Making Good

Despite early struggles with reliability, the 250 MM soon proved to be a winner.

Photo: Making Good 1
June 3, 2021

By the time the sun rose over the port of Messina, located in the northeastern tip of Sicily, on July 26, 1953, the victory of Eugenio Castellotti and Giulio Musitelli seemed assured. They enjoyed a comfortable lead in the 10 Hours of Messina, but the mechanical failures that had dogged the early months of their 250 MM’s first season of racing can’t have been far from their minds.

It was the third time that year that Castellotti, born to an aristocratic family hailing from Lodi near Milan, had raced the 250 MM (s/n 0256MM) in Sicily, but the first two attempts had ended in failure. He was no stranger to the island’s foibles—after starting racing in 1951 with the Marzotto family team, he had opened his ’52 season with a class victory in the Giro di Sicilia, finishing fifth overall—and he was determined to make good once again. When the Ferrari took the checkered flag at 8 a.m. on Sunday, it was four laps ahead of its closest competitor on the 4.8-mile circuit, having covered 685 miles since starting at 10 p.m. the night before.

A further four 250 MMs finished in the top 10, confirming that the Ferrari could achieve the kind of endurance required by the race for which it had been named: the Mille Miglia. Aside from a covering of dust and an Italian tricolore stripe that had been added to the paintwork, s/n 0256 looks the same today as it did when Castellotti and Musitelli returned to the Messina paddock.

The naming homage stemmed from the 1952 Mille Miglia, when Scuderia Ferrari took the overall victory with Giovanni Bracco behind the wheel of a 250 S. (Bracco and the 250 S repeated their feat at that year’s 12 Hours of Pescara.) An evolution of Ferrari’s 225 S, which had won the 1952 sports-car edition of the Monaco Grand Prix, the 250 S was the first Prancing Horse to be powered by a 3-liter version of Gioacchino Colombo’s V12 engine.

Photo: Making Good 2

S/n 0256MM entered the Mille Miglia in 1953, but retired with mechanical issues.

The Mille Miglia winner also featured a chassis design used on some 225 S’s, one which had been introduced in 1951 on the 212 Export. The tuboscocca concept—literally translated as “tube body”—was developed by chassis designer Gilberto Colombo, and gave a frame that reduced both flex and weight through a trellis of multiple, narrow-diameter steel tubes surrounding the periphery of the chassis. The tuboscocca also enhanced the role of the bodywork, contributing to a stronger and more rigid overall design. The car’s bodywork, designed by Giovanni Michelotti, followed the shape of Vignale’s previous berlinettas.

Though highly successful, the 250 S was a one-off. But Ferrari wanted to capitalize on its merits and create a series-produced racing car, so the concept for the 250 MM was born. A Spyder layout, also penned by Michelotti, was presented in October 1952 at the Paris Motor Show. Vignale’s new approach introduced design touches including recessed headlights and triple air intakes on the front flanks, aspects which were retained and became characteristic on later Ferraris of the ’50s.

However, the more famous, and more striking, variant of the 250 MM was the Berlinetta, which was bodied by Pinin Farina. The crowds at March 1953’s Geneva Motor Show were wowed by a wraparound, aerodynamic tail that harmonized with the clean lines and minimalist approach, characterized by the compact front grille. Competing coachbuilders of the day were forced to take notice and play catch up. In total, the 13 Vignale Spyders were joined by 18 Pinin Farina Berlinettas.

In creating the 250 MM, Ferrari’s engineers started with the 250 S as their basis. In addition to adding power they wanted to make the car’s capabilities more manageable, so also focused their attention on the suspension and gearbox.

Photo: Making Good 3

Mounted longitudinally up front, the all-aluminum 60° V12 displaced 2,953 cc, achieved with a 73-mm bore and 58.8-mm stroke. The 250 S’s 9:1 compression ratio was retained. A single overhead camshaft operated two valves per cylinder, each cylinder with a single spark plug. Upgrading the three Weber carburetors to the 36 IF/4C four-barrel model helped liberate an additional 10 ponies, pushing the total to 240 hp at 7,200 rpm and a top speed of 155 mph.  

Lubrication was via wet sump, and the MM’s multi-plate clutch contrasted with the 250 S’s single plate. The new car’s gearbox lost a cog compared to its predecessor, but the four-speed ’box benefited from the introduction of synchromesh across all gears.  

Bolted to the welded tuboscocca chassis, which was relatively compact with its 2,400-mm wheelbase, was independent front suspension that included transverse wishbones and leaf springs. The rear featured a rigid axle and longitudinal semi-elliptical leaf springs. Houdaille hydraulic shock absorbers, which would remain in favor with Scuderia Ferrari’s Formula 1 cars until the end of the decade, were fitted all around, as were drum brakes.

FOR ENZO FERRARI, the start of the 1953 season at April’s Giro di Sicilia brought mixed emotions. In the 250 MM’s first competitive outing, Paolo Marzotto led until gearbox issues forced his withdrawal, while Castellotti, driving for the factory team, retired in s/n 0256 with ignition problems. The race win went to another factory entry, a more powerful 4.1-liter 340 MM driven by Luigi Villoresi.

Photo: Making Good 4

Later that month, only one of the nine 250 MMs to enter the Mille Miglia finished, coming home in ninth place. Incidentally, Gianni Marzotto took the win driving the same works 340 MM which had emerged victorious in Sicily weeks early. Despite holding fourth place when the race reached Rome, s/n 0256, driven this time by Giovanni Bracco and co-pilot Alfonso Rolfo, was forced to withdraw with around 125 miles remaining due to a differential issue.

