Sleeping Beauties

Ferrari, Palm Springs, Ernie McAfee, klemcoll

This is the paddock at the airport of Palm Springs, California for the races which will take place on December 4, 1955. These two Ferraris are owned by California oil tycoon William Doheny and carry numbers signifying the Union 76 symbol of his Union Oil Company. The car in the foreground is a 4.4-liter Ferrari 121LM (0546LM)  and behind it is a 3-liter Ferrari 750 Monza (0502M). Both cars would be driven for Doheny by Ernie McAfee. Doheny’s family was controversially well known locally because William’s ancestor, Edward Doheny, had been involved in the infamous Teapot Dome oil bribery scandal of the 1920s.

The Doheny 121LM had already had a significant history. Originally being run by Scuderia Ferrari, it first appeared with a 3.8-liter type 118 motor in the 1955 Giro d Sicilia, a kind of super Targa Florio which ran all around the island, driven by Piero Taruffi. Taruffi finished first overall and set what was perhaps the high water mark for the big 6-cylinder in-line Ferraris. From the most recent historic analyses, this same car was probably Taruffi’s mount for the Mille Miglia, but retired with driveline failure while in the lead ahead of the eventual winner, the Moss/Jenkinson Mercedes 300SLR. Then fitted with the larger type 121 motor, this Ferrari ran at Le Mans, and was most likely the one driven by Maurice Trintignant and Harry Schell but again retired, this time from a loss of water. This type of engine failure was typical of the 121LMs due to twisting of the cylinder block, most likely due to the placement of the engine mounts which were located identically to the older four-cylinder motors, leaving the back one-third of the motor unsupported. After Le Mans this 121LM was pleasingly rebodied by Scaglietti as seen here – in a style similar to two other of its newly-bodied brethren – and sold to Doheny.

McAfee won the preliminary race for the big modified cars with the 121LM and also took the preliminary for the smaller sports-racers with the 750 Monza which had been delivered new to Doheny. Interestingly, the Monza had been completed without the normal headrest, as can be seen above, reportedly so as to be easier to see around it when driving in street traffic! The 121LM did not appear in the main event in which McAfee finished second with the 750 Monza, but by only couple of tenths of a second, to a Maserati 300S from Scuderia Parravano driven by Masten Gregory.

McAfee continued to drive this 121LM in California events in 1955 and 1956 with quite excellent results. But it all came to a tragic end at the Del Monte Trophy race at Pebble Beach on April 22, 1956 when McAfee lost control on the narrow tree-lined forest road and was killed instantly when the car struck a tree on the driver’s door at high speed. That accident ended racing at Pebble Beach and also was the end of Doheny’s interest in motor racing. But he still liked Ferraris and purchased a famous Ferrari and Pininfarina design study, known as 410 Superfast with its unusual bodywork and 4.9-liter dual ignition V12 motor. The 121LM was eventually repaired at a shop in Los Angeles and went on to appear regularly in West Coast historic races for many years.

Photo by Peter Coltrin ©The Klemantaski Collection –

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  1. · · Reply

    Looks like the infamous and unloved 121LM,,,,or as Phil Hill called it, “ The 4.4”

    (our friend Phil never used model names but the liters)

    Of the four cars imported to America, they shared just four wins, two with Shelby at Elkhart Lake and Beverly Mass

    Then the late Ernie Mc AFEE AT Santa Barbara just month before his death, Phil Hill made his single drive and win for Parravano at the April 1957 event down at Palm Springs

    Think macho man Castelotti

    Claimed to like the car

    Jim sitz


  2. · · Reply


    Final comment on Doheny Ferrari 121 LM

    Just month before Pebble Beach, Ernie scored double win at Santa Barbara with the 4.4 and OSCA 1500 which which might have been last real win over Porsche.

    I do have photos here of that win, took them March 18th, 1956

    Then flew out to Sebring couple days later

    Jim Sitz


    1. Jim,
      Thanks for your memories as always. Shelby once told me that Chinetti welded on the flywheel of the 121LM that Shelby drove because the harmonic vibration of the non-damped 121 motor was so great that he feared it would loose its flywheel.


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