Preparing for Le Mans

Ferrari, Le Mans, klemcoll

Today we are at the Modena aerautodromo used by Ferrari for testing before the new circuit at Fiorano was inaugurated in 1972. The date is June 8, 1969 and Ferrari is preparing their two 312P cars which will be sent to Le Mans for the 24 hour race to take place there on June 14-15. In the test, car 18 is being driven by Chris Amon with former Ferrari F1 driver Mike Parkes, seriously injured in a career-ending F1 crash at Spa-Francorchamps in 1968, standing on the left with the white shirt and tie.

Once at Le Mans, number 18 will be driven by Pedro Rodriguez and David Piper while number 19, here to the rear, will be given to Chris Amon and Peter Schetty. However, Schetty will not get to drive as Amon was involved in the first lap crash at White House which would claim the life of amateur Porsche 917 driver John Woolfe. The other 312P went well until about 2/3rds distance when it was retired due to gearbox problems.

Ferrari built three 312Ps for 1969. The first 312P was introduced as a spider at the Fini Hotel in Modena in December 1968. A second spider was built in early 1969. The first example was crashed by Pedro Rodriguez at Monza in May damaging the rear of the chassis and was never repaired. The front and center section of that chassis appears to have been used for a one-off Pininfarina design exercise called the 512S. Because the first and second car had been entered for Le Mans, while the second car was being rebodied as a berlinetta a new third car was built up as a berlinetta. Its chassis number was changed for Le Mans to match that of the first car, a not unique Ferrari practice. It was always easier to make the car match the paperwork than the other way around!

Many people thought that these 312P berlinettas were the best looking of all Ferrari’s sports racers. They certainly looked aggressive and slippery with their wedge nose and cut-down 250LM windshield. The rectangular hole in both the Ferrari, Le Mans, Klemcollfront fender and the doors on each side, seen in the interior photo to the left, were fed with air from the large ducts visible inboard of each fender in the nose and carried inbound air to the engine’s oil coolers which were mounted high behind the cockpit (seen in the second photo to the left with the rear bodywork raised) on each side in front of the rear wheel arches over which the air then exhausted and out the back of the bodywork.

The lower part of the motor for the 312P was structurally similar to the 312F1 motor but above were some important and highly visible differences. For the F1 car the exhausts came out in the center of the “V” of the V12 motor in a large complex bundle with the intake trumpets which carried the port type fuel injection being set between the cams on each side. The motors for the  312P were different in that the intake positioning was somewhat more “normal” with the injection in the “V” Ferrari, Le Mans, Klemcllwith air for the intake plenum being fed from ducts on the front rise of the rear fenders. The exhausts ran downward from the outside of the heads and then curled upward and over the rear suspension, as can be seen to the left. These engines made a fantastic screaming sound.

The 1969 Le Mans race was the last appearance of the 312P before both cars were sold to to Luigi Chinetti’s North American Racing Team. Ferrari had found that these lovely three liter cars could not compete with the massive power of the five liter Porsche 917s and would hasten development of its own five liter sports racing car, the 512S, for 1970.

Photos by Peter Coltrin ©The Klemantaski Collection –

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