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A little bit of history repeating itself

A cutting-edge 120° V6 – together with a plug-in hybrid system – powers the new Ferrari 296 GTB to the tune of 830cv, yet this is not the first time the Prancing Horse has built such an innovative wide-angle six-cylinder engine…
Words – Ben Pulman

The Ferrari 296 GTB introduces a new engine type to the Prancing Horse’s road cars: a 120° V6.

Coupled with an electric motor, together the plug-in hybrid (PHEV) system unleashes a massive combined output of 830cv, cuts pedal response times to zero, and delivers a 25km range in the all-electric eDrive mode.
Yet taken solely on its own, the benefits of such an innovative engine layout are myriad too. Designed and engineered from a clean sheet, the wide-angle V6 brings significant advantages in terms of packaging, lowering of the centre of gravity, and reducing engine mass. This particular architecture also helps deliver extremely high levels of power, and the new Ferrari V6 sets a new specific power output record for a production car with 221cv per litre.

The new V6 is the first Ferrari road car engine to feature the turbos installed inside the 'vee', and while this is possible on a narrower-angle power unit, the 120° architecture means the turbos could be installed centrally. This significantly reduces the unit’s overall size and maximises the efficiency of the intake and exhaust line ducts.

However, while this is the first six-cylinder engine installed in a road car sporting the Prancing Horse badge, it is not the first Ferrari to use a wide-angle V6 with a 120° layout between the cylinders…

The engine of the Ferrari 296 GTB is a new 663cv 120° V6, which is coupled with an electric motor capable of delivering a further 122kW (167cv)

A Formula 1 rule change for 1961 reduced the capacity of the engines from 2.5 to 1.5 litres, and this new regulation led Ferrari to develop its first 120° V6. The existing 2.4-litre V6 was reduced in size, but at the same time an idea emerged within Maranello, that of a wide-angle V6. With a 120° angle between the banks of cylinders, the centre of gravity was lowered, space was made for the induction system, and with internal loses reduced too, engine response and acceleration were improved.

The undertaking was made all the more impressive as the Scuderia was also switching its Formula 1 racer – and its new sports car – from a front- to new mid-engined layout for the 1961 season. However, this wholesale change at Maranello meant the new engine was also integrated into the development of the F1 car’s chassis, optimising the dynamics of the revolutionary single-seater.

Richie Ginther in car #36 holds off a rival Porsche on the way to 2nd place at the 1961 Monaco GP. It was the debut race for Ferrari’s first 120° V6

The new mid-engined 156 won on its debut at the non-championship Syracuse GP in April 1961 – but here it was powered by the reduced-in-capacity narrow-angle V6. The innovative new wide-angle engine was to make its debut at the start of the Formula 1 championship, held in Monaco on 14 May.

Test driver Richie Ginther drove the car, and in Friday practice he was quickest, with teammates Phil Hill and Wolfgang von Trips (both using the older engine) in 4th and 5th respectively. Stirling Moss ultimately took pole, but Ginther started on the front row, led at the first corner, and kept the British driver at bay until lap 14.

Moss took the flag after 100 laps, but would later confess to having never driven a race as hard as he did at Monaco – Ginther finished just 3.6 seconds behind and the pair shared the spoils for fastest lap. Hill and von Trips came home 3rd and 4th, with the former noting in the race just how good the roadholding of Ginther’s car was.

For the Dutch Grand Prix a week later, all three Ferrari teammates lined up with the new 120° engine, and from that point on the Maranello team dominated the championship. A Ferrari took pole at every race the Scuderia entered, and outside of the scarlet cars only Moss was able to win once more before Hill took the championship at the Italian Grand Prix.

Patrick Tambay recorded the first win of the year for the Scuderia during the 1983 Formula 1 season, on the way to the team’s back-to-back Constructors’ Championship

The 156 was not the only Ferrari to use of a wide-angle V6 in the Scuderia’s racing history. The 120° angle was again the choice in the early 1980s. Turbocharging was taking hold in Formula 1, and seeking the ultimate advantage, the Scuderia built two types of forced induction engine, both based around a 120° 1.5-litre V6.

This engine recalled the general layout but not specific design of the earlier V6, and after experimenting with supercharging, Ferrari settled on a design that placed twin turbos between the engine’s cylinder banks – another first for the Prancing Horse, and a layout shared with the 296 GTB.

The Ferrari team took two victories in 1981, including the first win for a turbo car at Monaco. Supposedly unsuited to the tight and twisty street circuit, in the hands of Giles Villeneuve it was unmatched. Three weeks later Villeneuve was back atop the podium at the Spanish Grand Prix.

It was a positive debut season for the new car, and the Scuderia would go from strength to strength over the coming seasons: with turbocharged power, the 126 C2 would win the Constructors’ Championship in 1982, and this was followed up with a second title in 1983 with the 126 C3.

Today, this special lineage is finally transferred to the road with the Ferrari 296 GTB.