Five-Year Plan

Returning one of the world’s rarest Ferraris to its original splendor required serious talent, money, and time.

Photo: Five-Year Plan 1
June 1, 2023

If you were to envision a textbook example of a Ferrari, you’d most likely picture a V12 placed under a long hood ahead of the car’s cabin. This is where these flagship engines landed for first few decades of Maranello’s history, as Enzo Ferrari was reluctant to offer a mid-engine product to his clients. Throughout the 1960s, he believed that big, heavy, powerful V12s nestled in the back would lead to tricky-handling machines that only professional racing drivers could be entrusted with.

But there was one person willing to challenge Enzo on this view: Sergio Pininfarina. The owner of Ferrari’s preferred road-car design house saw great potential in the nascent species of supercars with centrally mounted V12s, not least because they would form a great base for even more spectacular designs.

Pininfarina tried to tempt his business partner by creating a series of what we’d today call concept cars. For the 1965 Geneva Motor Show, the Turin-based carrozzeria prepared the extravagantly finished 250 LM Stradale, an ostensibly road-going version of the race car that would win that year’s 24 Hours of Le Mans. Then, at the 1966 Paris Motor Show, Pininfarina premiered the 365 P Berlinetta Speciale Tre Posti

While its Aldo Brovarone-penned body echoed the same design language as the two most important Ferrari premieres of the time—the flagship 365 California and the prototype Dino 206 GT—the big news was the inclusion of Ferrari’s grand 4.4-liter V12 behind the driver. Just a few months earlier, the Lamborghini Miura had changed the rules of the sports car segment with its own mid-mounted V12 (as well as its era-defining bodywork, designed by Pininfarina’s great rival Bertone).

On the other hand, the 365 P offered something novel that made it the most exotic car in the world of the moment, Miura included. As the Italian name suggested, its cabin featured three seats [a.k.a., tre posti, with the driver’s positioned in the middle and extended slightly forward.

Photo: Five-Year Plan 2

The bold Pininfarina creation awed the Parisian audience, but it wasn’t enough to convince Enzo Ferrari; Maranello wouldn’t produce a mid-engine 12-cylinder model until the 365 GT4 BB of 1973. However, the otherworldly show car did win over two other important and influential fans: Ferrari North American importer Luigi Chinetti, who bought the example shown at Paris (s/n 8971), and Gianni Agnelli, the main shareholder of Fiat and, at one time, the owner of 4.4 percent of Italy’s GDP.

Agnelli led the life of an Italian prince, which showed in his sumptuous way of dressing just as much as his extravagant taste in cars. A three-seat Ferrari supercar seemed to be perfectly suited for this role, so he obtained the other Tre Posti (s/n 8815), the car seen here, which was built to be shown at the 1966 Turin Auto Salon.

Agnelli was evidently very pleased with his purchase, putting nearly 10,000 kilometers on its odometer during 1967 and ’68. “It was fun, it had tremendous acceleration,” he said of the car. “The only thing that you had to get used to was the driver’s seat in the middle, because there was no indication of the limit on the left or right side.”

After a car accident in 1952, which he reportedly caused while drunk-driving at night with a newly met lover, Agnelli had lost full use of his right leg. This led him to have the 365 P’s manual racing gearbox replaced with a Porsche Sportomatic-style transmission, which featured a hydraulic clutch actuated via a button on the shift lever. (In later years, Agnelli had his F40 fitted with a similar electronic unit from Valeo.) This clutch pedal-less invention was created with far less powerful cars in mind, which, combined with Agnelli’s unrelenting passion for fast driving, soon led to its demise. Not that the owner cared; according to the historical evidence, he simply had a new gearbox installed whenever the current one expired.

Agnelli wasn’t the only owner to modify this stunning Ferrari prototype. After s/n 8815 emigrated to the United States in 1975 (it first went to California, then moved to Texas a year later), it was subjected to regular body and interior color changes depending on current fashions. Somewhere along the line, the Ferrari also lost its unusual transmission.

Photo: Five-Year Plan 3

MORE THAN A QUARTER-CENTURY later, famous collector-car broker Simon Kidston enters the Tre Posti story. The nephew of wealthy aviator and Bentley Boy Glen Kidston, he grew up surrounded by the finest luxury and performance machinery—yet it was Pininfarina’s peculiar three-seater that became Kidston’s dream car after he saw it in a magazine as a boy. So, in 2018, when he learned the Ferrari was for sale, he flew straight to New York to meet the owner.

As one of the rarest, most exotic, and presumably priciest Ferraris in history (while s/n 8815’s sales price has never been disclosed, for comparison s/n 8971 did not sell at a high bid of $22.5 million at a 2014 Monterey auction), the Tre Posti would remain a dream car for Kidston. He did, however, successfully broker a deal for an interested buyer. Then, on that new owner’s behalf, Kidston moved the car from the U.S. to Italy and started the arduous process of bringing the 365 P back to its original condition. The operation was divided between three specialist garages, all located near Modena, and kept low-key for the next five years. 

