Latter-Day Classic

This 412 P re-creation features numerous original components, a scratch-built chassis and bodywork, and a 600-hp Ferrari V12.

Photo: Latter-Day Classic 1
June 6, 2024

Friendly, affable, and enthusiastic, John Nino is either the most passionate car guy you’ll ever meet or a complete glutton for punishment. Maybe a little nuts. Or all three, really.

That equation—passion, punishment, and nuts—also factors into Nino’s professional career, which has had more facets than the Hope Diamond. Think robotics, chemical engineering, global power systems, private equity, direct and subcontracted manufacturing, and, most recently, medical technologies. And in his spare time over the last four decades, he’s been busy building, restoring, modifying, racing, and/or wrecking cars: muscle cars, sports cars, classics, hot rods, race cars, and other ephemera.

The glowing aluminum prototype shown here, a scratch-built re-creation of a Ferrari 412 P, is Nino’s 60th car. Once you consider the blood, sweat, money, strategy, and pure craftsmanship that’s gone into it, it’s easy to understand why he and his equally passionate wife Debbie consider it their magnum opus.

Photo: Latter-Day Classic 2

Among all that previous hardware, the Ninos have owned just one Ferrari, a Dino 246 that was lost in a fire. Their tastes are wonderfully eclectic; sharing metaphorical garage space with the 412 P re-creation are a mid-’60s Corvette Grand Sport clone that has (literally) made ultimate Corvette racer Dick Guldstrand proud and a way cool, mildly upgraded VW Thing. This husband and wife duo are clearly serious automotive omnivores.

WHAT DROVE NINO to build his own 412 P, the privateer version of 330 P3/4? It all stemmed from his love for the mid-1960s’ international sports-car racing scene, where Ford, Ferrari, Alfa Romeo, Chaparral, Porsche, and countless smaller independents fielded legendary drivers in fabulous cars. Nino’s journey actually began with an eye toward building a GT40 replica, but along the way he discovered the Ferrari prototype re-creations built by Bob Norwood. Then, when he came upon an unfinished Ferrari P-series replica that was in rough shape, he bought it.

Unfortunately, a deep dive into the newly purchased pile of chassis tubes and fiberglass body panels led Nino to realize that finishing the car wasn’t practical, nor would it yield the result he sought. Ultimately, much of the original project was binned, and he restarted the quest, which was now redefined as building an as-accurate-as-possible 412 P replica—from the tires up.

Photo: Latter-Day Classic 3

To meet this goal, in November 2011, Nino embarked on a worldwide search for period correct and New Old Stock (NOS) parts. This eventually led him to a famous name from that magic era of sports-car racing: David Piper.

One of the best-known privateer British racers of the 1960s and ’70s, Piper drove everything from GT cars to prototypes to three Formula 1 races (in 1959 and ’60). He also contested Le Mans eight times, scoring two podium finishes, in some of the most exciting cars the world has ever seen, including the Ferrari 330 P4 and Porsche 917. Piper still owns a sizeable fleet of these historic masterpieces, and it was rumored he had an Aladdin’s Cave worth of Ferrari prototype parts, drawings, and photos, not to mention his first-hand knowledge of the cars—he had owned and raced a 412 P (s/n 0854) in period.

Nino was warned that one didn’t simply call up the then-86-year-old vintage racer (despite losing much of his right leg in an accident during the filming of Steve McQueen’s Le Mans in 1970, Piper didn’t hang up his helmet for good until the Covid pandemic) and ask to look through his stores. But once he did make contact, Nino found the still-spry Piper to be very welcoming and appreciative of the interest in his old cars.

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Just as important, Piper did have parts and information he’d be willing to sell and/or share in support of the build. In the end, Nino came away with a truckload of body panels and bits, three windshields, and countless photos and drawings which would help the build team accurately replicate, reproduce, or reverse-engineer much of what they needed.

“We reverse-engineered an exact replica of a P4 chassis,” explains Nino, “created by 3D modeling and incorporating original Ferrari components. It was fabricated of 4130 Chromoly steel and TIG welded, and incorporates main chassis stainless-steel tubes for water [which travels from the engine forward to the radiators mounted in the nose]. The rear suspension uprights were cast from an original 3D model.”

Different types of 3D modeling were used in the project. The chassis, for example, was modeled from scratch in SolidWorks, based on drawings and photos of an original chassis; this was also the process used to create the front and rear A-arms. For the rear uprights, on the other hand, an original upright was scanned, and that 3D model was then used to create a mold in which they cast the finished product. The front suspension uprights are vintage originals.

Photo: Latter-Day Classic 5

Vintage Koni shock absorbers were paired with modern coil springs at all four corners, and Nino fitted electro-hydraulic actuators up front to lift the nose via a button in the cockpit. Braking power comes from NOS Girling caliper castings that were modified to accomodate larger stainless-steel Girling pistons.

Nino usually gets pretty hands-on with his cars, but for this project he left the engineering and fabrication to several shops of professionals. To name the major players, 3D modeling was done by Red Car Restorations along with Race Concepts; the chassis was fabricated by Race Crafters Manufacturing and GTS Customs; and MC Auto Creations and Stone’s Metal Shop handled metal shaping and body fabrication. For his part, Nino focused on finding parts and, along with Red Car Restoration, the suspension, drivetrain, and final assembly.

IF THE CHASSIS, SUSPENSION, BRAKES, and body were mostly period-correct, that wasn’t the plan for the engine. While Nino could have used a vintage Ferrari V12, it wouldn’t have been cheap or easy to refurbish, let alone produce the power he had in mind. In the end, the engine question answered itself when he learned of an available Tipo F133 5.5-liter V12 from a wrecked 550 Maranello.

