Italian Heritage

For Larry Auriana, there’s no better cultural celebration than racing historic cars like this Ferrari 1512.

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March 3, 2017

In his book, Sailing from Byzantium, Collin Wells describes the courage of the Italian humanists who, after the fall of Constantinople, bravely collected the shards of the fallen Greek empire, then curated and promoted the sculpture, architecture, literature, and political thought they discovered. In the process, they ignited The Renaissance. As a Greek, those Italians are my heroes because, without them, the world would never have known about Homer, Plato, Aristotle, and Phidias.

Italian-American Lawrence Auriana, retired co-founder and co-head of the Kaufman Fund, has something in common with those storied Renaissance humanists. Like a kind of Medici, Auriana chooses the modern equivalent of lost artistic treasures—the rarest of Italian automobiles—and brings them to life in the most audacious fashion. He races them.

“My grandparents were all born in Italy, and instilled in me, as elders should, a love for one’s own heritage and respect for the heritage of others,” Auriana explains. “Italians have never slept for 2,500 years, and most folks are aware of their contributions to 20th-century culture through cinema and automotive innovation.

“We have a very broad collection of the most important Italian automobiles, going back to a 1913 Isotta Fraschini,” he continues. “We have prewar and postwar, Alfa Romeos, Cisitalias, Lancias, Fiats, Maseratis, and, of course, significant Ferraris. The collection is a broad tribute to Italian engineering. I chose to resurrect Italian automobiles because, when you turn the key, the technology and the art ignite—become alive—in a way that is not seen in any other human creation. The cars are alive. They speak to you.”

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Joe Colasacco, who races our featured Ferrari 1512 F1 (s/n 0008) for Auriana, agrees. “You flip the ignition switch and then the fuel pumps, crack the throttle, and push the start button,” he says. “You can hear all the mechanical gears and chain noise quite clearly, and then comes the scream! It’s unlike anything you’ve ever heard before. I see people jump from the noise once it fires, even when they’re expecting it.”

And that’s just starting the 1.5-liter flat-12 engine, never mind spinning it up above 10,000 rpm. We’ll return to that later.

The day I spoke with Auriana and Colasacco was the same day British magazine MotorSport published an interview with 1964 World Champion John Surtees. In that story, Surtees was asked what his favorite car was.

“This is not an easy choice,” the driver replied. “There are so many, and all of them so exciting. It’s a strange answer, but I think, if I have to choose one, it has to be the Ferrari 1512 that I had at Monza at the end of 1965. I would not normally choose a 1.5-liter car, but there was something so good about the 1512 at the end of the year. I felt this really could be a very good car, and I believe it was, although it never went on to achieve very much. If only I’d had my hands on that car for the whole season I could have really nicely cemented my championship from 1964 with a second title.”

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Adds Colasacco, “I spoke with Surtees at the 2014 Goodwood Revival, and he told me he thought it was a shame that further development of the 1512 had to cease since the rules for Formula 1 changed, increasing the engine displacement to 3 liters for the following year.”

Today, under Auriana’s patronage, it seems that history is circling back, a half-century later, to give some deserved credit to an incredible Ferrari that was left behind.

SURTEES WON HIS WORLD CHAMPIONSHIP driving a Ferrari powered by 1.5-liter V8, yet he reportedly urged Enzo Ferrari to allow his newly appointed chief engineer, Mauro Forghieri, to replace the 90° eight with a 180° 12. It was believed the flat-12 would produce more power, and that its shorter overall height, and resulting lower center of gravity, would deliver better handling.

Forghieri’s engine design was suitably exotic, featuring direct fuel injection (although it ran with indirect FI for a few races at the end of the ’64 season), four distributors, four coils, and 24 spark plugs. The heads were later redesigned with raked intake stacks that took advantage of a flat panel attached over the engine for improved aerodynamics. Large openings on each side allow the inlet pipes to gobble fresh air.

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Beneath the bodywork, an intricate array of tubular framing supports the open-nosed monocoque construction and exhaust pipes. The rocker-arm assembly is mounted inboard, and at the rear even the Dunlop disc brakes are inboard. The radiator sits vertically in the nose. The cockpit, screened by a slanted, wraparound windshield, provides reclined seating for the driver, who must accommodate the 5-speed manual Type 12 C transmission on his right.

During the ’65 season, Ferrari installed its flat-12 engine in three cars (s/ns 0007, 0008, and 0009) which were used by different drivers at various races, and were often competing against V8-powered Ferrari 158s. For the first four races of the year, for example, Lorenzo Bandini was given a 1512 while Surtees piloted a 158. They then swapped for the next three races, before both arrived at the Italian GP in early September in 1512s. Bandini scored the model’s best result, a second place in Monaco (probably in s/n 0007), while the best Surtees could do was a third-place finish at the British GP.

In a fitting historical coincidence, s/n 0008 raced in Monaco at the 2016 Grand Prix de Monaco Historique, where it finished second behind a British car, just like its sibling some 51 years earlier. In period, this Ferrari wasn’t so successful. It retired from its first race, the German GP, with Surtees at the wheel. Bandini drove it to fourth place in Italy, then Pedro Rodriguez finished a distant seventh in the car at the season-ending Mexican GP.

That was the end of the 1512’s short career, but part of the car lived on. “The technology for this car was later used in the flat 2-liter,” notes Auriana. “That car won the European hillclimb championship without losing a single race.”

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AURIANA PURCHASED S/N 0008 in August 2005, when the Ferrari came up for sale at Christie’s Monterey auction. The selling price was just over $1.1 million and, at the time, many Ferrari aficionados thought the car would henceforth languish in some wealthy baron’s garage, never to be seen again. Happily, they were wrong.

