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The Ultimate Expression

The current 812 Superfast comes from a fine lineage of alluring front-engined V12 Ferraris, which all bore that superlative label
Words: Jason Barlow

In the midst of the big personalities, the tragedies and the triumphs, it’s worth noting that for a relatively small car company Ferrari manufactured an astonishing variety of models during its early years. As the marque’s reputation accelerated literally and figuratively on the race track, the trajectory in its road car range was equally dramatic.

It also reflected the mood of the times. The world’s industrialists and financiers began to flourish once again following the decade-long upheaval of WWII and its aftermath, their ranks emboldened by a new generation of entertainment stars. Enzo Ferrari the engineer was also an astute marketeer, and he courted this new elite with a masterful vigour. Together with his design partner Pininfarina, the result was a series of cars of unparalleled aesthetic allure.

The Ferrari 812 Superfast follows the fine lineage of the Superfast series cars

But within Ferrari’s line-up, a top tier soon emerged. For many today, Ferrari’s front-engined V12 gran turismos, typified by the 812 Superfast, are the ultimate expression of its art. The roots of that car lie with the 1950s America, Superamerica and the original Superfast models. 

One of the most intriguing cars ever to wear the famous Prancing Horse is surely the 410 Superfast that debuted at the 1956 Paris motor show. Students of automotive design will know that the great American car designers, men like Harley Earl and Virgil Exner, were hugely influenced by what was happening in Italy, and visited the country regularly.

Interestingly, Pininfarina’s Ferrari 410 Superfast echoes the American fascination with tail-fins and chrome, as well as experimenting with early aerodynamic ideas. There are numerous design highlights here: the roof is cantilevered and the upper structure does without traditional A-pillars, giving the Superfast a unique glasshouse. Its rear sail panels house double vents on either side. There’s also a prominent bonnet bulge, covered headlights, and chromed front bumper over-riders. But it’s the rear wheel ‘spats’ and tail fins that most distinguish this particular Ferrari. Although based on a Superamerica, its wheelbase was 200mm shorter, and it was fitted with a competition 60°, 5.0-litre V12 from a Ferrari 410 S sports racing car. This imbued it with the pace to go with the name.

The 1956 Ferrari 410 Superamerica coupé 'Superfast' – seen here in model form – experimented with early aerodynamic concepts, and featured American-influenced tail-fins and chrome detailing

The 410 Superfast’s inspired design influenced three other dazzling client one-offs, before Pininfarina’s aero experimentation became yet more overt. The Superfast II was unveiled at the 1960 Turin motor show, its silhouette even more teardrop in form, its aero-friendly features including body-coloured retractable headlights and rear wheel covers. Pininfarina then rebodied the same chassis to become the Superfast III, shown at the 1962 Geneva auto salon. The white body was now green, with lighter pillars, and a retractable grille for smoother air flow. The final iteration was, yes, Superfast IV, a car that truly bridges the gap between Ferrari’s glamorous 1950s and the wild promise of the decade to come, that blurs the line between concept car and the real thing.

The influence on the mid-60s 500 Superfast road car is clear. It may have evolved the aerodinamica ideas on its predecessors, but rather than early adopters this was a car for the highest of high rollers. This was Enzo Ferrari realising that even amongst his well-heeled client base there was headroom for something truly magnificent and hand-made. 

The stunning Ferrari 400 Superamerica 'Superfast IV' (cover image and above) truly blurred the line between concept car and the real thing

Debuting at the 1964 Geneva salon, the 500 Superfast’s 400bhp, 5.0-litre V12 engine actually blended the work of the two greats of Ferrari engine design, Gioachino Colombo and Aurelio Lampredi. Ferrari claimed the car had a top speed of 170mph, which would have made it the fastest GT in the world. Only 37 cars were made during a 28-month production period, each built to the owner’s precise specification and featuring innovations such as power steering, air conditioning and a heated rear window – as well as a rear wiper. 

The 1964 500 Superfast was the fastest GT car of its time. Only 37 were ever built, each one to its owner's exacting specification

Its profile retained the aero-efficient teardrop profile, but raised the boot line to complement the enlarged oval grille at the front. The windscreen had a decorous curve, the louvres in the front wings adding a graphic touch, and the body sides featured a fuselage effect.