History of Cars


To the world of motoring, Ferrari means fast. Having someone else build the fastest road car doesn’t go down too well in the corridors of power at Maranello, even if the racing heritage of the prancing horse transcends all other contenders. While, the Ferrari 288 GTO had topped the fastest Countach, the mid eighties saw the Porsche 959 at the head of the field. Ferrari responded with the F40 in 1988 with all but 200 mph. Then came the Diablo in 1990 nosing ahead, but all were to be engulfed by the rash of supercars that flooded a diminishing market – Jaguar, Bugatti and McLaren cleared 200 mph comfortably.

Ferrari f40

Following the dramatic success of the limited edition 288 GTO, underlined by the premium prices paid for such exclusivity, Ferrari knew the market would still absorb a larger number of even faster cars bearing the prancing horse. With the Evolution version of the GTO still born by the lack of anywhere to race Group B cars, Ferrari had a second base from which to work on the car that would celebrate 40 years of production. The chassis followed the tubular carbon fiber replaced the welded sheet boxing to give a lighter, stronger structure; body paneling and interior trims also benefited from modern companies – inside it was pretty Spartan with bare carbon fiber and little sound deadening.

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Maybe the 512 is neither the most practical nor the nimblest of Ferraris, but it still has an almighty presence that shouts Ferrari; 78 inches wide, 44 inches low it still manages to be graceful in its Pininfarina clothes; and with 428 bhp from its flat 12 (boxer) 5 liter midships engine, it is also very fast but user-friendly with it. If Ferrari didn’t keep producing even more exciting but considerably less practical devices like the 288 GTO and the F40/ 50, ‘Berlinetta Boxer’ would have attracted the stronger following which its all-round ability deserves; that those that can afford them don’t usually buy a big Ferrari for its practically and the other offer more short-term exhilaration.

It started life back in 1973 when the Daytona was still in production. Ferrari was never one to leap into new technologies, although the company has always been good at perfecting them once proven – a sound small company philosophy. Thus Ferrari was beaten to the mid-engined road car draw by Lamborghini; such was the caution that both the mid-engined Ferraris were to be shown as styling exercises, well ahead of possible production, as a means of sampling public opinion before taking the plunge.

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Smaller and a little more powerful than the flagship Testarossa, the 288 GTO was the fastest Ferrari is its day. It should have been, it was designed as a racer. GTO? Gran Turismo Omologato or, in somewhat less evocative terms, Homologated GT. Homologation is the process of certifying that a number of identical units have been made; road cars are homologated by transport, road based race cars are homologated for competition by the FIA, the ruling body of motor sport, once a specified number have been built.

Over 1959-61, Ferrari had been building the short wheelbase 250 GT for road and competition use; when the FIA announced a GT championship for 1962, Ferrari needed something lower and lighter. The rules of the day stated that 100 identical cars should be built in 12 consecutive months, but that special bodied versions could be made once the 100 had been completed; the 250 GT had already been accepted a GT car, so the new car was submitted for approval with the revised bodywork.

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For ever known as the Daytona, the 365GTB4 was Ferrari’s final fling for the front engined two seater; four seaters would continue with front mounted engines, but two seater sports Ferraris would be mid engined after this. But what a finale. It was a bold statement of sheer power and shameless aggression, from sharp front end to the wide fastback that had lost any semblance of its predecessor’s narrow cabin, inset from a curvaceous waist line.

It was a big car too, heavy and bulky, but a muscle car designed to appeal to the American market; its performance and maximum speed would leave all of those and the Europeans standing, it was king of the road in its day. Its predecessor had been the 275 GTB4.

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Most of the Ferrari’s model names have been based on the capacity in cubic centimeters of a single cylinder, 12 of the 250 GT cylinders gave 3 liters; for cars specifically designed for the American market where cubic centimeters are unrecognized, the name became more important than the numbers. The 410 Super American was a very fast late fifties Gran Turismo powered by a 4.9 liter V12 engine with 360 bhp available for the third series, one of which produced these figures for Road and Track; 410 wasn’t far out, as its 4962 cc engine had 413.5 cc per cylinder. Like most of the road going Ferraris, the body was styled by Pininfarina.

