1971 Ferrari 512 M D.Piper

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The 1970 season saw the Ferrari 512S capture just one championship victory (Sebring), three second places (Monza, Spa, Targa Florio) and a long list of DNFs. Ferrari tried a Coupé and a Spyder model as well as the Le Mans-only Coda Lunga (longtail) to no avail. Il Commendatore even allowed John Surtees to come back and drive (after their monumental break-up a few years before) as long as he could write him a report on the car…

Probably the biggest mishap of the year was the Le Mans collision where the mighty 4-car team portraited in Mc Queen’s movie lost 3 of its entries after less than 3 hours of race (as well as destroying one of the Filipinetti 512s in the process). A very unfortunate Jacky Ickx accident would take out the 4thFerrari later on. From the seven private entries only two would finish in 4thand 5th place : the NART and Francorchamps entries. A 512S would also manage to win the non-championship Kyalami 9 Hours with Ickx-Giunti in what would become the last success ever of a Ferrari 512.

Mauro Forghieri, team manager at Ferrari at the time, knew too well that the car had clear aerodynamic shortcomings so a special development team was eventually dedicated to improve the 512S, although it was late in the season to change the Porsche winning sequence. Nevertheless the brand new 512M managed to hit the track on time for the last championship race at the Österreichring where it led, set the fastest lap…and retired with electrical problems.

Not a good omen for the “M” (modificata) version which would have to defend Ferrari’s honor in 1971 only in the hands of privateers since the Scuderia wanted to concentrate in the upcoming 3-litre car for 1972. The year started very promising however with a very strong performance at Daytona from a Roger Penske-run blue and yellow 512M in the hands of Mark Donohue and David Hobbs. Even when a night crash delayed them for over an hour they managed a 3rd place just behind another 512M, the Bucknum-Adamowicz NART car.

Penske and his team had completely revamped the 512M implementing many fundamental modifications but that would unfortunately not materialize in results. The DNFs piled up again and besides Daytona a very modest 3rd at Le Mans by one of the NART cars was the best that the 512M could manage. For the La Sarthe classic there was even a unique 512F variant developed by Mike Parkes and run by Scuderia Filipinetti. The slightly modified car was driven by Parkes and Henri Pescarolo but, like other seven 512s, did not manage to finish the race.

 

This car is a David Piper’s entry for the 1971 Le Mans 24 Hours, a 512M driven by Chris Craft and David Weir

A 512M was also the car on which Pedro Rodríguez had the accident that eventually costed him his life during a second rank Interserie race at the Norisring, a huge loss for endurance racing and a sad end for the 512 model. As the story goes Ferrari went on to win everything but Le Mans with the follower of the 512, the 312PB. This 3 litre open prototype was engineered to win and was more of a Formula 1 car with a cover that delivered many victories to the Scuderia in its last years of involvement with endurance racing.
But from my perspective the 512 was the last great prototype of Ferrari, the weapon for the last battle of the giants with Porsche and the last car to inherit the tradition of the classical Ferrari road racing cars from decades past. And maybe that is the very reason why every single time I watch the “Le Mans” movie I am secretly hoping that Michael Delaney won’t succeed blocking Ferrari number 8 this time around and a red long-tailed 512S will finally win the 24 Hours.

Bibliography: Ferrari 512 – Nathan Beehl, Scarlet Passion – Anthony Pritchard, own archive.

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