11 - 12 May 2012
1957 Ferrari 625 TRC Spider
Sold for €5.040.000
- Chassis no. 0680 MDTR
• One of only two stunning, factory-built 625 TRCs ever built; fully documented provenance
• Bought new by famed racing driver and pioneering American Ferrari importer, John von Neumann
• Successful period and vintage-racing history, including such luminaries as Richie Ginther
• Single ownership in California for over 30 years; expertly restored and race-ready
• Accompanied by original, very rare, matching numbers Type 625 2.5-litre Ferrari racing engine
To call Ferrari’s TRC for 1957 “one of the prettiest Ferraris built”, as preeminent Ferrari historian Richard F. Merritt put it, is surely an understatement. It is a design without fault—a timeless, downright breath-taking execution of Italian motoring passion, married to one of the greatest sports racing chassis of all time, and in this particular car, complemented by an aggressively unmistakable, shiver-inducing exhaust note that the trained Ferrarista’s ear will immediately peg as that of a proper “Testa Rossa”.
Ferrari Importer Extraordinaire
John von Neumann’s life story was the stuff of adolescent fantasy. Born to an Austrian family, he arrived in the U.S. as a student in 1939, joining the military during wartime and promptly beginning his sports car racing career, associating with the future ‘who’s who’ of Southern California’s car culture and co-founding the California Sports Car Club. While he ramped up his dealership activities on the West Coast with his wife Eleanor, importing the most famous (and, decades later, priceless!) European sports cars from Porsches to Ferraris, he continued his successful international racing career. On the dealership side, a young Richie Ginther helped him manage Ferrari Representatives of California, and indeed, his influence on Ferrari history cannot be underestimated.
The Ferrari on offer stands in a class all its own. Offered from single ownership for the past 30-plus years, its presentation at auction may very well be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. It is one of only two 2.5-litre 625 TRCs ever built by Ferrari, each specifically ordered by the larger-than-life West Coast Ferrari distributor Johnny von Neumann.
According to Bill Rudd, crew chief Harold Broughton and others, the 625 TRC was von Neumann’s favourite Ferrari, partly because of its superior handling—this from a man who owned a pontoon-fendered Testa Rossa, nearly 10 four-cylinder Ferraris in all, Porsche 550 Spyders and every other imaginable world-class sports car. In fact, the December 1957 edition of Road & Track asserted, “both von Neumann and Ginther say that [the 625 TRC] is the best handling and easiest of all Ferraris to drive in a race”.
Chassis 0680 MDTR is highly documented with complete history from new. It is the ninth of only 19 TRCs of all kinds built by Ferrari in total for 1957, including the Type 500 cars. Completed on 26 June 1957, it was finished in Dark Grey Metallic with a Maroon Stripe and purchased the following month, along with its sister car 0672 MDTR, by von Neumann.
Although 0680 MDTR raced mainly in California, its first two outings were in Europe, after von Neumann personally collected it from the Ferrari factory. He first took it to Salzburg, Austria in August, 1957, where he competed in the famed Gaisberg hill climb (“Grosser Bergpreis von Östererreich”), winning his class in only the car’s first outing. The incredibly fast and agile Ferrari performed equally well in Switzerland, finishing second in the Grosser Bergpreis der Schweiz in Tiefencastel-Lenzerheide in central Switzerland. Extraordinary period images attest to this car’s successful early outings, as it powered up the mountain, leaving Maseratis, Porsches and other Ferraris in its wake.
Having conquered its Alpine competition, 0680 MDTR was transported to California, where Appendix C rules did not yet apply. The car was modified during September/October 1957 with a single wraparound windscreen and metal tonneau cover. Its first race in the U.S. was at the very first race held at the famed Laguna Seca race track, which had been built for 1957 after the Pebble Beach road races were deemed too dangerous. Again, von Neumann skilfully piloted this car to a podium finish, 2nd, once again.
It raced nine more times during the remainder of 1957 and 1958 at Pebble Beach, Pomona, Hawaii and Santa Barbara, with von Neumann scoring two victories and three podiums during this prolific period. Other notable race outings include Laguna Seca on 15 June 1958, with future Ferrari Formula 1 driver Richie Ginther winning with 0680 MDTR. Josie von Neumann, the daughter of John and Eleanor and an accomplished racer in her own right, drove 0680 MDTR at the Vaca Valley SCCA National race in October, 1958, finishing 5th overall and 1st in class. Surely the arrival of the grey-liveried, von Neumann-entered 625 TRC at any start/finish line on the West Coast must have utterly disappointed the competition.
The 625 TRC was raced by John von Neumann at Pomona on 1 February 1959. On 26 April, Richie Ginther, the reigning 1958 Pacific Coast Sports Car champion, drove the Ferrari to a fifth-place finish at Avandaro, Mexico. Unfortunately, and despite all the success on both road and track, von Neumann’s marriage came to an end and the Ferrari dealership was sold. As such, 0680 MDTR was sold without an engine to successful owner-driver Stan Sugarman in Phoenix, Arizona, who had just sold his Maserati Birdcage.
