The Glorious Ferrari 250 Testa Rossa: Racing Nobility

In August of 2011, a 1957 Ferrari 250 Testa Rossa sold for $16,400,000, then a record price for a car traded at auction. The price raised a few eye-brows … until a totally unrestored 1957 250 Testa Rossa fetched almost $40 million in 2014.

So what makes the Ferrari 250 Testa Rossa (250 TR) that comes with the Ferrari Essentials Pack such a precious commodity? Why such fantastic prices for cars that are over half-a-century old?

Beyond the economics and vagaries of the classic car market, or the fact that the 250 TR was produced in tiny numbers (only 34 models were built between 1956 and 1961), and beyond the beauty of the original Scagliatti-built racer with its distinctive “pontoon” shape, or even the heroic music from those two banks of beefy pipes that fed out from the Colombo V12, what makes the 250 TR so valuable is that this is, unmistakably, pure racing nobility—one of the most elite and successful cars to have ever competed in endurance racing.

It harks back to a time right at the onset of Ferrari’s dominance of global motorsports, and it is inescapably the last of its breed: from its welded-tube chassis and ladder frame to its all-round drum brakes, from its single-cam V12 ahead of the driver (as Enzo would have wanted) to its 4-speed ’box, this was the last hurrah for an entire generation of purebred racers—the final, beautiful, epic aria of an opera that Ferrari had first begun back in the heady days of the Golden Age of motorsport in the 1930s and that reached its crescendo right at the end of the 1950s with this very car.

A different time

Back in the ’50s, motorsport took place in a vastly different world than today. Formula 1 in those years was a driver’s championship where mercenary pilots risked life and limb for fame and fortune, and no-one thought twice about a driver swapping teams mid-way through a season (or even swapping cars mid-way through a race). Understandable, given the odds of surviving as a top-line pilot was lower than WW1 flying aces.

For manufacturers and automakers, on the other hand, glory was bought and paid for in the extraordinary arena of the World Championship of Makes. The endurance races that made up this championship—classic venues such as Le Mans, the Targa Florio, Sebring, and the Nürburgring—were where the great marques came and battled for supremacy. The drivers, here, were just the jockeys—what the press wrote about, and what fans cheered for, were not the drivers but the cars—purebred racers such as the Porsche 917, the Ford GT, the Ferrari GTO, and, of course, the car that won Le Mans three times: the Ferrari 250 Testa Rossa.

Heroic times—and more so because they were fraught with danger.

Cars in those years were designed not by software engineers using wind-tunnel numbers and CADs but by local stylists such as Pininfarina who created shapes pinched from their own imaginations which were then sheathed over chassis created from hard-won lessons discovered in the throes of racing battles in far-flung venues such as Caracas, Buenos Aires, and Le Mans by coach-builders such as Sergio Scagliatti.

Educated in the heat of battle, racing solutions were then applied to road cars that would be scooped-up by cash-flush enthusiasts during the early post-war boom years. This was a time when only racing could deliver the solutions to the mysteries of performance, and it was in this era that the Ferrari 250 Testa Rossa was born to rule.

The Ferrari 250 Testa Rossa

The 250 TR was forged in the midst of a torrid age in world motorsport—first the Le Mans tragedy of 1955, and then the terrible events at the Mille Miglia in 1957 had cast a grim light on the dangers of the sport, and with countries banning motorsport outright (Switzerland would only lift their ban in June of 2018), the FIA were forced to act.

The more things change, though, the more they stay the same: racing, they said, had become too dangerous (again), and the ruling body decided it was time to slow the cars down (again) by imposing engine restrictions (as always) of 3L for the 1958 World Championship of Makes. And while this decision was made under the auspices of safety, it was also made in the hope of (again) attracting more manufacturers into a series that had become, by 1957, an all-Italian battle between V12 Ferraris and V8 Maseratis.

