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17 gennaio 2020

Vincenzo Borgomeo

Turning the ignition key and putting the foot down on the accelerator is not enough. The mythical Ferrari 250 GTO (and all the 12-cylinder cars of that period) requires an incredibly careful, almost obsessive, procedure. This preparation is to be enjoyed as one would a good cognac, in the anticipation of an unparalleled drive

Warming up the engine, also breaking it in, are now forgotten activities. Yet, they constituted – and still do – a magical ritual for the fans. They were necessary preparations, and made the whole experience better. Those who love cars love them deeply, with all their soul. This is the reason why vintage Ferraris are a world unto themselves: with their colossal – and extremely powerful – engines, these are the cars that most call for the magical warm-up ritual.

And, obviously, the reason is technical, rather than sentimental. The historic Ferrari V12 engine, the one featured on Ferrari GTO and Daytona cars, the one that made it to the present on the 400/412 Ferrari series, held almost 20 litres of oil. A modern V12 engine, such as the one on the Ferrari 812 or the GTC4 Lusso, holds only half of that. As well as that, the oil ducts, the “veins” of an engine, used to be few and narrow.

Consequently, to reach the right temperature and oil pressure, a vintage V12 engine requires at least a 20-minute warm-up - I beg your pardon: “preparation time”.

A really enjoyable ritual for fans, as during those minutes one could really feel the V12 engine come to life, wake up, get ready to unleash all its incredible power. Though obviously it is not just a question of the engine. The whole car needs warming up: “With the Ferrari GTO, with all vintage Ferraris,” explains Gigi Barp, head of Ferrari Classiche, “once the engine has been on for a minute it is best to move the whole car, gently, so that all the fluids that lubricate it and cool it can warm up and start flowing through it. This way, once the engine is ready to sing, gears, differential and the whole gearbox will also be ready for the Ferrari GTO's magical ride.”

One of the most beautiful piece of journalism and the best narration of the warm-up ritual was written by Jess Pourret, founder of the Ferrari Club France and great collector of Ferraris. The book “Ferrari 250 GTO” (K. Bluemel and J. Pourret, Giorgio Nada Editore, Milan, 1988), has a small final chapter that alone is worth the price of the whole book: “My life with a Ferrari GTO”. Pourret writes: “We, that is, I and the 3607 GT (Ferrari GTOs are called by their chassis number - Ed.), were married for almost 20 years and the honeymoon period never subsided. We did a lot together”. 

And after recounting how he disassembled and reassembled every possible part of the car, and after having really and truly declared his love (“to me, the Ferrari GTO has been a source of pleasure and fun like no other car, because the Ferrari GTO is something more than a car”), Pourret starts describing his little journey: “All is quiet in the garage. A magical moment. The amusement begins. The stage is lit. There she is, under a layer of dust that covers those feminine forms. I brush off the dust, take a step back to glance at her. How wonderful: the body shines, but she is still cold”. 

Jess describes with abundant detail the ritual of the pre-ignition checks, which last for a long time. And then he begins. “The Weber carburettors splutter a bit and spit out some flames that I can just feel, and emit some curious little burps that make a ‘bang’ noise, and an acrid smoke starts filling the garage. What moments these are...".

All 12 cylinders are in operation, and after a few minutes at 1,500 rpm everything works completely in sync. Still with the clutch down, I engage first gear then slowly release the clutch. The Ferrari GTO is coming to life and its blood warms up under the sun as we exit the garage. I proceed slowly for a good 15 minutes: you need to have a certain penchant for this ritual...”. Then Pourret pauses again.

He describes other checks in detail. And then he resumes: “I start it again and the 12 cylinders jump up like a compressed spring, while the silencers roar like fireworks on 4 July. Now the temperature is right.” Now the Ferrari GTO is warmed up. And at the right temperature, the game can begin.