A Chevrolet V-8 and a Borg-Warner four-speed gearbox were installed while in Sugarman’s ownership in 1960. 0680 MDTR was often driven in qualifying races by Jim Connor and handed over to car owner Sugarman for main events. The duo frequently placed on the podium in the races they entered. In fact, the car’s provenance is well documented throughout the 1960s as its owners successfully campaigned the car in and around the West Coast.
Single Ownership for Three Decades
Between 1969 and 1978, the car passed through a known succession of owners until Phil Sledge sold it to Bob Taylor. In 1981, 0680 MDTR was acquired from Mr. Taylor by the current owner, who commissioned its restoration, which was performed during 1982 and 1983 by David McCarthy at Phil Reilly in Corte Madera, California, where a Ferrari V-12 engine to Testa Rossa specification was fitted, and the car was painted red and fitted with a full-width windscreen.
Following its restoration, 0680 MDTR was shown at Pebble Beach in 1985, where none other than Jackie Stewart introduced the car to the hundreds of onlookers as “a car that has quite a record behind it. Many west coast races. Von Neumann himself drove it”. The roar of the V-12 engine was greeted by applause on the 18th green at Pebble Beach, from where the car resumed its competition career the same year at the prestigious Monterey Historic Automobile Races. (Extraordinary period video captures this event and is available for review by interested parties upon request or on RM’s website.) In fact, the dedicated owner has returned to Laguna Seca for this event annually ever since, except for 2002 and 2010. Notably, 0680 MDTR finished most often ahead of the pontoon-fendered Testa Rossas in attendance.
In all, the current owner raced 0680 MDTR on 113 occasions during a post-restoration vintage-racing career even more prolific than the car’s extensive period racing history.
What’s more, the car competed in the Ferrari Maserati Historic Challenge and was entered in a number of classic touring events. In 1999, at the 25th annual edition of the Monterey Historic Races, the 625 TRC won the Chopard Award for Presentation and Performance. In 2005, the Ferrari returned to the show field with another appearance at the Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance.
Most recently, the Ferrari V-12 engine was completely rebuilt and fitted with new cylinder heads by world renowned noted Ferrari expert Patrick Ottis prior to the 2011 Monterey Historic Races. The brakes were also serviced with a rebuild of the brake hydraulic system and new carbon-fibre brake-shoe linings.
The car is powerful yet flexible and non-temperamental, harkening back to the long-lost era when high-performance cars were driven to the track, raced all-out and then driven back home afterward. It is most enjoyable and exhilarating in both environments today. With known history from new, 0680 MDTR has enjoyed coverage in several publications, including the 1957 Ferrari Yearbook and several editions of Cavallino, as well as such books as American Sports Car Racing in the 1950s and Antoine Prunet's Ferrari: Sports Racing and Prototype Competition Cars.
Professionally maintained, both cosmetically and mechanically, 0680 MDTR is in excellent condition. As the owner stated,
Every year I buttoned the car up for the winter, drained the fluids, covered it snugly and completely such that its shape did not even show. Then months later when spring came around, and I'd pull all the covers off and see the car gleaming there in its sleek curves, even after 30 years of owning it, driving it, touching it, and looking at it, I would be astounded all over again at how beautiful it was. Then I would open the door, slip into the corduroy seat, turn on the ignition and fuel pump, give the 6 Webers a few pumps of the gas pedal, and push the starter button. Blam! It jumps to life, with that gorgeous smooth ripping sound of the V12 that is never ear-splitting, while at the same instant you not only hear it, but you also feel it, as it resonates and vibrates in your chest and body as well as your ears.
Perhaps most attractively, 0680 MDTR is offered at auction with its original, matching numbers 2.5-litre Ferrari Type 625 LM racing engine, which since its separation from its original chassis over 50 years ago, led an interesting life of its own, passing through Luigi Chinetti and on to Pete Lovely, who installed it in a Cooper Formula One racing car. Now, decades later, the remarkable original engine, which is exceptionally rare and desirable in its own right, has been reunited with its chassis to complement the prodigious power of the V-12 currently in the car.
As such, the possibilities for this Ferrari are virtually limitless. The new owner may choose to thoroughly enjoy the V-12 engine car as is or utilize its original four-cylinder motor and with relatively little effort, refinish the car in its original grey livery with dual hood bulges, thereby returning it to its von Neumann-era appearance and surely delighting the judges and fellow drivers at future Pebble Beach, Le Mans Classic or Mille Miglia retrospectives and concours events.
With an incredibly rich and highly documented provenance to match, potential interested parties should see an RM representative to view the extensive history file, containing restoration receipts, historical images, vintage magazine articles and even period video.