With the new regulations set to be introduced for the 1958 season, Ferrari began work on their new car early in 1957, initially toying with the idea of using a V6, or even a new quad-cam V12, before saner heads prevailed. By reverting back to the mythical Colombo-designed V12, an engine that was well-known at Maranello (having seen action since 1947, and been a Le Mans winner, albeit in 2-litre displacement, in the Ferrari 166 S), Ferrari knew they could expect both power (around 300hp with the 3-litre engine at 8,000 RPM) and reliability.

Indeed, the 250 TR’s evolution was all about using proven technology without too much experimentation; with the focus on reliability, conservative decisions were made across the board—drum brakes, a 4-speed ’box, and a live axle for customer cars (while the factory cars would at least get DeDion rear axles).

The name Testa Rossa—Italian for red head—was derived from the 1954 Ferrari TR 500 because the valve covers on the cylinder heads of the V12 were blood red—but for the new car, the “TR” was now writ large: Testa Rossa.

The decision to run drum brakes, meanwhile—this at a time when disc brakes were becoming the norm—made it necessary to find ways to cool them during the 12- and 24-hour events in which the car would run. And necessity being the mother of invention, this led to what became the most infamous feature of the 250 TR­—its “pontoon”-shaped fenders that allowed air to reach the drum brakes, an ad hoc design by fabricator Sergio Scaglietti working out of his “Carrozzeria” across the road from Ferrari’s factory.

The 250 TR was tested extensively during the 1957 alongside the full works Ferraris that were disputing one of the most thrilling championships ever seen against local rivals Maserati. The 250 TR­ made its race debut at the 1957 Nürburgring 1,000km (finishing a credible 10th with American Masten Gregory doing the wheel-work) and was then entered in the 1957 24-Hours of Le Mans where it failed to finish when the Olivier Gendebien / Maurice Trintignant factory-entered car shot a piston ten hours into the race.

The 1957 championship, meanwhile, continued all the way to the last race of the season at the Venezuelan GP in Caracas where Ferrari entered two 250 TRs alongside their championship-gunning Ferrari 335 S. That race also featured a privately entered Ferrari  500 TR (with the legendary Lampredi 4-cylinder engine) driven by a local lad Piero Drogo who would, less than a decade later, design what is, for many, the most beautiful prototype ever built—the Ferrari 330 P4 (also in Project CARS 2).

This was also the event that effectively killed-off Maserati as a racing power when all four of their cars were destroyed in the race: Maserati was instantly condemned into a motorsport abyss from which they would never fully recover (despite the fact that Fangio was about to become F1 world champion for Maserati some weeks later).

For 1958, then, the new 3-litre formula was the law, and Ferrari were ready with their 250 TR that was officially unveiled at Maranello’s traditional November “conferenza stampa”.

’Papers from the day, though, reveal that the launch didn’t exactly go according to plan: the British motoring press particularly, still salivating at Jaguar’s epic Le Mans triumph, could barely hold the scoff from their pens as they described the chassis—heavy, old-fashioned—the drum brakes (drum brakes!), and the “ancient” V12 … the new Ferrari, they said, was just a 500 TR with a bigger engine, a relic of the irrelevant past.

What the men from Maranello thought about the criticism remains unknown. One suspects, however, that by the end of the 1958 season when they returned home with wins in Buenos Aires, Sebring, the Targa Florio, Le Mans, and with the World Championship for Sports Cars trophy, the opinion of the world’s media had long-since been buried under the weight of winners’ medals, trophies, and column inches.

The win at Le Mans had been a hard-fought one, and it was there that Ferrari realized the pontoon-fenders were leading to some serious aero lift at high-speed. Indeed, it was only the testicular fortitude of American Phil Hill that had fully enabled Ferrari to capture that win, and work began immediately to address that high-speed vulnerability.

That meant the 250 TR (now internally referred to as the TR 59 for the 1959 season) was upgraded with new recruit Carlo Chiti tuning the engine, a new 5-speed ’box, Dunlop disc brakes all round, and a redesign entrusted to erstwhile Ferrari designer Pininfarina. Performance was upped as a result: 0-100kmh in less than 6 seconds, and a top speed of around 270kmh.

