News & Stories

A Daytona at Daytona

January 24, 2019 In the News

By John Lamm

Consider the grid for the 2019 Daytona 24 Hours. High tech Team Penske Acuras, Cadillac DPis, Mazdas from Team Joest. Factory-backed Corvette C7.Rs, Ford and Porsche GTLMs. Full-bore GTDs from the likes of Audi, Lamborghini, Acura and Porsche. And then wonder what chance would a 6-year-old race car with hundreds of miles on it run by a “put together team” have?

How about slim or nothing?

Ferrari 365 GTB/4 Competizione serial number 16407 was raced by Luigi Chinetti’s North American Racing Team (NART) in 1973 and 1975 at Le Mans and Watkins Glen. Photo: John Lamm

Forty years ago, on the grid for the 1979 Daytona 24 Hours, were 15 Porsche 934s and 935s — plus RSRs, BMW CSLs, and Mazda’s major effort with its factory RX-7s. So what chance would a 1973 Ferrari Daytona have against those contemporary competition cars? Ferrari hadn’t built competition Daytonas for six years.

Yet there it was, 24th in the 67-car field that rolled off into the infield road course and then onto the banking for the start of the daylong Florida race on February 3, 1979.

In 1977, the Daytona was sold to actor Robert Carradine. He raced it at Daytona and Sebring in 1977 and 1978 with John Morton and Tony Adamowicz, so it was a natural they would team in the car when Modena Sports Cars entered it at Daytona in 1979. Photo: John Lamm

“It was almost an antique,” says John Morton, who shared the drive with Tony Adamowicz. “The Daytonas were never great race cars. They were heavy, a little under-tired, and just never developed as a race car.” (The Ferrari factory never raced them, leaving that to private teams.)

“They had a fairly fragile transmission,” he says, “though we never had that trouble. But the balance could change from a full to light fuel load, and the brakes would start to lock up, and there was no way to compensate for that. It had a fair amount of power, but it was big, heavy engine. It was easy to drive in the sense that it was a reliable engine, like Ferraris are if they’re put together right. But it wasn’t all that fast.”

For a competition car the Daytona has a fairly stock-looking interior. High-sided comp seats and unnecessary dials and accessories blanked off, but nothing of the barebones insides seen in many race cars. Photo: John Lamm

At the time of the race, the Ferrari 356GTB/4 — chassis No. 16407 73 and the 14th of 15 comp Daytonas made — already had a notable pedigree, as it had earlier been owned and raced by the actor Robert Carradine.

Come Daytona 1979 it was sponsored by Otto Zipper, a legendary car dealer who sold Ferraris, Alfa Romeos, Porsches and more in the Los Angeles area. Also a race team entrant, the 65-year-old Zipper was a native of Vienna and was well known among automotive circles. Morton says: “He was a good manager, and it got him out of the house. He was kind of retired from racing, so it was something of a holiday thing for him, but he took it very seriously.”

Daytona Competizione V-12s had a displacement of 4390 cc and about 430 horsepower and 340 lb-ft of torque depending on who tuned it. Most important for the many class wins credited to Daytonas was not just horsepower, but also reliability. Photo: John Lamm

Soon the team’s problems grew beyond the mere age of the Daytona and the quality of the competition. Morton tells the tale:

“The night before the race, a bunch of us were going out to dinner, and I asked Otto if he was going to join us. He said no, he wasn’t feeling that well because he had a kidney stone and he thought he might pass it that night. The next morning, we got up and everybody had breakfast and was getting ready to go to the track. Sylvia [Sylvia Wilkinson, a well-known author who was there with Morton] and I were going to breakfast, and the crew was just coming out of the restaurant. They asked, ‘Have you seen Otto?’ We hadn’t. They said he hadn’t shown up for breakfast, and they thought he hadn’t gone to the track early. We got a maid to open his room, and he was dead in bed.

Road & Track tested a competition Daytona and saw 0-60 in 5.8 seconds, 0-100 in 12.6 seconds and a top speed of 186 mph. Photo: John Lamm

“Everyone was quite emotional about it, a very tough deal, and they wanted to withdraw the car. Tony and I wanted to run the Daytona, not really to make a statement, but we thought it would be appropriate to race the car. Sylvia and Tony’s girlfriend, Vicki, talked the team into running, thinking Otto would have wanted that, so we did. We put a black tape diagonally across the hood of the car in honor of Otto.”

There were three new Ferrari 512 BB/LMs at Daytona in 1979 enter by major privateer teams. None finished the race. By contrast, the 2nd overall place was scored with a 6-year-old Ferrari Daytona entered by little-known Modena Sports Cars. To quote driver John Morton, “…we were just a put-together team run by a Ferrari repair shop in Hollywood.” Photo: John Lamm

And so they raced, and it was an ordeal. Again, Morton takes up the story:

“Our pit was not a Penske operation. Our fueling rig was a 55-gallon drum up on a stand, and it dripped and they had rags around it. Sylvia timed the whole 24 hours without a rest and just the smell all night long…

Ferrari “Assistenza Clienti” created three series of five competition Daytonas each and 16407 was the second to last assembled. These Series III versions had steel bodies and doors with only the hood and trunk lid formed in aluminum. Photo: John Lamm

“Luigi Chinetti had two Ferrari BB/LMs at the race, and they blew tires and had to withdraw. He was standing in our pit, and I didn’t know him then. He said to me in his quite accented voice, ‘What position are you in?’

