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18 dicembre 2020

Vincenzo Borgomeo

60 years ago, the President of Fiat had Ferrari build a unique model that combined the discreet elegance of a luxury sedan with the performance of a race car. And thus, the 400 Superamerica was born

As red as the burning fires of passion and as quick as a flash of thought: in the 60s, these were the Ferrari models that everyone dreamed of. Or almost everyone, with just a few exceptions. The most famous of these? Without a doubt, Gianni Agnelli, the president of Fiat and the greatest fan of the Maranello-based Scuderia Ferrari, linked to the Ferrari brand through his sincere friendship with Enzo Ferrari and a great lover of his GT cars; indeed, he had owned many, but never in red. And all unique models, customised by him personally. Or rather, conceived, designed and created in accordance with his instructions. Among the most famous of these is the 166 two-tone Barchetta, the 365P with three seats in a row and the driver’s seat in the centre, the Testarossa spider and the 400 Superamerica - perhaps the most spectacular of all time.

A bit of history: for those in search of a truly distinctive model, Ferrari had created its famous ‘Superamerica’, a very special car with a price tag to match. It had the most powerful engine – the 4000 V12 in the 340 Hp version – and was able to deliver extraordinary performance (265 hours of maximum speed), whilst boasting extremely luxurious fittings. Created in 1959, there were initially only two specimens of the 400 Superamerica produced: a spider inspired by the 250 GT and the unique model made especially for Agnelli. The uniqueness of this 400 Superamerica lay entirely in the fact that it didn't look like a Ferrari: in order to be as inconspicuous as possible, the then-president of Fiat ordered it in metallic grey, with an enormous square radiator, and without the classic Ferrari grille. In addition, the body was a three-volume two-door, like a pure berlinetta, and as such, light years away from the more extreme forms of the coupé version. Furthermore, it featured a wraparound windscreen, as was the fashion of the time, as well as just a hint of rear fins on the tail.

Agnelli also wanted the car to be fitted with four gigantic, powerful round headlights, for reasons closely linked to the way he used his Ferraris: “I have always driven – he explained – willingly and fast. There is a particular moment in the morning between four and six when the car's headlights are still on, while those who have just woken up have got their lights off.” This was an elegant allusion to the fact that when he was coming home from his parties, others were going to work. And his Ferrari 400 perfectly reflected his personality, his life, his way of being fashionable: in an era of economic prosperity, of showing off the car you drove, a time characterised by the sociological aspect of mobility (we “were” what we drove), Gianni Agnelli wanted his Ferrari to be totally devoid of badges and branding. Nothing on the front or on the rear. Of course, all one needed to do was to turn the ignition key on the 400 to understand that a mighty Ferrari V12 engine was hiding under the bonnet, but it made Agnelli’s personal car even more exciting, and in any case, he could drive his supercar without attracting too much attention.

Such an important "piece" in the history of Ferrari and of the automobile in general could not have been allowed to become lost and destroyed, and as such, it is still in perfect condition to this day, with the sole exception of a modification requested by the current owner who – in so doing – has ‘modified’ the construction philosophy thereof: the addition of the prancing horse on the bonnet of the car. However, fortunately, this is the only change that has been made; the tail of the car is still wonderfully “clean”, bearing no logos or words, just as Agnelli wanted.

After these first two unique specimens, a definitive version of the Superamerica was unveiled in 1960, and was baptised Superfast II. It featured extremely aerodynamic lines, with a tapered nose and a tail that was something akin to a “duck tail” design. The headlights on this prototype were retractable, a solution that was later abandoned in the version destined for small series production, the Superfast III. A few minor modifications (twin headlights combined with the larger external ones) distinguished the Superfast IV, which was in production until the end of 1963.

In any case, Agnelli’s 400 set something of a precedent, and many prominent individuals (from the Shah of Persia to Peter Sellers) requested special Ferraris, such as the Superamerica and Superfast, which were produced in very small numbers: just 25 units of the 500 Superfast in the first series and 12 in the following series. “Creativity – explained Agnelli conversely – is the greatest pleasure. It is the only real added value of life, and is capable of encompassing all others.” And being able to express one's creativity using a Ferrari as a canvas was an affectation that Agnelli transformed into something of an art.