The 250 Europa was Ferrari’s first foray into standardized production—but this one-off Cabriolet marks a fascinating detour.

Photo: Crossroads 1
November 27, 2014

Prior to the introduction of the 250 GT, Ferrari built touring cars in runs of one to as many as five. These 166s, 195s and 212 Inters wore bodies designed by Ghia, Bertone, Vignale, Touring, Boano and/or Pinin Farina (which became Pininfarina in 1961). While each was a Ferrari, each bore the individual aesthetic of its design house, as well as whatever details were requested by the client. As a result, mechanically identical cars often varied significantly in appearance.

This business model presented several problems. The lead time to build a one-off (or five-off) car was lengthy. The market for such machinery was limited, which kept production numbers, and revenue, low. Once a car had been delivered, there was no other car to exhibit that might entice future buyers. Last but not least, despite the cars’ significance as the product of an already famous racing company, there was little visually that tied them all together as Ferraris.

By the early 1950s, Enzo Ferrari recognized the need for a different kind of road car. He wanted consistent design that established a brand identity for the growing American and European markets. He also wanted to increase production numbers through standardization. In short, he wanted a mass-produced car, and so, at the Paris Auto Show in October 1953, the 250 Europa debuted.

Photo: Crossroads 2

The road to standardization wasn’t seamless, however. Of the 21 Europas built, only 15 were more-or-less identical Pinin Farina-bodied coupes. The other six examples were three Vignale coupes, one Ghia coupe, one Cabriolet by Vignale and our feature car, the sole Pinin Farina 250 Europa Cabriolet (s/n 0311EU).

AFTER PRODUCTION OF THE 212 INTER concluded, Pinin Farina became the exclusive designer of Ferrari touring cars. The firm took on responsibility for the design and construction of the 250 Europa prototype. When the prototype was completed, it was sent to Maranello to be inspected by Enzo Ferrari. Once approved, the job of “mass production” fell to Carrozzeria Scaglietti.

S/n 0311 was delivered new to U.S. Ferrari importer Luigi Chinetti, Sr. and shown, in its original shell grey exterior with green interior, at the ’54 New York Auto Show. Missing roof aside, the Cabriolet looks very much like the 15 Pinin Farina-penned coupes. For example, s/n 0311 retains the closed car’s large, elongated oval grille but trades its full-width front bumper for a pair of wraparound quarter bumpers which cradle the lower corners of the front fenders. The nearly horizontal lower section of the grille sits at the same level as the bumpers, visually continuing the bumper line across the front of the car.

Photo: Crossroads 3

The grille design is Pinin Farina, but it’s similar enough to earlier Vignale examples to reinforce the branding that Ferrari desired. On the other hand, where (most of) the coupes feature separate round driving lights and turn indicators, s/n 0311 utilizes a single combined rectangular lamp beneath each headlight.

A single trim strip bifurcates the hoods of all the Pinin Farina-bodied Europas. (This detail would reappear on the later 250 GT 2+2.) Immediately ahead, in its usual place between the leading edge of the front-hinged hood and the grille, resides the rectangular enamel Ferrari badge. The trunk wears the two crossed flags of Pininfarina and a Ferrari script, while a Pininfarina badge and script sit on each front fender. There is no other exterior identification, not even a model name.

The horizontal front fender line continues smoothly and unchanged to the rear fender, with no line or crease to disturb the eye; the coupe’s quarter windows have been eliminated and the fuel filler moved inside the trunk to eliminate visual distraction. The door handles remain flush until needed (the coupe’s stands proud) while a chrome strip runs prominently between the wheels at bumper height. Almost unnoticed is a subtle, rolled fender lip on the leading edge of both front and rear wheel openings, a detail unique to s/n 0311.

Photo: Crossroads 4

Also unique, but much more pronounced, is s/n 0311’s rear-end treatment. Unlike the Pinin Farina coupes, which feature clearly defined fenders on either side of a raised deck, the Cabriolet flaunts diminutive fins surrounding a lowered deck. The taillights are also different, with s/n 0311 sporting vertically oriented dual-lens/dual-reflector units versus the coupe’s simple, single-lens horizontal items. The upper portion of the quarter panels flares gently to accommodate the taillights.

