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Ferrari 410 Sport Spider

The beast

The American sports car racing scene of the 1950s was a great time when independent teams with lots of money could acquire former factory race cars and compete with some of the most legendary drivers in history. Unaffected by sponsorship concerns or regulatory controls, this tight-knit community of guys risked life and limb in the events of the fledgling Collier Brothers SCCA, which were often held on old US Air Force tracks provided under the patronage of former General Curtis LeMay. This was a golden era of racing, with some of the finest and wildest racing machines of the decade competing.

In this niche of sportsmen, which included such notables as Briggs Cunningham, Tony Parravano, John von Neumann and Jim Kimberly, few team owners commanded more respect than John Edgar. Born in Ohio to a wealthy family whose company manufactured kitchen appliances, Edgar was a daredevil obsessed with speed. As a young man he drove a Mercer Raceabout and a Pierce-Arrow, and his racing beginnings were in boat racing, racing four-cylinder outboard racing boats on the rivers of the Midwest and the inland waters of Florida in the early 1930s. But this unique character, who quoted Shakespeare and knew Ernest Hemingway well, gave up the water after a serious accident in Miami’s Biscayne Bay in which he broke all his ribs and lost a kidney.

After a brief pause for reflection, Edgar resumed competing in a new environment – sports car racing. He was originally intrigued by competing in the Indianapolis 500, but the cutthroat business did not suit a man who just wanted to have fun. So it was that in 1948, after moving to California, he entered a souped-up MG TC in the El Mirage Dry Lake time trial, where he beat 21-year-old Phil Hill. But Edgar’s vision of the future crystallised when he saw Jim Kimberly’s Ferrari 166 Barchetta outclass his MG Special by two laps at the Palm Springs race in March 1951. The racing machine from Maranello was pure beauty and pure power, and Edgar knew he had to have one of those.

Shortly afterwards, his friend Henry Manney III acquired Ferrari chassis number 0032 MT, an important early 340 America that Scuderia Ferrari had entered in the Mille Miglia and the 24 Hours of Le Mans. Edgar knew the Lampredi-engined 4.1-litre beast would be too much for his friend and within a month the car was his. With Jack McAfee at the wheel, 0032 MT began picking up SCCA wins for the up-and-coming Edgar team in 1953 and 1954. Soon this great success led Edgar to buy his next Ferrari, the 1954 Le Mans winner, the 375 Plus with chassis number 0396 AM. Infected by the virus and increasingly obsessed with winning an SCCA Drivers’ Championship – what he affectionately referred to as “all the trappings” – Edgar bought a four-cylinder Ferrari 857 Sport with chassis number 0588 M.

The well-tuned 857 S, masterfully driven by McAfee, secured victory at Stockton in 1956, but before that, at Palm Springs in February 1956, a frustrated Edgar ran into a wall of overwhelming power in the form of Tony Parravano’s 4.9-litre Ferrari 410 Sport (0592 CM), driven by a former Texas chicken farmer named Carroll Shelby. This was the moment of inspiration for Edgar to acquire the most powerful and advanced racing car Ferrari had produced up to that time, the 410 Sport. Only in his wildest dreams did Edgar, who was soon dubbed “The Kingfish” by the trade press, suspect that this former factory car with chassis number 0598 CM would soon be driven by the charismatic Shelby himself for Team Edgar – cementing the Texan’s legacy as one of America’s most talented racing drivers.