Ferrari 410 Super America

Ferrari’s first recognition of the American market potential came very shortly after the company was set up in 1946; where the European market expected small efficient engines, the American wanted big horsepower figures from big capacity engines.

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After early forays into building single-seater for Formula Junior and Formula 2, Alejandro de Tomaso joined the ranks of Italian sports car builders back in 1963. The first offering was the mid-engined Vallelunga which used a backbone chassis to which was bolted a 1600 cc Ford Cortina engine; this took all the rear suspension loads via arms on the transaxle bell housing. The theme was extended at the 1965 Turin Show with a sports racing car using a bigger backbone which carried a 271 bhp Ford Mustang engine; never raced, this formed the basis of the Mangusta using body styling by Giugiaro while he was working at Ghia.


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The Viper sets out to be an anachronism. It is modern technology applied to an old fashioned concept of enjoyable open motoring; raw fun on four wheels. There are other cars with some of the same retro appeal, like the TVR Griffith, but the Dodge Viper has more in common with a 1965 Shelby Cobra than with Blackpool’s best. What sets it apart from this decade is the big, lazy engine, an 8 liter V-10 and the studied lack of creature comforts; you didn’t expect a quiet ride in a Cobra, or a snug fitting roof, but you did expect raucous high performance in any gear, just like the Viper. Against the Cobra it is 7 inches wider and 5 inches lower, a Cobra with a modern stance.

The common denominator is indeed Carroll Shelby, Shelby who put Ford V-8s into AC’s very British sports car and won a World Championship, the same Shelby who then worked over Chrysler saloons to transform their performance. And Shelby has been in the background of the Viper development. But the concept was Chrysler’s spurred on by President Bob Lutz, and arch enthusiast for the sheer fun of driving anything that challenges the driver.

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For many years the Corvette was American’s only sports car and it has entirely been the most consistent while others have come and gone; and it has remained essentially Americans, despite the steady inward flow of Italian exotica. In a land where speed limits have applied for many years, outsight top speed has been less important than accelerative ability and the Corvette has long supplied that, with its top range option.

2009_chevrolet_corvette_zr1_16

None more so than the ZR-1, the first to have a European engine; it was designed by Lotus at the time the company was owned by General Motors, although it derived from a previous project for the still born Lotus Etna. The first Corvette rolled off the line in 1953, a pioneering glass fiber body on well tried mechanical components with a 3.8 liter six cylinder engine developed to produce 150 bhp.

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In 1972, the year that Munich was host to the Olympic Games, BMW founded their subsidiary BMW Motorsport GmbH. While the two door 2002 series and the four door saloons had been raced with great success by private entrusts using tuning conversation from Alpina and Schnitzer, rule changes demanded that any special competition parts be available in specified quantities, which could really only made by a manufacturer.

bmw m5 black

So BMW had to get involved if the cars were to continue racing, even if the tuners ran the actual race team. Setting up a competition department, separated from the production in factory, was common practice among the companies that had works entries in International events. The long hours required didn’t upset the factory unions it was also sure way for the lessons learnt in racing to be transferred back to the factory engineers.

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The German factory has a long history of producing high speed coupes. In the thirties, the construction of the autobahns encouraged manufactures to create ever faster cars; the BMW 327/ 80 was an elegant streamlined coupe that would reach over 90 mph on its 80 bhp and its design was carried over to become the post war Bristol 400 with a style that was still modern ten years later.

BMW 850CSI

In the ‘fifties BMW were struggling for an identity, making big V-8 powered saloons and little motorcycle powered Isettas with nothing in between. The 507 was the two seater sports coupe, using the running gear of the bigger saloons in a somewhat different style, the traditional twin intakes on a horizontal plane – very much a period classic.

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