S/n 8815’s first stop was Cremonini Classic. Although you’d never know from the outside, this garage is one of the go-to places for European classic-car elites. (Kidston’s been bringing clients’ cars to the small town of Lesignana for more than 20 years.) Since 1994, Cremonini has been managed by Roberto Bertaccini, who’s overseen restorations of numerous Ferraris, Isos, and Lamborghinis, so it’s understandable why he speaks of the Tre Posti project in a surprisingly sober way.

“It’s a weird car,” Bertaccini says. “There are only two of them in the world. The first one had several owners but was always close with the Chinetti family, so it was treated with due respect. This one had a period in its history when it frequently changed owners, many of whom had different ideas of how to improve it. You have to consider this car wasn’t always regarded as special as it is now. When it came to us, it had four layers of paint and a number of other modifications done over the years.”

When s/n 8815 arrived in Italy, it appeared to be in good overall shape, and was running, but Cremonini’s inspection revealed that both the richly decorated body and the chassis needed a thorough restoration. This is when things started to get complicated, as the 365 P was based on a racing prototype—a regular trick of Sergio Pininfarina at the time.

Photo: Five-Year Plan 4

While Ferrari or Alfa Romeo deemed its race cars obsolete after a season or two, for the design studio they still represented a promising starting point, with their welcome proportions and headline-grabbing performance numbers. This is where the first part of the Tre Posti’s name came from, as underneath the new bodywork resided the chassis and mechanicals of a Ferrari 365 P2.

In 1966, this proved to be an effective strategy. But by the late-2010s, it sometimes made the restoration seem nearly impossible. For example, in the race car fashion of the period, some of the frame tubes did double duty as the fuel, coolant, and oil lines—which, 60 years later, resulted in fluid leaks where the tubes were welded together.

“We had to secure all of these places, and each of these operations had to be thoroughly documented, consulted with, and accepted by Ferrari Classiche,” explains Bertaccini, “since what we’ve done was technically a modification of the car’s frame, which we still wanted to be perceived as an original piece. Working this way takes time, you don’t want to push it. And, as time is money, this is where the demanding costs of renovating such cars come from.”

In reality, the Tre Posti was destined to become a mechanics’ nightmare from the very beginning, due to the way it was built.

“It’s not a car that was completed according to the usual R&D process, like a model which is supposed to be produced 1,000 or 1,000,000 times,” explains Bertaccini. “It’s a 60-year-old prototype which was built around an idea. Its creators took whatever frame they had on hand and threw in the fuel tanks, seats, and remaining components wherever they found it convenient.

Photo: Five-Year Plan 5

“The whole team building the car was far smaller than one might imagine. It boiled down to Aldo Brovarone, who sat in his small office with a piece of paper and drew one piece of the car after another, and some mechanics in the workshop, who did their best to translate these sketches into reality. There wasn’t much deliberation involved in this process, and problems were solved on the spot.

“From our perspective, this is the worst possible scenario,” Bertaccini continues. “The first thing we do with a car after it arrives at our garage is disassemble it. It’s the absolutely crucial part of the whole renovation process, as it allows us to understand how a given car was built and how it changed over the years. In the case of this 365 P, reverse engineering was the only source of information in some cases about the car, and yet there wasn’t much to ‘read’ from it. Sometimes we really needed to think hard whether a given solution was applied because the creators didn’t know any alternatives, as they weren’t yet invented in 1966, or whether certain technologies were already known to them and they didn’t want to use them for some reason, or whether maybe they just didn’t think that through.”

FORTUNATELY, EVEN THOUGH S/N 8815 is an exceptionally rare car, it’s not unique—there’s another example which could be used as a reference point. It didn’t take long for Bertaccini to reach out to s/n 8971’s owner, who in turn provided invaluable help by making his Tre Posti available for the much-needed inspections and measurements.

Since the two-offs differed in a few details, Kidston’s team gathered a rich photo archive of s/n 8815 from historians and Ferrari experts around the world. For Cremonini Classic, being located in the very heart of Italy’s so-called Supercar Valley proved crucial as well.

“In our area we still have some professionals who worked on this car 60 years ago,” says Bertaccini. “We were fortunate enough to bring them to our workshop for some parts of the renovation process. Pininfarina’s then head of design, Leonardo Fioravanti, with whom we have enjoyed a good relationship for many years, was kind enough to provide us plenty of drawings, notes, and other documents related to the Tre Posti project which he still kept in his home.”

Photo: Five-Year Plan 6

Another period expert was 82-year-old Egidio Brandoli, whose work ethic and exceptional skills with aluminum body panels were passed on to him from another Ferrari legend: Sergio Scaglietti. Despite his age, Brandoli still plays an active role from the morning to late evening hours in his workshop, which for the last 43 years has been located a few miles south of Cremonini Classic in the town of Montale.

