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1951 Ferrari 212 Export Cabriolet (Pawel Litwinski/Gooding and Co.)
1951 Ferrari 212 Export Cabriolet (Pawel Litwinski/Gooding and Co.)

Classic Car

The price of passion: $1.87-million for this rare Ferrari Add to ...

In mid-March, many owners of classic cars make a pilgrimage to Amelia Island off the northern cost of Florida, line up their cherished machines on its pristine green golf links and take part in the annual Concours d'Elegance, but others arrive driven by another motivation.

The cars they're interested in are similar, but the setting is decidedly different and far less sedate - this crowd packs a large marquee set up by the Gooding & Co. auction house, which every year knocks down millions of dollars' worth of collector cars to the highest bidders.

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This year, those bidders wrote cheques for almost $18-million (U.S.) to acquire 70 vehicles of all styles and vintages: $1,705,000 for a Lamborghini Miura P400 SV; $1,320,000 for a 1973 Ferrari 365 GT/4 Daytona Coupe; $1,155,000 for a 1967 Ferrari 275 GTB/4 and $770,000 for a 1955 Bentley R-Type Continental Fastback.

But the highest bid the Gooding gavel cracked down on was for $1,870,000 (U.S.) - alone accounting for more than a tenth of the take - which acquired a piece of early Ferrari history for its new owner in the Italianesque form of a 1951 212 Export Cabriolet, one of the legendary marque's earliest sports cars.

The level of passion that hopefully drove this purchase - surely not mere investment-driven venality - is something the little Vignale-bodied, open two-seater sports car has seemingly always inspired.

Its creators were undoubtedly fuelled by it (and perhaps lubricated by a little lunchtime Lambrusco) as they created its engine and chassis alongside those of soon to be legendary Grand Prix cars and Le Mans racers in Ferrari's Modena factory.

Enzo Ferrari began his career as a racer then managed the Alfa Romeo team in the 1930s, and founded the company that bears his name in 1947 to build primarily the racing cars he loved. But he soon grudgingly realized he had to support his racing efforts by building street cars, fortunately finding a small but ready market - Ferrari built only about 600 cars in its first decade.

The first post-war Ferrari sports car was the 125, which was primarily intended for racing and followed by a series of evolutionary designs. The first true grand touring car, with coach-built bodywork and fittings really suitable for road use, was the 166 Inter (named for Scuderia Inter which raced Ferraris), itself an evolution of a Mille Miglia racer.

It was superseded by the 195 Inter and the 212 Inter, which in shorter-wheelbase form became the 212 Export, of which only 28 were built. Some spent their life on the road, but many 212 Exports were used for racing and scored some impressive victories.

Ferrari was known as an engine guy and considered chassis and bodywork unavoidable appurtenances that didn't merit a lot of design time and effort. This resulted in the absolutely wonderful V-12 engines that became the company's trademark being fitted into cars that were often somewhat rudimentary by contemporary standards in terms of chassis, suspension, gearboxes and brakes.

The 212 Export's engine is indeed a masterpiece. An all-alloy, 2.5-litre, single-overhead-cam V-12 (the work of famed ingenere Gioacchino Columbo) that inhales through a single Weber carburetor and produces 155 hp at 6,500 rpm, fed to the rear wheels by a five-speed gearbox. Those used for racing got three Webers and made about 175 hp. They were good for about 225 km/h and got to 100 km/h in about seven seconds.

But Columbo's superb V-12 was fitted into a simple tube chassis with independent front suspension, a live-axle at the back and drum brakes all round. Ferrari's mechanics bolted all this together in June of 1951 and shipped it to the Vignale studio in Turin.

There Alfredo Vignale created the styling and his artisans performed their metal magic to form its wonderfully curvaceous bodywork. It was one of just two originally given cabriolet bodywork.

Particularly elegant is the alloy windshield surround, while giving the front end a dramatic look is the tubular grille that integrates a pair of Marchal driving lights. The wheels are polished alloy outside-lace, Borrani wires. The car is finished in black over dark green and is trimmed in green leather inside, including the deep bucket seats. The driver views large, alloy-rimmed speedometer and tach through a wood-rimmed wheel.

This car was first owned by Italian Count Sanseverino before finding its way by 1960 to England where it caught the eye of a young sports car enthusiast, David Clarke, for whom it proved life-altering.

Clarke spotted it at a dealership and although wary of its exotic status purchased it and drove it enthusiastically and apparently often very quickly for the next four decades. When he could make the time, that is, after establishing London-based Ferrari distributorship GrayPaul Motors and becoming a close associate of Enzo Ferrari himself.

On Clarke's death, the car was sold in 2002 to an American collector who refurbished what was basically an original car, rebuilding the mechanicals, painting it and re-doing the interior to bring it to a state that its current owner felt it was worth almost $2-million.

Back in 1951

Ferrari's Formula One team had been around for just a year when it scored its first victory in 1951 with Jose Froilan Gonzalez taking the flag from Juan Manuel Fangio at Silverstone in the British Grand Prix.

It was a good year for movie goers with Walt Disney releasing Alice in Wonderland, MGM its Technicolor version of the musical Show Boat and Paramount giving them a scare with When Worlds Collide.

Dennis the Menace made his debut in the comic strip written by Hank Ketcham, which is still running today in 1,000 newspapers in 48 countries in 19 languages.

Princess Elizabeth and the Duke of Edinburgh came to Canada on the future monarch's first royal tour of the country.

In South Korea, Canada's Princess Patricia's Canadian Light Infantry regiment (and Australian units) heroically held off a full division of Chinese People's Liberation Army troops in one of the war's decisive battles.


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