But let’s look back: Enzo Ferrari was determined to secure the FIA World Sports Car Championship in 1955. The final stage was the Carrera Panamericana, a gruelling five-day race through the Mexican wilderness on the way to the border at El Paso, Texas. Ferrari had achieved stunning success on almost every circuit except this very infamous Carrera Panamericana. In 1952, several Ferraris were raced by privateers, including three of Maranello’s latest sports cars, Vignale-bodied Berlinettas fitted with the Lampredi340 racing engine. These cars, later called the 340 Mexico, showed promise, with Luigi Chinetti finishing 3rd. A year later, the improved 340 MM could not compete with Lancia’s dominant D24 racing cars, although Umberto Maglioli took a 10-minute lead on the final stage of the race. In 1954, Maglioli drove to victory in a 375 Plus in Erwin Goldschmitt’s team. John Edgar’s entry of the 375 Plus in which Gonzalez/Trintignant had won Le Mans in 1954 ended in tragedy when Jack AcAfee’s co-driver, Ford Robinson, was killed in a serious accident. These extremely powerful cars were too wild to control safely, and further chassis development was clearly needed to maintain control on the bumpy and unpredictable surfaces of the Carrera.

For the 1955 Carrera racing series, Ferrari therefore designed a completely new chassis, the Type 519/C. It consisted of a low-slung, tubular spaceframe with an unusual width and a shorter wheelbase; this was intended to compensate for the unevenness of the Mexican roads. Instead of incorporating the 4.9-litre racing engine from the 375 Plus, Lampredi opted to revise its brand new long-stroke V-12 engine, which had been developed for the Superamerica road car. At 4961 cc, this was the largest engine ever built in Maranello up to that time, and in the racing version the Type 126/C engine featured dual ignition, a four-barrel distributor and three huge Weber 46 DCF carburettors with two throttle bodies – and produced almost 400 hp. This was unprecedented power for a Ferrari sports car – and 40 hp more than the first two 410 Sports (0592 CM and 0594 CM) with Type 126 engines and Weber 42DCZ/4 carburettors.

Only two 410 Sports were built to these specifications to be used in racing. They bore the chassis numbers 0596 CM and 0598 CM, the abbreviation CM standing for “Carrera Messicana”. However, after development of the 410 Sport had begun in 1955, both the Carrera Panamericana and the 1000 kilometre race at the Nürburgring were cancelled due to the Le Mans tragedy (in which 83 spectators were killed and a further 180 injured when a Mercedes-Benz 300 SLR veered off the track and smashed into the crowd). Instead, Maranello re-purposed the 410 Sport to compete in the 1956 World Sports Car Championship. They debuted at the 1000 km of Buenos Aires in January 1956, where the season began.

The two cars, chassis numbers 0596 CM and 0598 CM, were driven by the teams Peter Collins and Luigi Musso and Juan Manual Fangio and Eugenio Castellotti respectively. Fangio had requested a special modification for 0598 CM which moved the accelerator pedal from its normal position to a position between the brake pedal and the clutch. After Castellotti had a tyre problem and the car had to pit for repairs, Fangio jumped into 0598 CM and chased after Stirling Moss in the leading Maserati 300S. After Fangio had regained the lead, the differential gave up the ghost on the 89th lap (28 laps after the gearbox failed in 0596 CM). There was too much power, Fangio’s pace too high. Both cars were sent back to the factory for overhaul and later delivered to private customers in 1956. One of them: John Edgar.

In July 1956, John Edgar had lured Carroll Shelby away from Scuderia Parravano. While waiting for 0598 CM to be delivered, Shelby scored a series of victories for Team Edgar on smaller circuits, including the Race to the Clouds in Mount Washington, New Hampshire, the Laurel Run Hillclimb, the Brynfan Tyddyn and the Breakneck Hillclimb outside Cumberland, Maryland. The main attraction, however, would arrive by air in San Francisco in August 1956, where tireless team mechanic and shipper Joe Landaker picked up the 410 Sport and transported it to the Seafair event in Bremerton, Washington. In his first race at 0598 CM, Shelby took the big pot right away, laying the foundation for many more wins in the future.