All in all, s/n 0311 presents a clean, elegant face to the outside world. That’s the case inside, too, where this one-off Ferrari further blends the familiar with the unique.

The interior door panels are the same as those found on the Pinin Farina coupes, aside from the addition of three protective strips along the bottom—just the place where an ill-placed oxford might mar the leather. Rather than the coupe’s black spherical shift knob and roof-mounted rearview mirror, s/n 0311 utilizes an older-style knob with the shift pattern denoted in Roman numerals and a mirror perched atop the dash (thereby also eliminating the coupe’s ashtray).

Photo: Crossroads 5

Both coupe and Cabriolet feature a metal dashboard painted in the exterior color, but s/n 0311’s has been reshaped, with a flatter face and a redesigned glovebox. Also different are the instrument panels: Where the coupe crams five gauges in front of the driver, the Cabriolet rearranges them and relocates the combined average speed/clock unit to the right of the other four. Many of the dashboard’s controls have been moved or replaced, as well.

ALTHOUGH S/N 0311 OFFERS a different look than its coupe cousins, it is mechanically identical to the rest of the 250 Europas. Its 2,800mm-wheelbase chassis, shared with the 375 America, is made from elliptical-section steel tubes. Suspension is independent in front, live axle in back, with Houdaille shock absorbers at all four corners. Drum brakes reside inside 15-inch Borrani wire wheels. Up front, pushed well back in the chassis, a competition-derived four-speed all-synchromesh gearbox sits behind the equally competition-derived V12 engine.

That engine, of course, is Aurelio Lampredi’s magnificent “long block,” originally designed to break Alfa Romeo’s stranglehold on Formula 1 racing—and halfway through the ’51 season, in 4.5-liter guise, it did just that. In Ferrari tradition, the racing engine soon made its way to the street, powering models such as the aforementioned 375 (4.5 liters) and earlier 342 (4.1 liters) Americas, as well as the 250 Europa.

Photo: Crossroads 6

For Europa use, the engine features a reduced bore of 68mm and the standard stroke of 68mm for a total displacement of 2,963cc. Outfitted with three Weber carburetors and 8.0:1-compression Borgo pistons, the 3-liter V12 was rated at 200 horsepower at 7,000 rpm.

The Lampredi engine features a number of design differences from Ferrari’s other V12, designed by Gioacchino Colombo, most notably the lack of a head gasket (which had proven troublesome on some Colombo engines). Its head, which encompasses the combustion chamber and a section of the cylinder bore, is a deep casting that the cylinder liners screw into. The entire head/cylinder-liner assembly then bolts to the crankcase with two o-rings at the base of each cylinder liner. A deep, finned alloy oil sump attaches to the bottom of the crankcase.

One downside of the Lampredi design is that the cylinder heads need greater bore spacing than they would with a conventional head gasket. As a result, the engine is five inches longer than the Colombo V12.

Photo: Crossroads 7

The single-overhead-cam Lampredi head utilizes two valves per cylinder with dual hairpin-style valve springs. Valve actuation is by rockers operated by rollers. As on the early Colombo V12s, the Lampredi’s spark plugs are positioned inside the engine’s vee, near the intake ports. Each cylinder receives a single plug, driven by twin Marelli distributors that sit at the front of the engine.

Although impressive in both scale and performance, the Lampredi engine was destined to remain a rarity in Ferrari’s lineup as the Colombo engine became the standard for production cars—indeed, its replacement, the similarly named 250 Europa GT, was powered by one. That of course was also the case with one-off construction, which dwindled rapidly and was effectively extinct within a few years (though rare examples continued to be built into the 1960s). S/n 0311 therefore sits at two significant crossroads in Ferrari’s history, and is all the more special for it.

Also from Issue 139

  • 458 Speciale A preview
  • 308 GT4
  • F60 America first look
  • Ferrari's Racing Though the Decades show
  • FORZA Tifosi Challenge: Miami Homestead
  • F1: Things Fall Apart
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