This spelt both the end to the pontoon (the brakes no longer needed extra cooling, allowing the redesign to aid in high-speed stability), and also an end to customer cars as Ferrari turned their attention to their factory efforts in recognition of the fact that the Aston Martin DBR1/300 (that you can race in Project CARS 2) was shaping up to be a serious contender for 1959.

At Sebring, for the opening round of the championship, the TR 59 did what it was designed to do—it finished 1-2. Optimistic, Ferrari returned to Europe and the Targa Florio. And experienced the first real defeat for the 250 TR.

The new 5-speed ’box proved both unreliable and unwieldy on a track that featured hundreds of first and second gear turns, allowing Porsche, with their agile little 718, to win on Italian soil. At the ’Ring a few weeks later, even worse was to befall the car Maranello had thought unbeatable—Aston Martin’s DBR1/300 with Stirling Moss at the wheel beat the two factory TR 59s of Phil Hill and Jean Behra.

Suddenly the championship that had seemed inevitable was under serious threat, and a win at Le Mans became critical if Ferrari was to stand any chance of retaining the championship.

On the morning of the race, Ferrari race manager Romolo Tavoni (one of the most notorious racing managers of all time) delivered a stern warning to his drivers—back off down the straights, and do not rev over 7,500RPM. This was done in order to try and protect the differential that was proving to be the TR 59’s weak spot.

But there is nothing deafer than a driver at speed, and whatever Tavoni’s orders, they were promptly forgotten the moment the race went green.

Behra, who was sharing a factory TR 59 with Dan Gurney, reputedly came into the pits for his first stop with his telltale RPM needle showing 9,500RPM! Stern words were shared between driver and team-manager who both left Le Mans with much ill-will, a crisis that would end a few weeks later when, back in F1, Behra would punch Tavoni after the French Grand Prix and get fired on the spot.

Back at Le Mans, though, Behra had sailed off into the lead, heeding no warning, and—surprising no one but himself—promptly blew the engine. Not that he was alone: none of the factory cars finished the race, leaving Aston Martin to romp home with the win and, with victory at the next round at the R.A.C. Tourist Trophy, the 1959 championship.

Aston Martin’s championship-winning efforts, though, proved too much for their budget, and that meant they were unable to fund a title defense for 1960. Ferrari, however, wasn’t about to have it their own way as Porsche’s 718 RS with Hans Hermann and Jo Bonnier pushed them all the way to the final round of the season at Le Mans. For Ferrari, Le Mans was, for the second year in a row, a must-win, as any result aside from all-out victory would see Porsche take home the 1960 championship.

The Scuderia duly delivered a glorious 1-2, with the privately entered Aston Martin DBR1/300 of Jim Clark rounding off the podium.

Championship dominance and another Le Mans win followed in 1961 (this time a 1-2 for the TR 61) confirmed the Testa Rossa’s place in the pantheon of epic sportscars: Four entries at Le Mans, three overall wins.

The end of the 1961 season, though, meant the end of development on the Testa Rossa as the championship would now become a GT-series (though the TR was allowed to race at Le Mans where the heavily modified 330TRI/LM would be the last-ever front-engined car to score an overall Le Mans win).

In its various configurations, the 250 Testa Rossa would enter 19 championship races between 1958 and 1961, and win ten of them, making this one of the most dominant endurance cars the world has ever known: 4-time Le Mans winner (if you include the 1962 330TRI), 3-time Sebring winner, and 3-time World Sportscar Champion.

In that era, between 1958 and 1961, only one car was able to give the 250 TR any kind of competition, and you’ll find that already waiting for you in Project CARS 2: the Aston Martin DBR1/300. Those classic battles from one of the most treasured eras of motorsport can now resume in Project CARS 2 with the Ferrari Essentials Pack.

Lead Vehicle Artist Casey Ringley Explores the Ferrari 250 Testa Rossa in Project CARS 2

I imagined, at first, that this would be more or less a direct copy of the Ferrari 250 GT Berlinetta since cars from this body-on-frame era shared a lot of their underpinnings, but some good information from restoration of a few original 1957 Testa Rossa chassis showed some differences worth including on our model.

