The Ferrari 196 SP helped set the stage for the great midengine Ferrari sports-racing cars.
The Sports Prototype was the sports-racing car taken to its extreme. These pure-competition machines dropped all pretense of the dual-purpose road-and-race ideal.
Liberated from the commercial motives and regulatory necessities that forced them to link track cars and street machines, manufacturers switched to a design that was required in order to win at the highest levels of competition: the midengine layout.
The movement at Ferrari had its seeds in Formula 1, in the first half of 1958, when a midengine Cooper beat its larger-engine Ferrari rivals at Buenos Aires and Monaco.
The benefits of placing the engine behind the driver to provide greater cornering power were obvious to Ferrari chief engineer Carlo Chiti. But Enzo Ferrari was a traditionalist at heart, and he resisted. It took three years of lobbying from Chiti and others, including designer Vittorio Jano, to get The Old Man to consent to a midengine design.
The Ferrari 196 SP was the first sports prototype, with no accompanying road model.
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Finally, in 1961, the company unveiled its first midengine sports-racer, the Ferrari 246 SP, for Sports Prototype. Its open body was developed in the wind tunnel and clothed an all-indepen-dent suspension with inboard brakes. In a nest of tubes behind the two-seat cockpit was a 2.4-liter V-6 with double overhead cams and a five-speed gearbox in unit with the differential.
Despite its sleek-looking skin, the track tests proved the shape unstable. Driver Richie Ginther concluded it could be improved by the addition of a small rear spoiler. This was the first use of the appendage in a competition car, and the results were dramatic. Within weeks, the Ferrari 246 SP would win Sicily’s grueling Targa Florio in the hands of Olivier Gendebien and Wolfgang von Trips. It later placed third at Germany’s Nurburgring, another course known for its numerous tight turns.
Development of the SP continued full pace in 1962 with several variations. Coachwork was revised in accordance with new FIA regulations to create a series of nearly identical-looking SPs with a parade of engines that gave them different designations: a 1.9-liter V-6 (196 SP), a 2.4-liter V-8 (248 SP), a 2.6-liter V-8 (268 SP), and a 2.8-liter V-6 (286 SP).
The Ferrari 196 SP took second in the Targa Florio with Lorenzo Bandini and Giancarlo Baghetti, and won the inaugural European Championship for Mountain Driving. The updated-coachwork Ferrari 246 fared even better, winning the Targa Florio (Gendebien/Ricardo Rodriguez/Willy Mariesse) and at the Nurburgring (Phil Hill/Gendebien). The stage was thus set for Ferrari’s midengine V-12 Sports Prototypes, which would appear in 1963.
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