When someone talks about a Mondial, most Ferrari enthusiasts think of the Pininfarina-designed V8-powered mid-engine 2+2 coupes and Cabriolets of the 1980s and early ’90s. But the fabulous red 500 Mondial pictured here isn’t that.
No, this compact, jewel-like roadster’s engine sits up front, and the car offers no hint of rear seats or a top of any sort. This is the “original” Mondial, from the mid-1950s, and it’s a sports-racing car. Pure. Simple. Gorgeous. Fast. Noisy. Expensive. And did I mention it only has four cylinders?
In the late 1940s, around the time both Ferrari the company and Gioacchino Colombo’s seminal V12 engine were born, Enzo Ferrari brought on a second engine designer: Aurelio Lampredi. Born in Livorno, Lampredi’s pre-Ferrari resume includes stints as an engineer and engine designer at Piaggio (Vespa), Isotta Fraschini, and an aircraft company called Reggiane. He’s best known to Ferraristi for his V12 Grand Prix engines, which were used in a handful of road cars, but was also the father of an entirely different engine line.
Although Ferrari made his name with 12-cylinder engines, he wasn’t blind to the possibilities of other configurations. Thus, in the early 1950s, he and Lampredi divined that a four-cylinder engine could win big in open-wheel racing. It proved to be the right call, as Lampredi’s dual-overhead-cam inline four powered Ferrari to consecutive World Championships in 1952 and ’53.
In the interest of amortizing the new engine architecture, Ferrari also elected to employ it in his sports cars—which, depending on the season or the weather or his mood, alternately got more attention than his single-seaters. In essence, Lampredi was deployed to design and develop what became a small family of four-cylinder racing engines.
The 500 Mondial (so named for those two World—“Mondial”—Championships) boasts one of these fours: an all-aluminum 1,985cc unit running twin Weber sidedraft carburetors and two spark plugs per cylinder ignited by a large pair of Marelli magnetos. With a 9.2:1 compression ratio in sports-car trim, the engine belted out 170 horsepower at 7,000 rpm.
While today we might think of 2.0 liters as pretty small, perhaps just right for a compact economy sedan, the Tipo 110 racing engine was fairly substantive for the day, with many road-going sports cars running in the 1,500-1,750cc range (or smaller). Even Alfa Romeo’s “big” four at the time was 1,900cc. Lampredi’s four was later developed into 2.5- and 3.0-liter variants, the latter powering the much-heralded 750 Monza.
The Mondial’s chassis is a welded-up tubular steel affair with a 2,250mm wheelbase. (That’s a very compact 88.6 inches, which is about an inch and a half shorter than the wheelbase of small-block Shelby Cobra.) Front suspension is an unequal-length A-arm setup with a transverse leaf spring—the later Series II cars have coil springs—while a de Dion axle hung by another transverse leaf resides in the rear. Each corner wears a Houdaille lever-action shock absorber, an aluminum brake drum with an iron surface liner, and a 16-inch Borrani wire knock-off wheel. The rear-mounted transaxle contains either four or five forward gears.
Pinin Farina designed the Mondial’s tidy, curvaceous coachwork and built the first series of 20 examples. Fashioned out of aluminum, the body features beautifully prowed front fenders and sinuously arched rear fenders that give it a distinctly feline quality. The split windscreen is low and frameless, the single door vestigial; it’s a racing car, after all. The cockpit is as spare and businesslike as you’d expect, although it offers a full complement of those handsome, classic, chrome-ringed gauges with the Art Deco typeface. The finished product is as light as it is pretty, with Ferrari claiming a curb weight of just 1,600 pounds.
OUR FEATURED Series 1 500 Mondial (s/n 0418MD) was produced in April 1954, just in time to be one of the four Mondials entered by the factory in the Mille Miglia. Due to poor period record keeping, it’s not known who drove s/n 0418 (it was either Sterzi/Rossi or Pineschi/Landini) or what race number it wore (#459 or #512). We do know another factory-entered Mondial, driven by Vittorio Marzotto, finished second overall, first in class, against a field of big-name, bigger-engined cars from Lancia, Maserati, Alfa Romeo, and Ferrari itself.
Shortly after the Mille, Ferrari sold s/n 0418 to the team of Maria and Mario Piazza, who raced it only one time that year. It was later entered in the ’55 Mille Miglia, but for reasons not clear it did not start the race.
The Ferrari was then sold and relocated across the Atlantic to Venezuela, where it remained, in the hands of a short succession of Latin owners, for the rest of the 1950s. Along the way, it was repainted from Rosso Corsa to white with a tricolore stripe down the middle. During its expat years in Caracas, the car was twice raced by Guido Lollobrigida, a cousin of popular Italian siren/actress Gina Lollobrigida.
Sometime in the mid-1960s, the Ferrari found a new home in the United States. There, it suffered an indignity far worse than the non-original respray: Its Lampredi four was replaced with a Chevy V8.
