1956-1966 Ferrari Superamerica and Superfast

The 1954 375 America preceded the Superamerica. See more classic car pictures.

The 1956-1966 Ferrari Superamerica and Superfast have been referred to as "the ultimate street Ferraris" by automotive historian Richard M. Langworth, who described them as "monstrously powerful and blindingly fast." These legendary cars are highly prized today.

The final model of the series, the 500 Superfast, has been called the "Ferrari 'Royale' " by Ferrari expert and author Antoine Prunet, who is of course referring to the huge and grand Bugatti Royale.

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These large and luxurious (at least by Ferrari standards) Ferraris became legendary in their own time, but it's doubtful that Enzo Ferrari would have built them had certain circumstances not come together, among them a perceived need for a Ferrari for American driving conditions and a desire to expand the line.

Most car companies -- even the builders of limited-production high-performance cars -- broaden their model bases when possible to cover as much of the market as considered desirable by management. Different philosophies emerge, with some companies seeming to think in broader terms than others. Consider the fairly wide views of Porsche, BMW, and Mercedes-Benz compared to the narrower approaches of Aston Martin and Lamborghini.

Considering its size, Ferrari built an amazing variety of model types in the early 1950s, with engines that ranged in size and configuration from a 4.5-liter V-12 to a 2.0-liter four. It offered a number of cars with Gioacchino Colombo-designed V-12 engines -- the 2.0-liter 166, the 2.3-liter 195, the 2.6-liter 212, and the 3.0-liter 250.

This 1954 Ferrari 375 America is powered by the 60-degree Lampredi V-12 mated with a four-speed manual transmission.

Aurelio Lampredi-designed V-12s powered the 250, the 4.0 Miter 340, the 4.1-liter 342 (25 cc more displacement than the 340), and the 4.5-liter 375. Concurrently, Lampredi-designed engines could be found in the 500 (2.0-liter four), the 625 (2.5-liter four), the 750 (3.0-liter four), the 860 (3.5-liter four), the 118 (3.75-liter six), and the 121 (4.4-liter six).

The majority of Ferrari's cars in the early 1950s were competition machines, but Luigi Chinetti, Ferrari distributor for the United States, had been trying to convince Enzo Ferrari to build a road car with a bigger engine -- one that would appeal to American buyers.

In those days, drivers of Chrysler hemis and Oldsmobile 88 Rockets reigned as kings of the American road, at least in standing start acceleration and in speed (over a straight road). Chinetti argued forcibly that while an MG owner might brag about handling, an easy-shifting four-speed manual transmission, and good brakes, someone who had just paid the far side of $12,000 for his sleek Italian steed couldn't use that sort of rationalization after an American "barge" had just left him standing at a stop light.

To see how these discussions resulted in changes for the 1956 Ferrari, continue to the next page.

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Changes to the 1956 Ferrari

The Ferrari 410 Superfast was first seen on the Pinin Farina stand at the 1956 Paris Auto Show.
The Ferrari 410 Superfast was first seen on the Pinin Farina stand at the 1956 Paris Auto Show.

Ferrari introduced changes to the 1956 Ferrari during the fall of 1955 when it exhibited a new chassis at the Paris Auto Salon in September.

At first glance, it looked much like previous Ferrari efforts, with a large oval-section tubular frame and round-section X-member and cross-members, and independent front suspension with unequal-length A-arms and coil springs, which replaced the transverse leaf that Ferrari had used since 1947. The live rear axle was attached by two semi-elliptic springs, with a pair of parallel trailing arms on each side to absorb acceleration and braking torque.

A closer examination of the chassis, however, revealed that the frame went over the rear axle instead of under, as had been the practice previously. Also, the car was big, taking its 110.2-inch wheelbase from the 250 Europa and 375 America, both of which had just been phased out.

The engine was a new version of the familiar Lampredi V-12 design, developed for Ferrari's grand prix cars in 1951 and used in the sports racers through 1954. Typical of Lampredi's engines, the cylinder head and block on each bank were made as one piece and bolted to the crankcase, with screwed-in cylinder liners sealed at the bottom by O-rings.

The chain-driven single overhead camshaft on each bank operated a single inlet and exhaust valve for each cylinder via rocker arms and roller followers. The inclined valves were closed by two mousetrap springs per valve -- a feature that was common to both Colombo and Lampredi engines at the time. One spark plug per cylinder was fed from a Marelli distributor mounted vertically at the rear of each camshaft, although some later Superamericas had front-mounted distributors.