In May’s Targa Florio, the 250 MMs fared a bit better. While Castellotti again failed to finish in s/n 0256, a works-entered Vignale Spyder driven by Giulio Cabianca came home in sixth place overall.

The mechanical issues that beset s/n 0256 and her sisters in the early stages of their careers were not an unusual occurrence for the Scuderia at the time. In his book 50 Years of Ferrari, which covers 1947 to 1997, Andrea Curami states that in the 1953 Mille Miglia, 81.5 percent of the Ferraris retired, compared to the average retirement rate of 40.5 percent. According to Curami, while the Prancing Horse improved somewhat in the years after, it was only in the race’s final running, in 1955, that the marque managed to better that year’s average finish rate of 45.3 percent, with an impressive 17 Ferraris finishing from the 21 that had set out from Brescia.

Despite its early challenges, the 250 MM scored its first major European win on June 21 at the Circuito di Porto. (On that same day, s/n 0256 also recorded its first win, at the Trieste-Opicina hillclimb with Franco Cornacchia behind the wheel.) This was followed with victory just eight days later at the GP Monza sports-car endurance race, an event that in later years developed into the 1,000-kms of Monza, for works driver Luigi Villoresi.

Photo: Making Good 5

By this time, Castellotti had transferred to Scuderia Guastalla, taking s/n 0256 with him. In early July, he drove the Ferrari to victory in the Bolzano-Mendola hillclimb. Later that month, he placed third overall in the Susa-Moncenisio hillclimb.

S/n 0256 missed July’s Coppa d’Oro delle Dolomiti, a 188-mile event through the Dolomites’ testing mountain passes and hairpins (won by Paolo Marzotto in yet another 250 MM), but went on to win that month’s 10 Hours of Messina. These victories proved beyond a doubt that the model’s mechanical reliability issues, even in endurance events, were a thing of the past.

Messina turned out to be the zenith of the partnership between Castellotti and s/n 0256. On August 9, the driver crashed his mount at the Circuito di Senigallia, and his injuries kept him from starting the following week’s 12 Hours of Pescara.

FOR 1954, CASTELLOTTI, by now well recognized for his racing ability, moved on to Lancia. In the meantime, s/n 0256 was purchased by Argentinian racing enthusiast Rodolfo Pradere and transported to his homeland, where plans were laid for its continued competition. 

Photo: Making Good 6

250 MM was first series-produced model to receive 3-liter Colombo V12.

This was by no means the first overseas adventure for a 250 MM. Phil Hill, who would go on to win the Formula 1 World Championship with Ferrari in 1961, had already scored notable results in another example (in this case, a Spyder), including victory at Pebble Beach in the SCCA National Sports Car Championship. This was the first international victory for a 250 MM, which never did win the race for which it was named. (The closest the model came was in 1954, when Clemente Biondetti, the most successful driver in Mille Miglia history, drove one refitted with a Morelli body to fourth overall, second in class.) 

South America also proved to be a fairly successful environment for the 250 MM. In 1954’s inaugural 1,000-kms of Buenos Aires, the season opener for the World Sportscar Championship, Harry Schell and Alfonso de Portago placed second in a 250 MM Spyder behind Giuseppe Farina and Umberto Maglioli in a 4.5-liter 375 MM.

That was in January, but Pradere didn’t race s/n 0256 until December. Driven by Alberto Rodriguez Larreta, the Ferrari finished fourth at the Autodromo de la Ciudad de Buenos Aires.

A complete season’s racing with Larreta behind the wheel ensued in 1955, highlighted by a win at the 500 Millas Argentinas. While 250 MMs would continue to race until 1962, some nine years after the model was introduced, s/n 0256’s final competition came at the Premio Primavera in September 1955, when Ramon Opisco drove it to eighth place overall.

Photo: Making Good 7

That’s not the end of s/n 0256’s story, of course. After being purchased by a fellow Argentinian in 1958, the 250 MM lay dormant for 20 years. It was then restored in the late 1970s, and in 1979 made its way northwards to collector Thomas Stegman in Cincinnati, Ohio. Stegman immediately put the car into a second restoration, which started in 1980 but wasn’t finished until ’86.

In 1987, it was purchased by David Smith of Bellevue, Washington, who, unhappy with its recently completed restoration, quickly sent it to Bob Smith Coachworks for a third try! That was completed in 1988, and rewarded a few years later, in 1990, with a class win at the Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance.

For most of the 1990s, s/n 0256 lived in Japan, spending some time on display in second Japanese owner Yoshiyo Matsuda’s Ferrari Museum of Art. The car returned to the United States in 1999, then in 2000 was purchased by Mexico City billionaire Carlos Hank Rhon, who showed and raced it at the Cavallino Classic multiple times in the early 2000s.

S/n 0256 finally headed back to Europe in 2003, when new owner Heinrich Fries entered it in that year’s Mille Miglia Storica. Then, in 2007, the Ferrari came home to Italy, where it’s since been stabled in Florence with current owner Mauro Lotti.

Lotti drove s/n 0256 a further three times in the Mille Miglia—in 2008, ’09, and ’12—but doesn’t currently intend to present it again to the rigors of such demanding competition. Not that the Ferrari has become purely an investment: According to Lotti, s/n 0256 is home for good.

Also from Issue 191

  • 812 Competizione preview
  • 458 Italia
  • Sbarro Super Eight
  • Flashback: Superamerica
  • Paolo Garella profile
  • Marelli mechanical distributors
  • F1: Best of the rest
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