The 1955 Mille Miglia, over April 30-May 1, was set to be a titanic struggle between teams from Mercedes-Benz and Ferrari, with Maserati set to dominate the 2-litre class with their little A6GCS. The German steamroller, led by its famed team manager Alfred Neubauer, had entered four of their new 300SLRs with several 300SLs running for the GT title. Ferrari, benefitting of course from their drivers’ deep familiarity with the Italian roads used for the Mille Miglia, replied with four of their new very powerful six cylinder sports cars. As we know, the Mercedes 300SLRs finished first and second, with Stirling Moss setting a record pace, while a 300SL finished fifth to take GT honors.
Above, we see the only one of the four Ferraris to finish, this being a 118LM driven by Umberto Maglioli with his old school friend the engineer Luciano Monteferrario acting as a navigator. Maglioli was an excellent open road racer, having won the very challenging Carrera Panamericana Mexico the prior November for Ferrari. This rare color photograph shows Maglioli and Monteferrario at the top of the Futa Pass between Florence and Bologna on the run northward from Rome. They would finish some 45 minutes behind the winning Mercedes.
The Ferrari 118LM used a 3.7-liter six cylinder engine derived from the Lampredi-designed four cylinder motor which had been very successful in Grand Prix racing in 1952-53. The Tuscan engineer had added two cylinders onto the end of the four which in its largest 121LM version of 4.4 liters produced close to 400 hp. However, unlike Mercedes, Ferrari was then a small company already engaged in Grand Prix racing, the world sports car championship, GT racing and the manufacture of several different series of road cars. As a result, development of a new engine was sometimes slow and error-prone. Such was the case with the 118/121 sixes which had a severe problem with an unbalanced harmonic vibration at sustained high speeds which led to a series of retirements, mostly from overheating followed by water in the lubrication system. Carroll Shelby, who drove a 121LM in America for Luigi Chinetti, remarked that Chinetti would weld the flywheel onto the crankshaft to keep that vibration from throwing it off!
For 1955 Ferrari produced four of the new sixes, one of which, a prototype, had first appeared in short chassis form at Buenos Aires in January. The most recent research by Ferrari historians has arrived at the conclusion that the Maglioli/Moneferrario 118LM was in fact that first prototype, subsequently sold, with the larger motor and new custom Scaglietti bodywork, to the colorful Californian car owner Tony Parravano.
Photo by Yves Debraine ©The Klemantaski Collection – http://www.klemcoll.com