Weekly Historical Car
Ferrari 340 America
A study of the 'America Ferraris' starts with the type 340 America and continues with the 342/375 Americas. This series represents cars that were marketed towards the American market through Ferrari's American Importer, Luigi Chinetti of the North American Racing Team (NART). In addition, and more importantly, this series also represents Ferrari's exclusive line of custom road cars built with Ferrari's successful motor sport engineering. In fact, the first 340 Americas are competition cars and chassis 0082A claims the 1951 Mille Miglia victory.
Since the 100 or so cars in the series have individual specification, appointments and styling to suit a particular customer or racetrack, the America Ferraris present a very diverse study. The complete story could fill a dedicated book, and since the current literature on these machines is somewhat lacking, the subject is definitely worthy of future publication.
The common theme uniting the America Ferraris is their engine. Compared to older designs, it focuses on large volume and fuel delivery to deliver increased torque. This design philosophy was a fundamental change in direction which Enzo Ferrari copied from US manufacturers in the 1950s; and he wasn't afraid to admit this fact by labeling the cars as such. The decision was motivated by both Aurelio Lampredi and racing driver Raymond Summer who thought an unsupercharged 4.5-liter car was going to beat Alfa Romeo in Formula One racing.
The America Ferraris present an interesting case. These are larger Ferraris with increased consumption, waste, appointments, luxury and prestige. They were purchased by customers which typically had the greatest materialistic needs: royalty, top businessmen and famous personalities. It was these clients which Ferrari wanted to attract. Their plentiful resources supported Ferrari's very broad motor sports campaign, and created some of the most daring Ferrari designs.
340 America - The Beginning
The first America Ferrari was the 340 and it was the first production car to use Ferraris upcoming Aurelio Lampredi engine. Called the long block or a 'Formula One design' it was the larger than any previous Ferrari engine. The company used its large displacement to nearly win the 1951 Formula Championship, but, this engine really became a staple for Ferrari's sports cars a year before. The Lampredi design first debuted at the 1950 Mille Miglia in two 275 S experimental sports cars (0030 MT and 0032 MT) having a 3322cc displacement. Both cars retired due to gearbox problems, but their initial success helped Ferrari conceptualize the 340 America, and move forward with Lampredi's engine.
Chassis appointments for the 340 were very similar to the type 166, with an increased length to accommodate the new engine. Following Ferrari's typical practice, the car was supported by a ladder-type steel tube frame. This chassis was heavy and rigid which did not make many concessions for weight savings. Fortunately, like many other Ferraris from the period, the bulky 340 chassis was overshadowed by a fantastic engine.
As a full-on competition car, the 340 first appeared at the 1950 Paris Auto Salon. By 1951, regular production began and multiple cars contested the Mille Miglia or Le Mans for 1951 and 52. They typically had problems with the high toque output thaty often caused gearbox and rear-end failure.
The highlight victory came at 1951 Mille Miglia when chassis 0082A driven by Villoresi took the overall win. A Le Mans victory eluded the 340, with stiff competition coming from the Jaguar XK120C, Talbot Lago T26GS and Aston Martin DB2.
After completion of several race cars, Ferrari decided to sell detuned versions of the 340 with more refinement for use as exceptional road transportation. Several cars were built, in a very limited series, for Ferrari's most prized customers. These cars sported more decorated bodies from Vignale or Ghia, and were only slightly detuned for road travels. Only about eight of the these road cars were completed and they started a glorious line of road going Ferraris that would be continued with the 342 and 375 America.
After two years of production and 23 purpose-built cars were produced, the 340 line divided into several types. Future types, destined for street use and focusing on luxury and prestige used the America term, while the 340 MM and 375 Plus carried on as competition cars.
The impact left by the 340 was substantial. The new direction often associated with the 340 is an artifact of the transition from Gioachino Colombo, the designer that helped start Ferrari, to Aurelio Lampredi. Soon after the 340, Gioachino Colombo left Ferrari to continue with Alfa Romeo. The choice to use the term America to mark this transition is interesting one. Obviously, America was very important to Enzo Ferrari, important enough to brand the country with his top product.
Vignale Coupe - This all-important example was driven by Villoresi to win the 1951 Mille Miglia. He did so amongst 300 some competitors in the pouring rain and reduced to just 4th gear in the final legs. Later, the car won a 1951 Portugal Grand Prix support race before being shipped to America and fitted with a Corvette V8. In more recent times, Michael Sheehan restored the car mid-eighties and raced it at the 1987 Mille Miglia Historic. Ten years later the car was again restored by Bob Smith to debut at the 1996 Pebble Beach Concours.
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