With Shelby’s victories also came telegrams to John Edgar sent by none other than Enzo Ferrari, who apparently took an active interest in Shelby’s continued success at the wheel of 0598 CM and congratulated him on more than one occasion. At the SCCA season finale in Palm Springs in early November, Edgar entered six cars to win the championship. The 410 Sport was dubbed “Edgar’s Modena Monster” by the press, and with Shelby at the wheel, there didn’t seem to be a race he couldn’t win. Shelby told a Los Angeles Times reporter: “Nothing can touch this Ferrari when it’s running”. Decades later, he added, “It was the best Ferrari I ever drove.” Edgar’s son William, who witnessed the whole story from the front row, wrote about it many times during his career as a motorsport journalist and later summed up, “The car was the perfect match for Shelby – brash, powerful, brilliant at how it could crush the competition. Watching it run was breathtaking. No, terrifying.”

Shelby took pole position for Saturday’s preliminary race at Palm Springs. He faced a challenging field that included Phil Hill in a Ferrari 857 Sport, who had just completed his first year with the Ferrari factory team (which brought the 1956 FIA World Sports Car Championship to Maranello). After a standing start at 15.00, Bill Murphy took the lead in his Buick-powered Kurtis, but was quickly overtaken by Shelby and Hill. In the corners Hill’s nimble 857 S maintained the upper hand while Shelby braked hard, and on the straights Carroll gave substance with his 5-litre engine to regain the lead. This pattern was repeated again and again during the race, with Shelby finishing first at the end of each lap. On the final lap, the two cars battled side by side until Shelby roared to victory, just half a second ahead of Hill. Shelby later joked that he could have taken a bigger lead over Hill at any time with his horsepower monster, but he was having too much fun with their epic duel. The Texan had won the race, capping a season in which he won 40 different events, including 18 main races. Four months later, his infectious grin graced the cover of Sports Illustrated magazine, which named him the 1956 US Sports Car Driver of the Year – his celebrity had shifted to a bigger stage.

In early December 1956, 0598 CM was shipped off to Nassau for Bahamas Speed Week. Given the tarmac and crushed coral of the former RAF airbase, Team Edgar knew they needed stronger rubber and a set of Belgian Englebert tyres were ordered to replace the standard Pirellis. Shelby started strongly, winning the Friday Governor’s Trophy race and taking Saturday off to rest up for the 200-mile Nassau Trophy main event the next day. Unfortunately, a rash football play with a coconut resulted in Carroll sustaining an injured right shoulder and, with more Englebert wear than expected, he struggled to keep up with Stirling Moss, Masten Gregory and the Marquis de Portago, eventually retiring after unscheduled tyre stops and in great pain with 70 miles to go.

At the start of the 1957 season, John Edgar continued to pin his hopes on Shelby in the 410 Sport, and although Carroll failed to qualify in a rainy race at Pomona in January, he managed two wins at New Smyrna Beach, Florida, in February. This led to an epic duel at the Gran Premio de Cuba, a 310-mile, 90-lap race through the streets of Havana and along the beachfront Malecón. John Edgar filmed the race from the balcony of his hotel room and watched as Shelby’s 410 Sport held off Portago to eventually finish second, 60 seconds behind Juan Manuel Fangio’s Maserati 300S.

From that point on, Edgar began courting Maserati and eventually agreed to a deal for Shelby to pilot a 450S, Modena’s massive new V-8 sports car. Maserati later had difficulty delivering the car and offered a 300S as a loaner instead. Since the contract with Maserati stipulated that Shelby could not drive a Ferrari under any circumstances, Edgar was content to enter Phil Hill in the 0598 CM for Hawaii Speed Week in April 1957. Hill was the fastest driver in the infamous “speed trap” at Dillingham Air Force Base on northern Oahu, where he reached a staggering 165.12 mph. However, after a few late-night phone calls to Barbara Hutton, Edgar agreed to let her son Lance Reventlow drive Team Edgar’s Porsche 550, while Hill’s participation in the race with the Edgar Ferrari was inexplicably cancelled. A month later Hill finished 3rd in the Santa Barbara race, where the short, twisty track negated the 410 Sport’s strengths on long straights, and shortly afterwards Hill left the Edgar team for good to race for Scuderia Ferrari at Le Mans.

