Contact. Sitting in the cockpit of his single-seat, three-point hydroplane, Dody Jost activates the fuel pump and runs the engine a few seconds using the starter without ignition. He also pumps the accelerator pedal a few times to prime the carburetors. Now, he sets the magneto to position number three, energizing the two rows of six cylinders. Pushing the starter button a second time instantly triggers an inferno inside the 4.5-liter Ferrari V12.
In a few jerking movements, the tachometer indicates 1,300 rpm. Jost keeps his foot on the accelerator, but the revs have already decreased by 100 rpm as the engine ticks over. The water in the coolant tank heats slowly as the oil pressure drops gradually from 99 to 42 psi. The sound is fantastic; listen closely and you can hear all the moving parts of the early 1950’s V12 running like clockwork. This engine would have won the 24 Hours of Le Mans in ’53 if it hadn’t been for a stupid clutch problem.
Meanwhile, the water temperature has risen to 140 degrees Fahrenheit. Jost shuts down the engine so that the heat, which continues to rise naturally, is distributed evenly. Three minutes later, he fires it up again. This time, he engages the propeller shaft, by means of a specially designed gimbal, and keeps his foot on the clutch pedal. He must now accelerate whilst slipping the clutch to drive the propeller without stalling the engine.
The metal-and-wood machine begins to trace a wake of white foam. Jost will soon attempt take-off, but lift speed is achieved at the point where most boats have already reached their limit.
Nearby, I’m piloting a jet-propelled Fabio Buzzi Rigid Inflatable Boat, designed for Navy special forces, with photographer Thibault standing at the bow as if ready for an assault. Our task is to keep pace with this red fireball as it streaks across the calm waters of Italy’s Lake Como. The party has just begun.
THIS HISTORIC RACING BOAT has rarely left its home on Lake Como, near Milan, but its amazing adventure started on the racetrack in 1953. It was the first year of the World Sports Car Championship, and Il Commendatore unleashed a pack of three 340 MM coupes to contest the commercially promising international title.
Of these three contenders, s/n 0318AM was specially prepared to tackle Le Mans with a reinforced chassis and a higher capacity engine of 4,494cc. At Ferrari, the designation of the older models was based on the capacity of one cylinder. Therefore, the 340 MM had a 4.1-liter version of Aurelio Lampredi’s 1950 and ’51 Formula 1 engine, but the 4.5-liter version was dubbed a 375 MM. According to some Ferrari historians, this particular engine was initially built for the ’52 Indy 500 with special parts, including connecting rods machined from a steel block rather than forged. Now it would face a much different challenge.
Entrusted to driving aces Alberto Ascari and Luigi Villoresi, s/n 0318 beat the Le Mans lap record at 112.8 mph and dominated the race—at least until its clutch failed, likely because it was inadequate to cope with the bigger engine’s increased torque, in the 19th hour. Of the two 340 MMs, s/n 0322 finished the race in fifth place, while 0320 was disqualified due to a technical infraction.
After Le Mans, the three cars were sent back to Pininfarina, where they received redesigned front ends and smaller rear windows in a search for higher top speeds. In addition, s/ns 0320 and 0322 received enlarged 4.5-liter engines.
The next event was the 24 Hours of Spa. There, s/n 0322 won, s/n 0320 retired with clutch failure and s/n 0318, driven by Umberto Maglioli and Piero Carini, had valve problems and did not finish.
S/n 0318’s third and final race was the formidable Carrera Panamericana. The three sister Ferraris left for the Mexican desert under the private flag of Franco Cornacchia’s Scuderia Guastalla. As at Le Mans a few months earlier, s/n 0318, driven this time by Antonio Stagnoli and Giuseppe Scotuzzi, was well ahead of the field before disaster struck. Between Tuxtla and Oaxoca, reported the Mexican daily Ovaciones, the Ferrari left the road at nearly 180 mph after a tire burst. S/n 0318 was destroyed, its occupants killed. Only the engine remained intact, and it soon returned to the garages of Scuderia Guastalla in Milan. It was there that Guido Monzino discovered the V12, and purchased it to power the boat shown here.
