Notes From The Archives – Ferrari
January 31st, 2019 by James Chartres
Words by: Gary Horstkorta – January 2018
Cover Photo: Eric Hausers Ferrari Mondial gases up at Cotati in 1957
Whatever language you say it in, il cavallo rampante, das tanzelnde pferd, le cheval cabre or el caballo saltando, it means the same thing, “The Prancing Horse”. Along with its famous logo of a black horse over a yellow background this manufacturer of sports cars is perhaps the most recognized car brand in the world – Ferrari.
A key name in the history of Ferrari in the U.S. was Luigi Chinetti, an ex-race driver of note in Europe having won LeMans and the 12 Hours of Monthlery plus competing in the Targa Florio and Mille Miglia. He was also a good friend of Enzo Ferrari. While in the U.S. for the 1940 Indy 500, World War II broke out so Chinetti stayed in the U.S., becoming a citizen in 1946. With his connection to Ferrari, he became their importer and sold the first Ferrari to Briggs Cunningham, a Ferrari 166 Spyder Corsa in 1950. Cunningham raced the 166 to Ferrari’s first U.S. overall victory that same year at Suffolk Airport (NY).
While the grids for the first years of racing with the SFR were full mostly of MGs, there were also Jaguars, Allards and a smattering of other makes. At that time, the Ferrari name was only known through media reports of races in other parts of the U.S. and world. However, at Pebble Beach in 1951, Jim Kimberly caused a stir when he arrived with the first Ferrari seen at these races, a 166 Mille Miglia. This signaled a change was coming since purpose built race cars were beginning to filter into the U.S. from British and European manufacturers.
Kimberly finished 6th in the Del Monte Handicap and was running as high as 3rd in the Pebble Beach Cup when he lost control and rolled the car. His beautiful 166 MM was pretty well banged up but Kimberly escaped with minor injuries.
Two years later, Phil Hill won the Pebble Beach Cup in his Ferrari 250 MM with Bill Spear placing second in his Ferrari 340 Mexico. A pattern was beginning to develop at this race as Sterling Edwards won in a 340 MM in 1954; Hill and Edwards finishing 1st and 2nd, each in 750 Monzas in 1955; then in 1956, Ferraris swept the first three places with Carroll Shelby winning (750 Monza), Hill in second (850 Monza) with Jack McAfee (860 Monza) in third. Moving to the new Laguna Seca course in 1957, The Prancing Horse continued its winning ways with another victory this time by Pete Lovely (500 TR)with John von Neumann (626 TRC) coming in second.
There were many other Ferrari milestone podiums in the SFR during the 1950’s including Phil Hill’s win at the first Golden Gate Park races in 1952; Pete Lovely’s class win and 2nd overall at Arcata in 1957; John von Neuman with a first at Sacramento in 1957 plus two seconds at Stockton in 1955 and 1956 and Pete Lovely’s win at the first feature race in 1957 at the brand new Laguna Seca Raceway.
While many of the Ferrari cars that raced on the west coast were owned by individual drivers, a good number were also imported by other individuals that formed race teams. There were three primary owners who provided cars to the better drivers in the 1950’s, all originating in Southern California – John Edgar, Tony Parravano and John von Neumann. Each of these owners regularly purchased new cars through Luigi Chinetti (the U.S. Ferrari Importer) and invited the likes of Carroll Shelby, Phil Hill, Jack McAfee, Bill Pollack, von Neumann (before he became a Ferrari Dealer), Ken Miles, Ritchie Ginther, Bob Drake, Jo Bonnier, Masten Gregory and Pedro Rodriquez to race their cars throughout the west coast with great success.
Of course the Ferrari story of great cars and a huge number of race victories continued on in all types of racing right up to the present. Today, older Ferrari race cars are still competing in vintage racing even thought their dollar value has increased times over their original cost. The brand is now closing in on its seventy-fifth anniversary and continues to reach new heights in popularity producing great street and race cars.