Brandoli’s son Roberto admits that the Tre Posti proved to be a one-of-a-kind challenge. Its body wasn’t made of panels in the usual sizes but from a large number of smaller aluminum pieces welded together, which made it extremely difficult to get everything properly lined up and looking right.

Throw in different materials and the process only becomes more difficult, as was the case with s/n 8815’s rear spoiler. The beautiful chromed component was added after the Tre Posti was completed, when, during a high-speed test on the _autostrada_ between Milan and Turin, Fioravanti’s boss found himself snaking across three lanes. The designer came up with this spectacular-looking solution, which reportedly cost 20 kph in top speed but made the car rock steady. When the spoiler was offered to s/n 8971’s owner, however, he declined, saying it would be useless given the U.S.’s low speed limit.

Recent advancements in technology helped tremendously with sorting the Tre Posti’s body, according to Cremonini Classic’s Bertaccini.

“We’re open to using technological innovations because they make our life easier and our work better,” he says. “Our workshop uses a 3D scanner big enough to fit a whole car in it. With it, we can transform the car we are currently working on into a 3D computer model, which we can analyze to a far greater detail than the abilities of a human eye. The technology allows us to spot any micro-damages or other imperfections, or measure the lack of symmetry between the right and left sides of the car. In hopeless cases, we can now resort to a 3D printer, with which we can re-create the parts of the unique cars that were thought to be lost forever, like the headlight cover lenses.”

Photo: Five-Year Plan 7

ONCE ALL OF S/N 8815’S PIECES had been restored, replaced, or re-created, Cremonini Classic reassembled the car three times. The first time was to check the fitment of the chrome trim, and the second was for testing the mechanical components. Before the third and final assembly, the bodywork was painted. As with everything else about the restoration, even this seemingly straightforward activity turned out to be a formidable challenge.

“Over time the car had been repainted four times,” Bertaccini explains. “Fortunately, during the disassembly of the body, we found some tiny bits on which the original paint remained intact. We used these samples to create the formula of a new paint that 100-percent matches the original hue [referred to as medium silver, it’s one of three silvers, the others being light and dark, used by Pininfarina at the time] from 1966. To achieve the same metallic effect, we even re-created the 1960s’ method of adding metal shavings to the paint.

“Finding the original dark blue and dark green hues which were used for creating the stripes running along the sides of the car was relatively easy, as Agnelli used these colors regularly in a number of his cars,”continues Bertaccini. (The stripes were added after the car’s delivery, and the colors are reportedly those of the village of Sestriere, in Piedmont, where Agnelli’s grandfather had built the world’s first ski resort in the 1930s.) “Today we bring the original colors back to life, but now we do that with completely different paints. The ingredients used in 1966 have long been banned due to health and environmental reasons, so we had no moral problems with re-creating them in a new way.”

The Tre Posti’s interior was brought back to its original form with a similar attention to detail. The soft leather upholstery, finished in black and creamy white shades, was provided by Interni Auto Maieli, an award-winning specialist in the field. Founded in 1985, the company is located in the tiny town of Canedole in the Mantua province.

 While the interior was being fitted, the engine was extracted from the car and sent in the opposite direction, up north, to the Reggio Emilia region. For the last 40 years, the small town of Cadelbosco di Sopra has been home to mechanic Carlo Bonini, who started work at Ferrari in 1960. “The engine was a racing unit,” he says of the 4.4-liter V12, which Ferrari used in the 365 P series from 1966-70, “but it’s not as extreme as it is commonly believed,”

Photo: Five-Year Plan 8

Bonini’s job was comparatively straightforward, as the engine had been kept in running order throughout its life, but time had still left its mark. The team renovated all of the hard parts, replaced consumables such as the gaskets and filters, and refurbished the cooling system integrated into the frame tubes.

Bonini also installed a new five-speed ZF manual transmission, a re-creation of the 250 LM unit originally fitted to the 365 P. “The gears are engaged as swiftly as in this race car,” he reports. “And, just like in it, they need to be shifted down one by one.”

One of the final steps was to refit s/n 8815’s glass roof. It’s made of athermic glass—a new material in the 1960s—to help keep the cabin cool. A decade earlier, Agnelli had specified a similar transparent roof in his Pinin Farina-designed one-off 375 America [a car we featured in issue #28’s “King of the Road.”—Ed.].

After five years of effort, the ex-Agnelli 365 P Tre Posti celebrated its official unveiling just before Christmas in 2022 at the National Automobile Museum in Turin. The finished project can be regarded as one of the most significant restoration works not only in the Ferrari segment, but of the classic-car market overall—so why didn’t we know about it going on for so long?

“We made no secret of what we were working on,” says Bertaccini. “We respect the will of those clients who prefer to keep their car in privacy up to the moment when it’s ready to be presented in its full glory. You make a first impression only once!”

Also from Issue 207

  • F12tdf vs 812 Competizione
  • How Pininfarina designed the Testarossa
  • Berlinetta Boxer Buyer's Guide
  • 499P season-to-date
  • Designing the 499P's steering wheel
  • F1: One-Hit Wonder
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