Ferrari 250 Testa Rossa

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Ferrari TR

1956 - 1961
3.0 Litres
179 kW (240 bhp)
4 spd. MT
Top Speed:
dependent on gearing
Number Built:
5 star
Ferrari 250 Testa Rossa
Reviewed by Unique Cars and Parts
Our Rating: 5

One Of The Most Revered Ferrari's Of All Time

Historians seem to agree to disagree as to why Enzo Ferrari favoured the V-12 engine configuration. Some claim that it was the GP Delage V-12 that inspired him; others said it was the V-12 Lincoln from the 1930s. Or it might have been purely for motional reasons, for the "song of the 12 is like no other engine's sound". Of a Ferrari's V-12 race cars, one of the most revered, and desired, is the Testa Rossa, a name which literally means "Red Head" because that's the colour the cylinder heads and valve covers were painted to distinguish them from more pedestrian 250-GT V-12 engines.

The three-litre car made its debut at Germany's tough Nurburgring in May, 1957 in the 1000 kilometre race. Marten Gregory, a bespectacled racer from Kansas City, got it as high as fourth place but his driving partner, an Italian named Morolli, dropped back to 10th by the time the finish flag fell. But the car had proved its mettle. The chassis was a welded tube structure with a wheel base of 2350mm (92.5 inches) - first used with a four-cylinder car called the 500 Testa Rossa.

The front suspension used unequal length A-arms and coil springs while the live axle rear suspension used semi-elliptic leaf springs. While "live axle" sounds like a Detroit component, Ferrari also used parallel trailing arms on each side to locate the axle firmly and stop it from shifting under load. (Alfa GTV's from the 1970s were examples of how good a live axle could be in cornering if located properly.) Clad in aluminium, the Testa Rossa V-12 weighed only 748 kg (1650 pounds) minus fuel.

Gioacchino Colombo

The engine, designed by Gioacchino Colombo, Ferrari's long-time engine designer, was the familiar 2953 cm3 60-degree V-12 with a single camshaft above each bank of cylinders. Its compression ratio was 9.8 to 1 and horsepower increased from 179 kW (240 bhp) at the start of its career to more than 225 (300) at the end of its evolution. Carburetion was by six dual-throat Weber type 38 DCN downdraft carburettors. The transmission was a four speed all-synchromesh unit using a single dry-plate clutch. Out back, there was a German-made ZF limited slip differential.

The "Pontoon-Fendered" Testa Rossa

The Testa Rossa V-12, with its power output of 75 kW (100 bhp) per litre, was arguably the ultimate example of the engine-builder's art. Take one apart and you would find such no-expense-spared items as connecting rods milled from solid billets, in contrast to the "ordinary" forged rods used in street 250 GT's. The electrics of the engine featured four coils and two distributors to keep the spark fat. The first Testa Rossa V-12 had "cutaway" sections behind the rear wheels, theoretically to improve cooling of the front brakes. This earned the car the nickname of the "Pontoon-fendered" Testa Rossa since the cutaway gives the guards a free-floating appearance from the front. But the "pontoon" effect was aerodynamically unstable and body-builder Scaglietti was directed to "fill in" the "cutaway" portion on later cars.

At the Targa Florio in May of 1958, the new "full body" version took first place while the old "pontoon" models took third and fourth in the long-distance race. Le Mans was so important to Enzo he sent no less than 10 Testa Rossas to it in 1958 along with 10 other Ferraris. With this stacking of the deck, a Testa Rossa won - and helped Enzo Ferrari win his fifth World Sports Car Championship. But in Italy's Targa Florio - with its poorly surfaced country roads - all the Testa Rossas dropped out with mechanical problems. Stirling Moss, who was later to win many races in a Ferrari 250GT, shut the door on the Ferrari team at Germany's Nurburgring that summer by outdriving them in his Aston Martin DBR-1, though the Testa Rossas did finish second and third; the second placed car being co-driven by Phil Hill.

Reliability Issues

The legend of Ferrari reliability suffered a little more at the 1958 Le Mans when all three works Testa Rossas suffered engine problems. Ferrari later switched to dry sump oiling - storing the oil in a remote tank and adding an oil cooler - to improve engine reliability. A fluke lost Ferrari his chance to win the sports car Manufacturer's Championship at the last race of the season at Goodwood, England. The Ferraris were points leaders but a Ferrari driver missed a pit signal and allowed Stirling Moss, again in an Aston, to take first place.

