The decision to release a new scale-model Ferrari must be one of the easiest calls a model car company can make. After all, Ferrari is almost inarguably the world’s most popular automotive brand, and miniature replicas of its scarlet creations are eagerly snapped up by model collectors hoping to grab a small piece of Enzo’s dream. However, among Ferraris there is clearly a pecking order of desirability, even in scale-model form, with iconic classics like the 250GTO, modern favorites like the 458 Italia, or championship winning racers monopolizing model collectors’ attention. It must take courage to bring to market a model of a less well-known, less successful Ferrari, and even more courage to do so at a premium price point.
Thankfully, the genius modellers at CMC of Germany have done just that with their 1:18-scale version of the 1969 312P Berlinetta. Composed of nearly 1600 individual parts, the CMC 312 is a towering achievement in diecast car modelling, even if its subject was a disappointment on the racetrack. CMC has lavished the same fanatical attention to detail on the 312P that they did on the more universally beloved 250 California Spyder and 156 “Sharknose.” The result is simply stunning, especially when one considers that the 312P’s history makes it anything but an obvious choice to replicate in scale.
In 1969, Ferrari’s legendary sports car racing program was in what might charitably be called a transitional phase. Archrival Ford was on their way to their fourth consecutive victory at the 24 Hours of Le Mans, and the only weapon in Ferrari’s arsenal that had proven on occasion to be the equal of the Fords, the 4-liter 330 P4, had been legislated into obsolescence when the Commission Sportive Internationale (or CSI, then the governing body of international motorsport) decreed that the World Championship for Sports Cars would be contested by Group 6 prototypes of less than 3 liters displacement (though Group 4 sports cars up to 5 liters displacement like the old Ford GT40 would be allowed to compete if a minimum production run of 50 examples was achieved.) In a typical display of coolheadedness, Enzo Ferrari responded by boycotting the 1968 championship season.
Ferrari, however, had an ace up his sleeve: the 312 Formula 1 car, which was powered quite conveniently by a 3-liter V12 that would be rules-compliant for the 1969 sports car championship. An open alloy-and-fiberglass body was stretched over a lightly modified version of the Formula 1 car’s semi-monocoque chassis, and instantly, the 312P sports racer was born.
Despite limited testing and a tight budget (Ferrari’s new majority owner, Fiat, was busy pumping funds into the former’s road car program) the 312P made its racing debut at the 1969 12 Hours of Sebring. Driven by Mario Andretti and Chris Amon, the 312P Spyder fought through mechanical maladies and collision damage to a strong 2nd-place finish, only one lap behind the winning Porsche 908. This positive result provided Ferrari with motivation to press on with the 312P program, but testing at Le Mans revealed the need for more aerodynamic, closed-roof “berlinetta” coachwork in order to achieve high speeds on the Mulsanne Straight. The resulting design, the 312P Berlinetta, stands as one of the most beautiful racing cars ever created.
The seeds of the 312P’s doom, however, had been sown when the CSI revised their rules once again to lower the minimum production run of the bigger Group 4 cars from 50 examples to 25. Though this move was intended to create fuller entry fields at championship events by allowing older cars to compete, its unintended consequence was to lower the financial investment required to develop a purpose-built race car to fit the Group 4 rules. Porsche responded by quickly producing the 917, a 4.5-liter, flat-12 powered monster created with one purpose in mind: win Le Mans outright. 25 examples were homologated by an astonished CSI, and small-bore prototypes like the Ferrari 312P were rendered obsolete almost overnight. Ferrari shifted to development of its own Group 4 contender, the 512, to meet the Porsche challenge for the 1970 season.
The 312P soldiered on throughout 1969, picking up a handful of top-5 finishes at short or medium-distance events throughout Europe. Of the three examples completed, two were then sold to Luigi Chinetti’s North American Racing Team by the end the season, and would go on to moderately successful careers at Sebring, Daytona, and other U.S. races. The other car was heavily damaged in a crash and eventually rebodied as the 512S show car.
It’s a misconception that the 312P was a total failure. It’s more accurate to say that it was simply the wrong car at the wrong time, a victim of the politics of racing as much as limited development and plain old bad luck. Today, we can look at the 312P as a gorgeous reminder of a very specific era in sports car racing history, one that marked a shift away from true production-based GTs and toward purpose built, highly exotic prototypes for world championship contention. Viewed in this light, the 312P was, in fact, an innovator.
CMC’s 1:18 scale tribute to the Ferrari 312P Berlinetta is now available for $420 at http://www.carriagehousemodels.com.