The Ferrari 290 MM marked several turning points in Ferrari history.
Engineer Aurelio Lampredi, the architect of many Ferrari four-cylinder engines and the “long block” V-12, left the company in late 1955 and was replaced by Vittorio Jano. This legendary figure in the automotive world was an extremely gifted engineer Ferrari knew from his prewar days at Alfa Romeo. He came to Ferrari in mid 1956, when Lancia pulled out of racing.
Another change was the return of the V-12 as Ferrari’s powerplant of choice for endurance competition. Engineers Andrea Fraschetti and Vittorio Bellentani worked closely with Jano on the design and development of the Ferrari 290 MM’s engine. The team utilized the best features found in both the Gioachino Colombo V-12 “short blocks” and in Lampredi’s designs.
The resulting 3490cc V-12 had four distributors, two plugs per cylinder as found in Lampredi’s V-12s, and modified connecting rods similar to those in Colombo’s engines. Output was 320 horsepower at 7300 rpm.
Scaglietti made another masterful creation to clothe the Ferrari 290 MM’s tubular frame. His flowing lines, covered headlights, and headrest fairing were styling cues that gave Ferrari as much a “face” during the mid to late 1950s as did Touring’s Ferrari 166 Barchetta in 1949.
The Ferrari 290 MM held the first Ferrari engine developed by Vittorio Jano.
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“Aerodynamics were an important consideration in designing the cars,” Scaglietti said. “The more aerodynamic a car was, the more beautiful it became. We understood that less air underneath made a car go faster.”
And go fast is exactly what the Ferrari 290 MM did. Autosport estimated its top speed at 180 mph, which made the 290 MM a formidable machine. The model retired in its first race at the Tour of Sicily, but was a force for the balance of the ’56 season.
Two 290 MMs were among Ferrari’s five entries in the Mille Miglia. The Maranello cars swept the top five spots in a race run in a torrential downpour. Works driver Eugenio Castellotti took his Ferrari 290 MM to first place overall; its companion finished fourth. A Ferrari 290 MM placed third at Germany’s Nurburgring.
Finally, Frenchman Maurice Trintignant and American Phil Hill won the Swedish Grand Prix for sports cars in a Ferrari 290 MM and were followed to the checkered flag by a second 290 MM. This was the season’s final race and clinched for Ferrari another Constructors Sports World Championship, its third in four years.
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