Based on the 410 Superamerica, the Ferrari 410 Superfast rode on the new, shorter chassis.

Because each cylinder bank had its own ignition system, the engine could be described as two sixes mounted on a single crankcase and sharing a common crankshaft. With a bore and stroke of 88 x 68 mm and a displacement of 4,963 cc, the engine cranked out 340 horsepower at 6,000 rpm, according to factory literature. The compression ratio was only 8.5:1, one of the lowest of all Ferraris.

Power went through a multiple-disc clutch and a four-speed transmission to the rear axle, with several ratios between 3.11:1 and 3.66:1 being offered. Top speed, again according to Ferrari literature, ranged from 137 to 161.5 miles per hour, depending on final gear ratio. Unfortunately, no contemporary road test figures were available to verify or refute the claims.

Assuming that the engine could pull up to redline in top gear, the car would have performed as claimed. The hefty gearboxes installed in the 410 Superamerica had the ability to absorb the tremendous torque, but the clutch was a marginal unit; great care had to be taken to ensure anything close to long clutch life.

The transmission had an unusual shift pattern, whereby reverse, third, and first were placed left to right across the top, and fourth and second were left and right across the bottom -- the H-pattern was a mirror-image of most four-speeds.

For more on the 1956 Ferrari 410 Superamerica, see the next page.

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1956 Ferrari 410 Superamerica

Typical of the first series 410 Superamericas is this two-tone 1956 coupe on a 110.2-inch wheelbase.
Typical of the first series 410 Superamericas is this two-tone 1956 coupe on a 110.2-inch wheelbase.

In January, a complete 1956 Ferrari 410 Superamerica was shown at the Brussels Auto Salon. Bodied by Pinin Farina, it maintained a family resemblance to the smaller 250 GT Ferrari, another Farina design that would be built by Boano and Ellena through 1958.

The main visual difference between the two cars could be seen in the side vents on the front fender flanks of the 410: a rounded trapezoidal shape with four vertical bars within the opening and one horizontal bar starting ahead of the opening and continuing past the vent at the back. And unlike the 250, the 410 body sported slightly flared wheel openings.

Inside, an aluminum-spoked steering wheel with laminated wood rim was typical of contemporary Ferraris. The instruments sat directly in front of the driver, an 8,000-rpm tachometer to the left, a 300-kilometer-per-hour speedometer to the right. Each of them measured almost six inches in diameter, with easy-to-read white numbers on black faces.

Between them was a three-way dial containing fuel level, water temperature, and oil pressure gauges, and a small clock could be found in the center of the dashboard. Full leather trim covered the seats and door panels, and carpeting covered the floor and transmission/driveshaft tunnel, as well as the trunk floor.

The 410 Superamerica faced no direct competition. Visually, it wasn't that much different from a 250 GT, and neither were driver or passenger amenities, but its performance and price put it into a world all its own.

A 250 GT coupe sold for about $12,500 in the U.S. in 1956, big money at a time when a Corvette started at $3,159. But when shown at the New York Auto Show a few weeks after the 410's debut in Brussels, the Superamerica listed for a stratospheric $16,800.

The 1956 Ferrari 410 Superamerica had the advantage of being suitable for distance driving.

Even at that price, the 410 certainly didn't overshadow the 250 GT in acceleration, handling, or braking. The real difference came in the way the performance of the larger V-12 was delivered: slower-revving with high-torque output at low rpm, making the 410 more suitable for cross-country and slower in-town driving than its higher-revving siblings.

That, Chinetti felt, would appeal to the more affluent and often older American driver who might want to indulge himself in an exotic Italian car but wasn't quite ready to meet the demands of a low-torque, high-revving engine. With its eight-inch-longer wheelbase, the overall size of the initial 410 also seemed better suited to the American market in 1956.

Though it's considered ponderous and truck-like by many Ferrari enthusiasts, the Superamerica still had its Ferrari pedigree. It was built for long-distance touring and could cover vast expanses with exceptional ease.

During the first year of 410 production (the word "production" being used rather loosely here) -- between late 1955 and late 1956 -- only about 14 cars were built. Nine or 10 of them were similar to the car shown at Brussels in early 1956, but each had minor differences.

For more on the 1956 Ferrari Superamerica body, see the next page.

