The “Ferrari 400 Superamerica” was born for the international scene in January 1960, officially presented at the European Motor Show in Brussels. The Maranello company aimed to create a model that would “push” the already winning features of its predecessor, the “Ferrari Superamerica 410” of 1956, both in terms of performance and comfort and line, in short, to achieve perfection. The first two examples of the “400” were produced in 1959. While one is the prototype that will dictate the production lines of no less than four5 other examples, the other is the subject of very advanced customisation because it was commissioned by a highly glamorous figure of the Italian 20th century: Gianni Agnelli.
The basic model, later also called Superfast II, adopted a 60° V12 engine, front and longitudinal, designed by Gioacchino Colombo, which conceptually surpassed Aurelio Lampredi’s ‘long block’ (used on the ‘410’), providing a distribution with a single overhead camshaft per bank of cylinders.
The engine was enlarged, with the stroke increased to 71 mm and the bore to 77 mm, the displacement was increased to 3967.44 cm³, and the power output reached 340 bhp at 7000 pm. The engine thus produced, together with a highly aerodynamic line designed by Giovanni Battista “Pinin” Farina, who, in 1961, was authorised by a presidential decree issued by the then Giovanni Gronchi to change his surname to Pininfarina (combining the names “Pinin” and “Farina” in a single word), enabled the Ferrari 400 Superamerica to reach 265 km/h, a very high speed at the time for a non-racing car.
It’s the beginning of the sixties and the evident morning warmth of a spring day invites us to go for a ride in one of the fantastic natural scenarios that our dear Italy offers us. The soft line of the “400” inevitably attracts us. It’s hard to resist caressing its long front bonnet, while the two large portholes in the headlights and the clean-cut of the air intake make us think of the snout of an animal worthy of protection. But let’s get on board for a virtual tour, not before we’ve quickly stepped into the time machine and “undergone” a rejuvenation of several years…
Although a little low, the entrance is broad because the door is adequate for the length of the passenger compartment, designed for a maximum of two people and dedicated, therefore, to the driver and companion. The soft external lines continue inside, with circular instrument dials framed by gleaming chrome, the classic three-spoke steering wheel with a large diameter, and the legendary prancing horse chiselled into its centre.
Suppose the sight is exhaustively satisfied at 360 degrees. In that case, the touch is also gratified: the seat covers are made from the finest leather from Connolly Leather, the historic supplier to the British Royal Household.
The sensation of coming into contact with the famous Vaumol leather is like wearing a very delicate glove that wraps around your pelvis and back and makes you ready to enjoy the spectacle offered by the large windscreen, with ventilation provided by two comfortable side deflectors. The show becomes complete when the symphony of sounds begins: the ignition of the powerful engine produces, with its revolutions, musical notes that stand out on a particular pentagram, the mighty roar of the car. But let’s now come to the specific example, number one of the “400”, made to the wishes of Gianni Agnelli, then 38-year-old manager of FIAT, the company owned by his family.
They call them the ‘reds’, the Ferraris, and ‘L’Avvocato’, as Gianni Agnelli was nicknamed, commissioned his metallic grey model to stand out, but also not to stand out. He confided the paradox to the “Drake” (nickname of Enzo Ferrari, then owner of Maranello): he wanted to “go unnoticed on the road” while retaining all the luxurious interior fittings befitting his rank – noblesse oblige! This includes the absence of any Ferrari branding bodywork and the choice of saloon model rather than coupé while retaining the gutsy standard engine. Finally, to complete his purpose, the “Avvocato” decided to mount four large, powerful headlights on his ‘400’ because when he returned from a party (usually early in the morning), he wanted to be seen by those who usually went to work at that time.
You could bet on Enzo Ferrari’s opposition to these unusual requests, which was only overcome by his profound esteem and friendship with Gianni Agnelli. But the Ferrari workshops complied with all the wealthy client’s wishes and produced his “400” with the features of a three-box car but with the performance of a racing car. The customisation experiment became doctrine and was to be taken up by various illustrious figures from the jet-set of the time (such as the Shah of Persia and Peter Sellers), so much so that a right-hand drive “400” was ever produced! Nor could it go unnoticed by the big screen where, in Dino Risi’s “The Tiger”, it was driven carefree by a young Vittorio Gassman.
Despite the vehicle’s historical perfection, modesty would prompt Enzo Ferrari to utter the famous aphorism: ‘The best Ferrari ever built will always be the next one.
Edited by Roberto Castellucci