One of the things I occasionally like to do as a Petrolhead is to scroll through online listings of vintage cars. Call me a nerd, but seeing what’s out there and what gems can be uncovered is a relaxing pastime for me. Now imagine that on one of those moments, you stumble upon a car for sale that grabs your attention. It looks cool, but seems like nothing overly special at first and is in disrepair. The asking price is pocket change really. Could it be worth the gamble? Yes, apparently this still happens from time to time; it’s a worn-out vintage Ferrari chassis. This is the story on the rough-and-tough life of the Ferrari 340 America chassis 0202A.
There was a time when a disused race car that was no longer competitive was just, discarded. No longer deemed competitive enough to be run by the factory team, no interest from any prolific independent racing team, so there’s nothing else to do then to ship it to some dealer and see if they can do something with it. As more interesting stories are uncovered in our weekly automotive column that is the Petrolhead Corner, it baffles the mind that some cars end up in a sorry state and sometimes even taken apart and destroyed.
In the fifties and sixties, Ferrari was a force to be reckoned with on any racetrack. Even in the hands of skilled amateur racers, they were capable of winning at just about every venue. The competition was fierce, but Enzo Ferrari and his team of engineers and craftsman managed to build some of the most capable machines in racing history. They managed to do so in a wide range of racing disciplines, from hill-climb racing to Formula 1 and everything in between. Ferrari has also been very successful in endurance racing, racking up a total of 9 overall victories and no less than 21 class wins at the famous Le Mans 24 hours race. There’s, of course, the fabled rivalry with Ford after a failed attempt from the Americans to buy Ferrari, but it’s not just that. Even today the name of the brand alone is enough to get most Petrolheads excited. And if a very rare Le Mans participant comes up for sale or auction with a story that just beggars belief, that excitement is probably multiplied several times over.
The history of this handsome blue Ferrari 340 America sadly shows the tell-tale signs of the neglect that some vintage racers have to endure in their lifetime. Starting off as a pristine piece of engineering ready to take on the world of motorsports, only to be discarded as a second-hand item when no longer competitive, ending up battered and bruised before finely being retired, or scrapped. It’s not uncommon, even decades down the line, for some rundown chassis to turn up in a barn somewhere after an extensive search, only to find out it happens to be the remains of a very significant race-winning thoroughbred!
In 1952 this Ferrari 340 America, chassis 0202A, competed in the 24 hours of Le Mans and managed to achieve fifth place overall, and second in class. It was painted in the same dashing blue as it bears now, with blue being the historical national racing colour for France. The car was driven by Frenchmen André Simon and Lucien Vincent and they even managed to put it on pole position in qualifying. Not that it means very much to start first in a 24-hour race, but it does prove the speed the car is capable of. After the 24 Hours of Le Mans, the car was raced by Lucien Vincent at a couple of other venues before being shipped to the US through long-time Ferrari dealer/importer Luigi Chinetti. Once abroad, the car was extensively raced during the remainder of the fifties by various owners, modified massively over time, before eventually falling off the radar.
The deceptively simple yet stunningly elegant body by Vignale was damaged at some point and deemed to labour intensive or expensive to repair so a new body was fitted. Gone was the closed top and the hand-sculpted original Vignale coachwork. A new open-topped body was made for the car, apparently resembling the 1956 Bagnert Manta Ray for unfamiliar reasons. That new body was damaged in an accident during transport and the Ferrari chassis was draped in an open-topped fibreglass body by Devin. It seems like such a shame to butcher a car like this in such a way but keep in mind race cars was very much disposable items at that time. There was no value in historical significance, a race car was only as good as its last win and once retired, it was rendered obsolete. Sure, engines and gearboxes might be salvaged but entire cars would be dismantled, destroyed or stuffed away in a barn to be forgotten about.
At one point in time, the original 4.1-litre V12 engine was replaced by a Chevrolet V8. Chronologically we are now somewhere in the sixties and after that, the car’s whereabouts become a little cloudy. Nothing is heard of it, but eventually, it resurfaces as a barnfind in 1990. A former drag racer named Mike Sanfilipo bought the car, still being the Ferrari chassis with Chevy engine and Devin body, for the incredible sum of just 200 dollars. Not knowing what to do with it exactly, but planning to cut it up and turn it into a hot-rod-like project, Mr Sanfilipo side-lined it for about 15 years before listing it on eBay as a vintage Devin Spider sports car in 2006.
Luck would have it automotive restorations expert Tom Shaughnessy, based in California, stumbled upon the listing. Following messages back and forth on the car, checking it out in person and examining a range of photo’s, Shaughnessy decided to bid on it in an attempt to purchase it. At the end of the listing on eBay, the winning bid turned out to a very reasonable (for a Devin Spider at least) USD 26,912. Still not having a clue it was a historical significant Ferrari underneath, the original plan was to restore the Devin Spider to former glory and sell it on. Together with historic Ferrari Expert Hilary Rabb, he started to examine every inch of the car and eventually uncovered that it bore a Ferrari chassis number long thought to be lost forever and possibly even destroyed.
During the span of 26 years, from 1948 until 1974, Ferrari has built 475 factory competition cars, and most of them have been accounted for, but not this one. It was one of the rare birds that got away from the specialist, experts, collectors and enthusiasts. The 0202A chassis number marks it as a factory racer by Ferrari as it is an even number. With the discovery of said number a Ferrari long thought to be lost or even destroyed was found again. The story far from ends there as then begins the long and tedious process of further identifying it, tracing back its history as far as possible and eventually; restore it. The state of the chassis and body were detailed in a 2013 article on Barnfinds.com. The story seems to be a little incorrect at times as they mention it as a Ferrari 340 America driven by Maurice Trintignant and Louis Rosier instead of André Simon and Lucien Vincent. Various sources list chassis 0202A as being driven by the latter duo during the 1952 Le Mans 24 hour race so we’ll stick to that.
Fortune was on Shaughnessy’s side during this entire process as before being able to purchase the original Ferrari 340 America chassis, over time he has been able to source an original V12 engine, gearbox, pedal box and various other parts that would fit once restored. Despite this, a restoration of this magnitude still requires a lot of patience and of course; money. He turned to Ferrari’s Classiche department, a team of historical restorations experts, to painstakingly rebuild it as it once raced at Le Mans; Vignale body in blue, 4.1 litre V12, 4-speed gearbox, original interior, period-correct wheels and tires, everything. It took several years to complete and the full process and history of the car is detailed in a Ferrari Classiche book, red with a white stripe to identify it as a historically-significant machine. The book includes news clippings, photographs, race results, documentation on the restoration and more.
This incredible Ferrari 340 America is for sale through leading American automotive auction house Mecum. There’s no sticker price or estimate on it yet but I fully expect it to be several million dollars. It is listed for Mecum’s upcoming Kimmissee auction between the 7th and 17th of January 2021. There are more gems going up for auction but this is arguably the superstar of the show.