Luckily, a few years later, s/n 0418 was refitted with a correct Mondial engine (from s/n 0506MD). The Ferrari then spent much of the ’70s and most of the ’80s bounding around the U.S. and back to Italy for the then newly re-created Mille Miglia Storica. Along the way, its bodywork was properly restored and repainted red, after which it appeared at the Cavallino Classic, the Meadow Brook concours, various Ferrari Club of America events, and the Colorado Grand.
During the last decade, s/n 0418 passed through the sensitive hands of noted car collector Oscar Davis before landing with Southern California enthusiast William Tilley. It was from Tilley’s estate, via RM Auctions in 2013, that the Ferrari found its way to its current owners: Ann and Theo “Toby” Bean.
THE BEANS, who hail from the southeastern U.S., are vintage-racing enthusiasts of the first order, and currently have around three dozen cars in their stable. Toby, who is in the oil and gas business, bought his first Ferrari, a 330 GT, when he was in college in the early ’70s; he laughingly calls himself “one of the Ferrari dinosaurs” who didn’t start with a 308. In the time since, he’s owned, among others, a 340 America, a 512 M and a 250 LM. He’s also owned, and often piloted, a series of big-game IMSA GTP cars, and co-drove with the late Bob Akin.
Ann’s passion leans more toward open-road events like the Mille Miglia. She’s also the Mondial’s historian, and has been steadily building its historical file since before they purchased the car. When asked why they chose s/n 0418 in particular, she replies, “We wanted something that without question was Mille Miglia eligible, and of course this car as a previous entrant is that. Plus, it’s so rare, a different kind of Ferrari, and just so beautiful. And that sound….”
Given his racing experience, it’s no surprise Toby is the right guy to make the Mondial sing, and he regularly enjoys 6,000 rpm on its recently rebuilt engine. (Since the Beans purchased it four years ago, the Ferrari has received plenty of fettling from mechanical master Andy Greene of Savannah, Georgia.)
“It’s loud but it’s not at all the ‘ripping canvas’ noise so often characterized of the Colombo V12s,” explains Toby. “Instead, it’s more of a deep, somewhat guttural, feral drone. The low-end torque, especially for a course with so much stop and start like the Mille, is very handy, making it easier to drive than a car with a peaky motor that needs to be worked hard just to move at lower speeds.”
He further reports the engine is well-mannered and not finicky in any way, with fairly sharp acceleration. The Ferrari’s steering is relatively light, its ride firm and direct without being punishing, and it apparently loves mild oversteer.
“That’s the way to drive it!” says Toby. “Get it rotated around corners with the rear end out just a bit, and once you get the tail balanced steer it more with the throttle.”
What about the Lampredi four’s reputation for cantankerous cold-start habits and requirements, such as preheating the oil and/or coolant prior to firing up? Toby somewhat sheepishly admits he doesn’t bother, then adds, “Thanks for reminding me about that. The best way to handle it is to install electric heating coils inside the oil tank. I better get after that before next year’s Mille.”
The Beans make a dashing couple at the Mille Miglia. They wear matching leather-covered, open-face helmets, their faces protected by clear Plexiglas shields, connected by a headset-and-microphone system. “It’s what you have to have in an open car this loud, although even then it’s sometimes tough to hear each other,” says Ann, who jokes it’s the only time she has permission to bark orders at Toby for hours on end.
They have run the Mille Miglia thrice together in the Mondial. The second time, in 2015, went great, with the car running perfectly and finishing well. The rain-plagued 2016 event didn’t go so smoothly. During a downpour, the Ferrari was passed by a huge truck that, right at that moment, dropped its wheels deep into a trench filled with water—the tiny, roofless Mondial was deluged with countless of gallons of water. A digital camera affixed to the rear deck disappeared in the flood, and the driver, navigator, and interior were drenched. Later, a touchy clutch resulted in a DNF.
The Beans make one mechanical compromise to originality in the name of durability and safety: an alternator. The first time they ran the Mille, the Mondial was still equipped with its original generator (which they re-fit when they show the Ferrari Classiche-certified car), and they found themselves running at night with no head or taillights and a quickly discharging battery. They ended up tailgating another car, with that driver’s permission, so they could see ahead. Whenever someone came up behind them, Ann would blink a flashlight so the upcoming driver wouldn’t rear-end them.
The Mille isn’t all about rain and death-defying night driving, of course. “It’s great when we run through these wonderful Italian towns and villages, and the locals really come out to cheer us,” says Toby. “They want us to remember their home, so they often gift us with food and other small gifts made locally. [Because the cockpit is so small] we end up finishing the race with cheeses and salamis stuffed in every nook and cranny.”
S/n 0418 has lived a fascinating life, and it’s unquestionably ended up with the right caretakers. Where does it fit in the Beans’ pantheon of great automobiles? “We are so lucky to have these cars that give us wonderful experiences and satisfaction,” says Ann, “but this Ferrari is so beautiful, has such great history, is so fast and fun to race…. Well, it’s just the one.”