By John Lamm
The long and winding road for Ferrari 275, Chassis No. 0816 just took another big hairpin curve.
Until this week, the classic car was scheduled to be go on the block at the February 9 Artcurial Motorcars’ auction at the Retromobile show in Paris. It had a fair chance of becoming the highest-priced car ever sold at auction, topping the $38 million dropped on a Ferrari 250 GTO at the Bonham’s Quail Lodge auction in 2014.
Then Artcurial dropped its bombshell: a two-paragraph press release. It said: “The heirs of Pierre Bardinon have informed Artcurial Motorcars that, due to the ongoing proceedings concerning the estate, they are suspending the sales agreement for the Ferrari 275 P…”
It’s just the latest episode of drama for a car that starred in one of the legendary showdowns in auto-racing history.
Rewind to Le Mans, 1964. There was a new force in town, Ford. Rebuffed in its attempt to buy Ferrari, the American automaker vowed to beat the Italians at their own game: racing in Europe.
Dearborn was dabbling in the new art of scientific, computer-aided design, but would its GT40 be ready for Le Mans?
Enzo Ferrari had relented on his long-time opposition to mid-engine cars and was fielding mid-engine V-12s. His 275 P’s engine and 5-speed gearbox were fitted to the back of a tubular space-frame, with double wishbone/coil spring suspensions front and back and Dunlop disc brakes. Around this was a Pininfarina-designed, Fantuzzi-formed aluminum body with an airfoil rising behind the driver plus a flat Kamm tail.
Overall weight: just 1,665 pounds. Its V-12 was 3.3 liters. Ferrari claimed 320 horsepower. The name 275 P referred to its engine displacement (275-cc cylinders X 12 cylinders = 3300cc).
Ferrari was hedging his bets in the prototype class at Le Mans in 1964 with three 275 Ps, a trio of 4.0-liter 330 Ps and a 3.0-liter 250 LM. Ford shipped in three GT40s. Both teams had famed Formula 1 drivers, Ferrari choosing Graham Hill, John Surtees and Lorenzo Bandini. Ford had Phil Hill, Bruce McLaren and Richie Ginther. Strong crews, but none would win.
Teamed in 275 P chassis 0816 were Sicilian Nino Vaccarella and Frenchman Jean Guichet. The former had driven in F1 events but scored no points. The latter was known as a highly regarded “privateer” whose Ferrari wins in GT classes earned him the prototype seat in 1964.
Just as you’d expect, the Hills, Rodriguez and Ginther were the quickest at the beginning, but as the 24 hours progressed they fell away. Not Vaccarella and Guichet. Their qualifying time was 11 seconds slower than the pole-sitting Ferrari, but as the Sunday sun rose so did their lead, extending to five laps at the checkered flag.
Ferrari 275 P 0816 was driven into victory lane. Ford’s day would come at LeMans, but for now Ferrari’s 275 P had prevailed.
The 275 P chassis 0816 competed at Sebring in March 1965, finished 23rd, and was then sold to Major William Cooper in the U.S. Luigi Chinetti was the next owner and rather optimistically raced it at Sebring in 1969, a half-decade after its Le Mans win. It was a dnf. The next owner, Pierre Bardinon, started a new life for the Le Mans winner.
Some 250 miles due south of Paris is Aubusson, famed for tapestries and carpets. Just west is Mas du Clos, Bardinon’s private 1.9-mile road course set on a large estate with a chateau. Until he passed away in 2012, Bardinon was the preeminent collector of Ferraris. Once asked why he didn’t have a collection of his cars, Enzo Ferrari responded. “I have no need, because that exists at Mas du Clos.”
We once asked Bardinon how many Ferraris he had, but he couldn’t remember. He guessed, “…oh, about 80 or 90.” Among his favorites were four of the nine Ferrari Le Mans winners: 1954, 1958, 1962 and 1964…275 P chassis 0816.
In 2016, Artcurial auctioned a 1957 Ferrari 335 S Scaglietti from the Bardinon collection for $35.7 million, making it the second most expensive car ever sold at auction. Before 275 P chassis 0816 was withdrawn from sale, estimates for the price it might have commanded bumped (gulp) $40 million.
Why? David Swig of RM Sotheby’s pointed out that the Ferrari was, “…coming out of a long-term privately held collection, cars that have been unavailable and off the market for a long period of time. It’s very clear that a Le Mans win brings an unquantifiable premium over and above another 275 P.”
He added: “You could sell that car in the middle of a snowy field in Kansas tomorrow and all the people who want it are going to go there because there’s not another chance to buy another one.”
Just what “proceedings concerning the estate” of Bardinon caused the car to be pulled off the auction block weren’t specified. What’s clear, though, is that interested buyers now will have to wait for a while.