Cars

As well as winning his fourth F1 world title at Monza in 1956, Juan Fangio piloted the last of the great four-cylinder Ferraris to help win the World Sportscar Championship in the same year
Words – Ross Brown
Video – Oliver McIntyre

Although nobody knew it at the time, 1956 would be the swan song for two Ferrari greats: Juan Manuel Fangio and the straight-four engine.

Fangio, the racing driver they called El Maestro, had joined the Ferrari Scuderia in 1956 in a bid for a fourth world title in Formula One. It was an ambition he managed to achieve, right at the last race of the season, crossing the Monza finish line in a D50 borrowed from teammate Peter Collins, arriving just behind Stirling Moss, but with enough points to win the championship. 


Despite the win, it had been a challenging championship for the aging Argentinian, and he left Ferrari for a final season at Maserati before retiring for good. But that year, away from the fast, single seater F1 circuits, Fangio also enjoyed success in the 1956 World Sportscar Championship, this time in a big Ferrari they called the 860 Monza. 

In 1956 Juan Manuel Fangio was a busy man, piloting the fast five-speed V8 Ferrari D50 (pictured) to win his fourth F1 championship title, while also taking Ferrari to victory in the World Sportscar Championship, this time in the straight-four 860 Monza 

The World Sportscar Championship was not for the faint hearted. Circuits included a thousand kilometres of the famed Nürburgring, the same distance around Buenos Aires and twelve hours at the Sebring International Raceway in Florida. Cars had to be both fast and powerful, but they also had to be built for endurance and it was here that the 860 Monza excelled. 

 

Unlike the near identical V12 Ferrari 290 MM that arrived in the same year, power came from a straight-four engine, the final iteration of a smaller straight-four that had begun its life in 1951, as a 2 Litre Formula Two engine designed by Aurelio Lampredi.  

When Juan Fangio met the 860 Monza: the swan song for two Ferrari greats 

Within three short years Lampredi’s straight-four had progressed to powering a Ferrari 553 around the F1 circuit (although by this time the engine had been increased to a 2.5 Litre capacity) and by 1954 the predecessor to the 860 Monza, the 3 Litre 750, made its debut at Monza and took first and second place (earning the badge Monza in the process).    

 

For the 860 Monza, the straight-four engine that powered the tubular frame racing machine was now a 3.4 Litre behemoth capable of hitting 260 kms/hr on the long straights of the endurance circuits.  When Fangio was told he could choose whatever car he wanted for the World Sportscar Championship, he didn’t spend long deciding.  

The 860 Monza's debut was at the Sebring Raceway for the Florida International Grand Prix of Endurance. Together with racing partner Eugenio Castellotti, Juan Fangio covered 1,008 miles and 194 laps to win the event 

It’s hard today to fully comprehend the amount of racing a professional driver undertook in those early years of motorsport. Still an F1 driver for Ferrari, Fangio had already completed the first race of the season on January 22nd in Buenos Aires, starting from pole, achieving the fastest lap and crossing the finish line first. 

 

A mere two months later on March 24th, in a completely different championship, he climbed into the 860 Monza for its debut at the Florida International Grand Prix of Endurance.  The car didn’t disappoint. Twelve hours later, after 194 laps covering 1,008 miles and averaging 85 mph, he and Italian racing partner Eugenio Castellotti took the chequered flag, with the other 860 Monza, piloted by Italian Luigi Musso and American Harry Schell crossing second.

Built for endurance, the 860 Monza was a 3.4 Litre behemoth, equally at home racing long distances under the unforgiving Florida sunshine or, as pictured here, in the often turbulent weather of Italy's famed Mille Miglia 

Sadly, even then in complete victory, the writing was on the wall for the straight-four powered 860. For the next race, the famous open road endurance Italian race of the Mille Miglia, Ferrari fielded the identical looking 120 MM (with the MM standing for Mille Miglia), although the engine underneath the Scaglietti design bodywork this time was the 3.5 Litre V12 that could push the car up to 280 kms/hr. The 120 MM’s victory ultimately sealed the fate of the 860 Monza and with it that of the straight-four, one of the most enduring Ferrari engines of all time. 

 

However, Fangio and the great car were not finished just yet. Although Sebring would be their only first place victory together, strong support, including second placing at the Nürburgring (ahead of the 120 MMs) and the Mille Miglia itself (the two 860s came second and third) saw Ferrari win three out of five rounds and take the 1956 World Sportscar Championship. And on the second of September that same year, Fangio won his fourth F1 title at Monza. A fitting season finale to one of the world’s greatest racing drivers, and a fitting tribute to the last of the great straight-four powered sportscars, the 860 Monza.