12 March 2011
1952 Ferrari 340 Mexico Coupe by Vignale
Sold for $4,290,000
- Chassis no. 0224 AT
- Third place, 1952 La Carrera Panamericana (Luigi Chinetti/Jean Lucas)
- The most successful of the 1952 Panamericana Ferrari team cars
- Owned by Ferrari enthusiast and FCA co-founder Larry Nicklin
- One of only three 340 Mexico Coupes built
- Mille Miglia veteran, eligible for world’s greatest events
- Known history from new, documented by Ferrari historian Marcel Massini and current owner’s extensive research
The original 1950-54 La Carrera Panamericana Mexican road race was the most dangerous road race in the world. Twenty-seven competitors were killed on the newly completed Panamerican highway, and it’s doubtful anyone kept track of spectator fatalities.
With that in mind, it’s ironic that the race was actually canceled in the wake of Pierre Levegh’s 1955 crash at Le Mans, France, which killed an estimated 80 track-side fans. Mexican President Adolfo Ruiz Cortinez announced after the disaster that La Carrera’s mission to publicize the new highway was complete. The event did not return until it was revived as a still-very-dangerous vintage rally in 1988.
The original Carrera Panamericana took place over 2,100 miles. It involved nine stages in five days, with elevations ranging from sea level to 10,500 feet, temperatures from 120 degrees to near freezing and on surfaces from blacktop to loose gravel. Most of the race took place between 5,000 and 8,000 feet, and guardrails were virtually non-existent.
American Herschell McGriff won the 1950 event in an Oldsmobile 88 at an average speed of 88 mph, but four years later, the winning average speed for the last stage of 227 miles – on public roads, no less – was 138 mph, set by Umberto Maglioli in a Ferrari.
Over five years, La Carrera attracted notable drivers from all forms of racing, including past and future Grand Prix racers and world champions Alberto Ascari, Juan Manuel Fangio, Phil Hill, Dan Gurney, Ritchie Ginther, Piero Taruffi, Umberto Maglioli, Felice Bonetto, Louis Chiron, Herman Lang, Karl Ling; American NASCAR figures Bill France, Curtis Turner and Marshall Teague; Indy 500 drivers Tony Bettenhausen and Jerry Unser; and hot rodders Mickey Thompson, Clay Smith and Ak Miller.
After American sedans swept the first four places in 1950, Ferrari sent a factory team of 212s for 1951. They didn’t quite fit the touring category, but they were allowed to compete – and finished 1-2. Winners were Piero Taruffi and Luigi Chinetti in Vignale Coupe s/n 0171 EL; Alberto Ascari and Luigi Villoresi were second in s/n 0161 EL.
Expert drivers competed alongside amateurs. At the start of the 1951 race, Jose Estrada, a Mexico City car dealer and racer, announced, “I will win or die trying.” He was correct; on the first day, his 1951 Packard tumbled into a 600-foot ravine, and he and his co-driver died in hospital. Next day claimed Carlos Panini, in a 1949 Alfa 6C 2500 SS.
The 1952 Carrera Panamericana and 0224 AT
The racing world’s spotlight was on the dangerous La Carrera, and the 1952 race was going to be fiercely contested. The field was to be divided into sports cars and stock cars. Mercedes-Benz was sending two 300SL Gullwing prototypes, and there were teams from Porsche and others.
What to do? Ferrari’s solution was to adapt Aurelio Lampredi’s long-block, four-liter, V-12 340 America, with which Luigi Villoresi had won the 1951 Mille Miglia. Three bare bones, lightweight 340 coupes were built – s/n 0222 AT, s/n 0224 AT and s/n 0226 AT – and one Barchetta, s/n 0228 AT – all named “Mexico” for the race.
The Ferrari 340 Mexico presented here is chassis no. 0224 AT, the most successful of the cars. All three Vignale coupes were dispatched to Mexico, along with the Barchetta, which did not start the race. S/n 0224 AT would be driven by Luigi Chinetti and Jean Lucas. Chinetti had won the previous year with Piero Taruffi. This year, Villoresi would be in 0222 AT while Ascari would drive 0226 AT.
In addition to being a successful racing driver, Luigi Chinetti’s association with Ferrari was a life-long one. A three-time Le Mans winner, he worked for Enzo Ferrari in France before becoming the general U.S. distributor and being responsible for some of the most extraordinary Ferraris ever built, including the famed 275 N.A.R.T. Spyders.
Ascari’s race was brief but brilliant, lasting barely 50 miles and half an hour, in which time he had passed nine competitors, before losing control on loose gravel and crashing. Villoresi lasted until day three, when he went out with mechanical trouble. It looked as though Mercedes-Benz was going to make it 1-2-3, despite leader Karl Kling hitting a buzzard at 130 mph and smashing his windshield. Herman Lang was in second place and American John Fitch in third. But Fitch was disqualified for allowing a mechanic to touch his car, and Chinetti and Lucas came 3rd in the surviving 340 Mexico – an extraordinary achievement!
