Ferrari’s First mid-engined Sports Prototypes 

Somewhere along the line I acquired a little Ferrari 246SP model that I hope to develop into a running model. Some of my earliest memories are of these cars racing at Mosport back in the early 60’s driven by the Rodriguez brothers, Pedro and Ricardo (I thought??).

Before building a car I like to do some research on it -if at all possible- both on the real car and the model I am about to victimize. Sometimes doing the research on a car is almost as much fun as the building and racing. You learn new stuff, old memories are dredged up and are often confirmed or rearranged. For me it seems to lead to a fuller appreciation of these little cars that we are building. Who knows what unexpected twists and turns the surfing will lead to? Thank goodness for the Internet!! Such is the case with this Ferrari 246SP I am hoping to build in the not too distant future.

The model


Tamiya made a very limited run of this model back in 1971. They may have made an earlier run but I have only been able to find vague allusions to that. As you can see from the above picture it is a fairly simple model with few pieces, perfect for a slot car! It does however have a small mistake in the box art, as I think it is a 246SP, not a 246P as the box states. I’ll have to get mine back to confirm this is the version I have, but I think that the 246P was Ferrari’s earliest rear engined F1 car, developed around the same time as the 246SP and debuting in 1960 using the 246 engine from the front engined 1959 246F1. Regardless, as with all things early Ferrari, the history is as fascinating as it is confusing and I was already confused!!

My original intention was to look into only the 246SP but as often happens things changed. The two original 1961 chassis’ and 4 additional chassis from a year later were rebuilt and re-powered so many times and had so many different moniker changes that it’s difficult to determine what was a 246SP and what was not?

And so with thanks for borrowings from a number of sources:

The Cars

 The Ferrari SP’s (also known as the Ferrari Dino SP) were a series of Sports Prototype cars produced by Ferrari during the early 1960s. All featured a mid-engine layout, a first for a Ferrari sports car. They won the Targa Florio in 1961 and 1962, the 1962 European Hill Climb Championship and the 1962 Coup Des Sports.

Enzo Ferrari had publicly denied in January 1959 that a rear engine car was in the works. Famously he is quoted as having said something like “the cart is to pulled by the horse, not pushed”. However during this same year he privately tasked Carlo Chiti with developing both a rear engine Formula One car and a rear engine sports car, to be introduced by the 1961 racing season.

Chiti decided Jano’s existing 2.4 litre 65° Dino V6 design was suitable for use in both of these designs, due to its light weight and compact size. Development work proceeded through 1960 and early 1961.

The first SP-series cars used the Vittorio Jano designed V6 engines in both 60°SOHC and 65° DOHC formats. Later, Ferrari introduced a new SOHC 90° V8 engine designed by Carlo Chiti. All used dry sump lubrication and were mated to 5-speed transmissions. The tubular steel chassis featured all-round independent suspension and disc brakes. All shared the same wheelbase and open body style with some variations.

In total only six chassis were produced with various engine configurations. Many times they were modified and converted into a different specification so keeping track of what was what and how many is a fairly difficult and convoluted exercise.

This rear mid-engine layout was soon carried over to the V12-powered P Series-series of sports prototypes. They arrived in 1963. Later, by 1965, Ferrari introduced their first mid-engined Dino sports prototype, the 166P, powered by a V6 engine. The Chiti V8 engine did not carry over to any successor.

For this discussion I will try to limit the confusion to the two original 246 SP chassis’, although even for just these two chassis’ there seem to be conflicting reports as to the configurations of each and when.

The 246 SP

At a 1961 special press conference, Ferrari unveiled their first mid-engined sports car, the Ferrari 246 SP. Although the front-engined 250 Testa Rosa had many racing successes during the late 1950s, the success of rear engine competitors in Grand Prix and sports car racing meant that Ferrari required new designs to stay competitive.

The 246 SP was completed in time for the February 13, 1961 press conference where it was introduced to the public. Only two cars were originally produced to 246SP specification (chassis 0790 and 0796) and both were later converted into other types, with 0790 becoming a 196 SP in early 1963 and 0796 becoming a 250 P test mule before being destroyed in a crash


The 246SP Prototype with headrest and dorsal fin


The 246 SP’s bodywork was a collaboration between Carlo Chiti and Medardo Fantuzzi, the owner of the Carrozzeria Fantuzzi. During the design process, solutions to reduce drag were tested in a wind tunnel. This resulted in the adoption of several new, innovative features, including a very low bonnet, high rear bodywork flush with the windscreen top and a vertical tail fin. A prominent detail was the two apertures, or air intakes in the front of the car. This solution was concurrently introduced on the 1961 Ferrari 156 Formula One car, dubbed the “sharknose,” and on the 1961 250 TRI61. This front end styling had first appeared on a trio of Maserati 250F’s that Fantuzzi re-bodied in 1958 for racer Ross Jensen and team owner Temple Buell. Fantuzzi’s suggestion that the twin intakes would improve air penetration was confirmed by Chiti’s wind tunnel testing, leading to the adoption of this style throughout Ferrari’s 1961 racing cars.

