Even back in the 1960s and ’70s, there was often a wide gap between sports cars and production-based sports racing cars. As a mechanic at Joe Huffaker Racing once told me, “some cars want to be race cars and some just don’t. The Jaguar E-Type V12 just did not want to be a race car…it fought us the whole way. But we kept at it and it ultimately turned into a winner.”
Ferrari’s 365 GTB/4 wasn’t originally conceived as a racing car, but it ultimately became a great one. This despite the fact that, by the time the Daytona first showed up to race in the late 1960s, its front-engine layout had already become a bit passé amongst front-line professional teams. The racing world was going mid-engine at an ever-quickening rate, making the nose-heavy “conventionals” look dated.
Making matters more challenging, Ferrari didn’t even want to race its big, road-going GT, which left it up to privateer teams to lead the way. Such was the case when Luigi Chinetti showed up at Le Mans in 1968 with a nearly stock Daytona for road-racing veteran Bob Grossman to test. The car showed early speed and solid balance, although the trip ended without an attempt to qualify. Nonetheless, the Daytona’s potential was clear to see, and Ferrari’s favored privateers convinced Maranello to produce a small run of race-ready cars.
The 365 GTB/4 Competizione arrived in three series of five cars each: The first in 1971, the second series a year later, and the third run in 1973. (Beyond these 15 factory-built cars, another six to eight street Daytonas were privately converted in period to something very close to authentic comp spec.) Compared to the wild modifications of the later 512 BBs and BB/LMs, the upgrades from road-going to track-attack were both predictable and relatively mild.
The Daytona’s interior was stripped and caged. Outside, the bumpers were removed and the hideaway headlights replaced with fixed quad units behind Lexan or Perspex covers. The nose was reconfigured in the name of better cooling, and the overall aero was tuned with a new chin spoiler and, in some cases, a pronounced rear wing. Flared wheel arches covered the widest possible center-lock, five-spoke alloy wheels. Somewhat surprisingly, most of the bodywork remained steel, with only a few aluminum panels.
The 4.4-liter DOHC V12 was hand-assembled with even greater care than usual, and benefitted from heavier duty steel conrods and revised pistons. The intake air box was somewhat reconfigured, although the six-carb induction system remained, fed by a competition fuel tank that filled the trunk. All told, the factory rated the engine at 450 horsepower, some 98 ponies more than in the road car. A blaring, wide-open racing exhaust system dumped out just under the rocker panel beneath the doors.
The Daytona’s braking system was beefed up to include larger mounting flanges and special pads, plus increased cooling. Naturally, the springs, shocks, and anti-roll bars were all race-spec pieces.
Of the 1973 production, the Chinettis’ influential North American Racing Team (NART) received two cars, s/ns 16343 and 16407, the latter being the example seen here. French Ferrari importer Charles Pozzi got one, South American importer Francisco Mir got one, and Belgian importer Jacques Swaters received the fifth.
NART put s/n 16407 to work right away, entering it at Le Mans for American stalwart road racers Milt Minter and Sam Posey. (Posey once described the feel of the big GT amidst a field of low-slung prototypes as, “Well, there you are out there running around about a yard off the ground.”) The Daytona did well, running as high as sixth overall prior to succumbing to a cracked piston in the 21st hour.
That year’s six-hour enduro at Watkins Glen proved more successful, with the Ferrari finishing a credible, if not podium-reaching, sixth in the GT class, 14th overall. The Daytona returned to Le Mans in 1974 and ’75, then in August 1976 was sold to actor David Carradine, who started the car’s famous courtship with the 24 Hours of Daytona.
FOR THE 1977 DAYTONA RACE, Carradine entered s/n 16407 with racing business partner Dan Ward for his son, Bobby Carradine, and John Morton. The Ferrari ended up not starting due to accident damage during nighttime practice, but had better luck a month later at Sebring. There, with Otto Zipper’s Southern California-based Modena Sports Cars entering the car for Morton and Carradine, s/n 16407 finished 10th in class, 17th overall.
Daytona ’78 once again fell under the banner of Carradine and Ward, and the Ferrari finished third in class, eighth overall—an impressive result for a five-year-old racing car. S/n 16407 returned to Sebring, as well, but did not start the race.
Later than year, Carradine sold the Ferrari, through Zipper, to lawyer Bill Nichols and real-estate developer Jim McRoberts, both serious Ferrari enthusiasts. At the time, Roberts was quoted in Sports Car Graphic as saying, “We wanted a competition Daytona and we were reliably informed that this was possibly the fastest example in existence. But it was so run down and rusty that we were a bit concerned, especially considering the asking price. It had four flat tires, Bondo all over the body, and two inches of water in the interior, but it fired right up and ran smooth, and that sort of decided the matter for us.”
After some hearty rounds of bench racing and lots of ribbing and “encouragement” from groups of their Ferrari buddies, Nichols and McRoberts decided to revive the car to rude health and run it one last time at Daytona. Given the car was well past its technological sell-by date, and that the ’79 race would surely be the model’s professional swan song, the team decided to go out in style. They stripped the Ferrari down to the nubbins and serviced everything, then restored the body and cabin to near-as-new glory. Zipper was retained as team manager/entrant, while Morton and Tony Adamowicz, who both had previously raced the car, were signed to drive.