Overall, 0224 AT has had a busy and well-documented life. Its engine was built on September 2, 1952, and the chassis was sent to Vignale on September 18, with the car test-driven one month later. Official photos were taken, with temporary Italian license plates “BO 16722.” It was then sold to Franco Cornacchia’s Scuderia Guastalla in Milan and leased to Santiago Ontanon, in Mexico City, for Luigi Chinetti to drive in the 1952 La Carrera.
Still running on the temporary Italian plates, Chinetti and Lucas ran the La Carrera between November 19-23, placing 3rd overall. On April 1, 1953, 0224 AT was sold to Luigi Chinetti Motors in New York City and prepared for the Mille Miglia. Driven by Eugenio Castellotti and Ivo Regosa as #637, it failed to finish.
It is believed but undocumented that in summer of the same year, the car participated in but did not finish the Reims 12-hour race, driven by Phil Hill and Chinetti, who had replaced the injured Bill Spear.
Its next appearance was in August at the Pescara 12-hour race (XX11 Coppa Acerbo) driven by Giovanni Bracco and Roberto Bonomi as #22, using Vicenza dealer plates “VC 31.” Later in 1953 Chinetti added a bump to the front fenders for more tire clearance, and s/n 0224 AT is the only 340 Mexico Coupe to have this feature.
Early in 1954, the car was sold to San Francisco Ferrari dealer Charles Rezzaghi and then advertised for sale in Road & Track by Kjell Qvale. Robert Rice, of Hanford, California, bought 0224 AT that spring, showed it at the 5th Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance in April, then at the Mount Diablo Country Club Concours in May.
Its next outing was a race at Stockton, driven by George Sawyer on March 20, 1955, after which it was returned to Chinetti Motors and sold to Bill Galvin, of Washington D.C., who paid $3,500 and stored it at Rascal’s shop in Glen Cove, Long Island, New York. It seems Mr. Galvin, a defense consultant, bought the car for his wife.
The following owner was Tom Stewart of Waterford West Virginia, who enjoyed 0224 AT for almost 10 years. Stewart, a longtime Lancia collector, conducted extensive engine and mechanical work on the car over the course of his ownership.
In 1965 Carl Bross purchased the car from Stewart for the princely sum of $4,500. Bross owned Orange Blossom Diamond Ring Company and had owned a number of significant Ferraris in the 1950s. In 1967 the car was in Kirk White’s shop in Pennsylvania before being sold the same year to Everett Calvin Gleason in Detroit, Michigan. Cal Gleason installed a new interior, paint, trim, single-plate clutch and other items. Gleason drove 0224 AT to the FCA meet at the Indianapolis Speedway in 1968.
Publicity followed and s/n 0224 AT’s next appearance was on the cover of Road & Track in May of 1969. Then in 1971, Gleason sold it to Dean Batchelor in Reno, Nevada, an early hot rodder and Bonneville Salt Flat racer. Batchelor kept 0224 AT until 1975 when he sold it to Harley Cluxton of Scottsdale, Arizona, who promptly sold it to John Robertson of Big Fork, Montana.
At last its travels ended in 1979, when Robertson sold 0224 AT to Larry Nicklin in Leo, Indiana, the present owner of this historic race car. Please see the preceding pages for a short biography of Mr. Nicklin. In fact, Robertson – a young, wealthy enthusiast – sold 0224 AT in order to take a two-year world cruise on his sailboat. He had particularly good taste in cars, as he also owned three Lamborghinis, a GT40 Spyder and a NART 365 Daytona.
Mr. Nicklin was no stranger to 340 Mexico ownership. Years earlier, as a student in California, he saw such a car pictured in a magazine. As only four cars were ever built, it was surely unlikely he’d ever bump into one accidentally. But that’s precisely what happened – years later, while driving down the famed Woodward Avenue in Detroit, he spotted distinctive fenders poking out of a garage. As luck would have it, this 340 Mexico was 0226 AT, which he later bought and sold before acquiring 0224 AT from Robertson.
One of many interesting stories occurred in May 1981. Nicklin was pulled over by a trooper, who clocked him at 85 mph. As his daughter Jennie Anne Nicklin wrote years later for Prancing Horse magazine, “Larry had been on a test-drive with Dave Palmeter, the goal of which was to reach 100 mph.” Fortunately Mr. Nicklin only received a written warning, even though the car was devoid of tags and the necessary documentation wasn’t in the car!
Since then the car has been displayed in the Auburn-Cord-Duesenberg Museum in Auburn, Indiana. It has also been featured in Cavallino magazine #51 in July 1989, included in Lee Beck’s book Ferrarissima in 1990 and displayed in Ken Behring’s Blackhawk Museum in Danville, California in April 1994.
As presented, 0224 AT is an extraordinary car, carefully preserved and still retaining its original engine. For racing and Ferrari enthusiasts, it has all the desirable requirements – successful period racing history, eligibility for the world’s most desirable events (Mille Miglia included), well-known provenance (only 10 owners from new, including Cluxton), rarity and a light, attractive body combined with Lampredi-designed V-12, capable of stunning performance.
Perhaps Mr. Nicklin said it best – “It is as much fun as I’ve ever had in the car collecting world.”
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