The bodywork was hand-shaped in Fantuzzi’s workshop from 22-gauge aluminium sheet over wire forms. Major panels were designed to be detachable for easy maintenance access. Fantuzzi assigned one individual worker to oversee construction of each body shell. This division of labour, coupled with the use of traditional hand-built fabrication, resulted in slight differences between individual bodies.

During the course of early testing by Wolfgang von Trips and Ritchie Ginther, Ferrari engineers discovered that the aerodynamics of the body caused instability at high speeds. This aerodynamic instability was thought to be the cause of a dramatic rollover crash during testing at Modena, which resulted in bruising for test driver von Trips and minor cosmetic damage to the vehicle. The issue was solved by the removal of the vertical fin seen at the car’s introduction and the addition of a 5 inches (13 cm) tall rear spoiler, suggested by Ginther.

At an early tests of original 246 SP at Monza in March 1961, with tail fin already removed. Carlo Chiti visible in front of the car.

For the 1962 racing season, Ferrari introduced a slightly changed body style for all Dino SP cars, including the two 246 SPs which were re-bodied. All windscreens and rear bodywork were lowered in response to an FIA regulation change, improving aerodynamics and driver visibility. Chassis 0796 received a body with a slightly longer front end (often called the “long-nose” style), matching those of the newer SP-series cars, however 0790 retained the earlier “short-nose” front bodywork.

Numerous other body modifications were performed during the course of the 246 SP’s competition career, including many changes in intake/vent configuration to optimize airflow to the engine, brakes and driver. All SPs retained the “sharknose” front end until 1963, when even the 246 SPs were converted to a single front intake style. Windshield heights were also changed and side windows modified and/or removed, in order to improve visibility and cockpit temperatures. Despite these improvements, the 246 SP gained a reputation for having an extremely hot cockpit, with von Trips reportedly remarking “You could grow tomatoes in the cockpit during a seven-hour race.”

Engine and transmission

The engine mounted longitudinally and amidships, was a Tipo 171S 65° Dino V6 unit based on the earlier Tipo 143 used in the 246F1. The block and heads were cast from Silumin Alloy. The total capacity of 2,417.33 cc from 85 by 71 mm of bore and stroke was the same as the engines used in the 246 F1 and the 1960 Dino 246S. The 65° engine had twin overhead camshafts per cylinder bank driven by a timing chain, two valves per cylinder, and a 9.8:1 compression ratio. Resulting power was 266 hp at 8000 rpm. The engine was fed by three Weber 42DCN carburettors and used twin Marchal spark plugs per cylinder with two coils and Magnetti Marelli distributors. A dry sump lubrication system was used, with pumps for oil pressure/scavenging driven off the cams. The oil cooler and reservoir were located in the front of the vehicle. Two engine short blocks were manufactured for each 246 SP chassis, with a single set of cylinder heads swapped between them as needed.

The 246 SP used a 5 speed transaxle designed by Engineer Giorgio Salvarani, similar to that used in the 156 F1. It was mounted to the rear of the car, behind the engine. It integrated in a compact package 5 straight cut, non-synchromesh forward gears, one reverse gear, a hydraulically actuated multi plate clutch, a limited slip differential and inboard Disc brakes. This transmission was shared among all Dino SP series cars.

Chassis, suspension and brakes

The 246 SP chassis was a tubular space frame constructed from round steel tubing using gas welding. Durability was prioritized over weight savings during chassis design and construction, as Ferrari engineers attempted to ensure reliability during harsh endurance races. Fully independent double wishbone suspension was used on all four corners, with coil springs and Koni shock absorbers. The suspension design was extremely similar to that of the 156 F1. Rack and Pinion was also used, a new technology for Ferrari.

Disc brakes manufactured by Dunlop were used on both the front and rear. Front and rear discs were both 12 inches (30 cm) in diameter. Front discs were conventionally mounted outboard at the hub uprights, while the rear brakes were mounted inboard at the transaxle.

Chassis 0790

The first example produced, s/n 0790 was presented at the 1961 press conference. Its first outing after a couple of tests was the 12 hours of Sebring with Richie Ginther and Wolfgang von Trips driving. Although the car performed well, comfortably leading the field 3 hours into the race, it did not finish due to von Trips breaking a steering arm after jumping a curb and going off-track.


The Sebring 1961 car Headrest and dorsal fin are gone

The first major victory for the car and its series came at the 1961 Targa Florio race. The winning team consisted of Wolfgang von Trips, Richie Ginther and Olivier Gendebien. Later, the same trio scored a third place in the 1000 km. Nurburgring despite engine and handling issues caused by wet, cold weather. The 246 SP 0790 was entered in the 1961 24 hours of Lemans with Ginther and von Trips as drivers. They managed to set the fastest lap in practice but retired when the car ran out of fuel on the Mulsanne Straight, apparently due to a miscalculation. Later the same year, another broken steering component during practice prevented Richie Ginther and Giancarlo Baghetti from completing the 4 hours of Pescara.

