Note: Full Photo Gallery At The Bottom Of This Article
The car detailed here, one that we restored in Panorama City in the late 80’s, is one of three 1952 Ferrari 340 Mexico Carrera Panamericana Vignale Berlinettas (there were four built in total, one was a Vignale Spyder, all designed by Giovanni Michelotti for Coachbuilder Vignale) built specifically for the Mexican road race and most famously driven (and crashed) in period by Phil Hill and a young Richie Ginther. The 340 used a 4.1 L Lampredi V12 engine producing around 280bhp and was comprised of aluminum panels, a lightweight with a big engine and power to burn. The chassis number for this vehicle is 0222 AT. The photos you see in this article have probably not been seen outside those who have owned the car and I have my doubts as to whether even they have actually seen all of these photos below, especially the period photos of the 1953 Hill/Ginther driven race.
This road race Ferrari was an early attempt by the prancing horse designers at Vignale led by Michelotti at an aerodynamic lightweight road racer that included some innovative ideas. For instance, the front fender is designed to allow for air flow to cool the brakes. The problem is that at speed the air that is directed along the side of the body is actually dead air, so while an interesting and thoughtful attempt, in practice it didn’t come off as planned. Ferrari didn’t use wind tunnel testing on the 340 Mexico, thus there was no practical data prior to the finished product.
This car was driven by Volloresi and Cornacchi in the 1952 Carrera Panamericana but failed to reach the finish although one of the Ferrari’s finished the race in 3rd. In the 1953 race Phil Hill and Richie Ginther drove this car but sadly they too failed to finish due to what some might call a “mishap”, others a crash…and Phil Hill’s characterization as a race that ended for his 340 Mexico Ferrari due to the locals penchant for enjoying race car wrecks.
To my surprise, Phil told me while I was visiting his shop in the early 1980’s (Hill and Vaughn was another top restoration facility in LA at the time) that the locals watching the races thought that the best way to see wrecks was to change and/or remove road signs. Nice, right? Phil did not recall if the sign was altered or if it was removed altogether in this particular case, but his Ferrari was not the only victim in the location his 1953 Carrera Panamericana journey came to an end. To make matters all the more bitter for Phil was that he was leading the race at the time of the crash.
At the same time that Phil Hill told me about the sign switching and the locals penchant for mischief at the expense of traveling racers, he handed me a present. We were in the process of wrapping up the restoration of the 340 and getting it ready for the show field. Low and behold, out walks Phil with the original rally license plate the car wore in 1953! It was an unexpected and much appreciated surprise and with that the rally plate was reunited with the Ferrari Mexico 340 after four decades apart.
An early customer of mine, Mitch Leland, bought the 340 Mexico for $30,000 in 1981, from Mr. Jeff Lewis. It was decided that we would restore the car to show winning standards and we took it from there doing a complete top to bottom “Body Off” restoration.
The restoration of this unique Ferrari was challenging for myself and my team at Scott Restorations at the time for numerous reasons. It is always a difficult position to be in when restoring a race car where only several were made. As with many restorations we were striving for a show winning standard and doing the work all in one location. At the time there were very few restoration facilities in the world doing the level of work that we were doing and doing it all in house. My reliance for accuracy in the restoration fell on Phil Hill’s recollections, the photos you see in this article and of course the high level of ability of my staff in the shop at the time. This 340 was one of the more difficult restorations I attempted in my locale in Los Angeles and one that I will always remember (though I’d rather forget having 30 cars in restoration at one time which was the case in 1987!). The 340 has been shown many times since we restored it and I am grateful to have been a small part of its life.
Although these 340 Ferrari’s were built for the most grueling of road races, the Mexico unequivocally is an elegant sports car. It combines racing power with elegant Italian Coachbuilder Vignale styling featuring chrome accents on the hood and along the side of the car as well as small fins on the top edge of the rear fenders. Unique to the Mexico are vertical scoops in the doors, which directed air to the rear brakes (this did not work as noted above, but again, innovative). The 340 Mexico participated in a variety of other road races in the early 1950s and it remains as one of the most powerful combinations of beauty and speed that Ferrari ever built.