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1959 Ferrari 400 Superamerica Coupe : Classic Cars

Catering to the world's most fortunate, Ferrari built the America and subsequent SuperAmerica models to special order throughout the 1950s. Except for the earliest examples these luxurious Grand Tourers were clothed by Pinin Farina and all of them were powered by the Aurelio Lampredi designed 'long block' V12 engine. The last Lampredi engined 410 SuperAmerica was completed in November of 1959. Ferrari started the decade fresh with the 400 SuperAmerica launched in Brussels in January. Clothed by Pininfarina with an understated Cabriolet body, the Italian manufacturer's latest Grand Tourer sported an all new chassis and engine.

For the first time the SuperAmerica used a derivative of the 'short block' V12 engine, penned by Gioacchino Colombo back in 1946. Back then it displaced just 1.5 litre but over the years it had grown in size considerably. At four litres, the Tipo 163 version used in the 400 SuperAmerica had a swept-volume almost three times the size of the original. The type number used raised some questions as it did not relate to the unitary displacement (330 cc) as had become a Ferrari tradition. Ferrari did not release performance figures immediately and some even suggested that the unusual type number was an indication of the horsepower available. Although Ferrari never explained the type name, the 400 was most likely a reference to the engine's displacement. Eventually Ferrari stated the engine produced 340 bhp, which probably was a tat too optimistic as well.

Like the engine, the chassis was also derived from the smaller 250 GT model. The biggest change was a wheelbase increase of just 20 mm to create a little more interior space. The lineage of the chassis could also be traced back to those used for the earliest Ferraris. The steel ladder frame was constructed of two oval-tube members with several cross-braces to increase rigidity. The front suspension was by double wishbones and coil springs while at the rear a live-axle and semi-elliptic leaf springs were fitted. Ferrari did break with tradition by replacing the tried and trusted drum brakes with Dunlop-sourced discs. The four-speed gearbox was also very similar to the 250 GT's. It did feature stronger gears to cope with the additional power and torque produced by the bigger engine.

While the 400 SuperAmerica was officially introduced in Brussels, the world, unknowingly, had already received a first taste of things to come a few months earlier. Late in 1959, Pininfarina had shown a striking one-off special commissioned by Fiat supremo Gianni Agnelli. The bold styling probably disguised the fact that under the skin, the car was very much a 400 SuperAmerica. The only difference of note was the slightly longer, 2500 mm, wheelbase. The 'second' SuperAmerica shown early in 1960 had an altogether more subtle Cabriolet coachwork. From a distance it could even be mistaken for a contemporary 250 GT Cabriolet. Up close the exquisite detailing and unique touches did set it apart from the lower range Ferraris. Almost all SuperAmericas built that year sported this open-top body; naturally no two were the same.

In October that year Pininfarina showed the 400 SuperAmerica based 'Superfast II' study at the Turin Show. This styling exercise served as a preview of the aerodynamic fixed-head body to be offered on the Grand Tourer chassis. This 'Aerodinamico Coupe' had very smooth lines and a particularly rounded rear-end. A similar design was tried on one of the 250 GTO prototypes but this proved unstable at high speeds. With its additional weight, it was believed that the 400 SuperAmerica would not suffer the same problems. Although an official top speed of 265 km/h was quoted, later tests showed that the 'Aerodinamico' could actually get very close to the 300 km/h mark. Offered from 1961 onwards, the new coupe was the coachwork of choice. It could be ordered with open or closed headlights and the width of the grille also varied.

After a run of about two dozen cars, the original 400 SuperAmerica was replaced by the Series 2 late in 1962. The single biggest difference between the two was the lengthened, 2600 mm, wheelbase on the second generation model. Pininfarina continued to offer the choice of Cabriolet and Aerodinamico Coupe bodies. All but four customers went the fixed-head route. A total of 22 examples of the S2 were produced before it was replaced by the 500 Superfast in 1964. This was only available with a single Pininfarina design; Ferrari's Grand Tourer had effectively been transformed into a production car. As the final 400 SuperAmerica was completed, the era of the custom Ferrari ended. Today these exquisite machines are often overlooked and overshadowed by the smaller engined 250 GT variants. With its powerful V12 engine, race-bred chassis and beautiful coach-work, the 400 SuperAmerica deserves a more prominent position in Ferrari's rich history.

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Sources : 1959 Ferrari 400 Superamerica Coupe Photo | 1959 Ferrari 400 Superamerica Coupe Article


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