A 5-liter dose of sports car dominance – 1

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Article by Matt Boyd
Photos by Hope McCall

No manufacturer has been as deeply committed to racing success as Ferrari, and while the prancing horse crest will always be associated first with Formula 1 open-wheel racers, it’s in sports-car racing that the marque made its most significant impact. Following the establishment of the World Sportscar Championship (WSC) in 1953, Ferrari took eight of the first 10 series titles—a feat that has never even been approached since. One secret to its dominance was the use of as much F1 technology as rules permitted— which, in the early years, was quite a lot. The WSC was governed by the sanctioning body that also oversaw the F1 Championship—the FIA—and the engine rules were remarkably similar. It may not have taken an engineering genius to realize that fitting an F1 powerplant into a sports car body would make a very stout sports racer, but Ferrari had a genius just the same. His name was Aurelio Lampredi. The successor to Gioacchino Colombo, Lampredi had developed a large-displacement V-12 and a number of 4-cylinder engines that served as the basis for Ferrari’s racing program throughout most of the decade. The Lampredi V-12 first appeared in a sports car as a 4.1-liter in the 340 MM, but it was soon punched out to 4.5L in the 375 MM. This was essentially Ferrari’s F1 engine, slightly retuned for the endurance format of WSC races. Both MMs were fairly successful and helped Ferrari capture the inaugural WSC title, but it was in 1954 that the Lampredi V-12 truly reached its peak, and the vehicle that carried it was the 375 Plus. Its body was virtually identical to the 375 MM; “Plus”referred to a further enlargement of the V-12 up to 5.0L. Its power was as much as 350 ponies in sprint race format in a car that weighed less than 2,000 pounds. But just as important in endurance racing is reliability, so the Plus was bolstered with a new, stronger gearbox and a De Dion rear axle. And to ensure that it spent as much time as possible exercising its power advantage instead of in the pits, it was fitted with a gargantuan 180L (45-gallon) fuel tank that when full, added 15 percent—nearly 300 pounds!—to the car’s weight. This tank creates the primary visual distinction of the Plus—a pronounced hump in the rear deck was necessary to clear the larger tank.

BBR models are pretty much rolling highlights; each of its more than 900 pieces is a study in the art of accurate miniaturization. It is also a study in the effectiveness of selecting a slightly less familiar, less often modeled diecast from a high-profile marque. The 375 Plus is hardly an unknown, but it probably doesn’t jump to mind immediately when you say “classic Ferrari.” That may change after folks get a close look at this model.

Quick access to fluid reservoirs was a necessity in long endurance races. They’re all functional on this model for that added touch of authenticity.

Exterior. The Plus’s bodywork shows an early version of the profile that would come to represent Ferrari for the next decade. The narrow waistline and hunched rear fender look became so widely copied that we sometimes forget the trend really started with early ’50s Ferraris. This car looks slightly longer than you’d expect—a product of the original’s lengthy (for a two-seater) 102-inch wheelbase. The signature oval grille is present, delightfully rendered with individually cast vertical and horizontal bars. The red paint is beautiful, but a close look reveals that the penalty for a color this luscious is that it goes on thick, and that results in some slight pooling around the simulated rivets. Of course, that’s only visible because BBR chose to cast those rivets so expertly, so I can’t seriously fault the model.
What will quickly catch your eye are all the little surface details—not only separate castings but also fully functional for the most part. Endurance racers needed to allow easy access for topping off fluids during a long race like the 24 Hours of Le Mans, so exterior hatches were cut into the bodywork for radiator fluid, oil and gas. All of these work on the BBR Plus, as do the real leather hood tie-down buckles, pivot-spring hood pins and a pair of novel spring catches for the rear deck. There is also a passenger seat cover panel that aligns perfectly with the body and windscreen.

Interior. Where else but in a ’50s-era gentleman racer would you expect to find a pair of real leather-covered racing seats—and I do mean real. BBR often uses the same authentic hide as the factory uses for upholstery in its fullsize cars. Although its thickness bunches slightly in tight corners, you can’t beat it for real texture. The instrument cluster is minimalist and positioned right in front of the driver in a panel that is faired into the body. A secondary panel houses electronics that look every day of this car’s 50-year-plus vintage. The steering wheel is simulated, wood front and back, with a metal center section. It earns points for accurate sandwich construction, but the wooden sections tend to separate a bit. No such difficulty with the shifter assembly—the shift gate that Ferrari is famous for is cut nicely out of sheet metal with the mounting bolts and the reverse-lockout switch clearly identifiable. With its aluminum ball handle, the shift lever rows cleanly through the gate—a highly uncommon feature in 1:18 scale.

The chrome-ringed gauges, wooden steering wheel and real leather seats are all great vintage touches, but the metal shift gate— with its functional gear lever—is timeless. How often do you see that in 1:18?

Updated: June 30, 2011 — 11:26 AM
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