The Ferrari 250 Testa Rossa was one of history’s greatest racing cars. Its various iterations helped Ferrari win four Constructors Sports World Championships. And its four wins at Le Mans included the last victory for a front-engine car at the Sarthe circuit.
The Ferrari 250 Testa Rossa dominated nearly every race in which it competed.
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Development of the Ferrari TR began in 1957, likely as a reaction to a rules change under consideration by the FIA. Ferrari, Aston Martin, Jaguar, and particularly Maserati were making ever-faster, more-powerful sports-racers, and the horrendous Pierre Levegh crash two years earlier at Le Mans was still a fresh wound.
When the FIA announced a 3.0-liter limit for the top echelon of sports-racers competing for the 1958 championship; Ferrari was ready. His successes with 3.0-liter spyders and berlinettas stretched back to the Ferrari 250 S, and recently included the TdF.
So in the first half of 1957, a 3.0-liter V-12 was installed in a chassis similar to that of the Ferrari 500 TRC and 290 MM. As with the four-cylinder engines in the 500 TR and TRC, Ferrari painted the valve covers red. Instead of just TR initials, however, he bestowed upon his new sports-racer the full “Ferrari 250 Testa Rossa” name.
The prototype of this Ferrari 250 Testa Rossa made its racing debut in the 1,000 kilometers at Germany’s demanding Nurburgring, where it finished 10th overall. A second prototype ran as high as second at Le Mans before retiring. The two prototypes finished 1957 placing third and fourth at Venezuela.
Those results convinced Ferrari of the model’s potential, and rightly so. In 1958, factory-team Ferrari 250 Testa Rossas captured for Maranello its third consecutive Constructors Sports World Championship, winning four of that year’s six endurance races. Outright victories included Le Mans (Olivier Gendebien and Phil Hill driving), the Sebring 12 Hours (Peter Collins and Hill), and the Targa Florio (Luigi Musso and Gendebien).
Designed and built by Scaglietti, the body of this Ferrari 250 Testa Rossa 58 was a masterpiece in its originality, and was especially notable for its distinctive pontoonlike front fenders. The Ferrari 250 Testa Rossa 58 was among the coachbuilder’s very favorite cars.
“Formula 1 was the inspiration for its shape,” Sergio Scaglietti explained. “There were pods on the sides of the F1 cars, and while I wouldn’t call them aerodynamic, they went well. We used a similar idea by designing the body to bring air in towards the brakes to cool them. In many ways the Ferrari 250 Testa Rossa was a Formula 1 car with fenders.”
For ’59, Scaglietti was occupied with Ferrari’s burgeoning order bank for Ferrari 250 berlinettas and Spyder Californias. So the Ferrari 250 Testa Rossa was redesigned by Pinin Farina but built by Medardo Fantuzzi. Another of Modena’s talented craftsmen, Fantuzzi had a coachbuilding business inside the Maserati works, his main client. When Maserati withdrew from F1 and endurance racing in 1958, Fantuzzi moved off-site and soon picked up Ferrari.
The Ferrari 250 Testa Rossa 59 had an all-enclosed body and was undoubtedly more aerodynamic than its pontoon-fender predecessor. It was also about 100 pounds lighter. Mechanical improvements included a new five-speed gearbox in place of a four-speed, a limited slip differential, and disc brakes.
The season was an epic battle between the Ferrari 250 Testa Rossa and Aston Martin’s DBR1. The Ferrari TR 59 won at Sebring and finished in the top five at the Nurburgring and Goodwood in England. But that wasn’t enough to offset the DBR1’s Le Mans win and two other victories. Ferrari lost the constructors championship by two points.
For 1960, Ferrari improved the Ferrari 250 Testa Rossa by shortening the wheelbase, while Fantuzzi gave it lower coachwork and a full windshield to meet new regulations. Gendebien and Paul Frere won Le Mans in this TR 60, leading Ferrari to its sixth Constructors Sports World Championship in eight years.
The 1960 Le Mans race also saw the unveiling of the Ferrari TRI 60. This had a shorter-still wheelbase and the model’s first independent rear suspension. It showed tremendous potential by running in the top five, often second or third, for 16 hours before retiring with gearbox problems.
The Ferrari 250 Testa Rossa was fully redesigned for 1961 with a new aerodynamic shape by Ferrari chief engineer Carlo Chiti. He had come to Ferrari in 1958 from Alfa Romeo. Chiti brought with him a new degree of engineering sophistication, as evidenced by the scale model that was subjected to wind tunnel testing before Fantuzzi finalized the slippery new shape that became the Ferrari TRI 61.
Two TRI 61s were built. Hill and Gendebien won Le Mans and Sebring in one, the other finished second in both those marquee events. Coupled with successes by the Ferrari 250 SWB, Ferrari captured another sports-car world championship.
In 1962, the FIA decided the world championship for makes would be contested by GT cars of no more than 3.0-liters. But it also created a new category that allowed “prototypes” of up to 4.0-liters to run at Sebring, Nurburgring, and Le Mans.
Led by its new Ferrari 250 GTO, Ferrari’s 3.0-liter racers would dominate this Constructors International Grand Touring Championship. But Ferrari couldn’t resist modifying a Ferrari TRI 61 by installing a 4.0-liter V-12, fitting a double wishbone suspension front and rear and slightly modifying the body.
This one-off Ferrari 330 TRI/LM won Le Mans, with Hill and Gendebien leading 19 of the race’s 24 hours on their way to Ferrari’s sixth win there. That victory was a fitting finale to the Ferrari Testa Rossa saga, for it closed the curtain on front-engine winners of world’s most prestigious endurance event.
The Ferrari 250 Testa Rossa's red valve covers gave it the "red head" name.
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