Engine and gearbox are a very similar 3.0L Colombo V12 base as the 250 GT Berlinetta with the main difference being higher-compression pistons and tuning changes which bring the power level up to 295hp @ 7,200rpm.

Gearbox is also the same 4-speed with limited slip differential. They combine with the roadster’s aerodynamics (more drag) for a similar top speed in the neighborhood of 165mph. The race-tuned engine was durable at high rpm, even if there was no real power advantage in doing so. There is at least one report of a driver at Le Mans being ordered to stick to 7,500rpm maximum on the Mulsanne straight but instead ignoring that order and letting the car run up to 9,500rpm between shifts …

That roadster bodywork helps the car weigh in almost 100kg lighter than the lightest 250 GT Berlinetta at only 880kg with a nice weight distribution near 50:50 when the driver is onboard. A unique feature in the 1957 250 Testa Rossa car is the ‘pontoon’ front fenders, added to help airflow for cooling the drum brakes which also created a not-insignificant drag penalty in doing so.

Later updates to the 250 Testa Rossa (TR59, TR60, etc.) abandoned this design as and moved to disc brakes for easier cooling. The drums are a good bit behind the discs as used on 250 GT Berlinetta, so while this one has the power advantage and gets up to speed more quickly, it is also more work to get it slowed back down.

Front suspension is similar to the 250 GT Berlinetta in using unequal-length wishbones on a primitive steering geometry with small caster and kingpin angles, resulting in large scrub radius and little mechanical trail. This gives good self-centering to the steering feel (makes catching slides easy) but hurts cornering feel (harder to feel the grip limit) and is just kind of a trait of these older cars with their simpler designs.

Makes an interesting comparison to the modern GT3 machines where so much has been learned about design in regard to using the kinematics to improve handling and give the driver good information through steering feel.

Rear suspension takes a different design approach to the 250 GT Berlinetta and its semi-elliptical leaf springs. Here the solid axle is supported with upper-trailing links and a triangulated lower link attached to a pivot on the differential gear housing. We found some dimensioned blueprints from chassis restoration work which was a huge help in getting these linkages correct. What it means, in practice, is that the 250 GT Berlinetta’s rear roll center moves in sync’ with changes in the rear ride height at almost a 1:1 ratio while the 250 Testa Rossa has a rear roll center which moves much less and in the opposite direction of suspension travel (i.e., the roll center raises as the rear end squats down).

Both approaches work and are pretty dang good at controlling the rear end, but the general handling feel when braking and cornering is quite a strong contrast from one to the other. The 250 GT Berlinetta tightens up under braking for a comfortable, stable feel while the 250 Testa Rossa loosens to get ready for a sharp turn-in that requires full attention. Kinda neat that two cars which, at first glance, seemed like they might be near clones with only bodywork changes have instead ended up offering very different driving experiences while also balancing nicely for performance on track.

Handling QA Lead Jussi Karjalainen’s Default Setup Notes on the Ferrari 250 Testa Rossa in Project CARS 2

For the Ferrari 250 Testa Rossa and the Ferrari 250 GT Berlinetta, I had to think about whether I wanted to keep the setups more historically accurate as per Casey’s research, or go for a more modern sensibility that would probably improve performance.

In the end I decided that historical accuracy was the better idea. The main issue there really is just that if you drive like a real hooligan, the cars can lean on the rear suspension quite a bit.

But I really like these two cars; they’re similar but very different in how they handle, with the 250 GT Berlinetta being much more stable as a platform and the 250 testa Rossa wanting to dart in more. Or at least it wants to get sideways a bit more, at any rate! Great fun!

 

 

The Project CARS 2 Season Pass offers all four DLCs plus the Motorsport Bonus Pack, all at a discounted price.

The Ferrari Essentials Pack is available now for PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and (PC Steam).

Project CARS 2 - Ferrari Essentials Pack DCL

*The Pista di Fiorano is a Ferrari-only track, both in real-life and, of course, in Project CARS 2.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Post comment