Story: Barry Green
Photos: Peter Watkins
AS a 1960s schoolboy, Barry Green spent his hard-earned pocket money on Racing Car News and Sports Car World, monthly enthusiast magazines he would studiously pore over at the expense of any text book. Little wonder then that reading about fast cars and motorsport led to a four decade career (not out) writing about same, initially as freelancer then author and professional writer. His exploits are captured in two recent release books, The Best of Drives 1 and 2, each a first-hand compilation of nearly 80 drives on some of the world’s greatest roads and circuits. This story is but one . . . (Headshot photo - Ernest Litera)
Car 1951 Ferrari Type 212 Export Berlinetta
Drive Adelaide Hills / Barossa Valley
BY very nature of the beast, Ferrari road tests tend to be few and far between.
But what made my first two drives amazing beyond the rarity of opportunity was an uncanny sequence of circumstances and coincidences.
The first involved the 112th Ferrari ever made, a 1951 Type 212 Export by Touring of Milan.
Boasting a rich competition history in Italy that included several Mille Miglia road races, this handsome, compact V12 coupe arrived in Australia in 1956 in the colours of magenta and silver, where it raced sparingly before passing through a succession of owners.
In 1985, I had the opportunity of writing a feature story on #0112E for Sports Car World magazine, which involved a day’s drive with its owner Andy Brown through the Adelaide Hills and Barossa Valley.
Acclaimed Adelaide-based photographer Peter Watkins was commissioned to shoot the action.
Back then, Bob Hawke, the so-called Silver Bodgie, was Prime Minister of Australia; the subliminal sound of Tears for Fears' hit ‘Everybody Wants to Rule the World’ pulsed from the AM car radio; and the words ‘Formula 1’ were about to be added to the title of Australian Grand Prix.
At the time, I was a Sergeant in the RAAF based in Melbourne and writing freelance for a number of good-read motoring, motorsport and motorcycle magazines.
An Air Force colleague, John Withers, had just been made an offer he couldn't refuse on a damaged MV Agusta 750 GT he had so expertly restored.
The offer came from one Bill Alexander, an enthusiast and collector of great things Italian on four and two wheels.
John sold, Bill bought, and I hotfooted it out to Mt Waverley to do a photo story on the GT and its handsome Sport sibling which Mr Alexander also owned.
It just so happened that he was going on to the annual Sandown (Park) Historics, and so was I.
We ran into one another there and Bill introduced me to someone who had bought one of his collection and was racing it on the day.
Said gent was Andy Brown, the car a Ferrari, and in the course of conversation, he – somewhat incredulously – invited me to Adelaide to have a steer of his Type 212 Export Berlinetta.
In those early days of Ferrari, the factory produced the rolling chassis and a Carrozzeri (coachbuilder) was commissioned to fabricate the body, hand-built to the customer’s specifications.
Because of this, the dimensions, body styles and features of the car could vary.
In the instance of the 212, there were basically two models – the Inter, which was intended for road use, and the Export, primarily constructed for competition.
All versions came with the standard Ferrari five-speed, non-synchromesh gearbox, and hydraulic drum brakes.
Under the long, shapely bonnet lurked a Colombo-designed, 2.5-litre V12 available in a variety of tune and specification of customer’s choice.
With standard single Weber 36 DCF carburettor fitted, the engine produced 150hp (112kW); opting for triple Weber 32 DCFs liberated another 20hp (15kW).
At some stage, a replacement engine was fitted to #0112E, a 2.7-litre V12 from the later 225 model.
This was upgraded to use roller-type cam followers that were first introduced by Lampredi in the long-block V12, and power rated at 210bhp (155kW) @ 7200rpm.
Italian consul and textile agent Nino Sacilotto imported the car into Australia, duly arriving aboard the SS Neptunia in February 1956.
It made the cover of Wheels magazine’s June issue, a tagline to the story inside declaring it to be ‘The fastest road car registered in Australia’.
The 212 campaigned at a select number of race meetings – Mt Panorama, Gnoo Blas and the 1956 Australian Tourist Trophy at Albert Park where it finished second in class.
Back now to 1985…
A drive of a superlative car like this deserves a superlative setting and the legendary Gorge Rd outside Adelaide, certainly provided that.
Many a test car has since come and gone and many a bold red decanted, but here's how I relive that golden autumn day…
Nervously letting out the clutch, I coax the gear lever across and up to first.
Away we go without stalling, but my first and subsequent attempt to change to second are foiled by the cantankerous ‘crash’ gearbox.
Coming from a generation pampered by all-synchro transmissions, I made the mistake of waiting too long on the upshift and getting caught in No Man’s Land. I can’t get into second nor go back to first.
The only escape is to double declutch, normally only done on downshifting so Andy Brown, seated alongside, advises: clutch in, slip into neutral, release the clutch, blip the throttle, declutch again at just the right moment and complete the shift.
I’m half expecting him to add, “Listen, son, I was racing cars with this type of gearbox back when you were still in nappies.”
True words – the year I was born (1953), he drove an MG K3 to a fine third place in the Australian Grand Prix at Albert Park.
At legal speeds, the feel of the steering, gear shift, pedal travel is h-e-a-v-y.
This is a car you drive with your forearms and wrists, rather than palms and fingers.
Then, with 5500rpm dialed up on the big, chrome-rimmed tachometer, the sounds of Fiorano fill the cockpit as the lusty V12 comes onto full song, the 212 accelerating away with such force as to push me deep into the hand-made, leather bucket seat.
And that’s when the whole driving sensation lightens up and soars to a higher level.
Committing to one fast, sweeping bend after another, the Ferrari consumes the road in aggressive swoops without a twitch of body roll.
Simply put, this is one car that gets better to drive the faster you push. Just the way it should be.
The brakes, though, are another thing; the big, finned drums a shadow of what we have come to expect from the multi-pot discs of recent times.
This veritable drive of a lifetime is over all too soon.
But it was an absolute privilege to leave my fingerprints on that handsome, thin wooden steering wheel, one with the Il Cavalino badge at its centre.
And that’s where the story ends. Or does it?
Lightning, it would appear, can strike twice.
Exactly 20 years later, I received an invitation from Ferrari’s then-new Australasian agents, European Automotive Imports, to go to the City of Churches and drive another Fezza of great provenance, one of a pair of contemporary 612 Scagliettis that had just made world headlines and the record books by accomplishing a monumental trek across China.
Like its illustrious ancestor of some five decades earlier, the 612 presented in similar livery (red and silver) and again our drive took in the very same roads and a photo shoot by none other than Peter Watkins.
You can read all about it next week.