In 1960, the lines of the Testa Rossas were the same though new rules required a higher windscreen. Ferrari engineers worked for a lower centre of gravity by dropping the engine lower - permitted by the remote storage of the oil in the dry sump system. Also in 1960, Ferrari began experimenting with something new to him again - independent rear suspension. Oddly, Mercedes had been using it since 1934 on production cars but Enzo had always had a reputation for being conservative. So only some of the 1960 Testa Rossas had independent rear suspension and others had DeDion "semi independent" systems.

A Change Of Luck At Argentina

Ferrari's luck with the Testa Rossas returned in Argentina that year when Dan Gurney and Maston Gregory's "Birdcage" Type 61 Maserati broke an axle after leading the 1000 kilometre race for some time. This allowed Phil Hill's Testa Rossa to move up to first. Ritchie Ginther and Count Wolfgang "Taffy" Von Trips finished third in another Testa Rossa. Ferrari missed the sports car race at Sebring, Florida, that year because of a fuel sponsorship squabble and, at the Targa Florio, the Ferrari team was beaten by a fast Swiss, Joachim Bonnier, in a Porsche. Of the two Testa Rossas Ferrari entered, one was wrecked in practice, the other crashed during the event.

Stirling Moss again wrested a victory from Ferrari at the Nurburgring, this time driving a Maserati birdcage. Phil Hill and Von Trips managed to finish a Testa Rossa in third, but Enzo was not happy that Porsche - the upstarts from Stuttgart - had the lead in Manufacturer's Championship points. Everything rested on how the Ferrari Testa Rossas would do at Le Mans. As it turned out, Ferrari need not have worried. At Le Mans, Testa Rossas took first and second and the new short-wheelbase 250GT berlinettas took fourth through seventh. The winner's circle was a sea of red cars and smiling Italians.

Pininfarina Designed Testa Rossas

For the 1959 season, the Testa Rossas had Pininfarina-designed bodies built by Piero Fantuzzi in his tiny Modena shop. A major engine change was the switch to coil valve springs instead of the hairpin type initiated by Colombo way back in 1947. These permitted more studs around the cylinder bore, which tightened the compression seal. A five-speed gearbox was also added. The Americans were made well aware of the strength of the new Testa Rossa at Sebring in 1959 when the red cars finished in first, second, sixth and seventh places. One innovation tried on some cars was a transparent plexiglass air scoop over the carburettor stacks, which poked through a hole in the hood. A more important change was the addition of four-wheel Dunlop disc brakes.

Ferrari was slow in accepting disc brakes but once he decided he liked them, he put them on everything. On some of the Testa Rossas, the gearbox was moved back to the final drive in an attempt to equalise weight distribution and create a more neutral handling car. There were some who said that only the works cars had the DeDion suspension while the cars "outsiders" could buy had the older live axle design. If true, this merely follows the old race car builder's theorem: "Don't sell them your fastest car". McLaren did this and that's why you could never buy a car from them as fast as the works car.

But for once, Ferrari had seen the handwriting on the wall early and had developed a mid-engine car. At the Targa Florio, it was his mid-engine car - the 246SP - that took the flag - not a front-engined Testa Rossa. At the Nurburgring, the two Mexican Rodriguez brothers chased a Maserati for the whole race in their Testa Rossa, finishing second. But Enzo was not convinced mid-engine cars were the final answer. At the 1959 Le Mans, he still entered two of the split-nostril Testa Rossas, and won with them.

Carlo Chiti Designed Testa Rossas

Around this time, Enzo Ferrari was becoming aware of another factor that had to do with a car's chances of victory - its aerodynamic cleanliness, measured in terms of "drag". Ferrari hired Carlo Chiti, a former Alfa engineer, who tested future Ferrari body shapes in a wind tunnel. After testing the Testa Rossa, Chiti recommended that the nose be lowered and the tail chopped off, the latter as per the dictates of Dr Kamm who believed the creation of turbulence immediately behind a car prevented lift. Chiti also added a stand-up ridge on top of the tail - now a spoiler but a new device then. A final recommendation of Chiti's was the twin nostril nose - the first real departure from Ferrari's usual oblong grille cavity.

The new Chiti-designed Testa Rossas debuted at Sebring in 1961 and were a success, taking first to fourth, though the third and fourth Testa Rossas were the older body style. But by 1962 theTesta Rossas were becoming less competitive, and were almost entirely replaced by mid-engine cars. The exception was a 1962 version of the Testa Rossa that won Sebring with Bonnier and Bianchi driving. In all, thirty-four 250 Testa Rossas were built, from 1956 through 1961.
1958 Ferrari 250 Testa Rossa

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