1962 started slowly, when an engine problem hindered the Rodriguez brothers from completing the 12 Hours of Sebring, in which they represented the NART team. Later in May, Phil Hill and Olivier Gendebien took a first place at the 1000 km Nürburgring, again under rainy conditions. Chassis 0790 was then air freighted to Mosport Park to compete in the Players 200 Trophy race with driver Innes Ireland. Ireland retired on lap 13 with engine problems. So much for my thinking that the Rodriguez brothers had driven them at Mosport?? But I did have the correct carat least. In August, Mike Parkes won the Guards Trophy at Brands Hatch, driving 0790 against Innes Ireland’s Lotus 19. By 1963, 0790 was converted into 196 SP specifications.

Chassis 0796

The second car of the series, s/n 0796, was also built in 1961. Of the two examples built chassis 0796 was treated as back up for its sister car (chassis 0790) which contested all five 1961 World Championship events. By contrast chassis 0796 raced just twice. It crashed out on the first lap of the Targa Florio and after the car was re-bodied, Hill and von Trips competed at the 1961 1000 km Nürburgring, but again with Hill at the wheel retired after a crash where it also caught fire. 0796 was not seen in competition until the following season.

For 1962, chassis 0796 was rebuilt with the latest SP 62 bodywork that most obviously featured a flattened rear deck profile. In 1962 Phil Hill and Ricardo Rodriguez drove 0796 for N.A.R.T. at the 3 hours of Daytona Continental, finishing second. Later the same year, Rodriguez and Gendebien joined by Willy Mairesse won in 0796 at the Targa Florio.

For its Le Mans participation the car was extensively modified with a rather ugly full height windscreen and a new basket-handle rear cockpit aerofoil. There the Rodriguez brothers retired after 14 hours due to a transmission failure.

Whereas the four brand new SPs that Ferrari also built for 1962 frequently had their engines switched between the myriad new 248, 286, 268 and 196 configurations, chassis 0796 only ever used its trusty 246 motor in 1962.

After Le Mans the factory shoehorned in a three-litre V12 on an extended chassis and used 0796 as a test mule for 1963’s incoming 250P. It was further modified when the signature ‘sharknose’ was switched to a conventional single opening.

In 1963 the car was taken to Sicily for Targa Florio training. Unfortunately it was involved in a fiery accident and completely destroyed. Only the engine was salvaged.

Go here for a fairly complete history of these 2 chassis’ race results.

A 246 SP at a Vintage event, perhaps Spa or LeMans

Ferrari 246 SP during a 2010 Le Mans Classic

1962 Targa Florio winning 246 SP s/n 0796

As always I learned a lot over the course of this research, some of my early childhood memories have been modified and I haven’t even started to build my 246SP yet.

A perfect compliment to the many ‘shark nosed’ Ferrari 156’s we already race in early 60’s GP I hope to see some of these 246 SP’s out on the track in the near future. If anyone is interested in making one of these into a running car let me know and I will contact you should I run across any more of these models. They occasionally turn up on Ebay, Kijiji, at model shows or from other sources.

7 thoughts on “Ferrari’s First Mid Engined Sports Prototype

  1. Cheers!
    The only tricky bit with this model will be the headlight treatment since there are no clear lenses for it – simply paint the ‘lenses’ the same colour as the body, a different colour or try to paint headlight detail leaving the clear coat to be the clear lens… or cover it with a bunch of tape… hmmm…

  2. Great write up Michael. I have always loved the shark nose cars both go and so and also have the heavyweight eldon version. Iirc Tamiya may have redone these about 8 years ago as I recall seeing them listed on the hobby link site but unavailable a the time. They were listed with some 1/24th scale repose at the time.
    Re: the Rodriguez’s I seem to recall reading somewhere Pedro was supposed to drive the car at Mosport but couldn’t make it but I could be mistaken. I’ll need to fact check that though. Thanks again for a great read and I too look forward to this body being reproduced.

  3. Thank you for 2-reasons MiA.
    First, for writing such a very cool and informative article.
    Second, for helping me figure out the Eldon slot car set I just bought for $5. I bought it because it has a 246SP. But it weighs 9-tons. Please count me in for a lightweight version.

  4. Thank you MiA for your fantastic historical review of this beautiful Ferrari – the 246SP!
    Your Tamiya model looks identical to the car raced in the 2010 photo at the vintage LeMans event (as posted above) – minus the mirrors and roll bar… can’t wait to have the re-pop done and with this inspiration sooner than later now! Awesome!

    1. I think the box art may be modeled after the Sebring 1961 car, same numbers at least. I’m going to see whether I can find my pictures of this car at Mosport in 1962. If I do I will post them. My Dad and I drove up for it, I would have been 10. Very fond childhood memories were dredged up while researching this car. As the ad says ‘priceless’. Should you do a re-pop you have my order. Hopefully more will soon follow.

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