Photo: Latter-Day Classic 6

In stock form, the 550 engine would have produced formidable power for the 1,900-pound machine—but there was no reason not to give it a competition-level tune courtesy of a Motec M880 engine-management system, 11:1 compression ratio, a custom Petersen Engineering dry sump oiling system, and a wailing bespoke exhaust. On a chassis dyno, the modified V12 pumped out 518 horsepower at 7,200 rpm (the equivalent of 160 mph, the dyno’s safety limit) and 407 lb-ft of torque at 5,250 rpm. Given driveline losses and a 9,000-rpm rev limit, Nino is confident the engine produces over 600 hp and 480 lb-ft, compared to the stock 550’s 485 hp and 419 lb-ft.

Rather than using a Ferrari transaxle, Nino chose a Porsche Getrag G50—a robust, slick-shifting unit used in production 911 Carreras of the mid-1980s. These transaxles are plentiful, reliable, and strong, making them common choices for race use and custom sports-car builds.

In the 412 P re-creation, the transaxle is situated backwards compared to the 911, with its shift mechanism mated to a Ferrari mechanical linkage. The shift lever itself sits in a Ferrari-like machined open gate. The clutch and flywheel assembly was notched to accommodate the welded-in rare earth magnets needed to fire the Motec ignition trigger system. The clutch itself is a custom Tilton Carbon three-disc unit with a titanium clutch pack.

Photo: Latter-Day Classic 7

Elsewhere, the period-correct theme continued. The list of useful bits supplied by Piper is too long to list, but some of the many highlights include a roll of the correct-gauge sheet aluminum, various latches and other bits of hardware, OEM flame-retardant interior fabric, an OEM oil cap, an OE windshield wiper mechanism (which, given its source, the Ninos immediately dubbed it the “Piper Wiper”), and exact replica Perspex headlight covers.

Without a doubt, the most important items were those factory windshields. Using the original item allowed the build team to establish the correct shapes and touchdown points of many body panels, including the front bulkhead and roofline. (If you’ve ever wondered why so many re-creations end up looking like awkward dune buggies, it’s probably in part because the builder had to work around an incorrect windshield.)

Speaking of bodywork, the red fiberglass panels seen in some of these photos are also period-correct, in a way, despite the cars originally being bodied in aluminum. According to Piper, if a panel was destroyed during a race and the car was racing again the following weekend, fabbing up a fiberglass replacement was the quickest and least expensive way to get track ready, especially for the small privateer entrants. In the end, Nino fitted all-aluminum bodywork, which he left unpainted, aside from a few red accents and a #7 race number.

Photo: Latter-Day Classic 8

“My original plan was to re-create the Scuderia Filipinetti 412 P (s/n 0848) in the red with white stripe livery and #7 as it ran at Monza [in 1967],” he says. “I’m of Italian-Swiss heritage, as was Filipinetti, and that was my late mother’s lucky number, so all the stars aligned. However, after being invited to display the raw-aluminum car in the Custom Coachwork Class at The Quail in 2022, the response was overwhelming. There was no question that it was a coach-built work of art and the public loved it, so I decided to create a happy medium, paying tribute to s/n 0848 but leaving the car in raw metal for the world to enjoy.”

AS YOU’D EXPECT, a decade-long undertaking of this magnitude has yielded a lifetime’s worth of anecdotes and stories. When asked to name a few highlights, Nino replies that the most meaningful aspect of the entire journey was getting to know David Piper. Their business relationship quickly evolved into a friendship, with the Ninos visiting Piper and wife Liz at their country home in England in 2018.

Next, Nino relates the saga of building structurally sound, safe, and visually accurate 330 P3-style center-lock wheels. He managed to obtain a single original magnesium wheel in undamaged condition (still wearing a period racing tire, it’s now a table in his garage) and 3D scanned it. The digital model was then split into pieces, with a CNC-machined center that mates with 512 BB/LM spline-drive hubs. This was then welded to a steel rim and finished in the correct gold hue. It wasn’t a quick, easy, or cheap process, but the resulting wheel looks original, is exactly the right size and offset, and, unlike a 50-year-old magnesium original, is completely safe.

Photo: Latter-Day Classic 9

Another interesting treasure hunt concerned the dash’s center air vent. The original obviously came from a production car, and logic suggested that Ferrari, having access to the entire Fiat Group parts bin, would have snagged an off-the-shelf-piece from a Fiat, Alfa, or Lancia. But no, that would have been too simple. After what seemed like an endless search, Jim Glickenhaus, who at the time owned Piper’s old 412 P, came to the rescue with a positive ID. It turned out the little plastic vent wasn’t even Italian; it was French, and had come from a Renault R8 Gordini. Nino got his hands on an original Renault vent, and _voila_—an exact match to period photos.

Nino expected the Ferrari community’s reaction to his personal masterpiece would be varied, and that’s proven to be the case. While some enthusiasts decry any replica as a travesty, and have gotten a bit prickly when the car is shown alongside “real” Ferraris, most in the know have recognized how philosophically faithful to the original look and specification this new-age 412 P is, and accepted it for what it is.

Having seen the car in person, I’m certainly part of that latter group. As is Piper himself, who bestowed his own blessing with a signature on the engine cover, right next to the lucky #7

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David Piper contributed numerous original and period-correct components to the build, including windshield and flame-retardant interior fabric.

Also from Issue 215

  • 12Cilindri first look
  • Ferrari execs talk 12Cilindri
  • Flavio Manzoni interview
  • Future of Ferrari mechanics and restorers
  • Johnny Kaminskey interview
  • F1: Gang of Three
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