1953 Ferrari 340 Mexico
Alberto Ascari was a man in a hurry. In a relatively short Grand Prix career between 1948 and 1955, he became Formula One World Champion in 1952 and 1953, winning nine consecutive races on his way to the 1952 title.
Ascari also finished second in Mexico’s La Carrera Panamericana in 1951, teamed with Luigi Villoresi in the second of two factory Ferrari 212 Inter Berlinettas. After eight stages totaling 2,096 miles, on road conditions best described as wretched, the pair were only eight minutes behind winners Piero Taruffi and Luigi Chinetti. Ferrari had achieved a one-two finish, ahead of 33 American sedans, with varying degrees of factory support.
Carrera Panamericana in 1952
Clearly, 1952 was going to be a factory fight to the finish, and Ferrari built four cars specifically for the event. That year, the race was divided into sports and stock classes, with 26 cars entered in the European sports-car category. Mercedes would bring two 300 SL Gullwing coupes and a roadster, and there were entries from Jaguar, Gordini, Lancia and Porsche.
The factory Ferraris were named “Mexico” for the event. Designed by Giovanni Michelotti for Vignale, the 77.5-inch hood was one of the longest ever to grace a Ferrari, while the unique fenders extended beyond the oval grille in what is one of the most wildly attractive Vignale designs to date. Built as lightweight “340 America models,” with a small-diameter Tuboscossia chassis, the cars were powered by the Lampredi-designed, 4.1-liter, V-12. With 280 horsepower on tap, the Mexicos were capable of 0-60 mph in six seconds and had a top speed of 174 mph – extraordinary performance both then and now.
Enzo Ferrari pinned his hopes on Alberto Ascari/Giuseppi Scotuzzi, Franco Cornacchia/Luigi Villoresi and Luigi Chinetti/Jean Lucas, who represented Ferrari’s American operation. Giovanni Bracco was entered in a lighter 250 MM Berlinetta and very nearly pulled off a win. A 340 Mexico Barchetta roadster was entered for American Bill Spear, but he did not start.
Ascari and 0226 AT
The Mexico Berlinetta presented here – s/n 0226 AT – is remarkable for its matching-numbers originality and the comprehensive provenance that accompanies it. S/n 0226 AT was originally sold by Luigi Chinetti to Allen Guibertson of Dallas, Texas for the princely sum of $14,500. Chinetti also arranged for Ferrari team drivers Ascari and Scotuzzi to race the car in the 1952 Carrera Panamericana. The intensely competitive Ascari had been a runner-up the year before and had already disobeyed team orders to make certain of his first Formula One World Championship. He was a fiercely competitive and highly talented driver, to say the least.
Starting in 14th position, Ascari set a blistering pace and worked his way up to sixth by the 50-mile mark, where he passed Speed Age magazine writer Vince McDonald, camped by the side of the road. Here’s what McDonald saw:
“50 miles out (from the start), just over the first series of hills, the road wound down into a valley, across three narrow bridges, then back up into the hills. A blinding blanket of fog lay over the valley and it was here that we awaited the racing pack.
“At 7.25 a.m. the first car could be heard, as it screamed through the turns and down into the soup, hit the first, second and last wooden bridge with a deep rumble and disappeared. The fog was so thick that only by standing on the edge of the road and straining hard could the first car be distinguished – a Mercedes.
“Almost immediately the other two Mercedes-Benz went through, then the fog began to lift and the next car came off the bridge, a Ferrari driven by Efrain Ruiz Echeverria of Mexico City. Santos Litona Diaz in a Jaguar was next, with Alberto Ascari, who had started in 14th place trying desperately to pass on a bridge that was hardly wide enough for one car.”
The pace was clearly fast and furious. In a race that claimed more lives than would be acceptable by any modern standards, Ascari passed nine competitors at blistering speeds before his race came to an end prematurely as he lost control over loose stones and collided with a rocky ledge.
With John Fitch disqualified in his Mercedes, the Chinetti/Jean Lucas Ferrari Mexico salvaged third place for Ferrari, while Jack McAfee finished fifth and Phil Hill and Arnold Stubbs were sixth. In all, there were only 39 finishers from 92 starters.
Ascari’s car, s/n 0226 AT, was shipped back to Ferrari and Vignale for repairs, then returned to Guibertson in Dallas in the spring of 1953. Guibertson sold it to A.V. Dayton, who entered it in the July 4th SCCA race at Offut Air Force Base in Omaha, Nebraska, driven by Carroll Shelby and Jack McAfee, who finished second. Just one year old, 0226 AT had already been driven by some of the greatest international racing legends in the world.
On October 25, Dayton entered the car in the Sowega SCCA races in Atlanta, Georgia, where, driven by a Mr. Duncan, it was sidelined by electrical problems. Dayton sold the car back to Chinetti before the end of the year.