“It’s amazing how easy it was to get sucked into the whole process,” Nichols told Sports Car Graphic. “We were new at this sort of thing, so we asked what we could do to help out. They said, ‘Just sign the checks,’ and we signed, signed, and signed. We were determined to see the car race, and got swept up in the emotion of it all.”
Car and crew arrived at Daytona on the Thursday prior to the race, and quickly began the process of testing, practice, and set up. There was no hope of competing with the factory’s 512 BB racers or the Porsche 935s on outright speed or lap times—the landscape had changed dramatically since s/n 16407 was new—so the team adopted a “slow and steady wins the race” mentality. Pre-race and qualifying went smoothly, the big red berlinetta turning consistent lap times in the low two-minute range, good enough for a 24th-overall qualifying position.
With that, they were ready to go…until Zipper didn’t arrive at the track on race morning. When hotel staff was sent to his room, they discovered him dead in bed, the victim of an apparent heart attack. The team huddled about what to do, and, with extra encouragement from Chinetti, decided to race on in honor of their fallen leader. Team member Ken Starbird took over the role of calling pit stops, race strategy, and driver changes, and a stripe of black tape was run diagonally across the Daytona’s hood in recognition of Zipper’s untimely passing.
THE TWICE-AROUND-THE-CLOCK ENDURO flagged off at 4:22 on Saturday afternoon, and the Porsche 935s immediately took control of the top positions. S/n 16407, wearing #65, soon settled into a comfortable pace very similar to its qualifying speed.
On Lap 70, one of the 512 BBs lost a tire on the banking and crashed heavily, spreading shrapnel across the track. Its driver was unhurt, but the accident mirrored one that had occurred during practice. Fearing for their drivers’ safety, the rest of the BB teams withdrew from the race, leaving s/n 16407 the only Ferrari left to battle the squadron of prototype-class Porsches, all of which were handily ahead of it.
Furthermore, while most of the big professional efforts fielded three drivers, Adamowicz and Morton were the only two behind the wheel of s/n 16407, meaning they got far less rest. But neither of them faltered or complained, and neither did the car, aside from a low oil-pressure scare due to a leaking oil line and an emergency suspension re-alignment.
On the other hand, the 935 was fast but occasionally fragile. And throughout the night, as some had predicted, the Porsches began to fall like flies. S/n 16407 steadily howled on, and soon, as if by magic, slowly began to climb up the scoring tower. It seemed unimagineable: Could this ancient soldier actually win its final battle against a far superior opponent?
As the race wound down, the Daytona climbed into second-place overall, first in its class. Then, the race-leading 935, which was nearly 50 laps ahead, began to falter due to a failing turbocharger. The Porsche slowed and slowed, and finally its driver, fearing the whole thing was about to go up in smoke, pulled over on the front straight’s apron and stopped, simply hoping to run out the clock on the big car from the little team.
There wasn’t time to catch up, but the Ferrari could still win if the Porsche ultimately couldn’t be coaxed across the finish line. Unfortunately for the Cinderella story, it wasn’t to be.
On the final lap, the Porsche limped across the line to take the checkered flag and the overall win. S/n 16407 came home an astonishing first in class and second overall, the best-ever finish in its endurance-racing career.
There easily could have been more to the story, however. At the time, IMSA mandated the winner car’s final lap time needed to be within 400 percent of its qualifying time—and since the Porsche had been parked for more than 10 minutes on that final lap, its time was well over the allowable limit. However, the team, physically, mentally, and emotionally exhausted and fully satisfied with what they’d accomplished on track, elected not to protest the result.
Modena Sports Cars brought s/n 16407 back to Daytona the following year, this time with Bob Bondurant joining Adamowicz and Morton. The now eight-year-old Ferrari marched around the clock to finish fourth in class and 14th overall, a suitable result for its final, professional endurance outing.
MUCH IN THE WAY many professional athletes stay connected to the game after retiring, s/n 16407 in the 1980s began a new career as a competitive vintage racer courtesy of New Yorker John Giordano, who acquired it in ’81. Giordano, a longtime Ferrari enthusiast of the highest order, owns a tantalizing array of Prancing Horses, including a 365 GTC, a 275 GTB/4, a Dino 246 GTS, and two other competizione cars: a 512 S and a 275 GTB/C.
Giordano drives all his Prancing Horses, and has for decades raced his race cars all around the country. S/n 16407 has run vintage races at every big-name American track you can think of, including Daytona, where, ironically, the car almost met its end. As the Ferrari was being hauled home, the truck that was hauling it caught fire—luckily, the precious cargo was unharmed.
“Just think of how many high-speed miles this car has recorded, and potential on-track accidents it’s avoided its entire career, and how tragic it would have been for it to go up in smoke due to an oil leak on a vehicle merely towing it!” exclaims Giordano of the now-humorous tale.
Of the Comp Daytona itself, Giordano describes it as a “big-chested car to drive; the driver inputs require sure but deft hands. And it sounds glorious, although I have to say, with the pipes exiting just below the doors, it’s pretty loud. I’ve begun to suffer mild hearing loss in my left ear because of it, but it sounds so great.”
While s/n 16407’s astonishing second-place finish at Daytona in 1979 is certainly the highlight of its five-decade story, it’s not the whole tale. Thanks to Giordano, this big red GT has remained in the public eye essentially since it was new, tearing up tracks in a way Enzo himself never would have imagined.