John Edgar had sunk almost half a million dollars into the construction of the new Riverside International Raceway, and after Shelby was injured in an accident with one of the Edgar Maseratis, Richie Ginther had to compete in the Ferrari 410 Sport at the track’s premiere in September 1957. Starting from 5th on the grid, Ginther faced daunting competition including Chuck Daigh in a Troutman-Barnes Special, Bob Drake in a Ferrari 375 Plus and Pete Woods in a Jaguar D-Type. But Ginther was undeterred and took the lead after 22 laps, which he extended to victory at the wheel of the 0598 CM – winning the first ever race at Riverside. Richie Ginther also drove 0598 CM for the rest of the 1957 season, which ended at Bahamas Speed Week. Ginther achieved several second place finishes at Nassau and a total of four different top five results. 

1958 saw less action for the 410 Sport, although it got off to an exciting start with the Gran Premio de Cuba. The Cuban rebels under Fidel Castro famously caused the Battista government quite a headache by kidnapping Fangio and almost getting Moss too. Masten Gregory drove the Edgar 410 Sport brilliantly, overtaking Stirling Moss in a Ferrari 335S and extending his lead. After a Ferrari went off the track due to an oil spill and into the crowd of spectators, the race was red flagged and Gregory was waved off in first place. Believing he had won the race, he took off the throttle. Moss passed him at full speed and a bemused Gregory watched in horror as the chequered flag showed Moss as the winner. Moss explained to the furious Gregory, who finished second, shortly afterwards that under red flag rules the last lap must be completed before the race result is determined. Moss realised that Gregory would have won the race had he not stumbled over this technicality and, in true gentlemanly fashion, shared the prize money with Gregory.

Carroll Shelby demanded one last drive in his trusty 0598 CM after the Maserati 450S was put out of action due to mechanical problems before the main race at Palm Springs in April 1958, breaking the terms of Maserati’s contract. Back in Shelby’s hands, the 410 Sport did respectably, finishing 2nd. Of his time with Edgar and the 410 Sport, Carroll Shelby later told William Edgar: “Racing in the 1950s was really and truly one of the best times of my life. It was an era that is gone and will never return.”

In October, Masten Gregory competed in the Los Angeles Times Grand Prix at Riverside with young Swedish driver Joakim Bonnier, finishing 11th overall and 3rd in class. The swan song for 0598 CM for Team Edgar came two months later in Nassau at the 1958 Bahamas Speed Week, where Bruce Kessler drove the car to victory in Saturday’s Ferrari race. After his illustrious racing career, John Edgar sold 0598 CM to Luigi Chinetti in 1960. The car was brought out of retirement and prepared for the 1963 Daytona Continental 3 Hours for NART driver “Fireball” Roberts. However, the rules had changed since 0598 CM was last on the track. The rules now stated that the cars had to have a solid roof, which required the fabrication of a crude hardtop in order for 0598 CM to compete. After practice rounds showed that the improvised hardtop slowed the car too much to qualify, 0598 CM went back into retirement and Roberts drove a Ferrari 250 GTO instead.

Chinetti kept the 410 Sport for two decades, eventually selling the car to Howard Cohen in 1980. In 1984 the Ferrari was sold to Don Walker, in 1987 it was acquired by hotelier Bill Marriott and a year later sold to Swiss collector Engelbert Stieger of the Turning Wheel Collection. Even after its acquisition by prominent Ferrari collector Chris Cox in 2005, who drove the 0598 CM at the 2005 Goodwood Festival of Speed, the 410 Sport continued to appear at premier events. In January 2006 the Ferrari was acquired from Chris Cox by the current owner – on 19/20 August the Ferrari will now be auctioned by RM Sotheby’s in Monterey. There is no estimated price yet, but it will definitely be in the tens of millions.

Text: RM Sotheby’s/pru., Photos: RM Sotheby’s. There are a few other Ferraris in our archives.

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