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1956 Ferrari 410 Superamerica Body

The Ghia-designed 1956 Ferrari Superamerica featured astonishingly high rear fins.
The Ghia-designed 1956 Ferrari Superamerica featured astonishingly high rear fins.

One 1956 Ferrari 410 Superamerica body was created by Ghia -- a creation of chief designer Mario Savonuzzi, who had penned the Chrysler "Gilda" and "Dart" show cars and to which the Ghia 410 bore a strong resemblance.

Unfortunately, it was not generally regarded as one of the better-looking Ferrari Superamericas because of its sharply pointed fins that towered almost a foot and a half above the rear fender line. Its massive rear bumper, which looked as though it came straight out of Detroit, didn't help either.

The car also featured a wraparound windshield, as was the vogue in the mid-1950s, complete with a lower rear corner dogleg that bruised many a drivers' knees.

The Ghia-designed Superamerica had a wraparound windshield and distinctive nose shape.

A newly established carrozzeria in Turin, Italy, built two bodies for the 410 -- a coupe and a convertible coupe. The firm was founded by Mario Boano and his son Gian Paolo, both of whom had recently left Ghia.

Their designs for the 410 also smacked of 1950s American car styling and wore the then-fashionable rear fender fins. While not as high as those on the Ghia car, they curved dramatically outward at the rear like the wake of a speedboat.

The coupe even featured a split rear window, this some seven years before Corvette adopted one for the 1963 Sting Ray, although the Boano design was on a notchback rather than a fastback.

The Boano-designed 1956 Ferrari Superamerica body took inspiration from mid-1950s Detroit.

Pinin Farina stole the show at the Paris Salon in 1956 with his 410 Superfast design. He covered the headlights with plastic fairings and adorned the rear fenders with fins that ended in sharp points at the rear.

The front fender air outlets were simplified by having no grille work, and the top had no windshield pillars. Front and rear protection was furnished only by a pair of vertical bumperettes with rubber inserts.

The chassis of the car measured eight inches shorter than the other 410s, though the shortening wasn't particularly obvious. The car made the rounds at the more important European auto shows that season, then was sold to American oil man Bill Doheny, but not before windshield posts were added to support the front of the roof.

See the next page for information about the 1957 and 1958 Ferrari Superamerica and Superfast.

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1957 and 1958 Ferrari Superamerica and Superfast

Note the side vents on this 1957 Superamerica; they varied a bit from car to car.
Note the side vents on this 1957 Superamerica; they varied a bit from car to car.

When 410 production started again for the 1957 and 1958 Ferrari Superamerica and Superfast, the cars had the 102.4-inch wheelbase as seen on the Superfast in 1956.

Body configuration continued as on previous Farina-built models, and the shorter wheelbase usually went unnoticed (the length reduction having been taken out of the doors). Seven of the "standard" Farina-designed models were produced, with minor variations between them.

Two special second series 410s were also built -- one a tail-finned, somewhat rounded coupe by Scaglietti, the other a second Superfast by Pinin Farina.

The former used a stainless-steel top and strutted enough chrome trim to be unusual for both Scaglietti and Ferrari. The overall shape wasn't bad, but the use of two-tone paint in addition to the excess brightwork made the final result questionable to some.

Inside the 1957 Superamerica, the driver faced a big speedometer and tachometer; the auxiliary gauges were mounted in the center of the dash.

The second Superfast wore a front end treatment similar to that of the first but did not share its rear fenders. That car, sold to American Jan de Vroom after the 1957 Turin Auto Show, was the subject of a road test by Sports Cars Illustrated for its September 1958 issue. It flew through the quarter mile in 13.9 seconds with a terminal speed of 108 mph, making it the fastest car the magazine had ever tested.

The Paris Auto Salon in October 1958 saw the third series Ferrari 410 Superamerica make its debut. It had received changes to the engine, transmission, brakes, and body design. Spark plugs, for example, moved from inside the V to outside the heads, adopting the setup used in the Testa Rossa.

Also, a higher 9.0:1 compression ratio boosted horsepower to 360 at 7,000 rpm. Brake drums with bigger diameters came straight from the latest Ferrari sports racing cars, and the new four-speed used a normal "H" shift pattern.

Pinin Farina's body design bore a slight resemblance to the 1956 Superfast, but was more practical from the standpoint of everyday use. The headlights sported curved clear plastic covers, while the radiator opening forsook the flattened ellipse seen on previous Superamericas. In fact, the front end looked more like a California Spyder than it did a Superamerica.