MONZINO WAS WELL KNOWN TO THE ITALIAN PUBLIC for his large chain of Standa department stores, but even more famous for his far-off expeditions, which received wide media coverage and made him nearly a national hero. He financed his own adventures to the top of the highest mountains, from the Himalayas to the Andes, as well as to some of the most remote places on the planet, including the North Pole.
His fortune allowed him to do whatever he wanted, without limits, so Monzino commissioned this 800 kilogram-class racing boat from the best builder in Milan: San Marco. Owned by powerboat champion Oscar Scarpa, the San Marco yard held several world speed records and had earned countless victories. Hull number 069 was built in 1957, after the precious V12 was completely checked by the Ferrari Corsa department in Maranello.
The boat is of the so-called “three point” type which dominated powerboat racing from the second World War through the mid-1970s. These hydroplane hulls were designed with two wide sponsons at the front and at the rear a narrow transom supporting the propeller and rudder mounts. Therefore, at full speed the hull was in contact with water on only three points, or zones: the extremities of the two sponsons and the tip of the propeller, thereby minimizing friction of the water on the hull.
When the boat lifts off, however, engine cooling becomes a crucial point. Unlike the closed cooling system in a car, for marine use the Lampredi V12 utilizes an open system, in which lake water is fed from a buffer tank of roughly 20 liters through the engine before being ejected from the other side of the hull. The cooling water is collected by a dynamic scoop (which is only effective once a speed of 25-30 mph is achieved) under one of the forward sponsons, then heated in the buffer tank. Indeed, the water from the outside would be too cold if it was not raised to the right temperature before flowing into the engine.
To reach maximum speed, the pilot must rev the V12 up to 5,000-6,000 rpm and adjust the clutch to get all the required torque to the propeller, which rotates at the same speed as the motor. Ideally, the lake surface should not be too flat, as small ripples can help the hull break free of the water’s resistance at about 50 mph. Then, the boat becomes a hydroplane, running faster and faster to a maximum speed of around 125 mph—just the way Monzino liked to drive it to work.
His offices were in Milan, but Monzino resided as often as possible in one of the most beautiful villas of Lake Como, the Punta del Balbianello (which many readers will recognize from the 2006 James Bond film Casino Royale). There, early in the morning when the weather permitted, he had his Ferrari racer brought from a nearby boatyard to his private dock. The servants loved to watch him, impeccably dressed, climb into the cockpit of the red San Marco, cast off and speed towards Como to the fantastic roar of the 12-cylinder engine. In less than 15 minutes, he alighted at the Yacht Club, where his four-wheel Ferrari awaited to whisk him off to Milan. Monzino of course acquired some of the rarest and most expensive models in Maranello’s stable, including a 250 GT Cal Spyder, a 400 Superamerica and a 500 Superfast.
Although his boat was built for competition, Monzino was not interested in racing around the buoys. The only exception was the Raid Pavia-Venezia, the longest river race in the world. Founded in 1929, this event still occupies a unique place in the hearts of Italian powerboat racing enthusiasts. Covering some 280 miles on the wide and wild river Po, its route included locks and was dotted with unstable and invisible sandbanks hidden just below the water, blind curves and threatening bridge piles passed at high speed. It is not a coincidence that this true adventure, with pit stops along the river banks in relative wilderness, attracted the explorer and mountaineer. In 1958, Monzino, accompanied by mechanic Luigi Allione, drove the boat to a beautiful third-place finish, averaging 54.8 mph. He finished the race after 4 hours and 36 minutes, only 40 minutes behind the winning, and unbeatable, husband and wife crew of Tarcisio and Amelia Marega in their Timossi-BPM and 30 minutes behind the great champion Paolo Petrobelli, assisted by M. Pacchioni, in another Timossi-BPM. With a record speed clocked on one leg, this was an impressive performance for a casual racing driver.