“I bought it at a reasonable price,” says Auriana, “but didn’t have firm plans for it. Sure, we had plans to get it to run, and I could have done that with no problem, but we did not have initial plans to race it. Adolfo Orsi, whose grandfather owned Maserati [from 1937 until he sold it to Citroën in 1968], is one of my advisors on historic automobiles, and he was originally not enthusiastic about racing the 1512.”

At the time, Auriana had already developed his own vintage-racing team. His scuderia includes an Alfa TZ1, a Dallara Formula 3, a Maserati Tipo 151, and an Alfa C3000M, and over the years Phil Hill (the 1961 Formula 1 World Champion), his son Derek, and Colasacco have raced the cars in vintage events at Le Mans, Monza, Goodwood, and Monaco. Eventually, Orsi changed his mind about the Ferrari, and offered a brilliant idea.

Recalls Auriana, “He says, ‘Larry, why don’t we go to Monaco with the 1512? The sound will be incredible, and I’ll get Forghieri to rebuild the car.’”

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Colasacco remembers this stage a bit differently. “Well, I had to first convince Larry that I could fit in the car, and Adolfo had to convince Larry that Forghieri could fix it!” he says, laughing. “But Forghieri was about to retire from his company, Oral Engineering, and we thought it would have been a great opportunity to restore the 1512 before he officially went into retirement.”

“[Forghieri] got the car running, and running well, which was a daunting undertaking,” continues Auriana. “But to get the car running competitively has taken a long time. It’s been a struggle. It’s a very complex engine. The fuel injection is not the best technology, it’s a very early [system], and by the rules we have to use the original fuel injection.”

Adds Colasacco, “Forghieri himself admitted that another weakness in the car was the ignition, because in the day there was nothing that could handle more than 11,500 rpm and this engine is good to about 12,500. So in 1964, the principal challenge in getting this car to the competition limit was to get it to ignite reliably at full revs—and it still is today.”

“That’s the excitement of running historic race cars,” says Auriana. “You’re dealing with the same frustrating challenges with which they were struggling back in the day.”

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Oral finished the Ferrari in 2010, and its first race was to be the 2012 Monaco Historics. Unfortunately, it was unable to start that race. Since then, the 1512 has competed in six events, with its best results being the aforementioned second at Monaco in 2016 and a first-in-class finish at the SVRA Vintage National Champion-ship at COTA in 2015. Reliability has been a challenge, however, with the car failing to finish at Monaco in 2014 (gearbox) and at Goodwood in 2016 (water pump).

What’s happened since Auriana began campaigning the car is only part of the story, of course. What’s it like to drive?

“It’s very difficult!” explains the 5-foot-10, 190-pound Colasacco. “First off, the cockpit is built for a tiny driver, which I’m not, so I need to squeeze into place and suck it all in while the crew buckles me up. The driving position is almost fully lying down with a steep angle on my neck, which is exaggerated by the mandatory HANS device. I’m never really comfortable, to say the least.

“You need to be very aggressive with the throttle on the startup and warming the engine, constantly blipping and needing to get the oil temperature up, but also trying not to foul the spark plugs. You can easily hurt the engine if you push the car with cold oil.”

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As with any normally aspirated, small-displacement engine, the 1512 needs plenty of revs to make power. “The power band is high in the rev range [9,500-12,000], and it revs so quickly you need to be careful not to over rev the engine,” Colasacco says. “If you come off the throttle or let the revs drop below 9,000 rpm, the car will fall on its nose, which upsets the balance.

“This is due to the primitive fuel injection. There is very little modulating you can do with the throttle; it’s either on or off. This creates a problem when you need to come off-throttle at mid corner or when you slowly ease back to full throttle. It wants to be flat everywhere. Not ideal for Monaco.”

The peaky powerband and bipolar throttle also make shifting a challenge. “The gearbox is tricky,” continues Colasacco. “You need to be spot-on with your downshift blips and fully off throttle on your upshifts, which is not easy because of the long throttle-pedal throw. If you miss the blip you can find yourself fumbling around for a few seconds before you engage a gear.”

That’s the bad news. According to the driver, though, there’s good news to come. “Once you get past the little quirks and feel comfortable in the car, you can start to push,” he says, “and at that point, it comes alive! You really need to wring its neck to get it to work. It almost borders on abuse; it’s like wrestling an angry sewing machine. When you get the car into that small performance envelope, it becomes so much fun, it just starts to work. I can hear the gargle of the exhaust off the walls and the suction of the intakes behind my head. It’s incredible!”

Colasacco thinks there’s more to come from s/n 0008. Since 2010, the team has been steadily improving the car’s performance and reliability, and, DNF aside, Goodwood in 2016 was perhaps their best race yet.

“I’m lucky to be able to drive some of Larry’s great cars and I think we both get great satisfaction when things go well with this one,” he says. “After all, it’s a Ferrari, and it desires to be at the front!”

“[In 1965] Lorenzo Bandini raced a Ferrari 1512 at Monaco to win second place,” Auriana adds. “[In 2016], we were there to win a first place; instead, we repeated history. The next Monaco race is in 2018 and we plan to be back.”

Ultimately, Auriana would like to race the 1512 more in the United States. “The group that we race with in Europe, The Historic Grand Prix Car Racing Association, only [holds events for these 1.5-liter cars] at Goodwood and Monaco. There are no 1.5-liter historic cars racing in the United States, and that’s where we’d really like to display their rich heritage. It would be very nice to see these cars at a track like Laguna Seca or Watkins Glenn, because, after all, it’s here in the USA where immigrants from all the automotive racing nationalities came to make better lives for themselves. Shouldn’t American kids enjoy what their European cousins get to see every year? To cheer and thrill and reminisce of the glory days and dream of their own futures and aspirations? Isn’t that what heritage is all about?”

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