
PHOTO: TopGear.com
CAR BRANDS IN THIS ARTICLE

1) Ferrari 250 Testa Rossa

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The 250 Testa Rossa elevates itself on a purely statistical basis thanks to its three overall wins at the Le Mans 24 Hour Race (in 1958, 1960, and 1961), which led to constructors’ titles for Ferrari in those same years. But the TR is also about as drop-dead gorgeous as any racing car has ever been. The best known Testa Rossas were among the first 34 made, and featured the dramatic ‘pontoon’ bodywork, whose scooped out front wings were an improvized aid to brake cooling that was carried out by legendary Modenese fabricator Sergio Scaglietti. When this configuration proved insufficiently stable at high speeds, more conventional bodywork was introduced. This most feted of endurance racing cars initially made do with drum brakes, a robust chassis (although weighing in at 794kg it was hardly porky), a four-speed gearbox, and a live-axle rear end suspended on leaf springs. It wasn’t particularly state-of-the-art stuff, even in 1958, but effective. Later works cars gained a De Dion rear axle and more aero-efficient bodies.

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2) Ferrari 156 ‘Sharknose’

Ferrari

In 1961, new F1 technical rules reduced the engine size from 2.5 to 1.5 liters, and Ferrari entered the fray with the 156 ‘Sharknose,’ a car that would win five of the eight GPs in that season. Engine designer Carlo Chiti had produced a new V6 with a 120-degree V-angle, which enabled it to sit lower in the chassis to optimize the centre of gravity and structural rigidity. The American driver Phil Hill and his German teammate Wolfgang von Trips both won two races each, with Italian driver Giancarlo Baghetti managing to survive a dramatic French GP at Reims, slipstreaming Dan Gurney to take the win with the finish line in sight. He remains the only driver to win an F1 race on his debut, his only time on the top step of the podium. Hill took the driver’s championship but the victory was bittersweet: von Trips crashed in Monza, killing himself and 14 spectators. The accident may also explain why Enzo Ferrari ordered all 156s to be destroyed, some of the parts apparently ending up mixed with the concrete for a new factory floor.

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3) Ferrari 250 GTO

Ferrari

The most famous Ferrari of them all began life as a pragmatic answer to intensifying competition in the world sports car racing arena. The chassis was similar to the long-serving 250 GT SWB’s, and consisted of a tubular steel frame. Pick-up points were added to key components like the gearbox, radiator, and fuel and oil tanks in the chassis. Most GTOs had two cooling air intakes in the front wings; some had three. The body was also redesigned. Tentative aerodynamic changes reduced lift at the front and improved rear downforce. The project was initially overseen by Giotto Bizzarrini, who would soon leave the factory during the notorious ‘palace revolution’ in late 1961. Enzo’s old friend Sergio Scaglietti was then tasked by the guv’nor to complete the car. Typically, none of the 36 GTOs made in the first 1962–1964 production run were identical. Although the bodies were all hand beaten in aluminum over wooden bucks by Scaglietti’s artisans, there were many differences, some cosmetic, others more empirical and engineering focused. It was, and remains, exceptional to drive.

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4) Ferrari 312 T

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The visually striking 312 T made its debut in the 1975 South African GP—the T signified the car’s transverse-mounted gearbox, which substantially improved the car’s handling balance. Although Lauda failed to finish higher than fifth in the first four races of the season, with a retirement in a tragic Spanish GP, wins eventually came in Monaco, Belgium, Sweden and the US, his teammate Clay Regazzoni triumphing in Italy. Lauda took the drivers’ title, Ferrari the constructors’ championship—its first since 1964. The 312 T used an aluminum monocoque, with a redesigned suspension system that allowed technical director Mauro Forghieri and his team to narrow the front, improving its aerodynamic efficiency. Its flat-12 was reliable and good for 500hp. The distinctive air box was banned under the new regulations for the 1976 season, the one that Lauda was lucky to survive following his terrifying accident at the Nürburgring. The 312 T would grow more striking as it evolved during the Seventies, gaining an unusually wide nose.

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5) Ferrari F2004

Ferrari

In motor racing, there’s a temptation to think that everything in the past was somehow better. But when it comes to Ferrari’s F2004, resistance is futile. it’s not as pretty as 1967’s 312 or 1990’s 641, but it was much more successful, a V10-powered masterpiece that swept Michael Schumacher to his seventh and final F1 world championship title. He won 13 of that season’s 18 races, his teammate, Brazilian driver Rubens Barrichello, taking a further two victories. The F2004’s domination is somewhat overlooked because it marked the zenith of the Ross Brawn/Rory Byrne/Michael Schumacher era, a triumphant period that yielded five straight drivers’ and six straight constructors’ titles on the bounce, a record that invariably led to audience fatigue, even if the Ferrari members enjoyed themselves. Interestingly, the nature of the F2004’s Bridgestone tires meant that the Ferrari wasn’t quite as dominant in qualifying sessions—just the 12 poles then—but the car, driver, and master pitlane strategy gurus combined to ensure incredible race results. And as for that engine... sheesh.

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NOTE: This article first appeared on TopGear.com. Minor edits have been made.

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