BY THE LATE 1960S, Monzino had tired of his aquatic escapades and practically abandoned the red racer in its boatyard. But in May 1969, it was discovered by an eccentric young Austrian student at the Academy of Fine Arts of Brera in Milan, who was also living on Lake Como. The student, Dody Jost, was fascinated with the aesthetics of the unusual machine, and eventually convinced Monzino to sell him the San Marco. At the time, the boat needed a great deal of work—the classic three-point hulls are delicate, and one doesn’t launch a racing V12 Ferrari on the water without taking certain precautions—so Jost, who around the same time purchased the Nautilus hotel on Lake Como, protected his treasure for a few decades before starting a full restoration.
In 1992, the engine was entrusted to Diena & Silingardi Sport Auto, the well-known Ferrari specialist on via Toscanini in Modena, after which the hull went to Luccini, the reputed Como competition boatyard. Piece by piece, all the elements of the racer regained their strength and beauty, but the process still required years of effort before the boat was returned to as-new condition. The San Marco first went into the water in 1997/1998, with the final touches applied in 2000.
“Driving is a delicate operation requiring a lot of concentration, if not recklessness,” explains Jost. “To go fast the hull must hover to avoid contact with the water, except for the extremities of the lateral floaters and the point of the rear propeller. The engine torque is critical because, when starting up, the boat behaves like a mono water-skier. The fast engine response is essential to get the boat to lift out of the water. The heavy-duty racers were equipped with BPM or Maserati V8 engines, which have more torque than the Ferrari V12 at low revs. This is where the multi-disc clutch is crucial to help get maximum torque to the propeller and lift-off.
“The hull of a racer is built to go fast; it is much more maneuverable when it is gliding across the surface of the water. The profile of the rudder is designed for high speeds and responds immediately to the slightest command from the wheel, which requires a lot of concentration on the part of the pilot. The torque of the propeller rotates in a clockwise direction and tends to turn the boat to the right, which is why a small winglet is fixed under the left sponson to help the boat turn in that direction. At the time, all race circuits turned counter-clockwise around the buoys. Attacking a turn around a buoy is very tricky because it requires the pilot to reduce speed but not by too much to prevent the hull from sinking back into the water, which would result in bringing the craft to a halt within a few meters.”
“One can imagine the race conditions of a pack of boats sending up huge white sheaves of water as they slipped out of their trajectories in the furious chop generated by the hulls and propellers,” concludes Jost. “It was a great sport, and the powerboat champions had no cause to be envious of their colleagues on the racetrack in terms of courage, strength and sense of anticipation. The super-cavitation propeller is only half immersed in water, and the pilot can hear its characteristic roar at full throttle of 7,000 rpm. However, like automobile racing, you can recover on a straight stretch, easing the acceleration to maintain 6,000-6,500 rpm and attain the maximum speed as the embossed surface of the water passes under your feet. It’s an exhilarating sensation with the fabulous roar of the Ferrari V12.”
Unlike the other two Ferrari-powered classic raceboats still in existence, the San Marco is the only one equipped with an engine taken directly from a prestigious race car; the other two have motors originally intended to be mounted in racing boats. In part for that reason, the San Marco caught the attention of the historians of the Maranello factory. For years they had paid little attention to the presence of Il Commendatore’s engines on the water in the early 1950s, but in 2012, Ferrari Classiche inspected the boat. After a detailed examination, it certified the engine as the one that was pulled, so many years ago, from the wreck of s/n 0318. In early 2013, the San Marco was displayed at the Enzo Ferrari Museum in Modena.
Collectable Ferraris with exceptional pedigrees can reach sky-high prices at auction. Last year, s/n 0320 sold for nearly €10 million at auction. But that sum does not disturb Jost, who was driven by passion, not financial speculation, when he purchased the San Marco more than 40 years ago. Instead, Jost derives pleasure and serenity in keeping the adventurous spirit of Guido Monzino alive, at full throttle on the same lake where the raceboat was born.