“This was late at night, maybe not quite halfway. I asked Sylvia, and she told me we were seventh. I came down and told him and he said, ‘No!’ I said, ‘Yes, we’re seventh,’ and Chinetti said, ‘No, not seventh.’ Like ‘Don’t bother me with your bullshit.’

This is the 2nd-place Ferrari Daytona during practice for the 24-hour race. After Otto Zipper’s death, a black stripe was applied across the hood. Photo: Revs Digital Library

“But we were, and gradually worked our way up. We’d be fourth, and then a turbo would blow and then be in third. When we were well up, one of the Whittington brothers with the turbo boost screwed all the way up — they’d already blown about four of them — would pass me about every 20 minutes or so, and I’d think, ‘Please blow up again.’ And he blew another one, and that cinched our second place.”

Here is the competition the “ancient” Ferrari Daytona was up against in the 24-hour battle. Driving this new Porsche 935/79, Hurley Haywood, Ted Field and Danny Ongais won the Daytona race. Photo: Revs Digital Library

The winners were Ted Field, Danny Ongais, and Hurley Haywood in an Interscope Porsche 935/79. The runner-up finish by Morton and Tony “A-to-Z” meant the GTO class win.

“We didn’t have a trouble-free run,” Morton says. “We were burning up the inside edges of the tires, and we had to put the car in the garage and make a camber change, which was a big job. They were good mechanics and quick, but we lost quite a bit of time there. Then we had an oil leak and had to change an oil line later in the race.

John Morton successfully raced everything from Cobras to Porsche 962s to a succession of Datsun and Nissan competition machines. Here he is sitting in his Trans-Am title-winning Datsun 510.

“It was a physically difficult car to drive, heavy and with exceptionally heavy steering. Tony and I got so tired, we could only do one tank of fuel at a time, a little over an hour, before changing drivers. I remember being ushered back from the motorhome to the pits. It was a cold night and I’m soaking wet and thinking, ‘I don’t really want to get in this [expletive] car again.’ And we had to do that over and over. At the end of the race, I couldn’t take my driving suit off because I was cramping all over. It was a real ordeal, one of those things that takes a lot out of you, but that makes it better.”

Otto Zipper was a well-known Santa Monica “foreign car” dealer and race entrant. He was team manager for the Ferrari Daytona that finished 2nd at Daytona, but he died the night before the race. A friend of Briggs Cunningham, here Zipper is working on the engine of Cunningham’s 1927 1.5-liter Delage. The French race car is now part of the Miles Collier Collections at the Revs Institute.

“I’d be the first to admit it was fluky,” Morton says, “but we beat a lot of good cars and teams, and we were just a put-together team run by a Ferrari repair shop in Hollywood. It was bittersweet because of Otto, but I had the feeling we had done something for him. Of all the races I’ve run, I have to rate that in the top few. I think it is the best a Ferrari Daytona did in big, international competition.

“And it was a Daytona at Daytona.”

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John Lamm started his automotive journalism career in 1965 as a racing photographer for Autoweek magazine. After a tour in Vietnam, he joined Motor Trend in 1969, then Road & Track in 1975, where he worked for 37 years. He has also written for Car and Driver and Automobile magazines. Credits include 10 books and Lamm has been honored with the International Motor Press Association’s Ken Purdy and the Motor Press Guild’s Dean Batchelor awards for writing. Lamm’s photo archives include hundreds of thousands of images ranging from an 1893 Benz Victoria to many of the latest automobiles. He is on the organizing committee for the Rolex Monterey Motorsports Reunion and been a judge at the Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance for two decades. Lamm lives in San Clemente, California with his wife, Scheri.

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7 Responses

  1. Robert Selkowitz

    Great story on the Daytona at Daytona. I was in school in Greenwich, CT in the late 1960s and would drop in at Chinetti’s and sit in the Ferraris. Coco Chinetti once looked at my car drawings and suggested I go to the GM school…but I went to Cornell instead, went in as an engineering student and came out an artist…but still draw cars.

  2. Roc Linkov

    Terrific story, just a few years later, 1983, they passed the 5 year rule on vintage cars at Sebring 12 hour race. A 20 year old Corvette ran and qualified 38, automatic inclusion and then finished 8th in class. At that event it ran in both Vintage and the 12 hour.

  3. John Morton

    Naturally, I really enjoyed this story by John Lamm. Rarely a race that a driver enters with low expectations doesn’t fulfill those expectations. This one was one of the rarest for Tony and me. It appears this great car has found the loving home it so deserves. Thanks John Lamm and REVS.

  4. Bill Maloney

    Wow, I didn’t know that story. Fantastic and amazing. Thank you very much for sharing it.

  5. Stephanie Adamowicz Porcelli

    Great trip down memory lane! These were the days when the driver’s skills often overcame the limitations of the car. No stranger to showing how a “vintage” race car could perform, my brother, Tony, loved the challenge of being the underdog and had in John Morton a kindred spirit. Together they honored Otto’s memory and earned a class win (which could have been an overall one if the Porsche’s finish had been challenged.) It’s a tribute to the talent of these drivers and the resilience of the 365 – “a Daytona at Daytona!”

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