This 410 Ferrari Superamerica was the Geneva and Turin show car in 1957.

A sculpture line ran from the top of the front wheel arch, curving slightly down to the rear wheel opening, and the side air outlet grilles on the front fenders had five vertical slats and three horizontal bars. The rear end of the new 410 boasted a design that Farina would also use on the 1959-1961 250 GT coupes.

The greenhouse looked lighter, having large quarter windows behind the doors, which had no vent wings, and a smaller non-wraparound rear window. The 410 seen at Paris was painted in a two-tone color scheme, but the same car arrived at the Turin show a few weeks later in solid dark green metallic.

To follow the Ferrari Superamerica and Superfast into 1959, continue on to the next page.

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1959 Ferrari Superamerica and Superfast

The third series Superamerica entered production in 1959 but would soon be replaced by a new SA.
The third series Superamerica entered production in 1959 but would soon be replaced by a new SA.

When the third series Superamerica entered production early in 1959, the rear quarter window had been replaced by a metal panel with three vertical vent louvers -- like those on the second Superfast of 1957 -- and the vent wings were back.

Approximately 12 to 15 of the third series cars were built in 1959 (no one seems to know the exact number), all bodied by Pinin Farina. Like the previous versions, they were basically alike but with minor detail and trim variations. The last four or five produced apparently had a more conventional headlight treatment without the clear plastic covers.

A strange-looking Superamerica showed up at the 1959 Turin show, the first, apparently, of the upcoming 400 series. Its body was rather plain looking and squared-off, featuring a large, square grille filled by a very fine eggcrate insert. It also featured quad headlights -- another copy of an American styling craze.

This odd-looking Ferrari Superamerica was displayed at the 1959 Turin show.

The greenhouse looked very light because of a wraparound windshield and thin B pillar behind the door. This airy top design and large glass area might have looked good on some cars, but on the Superamerica's heavy and ponderous body it looked out of place.

The car was sold to Gianni Agnelli (later to head Fiat), and eventually found its way to America, where it was donated to the William F. Harah Automobile Foundation in a sad state of repair. It had been crashed, and the entire front end sheet metal along with the windshield needed replacement.

The new 400 Superamerica differed significantly from its predecessor, even to the way it received its model designation. Up through the 410, the numbers represented the displacement for each cylinder in cubic centimeters, rounded off to the nearest 10. Thus, a 250 V-12 displaced 3,000 cc, the 410 -- actually, about 413 -- almost 5,000 cc. For the first time in Ferrari history, starting with the 400, the number indicated the displacement in deciliters -- about 4,000 cc total, rounded off.

Final 1959 Superamericas featured a conventional headlight treatment without the clear plastic covers.

For the 400, Ferrari abandoned the use of the long-block Lampredi V-12. Instead, the car was powered by a development of the Colombo design that dated back to 1947. It placed the plugs on the outside of the V and used coil valve springs instead of hairpin springs.

The multiple-disc clutch of the 410 was replaced by a single dry-plate clutch, and the four-speed transmission now had a British Laycock de Normanville electrically actuated overdrive behind the gearbox. The wheelbase had changed, too, from the 410's 102.4 inches to 95.3 inches. Also, the lever-action hydraulic shock absorbers were replaced by Koni telescopic units, and four-wheel Dunlop disc brakes became standard.

To follow the Superamerica and Superfast story from 1960 to 1963, continue on to the next page.

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1960, 1961, 1962, and 1963 Ferrari Superamerica and Superfast

This is the first production 400 SA, seen in Brussels and New York in early 1960.
This is the first production 400 SA, seen in Brussels and New York in early 1960.

The Ferrari Superamerica and Superfast went through plenty of changes from 1960 to 1963, beginning with a new model. The 400 Superamerica bowed at the Brussels Auto Salon in January 1960. It boasted new styling, a Colombo-designed V-12, and a shortened wheelbase.

The car shown, a two-place cabriolet by Pininfarina (the name was legally changed to one word in 1960), made a further departure from the past.

Ferrari claimed 400 horsepower at 7,000 rpm, but that seems unlikely since the last 410 was also rated at 400 horsepower (at 6,500 rpm), and that with an extra liter of displacement. The Colombo-based engine, unlike that of the 410, had removable cylinder heads.

