The car you see above and below is a 1954 Ferrari 500 Mondial Spider. In fact, it’s just the second one ever built of the 13 that were made, and it raced in-period at the Mille Miglia, Targa Florio, and Imola Grand Prix.
Ferrari became best-known for their V12s, then their flat-12s, V6s, and V8s, but many don’t realize than back in the early days of the Italian automaker their most important engine was a little inline-four-cylinder Lampredi unit that powered them to multiple wins and World Championships.
Fast Facts – A Ferrari 500 Mondial Spider
- The Ferrari 500 Mondial was named in honor of Alberto Ascari’s back-to-back World Championship wins in 1952 ands 1953 – the word “Mondial” means “World” in Italian. The 500 denotes the displacement of a single cylinder, in this case 500cc.
- Enzo Ferrari had tasked engineer Aurelio Lampredi with developing a four-cylinder engine for use in Formula Two. He had noticed that on twisty circuits without long straights his Colombo-designed V12 was at a disadvantage. The new Lampredi inline-four had 65% fewer moving parts and it weighed 92.8 pounds less, while offering improved reliability.
- Versions of this Lampredi inline-four would power Ferrari’s Formula Two cars as well as the Ferrari Monza series of sports racing cars built from the early 1950s until 1957.
- The car you see in this article is just the second 500 Mondial built, it was raced in period at the Mille Miglia, Targa Florio, and Imola Grand Prix. Notably, it was piloted by ex-Scuderia Ferrari team driver Franco Cortese in 1954 – the first driver to ever pilot a Ferrari to victory.
The Ferrari 500 Mondial
The Ferrari 500 Mondial was a car borne out of the tumultuous early years of the Formula One World Championship. Though it wasn’t a Formula One car itself it was powered by a modified version of the inline-four-cylinder Lampredi engine that had launched Ferrari to back-to-back F1 World Championships wins in 1952 and 1953 – both with Alberto Ascari at the wheel.
In 1952 the world of Formula One faced a unique problem, Alfa Romeo had withdrawn from competition due to financial constraints and this left just Ferrari. Not wanting to have a grid featuring cars from only one marque, the decision was made to run the 1952 season to Formula 2 regulations – this allowed for more competitors and made things more interesting for the spectators.
The 1952 Ferrari entry was the Ferrari Tipo 500, a monoposto Formula 2 car developed by Aurelio Lampredi and powered by the 2.0 liter inline-four cylinder Lampredi engine. Alberto Ascari would drive his Tipo 500 to six wins from the eight races in 1952, winning the Championship handily.
A year later in 1953 he once again won the Championship, though this time he won five of nine races. Ferrari would take seven wins total, one with Mike Hawthorn at the wheel and another with Giuseppe Farina driving.
It would be a modified version of this Championship-winning Formula 2 engine that would be modified and used to power the Ferrari 500 Mondial. The car was developed as a two-seat sports racing car and bodies for it were built either by Scaglietti or Pinin Farina (which would become Pininfarina from 1962 onwards).
For use in the 500 Mondial the Lampredi engine had a displacement of 2.0 liters and power output of 170 bhp at 7,000 rpm. It featured double overhead cams and two valves per cylinder, and it was fed by dual Weber 45 DCOA/3 carburetors. It was fitted with two spark plugs per cylinder running from two separate coils, it had a bore x stroke of 90 x 78mm, dry sump lubrication, and a compression ratio of 8.5:1.
500 Mondial had a tubular steel chassis and it was fitted with independent front suspension consisting of unequal-length wishbones, a transverse leaf spring, and hydraulic shock absorbers. In the rear you would find a de Dion arrangement with twin radius arms, a transverse leaf spring, and matching Houdaille hydraulic shock absorbers.
Drum brakes were fitted at all four corners, as was standard for the era, and the car had worm and sector steering, a 5-speed gearbox, and a dry weight of just 720 kgs (1,587 lbs).
The first race for the Ferrari 500 Mondial would be at the 12 Hours of Casablanca, fittingly the car would be driven by Ascari who was partnered by Luigi Villoresi. The men placed second – but only to another Ferrari, a 375MM.
Pinin Farina bodied the first 13 cars with low-profile Spider coachwork, a pair of berlinettas would follow, and then Scaglietti assumed coachwork production.
Many of these cars saw competition use in period, with entries into some of the most illustrious races of the time including the Mille Miglia and the Targa Florio. Some would remain racing well into the 1960s, with one 500 Mondial entering the 1962 Carrera Presidential Race in Mexico City, scoring a fourth-place finish overall.
The 1954 Ferrari 500 Mondial Project Car Shown Here
The car you see here is quite obviously a project car, it suffered a serious crash and subsequent fire damage in the mid-1960s and it’s remained in storage ever since – locked away from public eye for over 50 years.
The early life of this car, chassis 0406 MD, was fascinating – it’s just the second Mondial built, originally completed with Pinin Farina spider coachwork. It was raced in 1954 by ex-Scuderia Ferrari team driver Franco Cortese, a man famous for being the driver to pilot the first Ferrari to the marque’s first overall victory.
Chassis 0406 MD raced at many of the most important events in period including the Mille Miglia, Targa Florio, and Imola Grand Prix. Sadly, the car’s original 2.0 liter Lampredi inline-four was lost to history, it was replaced with an American V8 in 1963. This was common practice for the time as sourcing spare parts for exotic European engines wasn’t always straightforward.
The car is now accompanied with a more powerful 3.0 liter Tipo 119 Lampredi inline-four cylinder engine, as would have been used in a Ferrari 750 Monza. This presents the new owner with the option to rebuild this car back into a chimaera of sorts, which will result in a car that’s both faster and more powerful than any 500 Mondial would have been when new.
This car is part of the “Lost & Found Collection” which consists of 20 historic Ferraris discovered in a barn which had collapsed during Hurricane Charley – damaging some of them in the process. The cars were then moved to a warehouse not far from the historic Indianapolis 500 circuit, where they were largely forgotten.
The car is now due to pass across the auction block with RM Sotheby’s in Monterey on the 17th of August with a price guide of $1,200,000 – $1,600,000 USD – there’s little doubt it’ll fetch that much or more due to the historic significance of the car. If you’d like to read more about it or register to bid you can visit the listing here.
Images: Darin Schnabel ©2023 Courtesy of RM Sotheby’s
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