Races

60 Years of Mid-Engine Masterpieces
Words – Ben Pulman

Sixty years ago a sports car broke new ground for Ferrari

The 246 SP ushered in a revolutionary mid-engined layout that would forever change the road and race cars of the Prancing Horse…
The success of the 246 SP, with two wins at the Targa Florio and victories at famous events like the 1000km of the Nürburgring, owes much to the talented engineers, designers and drivers that Enzo Ferrari assembled at the Scuderia in the late 1950s and early ‘60s.

These great men had achieved storied success with V12-powered front-engined sports cars, the 250 Testa Rossa securing Ferrari the World Sports Car Championship in both 1958 and 1960. But a change was occurring within Formula 1, with teams moving to mid-engined configurations (called rear-engined at the time, with no distinction made over where behind the driver the engine was located).
Ferrari would change its Formula 1 and sports car together, an incredibly intense undertaking. It built an experimental mid-engined single-seater, which raced for the first time at the 1960 Monaco Grand Prix with a 2.4-litre V6, won the Formula 2 Solitude GP when fitted with a smaller 1.5-litre V6, and finished fifth (and first in the F2 class) at that year’s Italian GP.

From this development base, Ferrari built its bespoke new mid-engined Formula 1 race car – and its new mid-engined sports car. Thus the chassis of the latter was very much a Formula 1 car with minimal alterations to accommodate the regulated two seat-layout, and so a true sports prototype.

Photographed in the courtyard at Maranello, the original bubble behind the driver and elongated tailfin are present on this first 246 SP

The new 246 SP, together with the 156 F1 single-seater, were shown in Maranello on 13 February 1961. The Formula 1 car featured the smaller 1.5-litre engine (until a revolutionary wide-angle 120-degree V6 was ready later in the season), while the 246 SP featured the larger 2.4 V6.

Clothing the chassis and mid-mounted engine was an aerodynamic aluminium body, the work of Carlo Chiti and his team. An aeronautical engineer by training, Chiti had a small-scale wind tunnel installed at Maranello in the fledgling days of aerodynamics. As a result of this the 246 SP appeared with its distinctive twin-nostril ‘sharknose’ (a feature mirrored on the F1 car) and raised tail.
Ferrari archive, copyright unknown

Ferrari 246 SP testing at Monza in 1961

The twin-nostril ‘sharknose’ appeared on both the 246 SP and the 156 F1 for the 1961 motorsport seasons, a result of scale-model wind tunnel testing

This combination of a mid-engined layout, powerful Ferrari engine and aerodynamic body would prove formidable, but not just yet…

Tested at Monza in March 1961, it proved slower than the Formula 1 car in the corners and didn’t make up the deficit on the straights. Working with Richie Ginther, the team’s exceptional test driver – and a qualified aircraft engineer to boot – Chiti experimented.
Ferrari archive, copyright unknown

Ferrari 246 SP testing at Monza in 1961

Known as a ‘Dino’, the 65-degree, double-overhead cam engine was built in a number of different capacities over the years, having first run in 1956 in front-engined Ferraris. In the 246 SP it displaced 2417cc, the V6’s block recast for the rear-mounted transmission and drive

He and Ginther settled on a spoiler running the width of the car. Its height and positioned were meticulously adjusted, until the team found an optimal location on the tail that reduced both vehicle lift and drag. A little pace was lost on the straights, but more than made up for through greater high-speed stability in the corners.

A revolutionary idea at the time, when aerodynamic ideas were still new, Ferrari told reporters and interested rival teams it was to keep petrol from splashing on the hot exhaust during refuelling.
Ferrari archive, copyright unknown

Ferrari 246 SP testing at Monza in 1961

During testing at Monza, the rear bodywork of the 246 SP was removed. It was quicker in the corners than the original tailfin design, and led to the development of the innovative rear spoiler

Shipped to Sebring, USA, later that month for the first race of the 1961 World Sports Car Championship, Ginther and teammate Wolfgang von Trips set a new lap record on the first day of practice, then retired from the lead of the race with a steering fault.

From that promising start, two 246 SPs appeared at the Targa Florio, where von Trips and Olivier Gendebien achieved the first major victory of a mid-engined Ferrari.

For the 1962 season, the 246 SP blossomed into a range of racers – including a 196 for the 2.0-litre category, and two V8 variants – to take on multiple championships and classes. Presented in Maranello in February, they somewhat overshadowed the debut of a certain 250 GTO…
Ferrari archive, copyright unknown

Ferrari 246 SP at 1962 Daytona 3hr

Ricardo Rodríguez and reigning F1 champion Phil Hill finished second at the first 3 Hours of Daytona in 1962. It would become a 24-hour endurance event only in 1966

There was another Targa Florio win for the 246 SP that year, a 1000km of the Nürburgring victory, along with dominance of the 1962 European Hill Climb Championship for the 196 SP.

Progress continued unabated in Maranello, with the unveiling of the first 12-cylinder mid-engined Ferrari on 4 March 1963. The 250 P effectively signalled the end of the 246 SP, but the new race car would not have existed without its trailblazing predecessor. It won at Sebring, Le Mans and the Nürburgring on the way to the Prototype title in the 1963 World Sports Car Championship.

Whatever would come next…?