Six cabriolets were built in 1960 -- all virtually identical, except for one Speciale, which had faired-in headlights like a Spyder California. A removable hardtop was offered and several of the open cars were so equipped.

At the Turin show in 1960, Superfast II made its first public outing. Ferrari boasted that the aerodynamic body design had been created in a wind tunnel. Its shape, reminiscent of a fat airplane wing, featured headlights that retracted into the nose of the body.

Superfast II was first seen at the Turin Salon in 1960.

In the winter of 1961-1962, a hood scoop was added, the rear fender skirts were removed, and the headlights moved into the front of the fenders to be covered by curved plastic. The revised body became the "standard" 400 Superamerica.

Superfast III made its initial appearance at the Geneva Salon in March 1962. It reverted back to wearing rear fender skirts and using retractable headlights, featured a more open greenhouse, and had a thermostatically controlled radiator cover.

Superfast IV appeared soon after III, with the general look of its predecessor but now with four headlights minus the covers. In view of the fact that Superfast II has disappeared, Ferrari historians believe that IV was probably built on the II chassis. Never shown, Superfast IV was later sold in the U.S.

The four-eyed Superfast IV of 1962 was shown with and without the hood scoop.

At the end of 1962, the Superamerica saw some significant changes. The wheelbase was lengthened to the same 102.4 inches of the earlier Superamerica, with the extra length devoted to luggage capacity; no 2+2 version was ever seen.

The hood air scoop disappeared, and the last examples had a simple bulge to cover the carburetors. The rear fender skirts were gone for good. When the 400 Superamerica went out of production at the end of 1963, about 19 cars had been built through the year, including several cabriolets.

The coupe version of the 400 was referred to in factory literature was the "PF coupe Aerodinamico." Total production of the 400 amounted to about 48 cars, built between late 1959 and 1963.

See the next page for details on the 1964, 1965, and 1966 Superamerica and Superfast.

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1964, 1965, and 1966 Ferrari Superamerica and Superfast

For the 400 Superamerica, Ferrari shed the Lampredi V-12 in favor of a Colombo-based V-12.
For the 400 Superamerica, Ferrari shed the Lampredi V-12 in favor of a Colombo-based V-12.

Changes happened quickly for the 1964, 1965, and 1966 Ferrari Superamerica and Superfast. Less than two months passed between delivery of the last 400 in January 1964 and the presentation of its replacement -- the 500 Superfast -- at the Geneva Salon in March 1964.

Similarities could be found between the 400 and 500 in overall body configuration, although the new car had less surface embellishment and was not as interesting aesthetically. The headlights were in the more normal style and not covered as before, and the rear of the body sported a chopped-off Kamm-type tail.

The engine stood out as the car's unique feature by using the long block typical of the Lampredi engines but with removable cylinder heads like the Colombo engines. The 88 x 68-mm bore and stroke resulted in a displacement of 4,962 cc, so the 500 designation came from its displacement figured in deciliters. The engine was rated at 400 horsepower at 6,500 rpm, and the transmission remained a four-speed with overdrive.

The first series of 500 Superfast cars, now riding a 104.3-inch wheelbase, numbered about 25 units, built through mid-1966.

The 500 Superfast was built from 1964 to 1966; this is a 1964.

The second series of Superfasts received a number of revisions. Most notably, the four-speed plus overdrive gave way to a genuine fully synchronized five-speed gearbox, and the 11 front fender air outlet louvers were replaced by a panel with three openings. Twelve of the second series cars were built before the 500 Superfast was phased out in 1967.

The large, powerful, and luxurious Ferraris were truly the "Super" cars of the line, totally justifying their Superamerica and Superfast designations. Their very size and weight, however, rendered them less enjoyable to drive than the smaller Ferraris, at least for true enthusiasts.

But the buyer of a Super series car was not perceived as an enthusiast anyway. The car made for excellent long distance cruising, albeit with limited luggage capacity and none of the familiar creature comforts such as air conditioning, automatic transmission, or cruise control -- items that were becoming necessities for the affluent American buyer in the 1950s and 1960s.

Since the 400 Superamericas were custom built, buyers could, and did, individualize them.

With total production numbering a few more than 100, the Supers' sales possibilities were limited. However, they probably did as well as Enzo Ferrari had expected or wanted. He was busy with more important things, after all -- like winning races.

The Superamerica and the Superfast justified their names because they were the "Super" cars of the Ferrari line. They've always been collectible, but Ferrari prices are soaring these days.

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