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Built for the job

Some of the most unusual Ferraris were produced for very specific tasks – from winning hazardous Mexican road races to elevating open-top sports car styling
Words: Gavin Green - Video: Ollie McIntyre

All Ferraris are exclusive. Mass production simply is not possible for cars that are largely made by hand. Most Ferraris are series production models – always in demand but with no cap on quantity. Others are coveted limited-editions models, such as the LaFerrari and F40. Each car is numbered.


But some are true one-offs, often built for the most discerning of clients who demand something bespoke and unique.


Here we look at some the rarest Ferraris, all built for a single and very specific purpose. It could be to win an unusual race, explore new technology or investigate a new engineering direction.

Watch the story Maranello's purpose built Prancing Horses 

We’ll start with the FXX of 2005, which was a mobile test laboratory for new technologies. Thirty cars were built, exclusively for circuit use. It was based on the Enzo Ferrari supercar, itself the most advanced limited-edition supercar of its era that saw many of the most F1 technologies transferred to the road. 


The FXX was a further step ahead. Technical upgrades included a more powerful 800 CV 6.3-litre V12, a faster-shifting Formula One-derived gearbox, significantly greater downforce and new developments in tyres and brakes. It was part of a development programme that involved client/owners and sophisticated data monitoring and telemetry. A hybrid FXX K version came in 2014. 


The last FXX – and the only one painted in black – was presented to Michael Schumacher when he retired in 2006 after capturing five world titles for the Scuderia. 

The 340 Mexico was built to win the most dangerous race in the world; the 1952 Carrera Panamericana 

The FXX was a track car not designed for motor sport. In contrast, the 340 Mexico of 1952 was very much a racer – but was developed for a very specific racing course.  It was built to compete in what was widely regarded as the world’s most dangerous and toughest road race, the Carrera Panamericana. 


This ‘50s 3500 km race ran the length of Mexico along the newly opened Pan-American highway. It was hot, road conditions were often poor, and the route climbed 3200 metres as it ran through dangerous mountain passes. In its first year (1950) three drivers were killed. Its bloody reputation would continue.


In the 1951 race, Ferrari 212 Inters finished first and second – Piero Taruffi leading home future world champion Alberto Ascari. 

Only 14 Ferrari 365 California's were ever built. With handmade bodies by Pininfarina,  they were an exercise in styling beauty 

For 1952, Enzo Ferrari decided a special racing Ferrari was needed. The 340 Mexico used a 4.1-litre Lampredi-designed V12 that had had new cylinder heads and revised carburettors, partly due to the high altitudes. A high ratio fifth gear was added. Rear axle and transmission were both strengthened, to compensate for the frequently rough surfaces. Just four cars were built. 


Driven by Luigi Chinetti, it would finish third. The winning Mercedes won despite a vulture hitting the co-driver in the head at speed: such were the challenges of this unique Mexican race, banned after its 1954 running.


Another very different type of motorsports’ special was the Ferrari 212 E Montagna. A one-off spider built for hill climbing, it used a 2.0-litre version of the 1.5-litre Tipo 207 F1 flat-12 engine. 


Ferrari is not traditionally renowned for hill climbing – a race against the clock up a mountain or long hill. Yet there has surely rarely been a more dominant car in any form of motor sport. In the 1969 European Hill Climb Champion Peter Schetty won every round he contested.  

The 365 P Berlinetta Speciale boasted an innovative interior consisting of three seats, with the driver positioned front and centre

The 365 P Berlinetta Speciale of 1966 was a very different type of Ferrari. This concept sports car would be the first purpose-built rear-mid-engined road car to wear the Ferrari badge. It was the precursor of subsequent rear-mid-engined cars such as the 365 GT4 Berlinetta Boxer. Powered by a 4.4-litre Colombo V12, it bore resemblance to the V6-powered Dino 206 GT, on sale a year later. Among its many unusual features was three seats including central driving position: 25 years later, the same format was pioneered on the McLaren F1 supercar.


The 365 California of 1966, meanwhile, was an exercise in styling beauty. Just 14 examples were built, making it one of the rarest of ‘60s production Ferraris. One of the most graceful and elegant of all open-top Italian sports cars, the styling was by Pininfarina, which also fitted their specially built handmade bodies, and trimmed them.  


The California name would be reintroduced on the handsome 2008 grand tourer, featuring an innovative Retractable Hard-Top. Far from being a very rare Ferrari, this California became one of the most popular Ferraris in the company’s storied history.