For years I’ve said it was absolutely ridiculous that no Ferrari had ever won Best of Show at Pebble Beach. A cynical friend who has attended even more of the 63 events than I have joked that to win the coveted award one had to be a billionaire, and no one with that basic qualification had offered a suitable candidate. That’s not exactly true, as Jon Shirley presented this very car, the 1954 Ferrari 375 MM Scaglietti Coupe, in 1998, when it won its class for Scaglietti coachwork and became eligible for Best of Show. Fortunately the mores of the judges have evolved since then. I might be a little cynical, too, thinking their present acceptance of this car might have more to do with the astronomical increase in the monetary value of old Ferraris than with its atypical, not-very-Italian form.
Clearly inspired more by the Mercedes 300SL than by typical Italian fastback coupes, albeit with beautiful front fender tips in the style of the Ferrari Testa Rossa, this one-off re-body of a racing roadster has many styling eccentricities, some pleasing, some shocking. That it is an interesting design is without discussion. That it embodies some clashing elements, vestiges of past practice, and a few details not seen again as Ferrari body design evolved is incontrovertible. The top is something of a bubble form, like the Mercedes, but it has hard, straight lines at the top of the side glass to accommodate sliding transparencies, and a straight line at the top of the backlight that doesn’t fit the curved transverse roof section. The backlight also doesn’t suit the anachronistic crowned, barrel-like body cross-section, similar to earlier single-seater bodies. The windshield, which curves upward at its top to follow the roof section, is better matched to the upper and lower body sections.
The entire rear end is elegant and harmonious, sloping downward to a transverse peak just below the license frame, and the small taillights, set at a skewed angle to that peak, are elegantly simple. The body rolls under the tail quite far, completing the form nicely, and its shiny bottom surface reflects the dramatic exhaust pipes hung well below. The front is less cohesive, with a wide American-style grille, flat on the bottom and curved upward to meet the long nose section. The central scoop over the carburetors is classic practice for Italian racing cars, as is the absence of bumpers on either end.
The flanks are unusual for an Italian car in that the door cutlines are not carefully related to adjacent features. The rear edge of the door is rigorously straight, not relating to the curve of the rear wheel opening, and the leading edge clashes with the side vents. The whole look is highly purposeful, expressing the character of the racing chassis beneath the skin. No wonder Jon Shirley has restored the car twice and kept it for decades. It’s a superbly serious automobile.
1954 Ferrari 375 MM Scaglietti Coupe Front 3/4 View
1. The fenders are closely related to Scaglietti’s iconic contemporary Testa Rossa racers. Are these possibly vestiges of the earlier racing body fitted to this 375 MM chassis?
2. This big scoop, too, might well have been taken from the former body.
3. The high crown of the body recalls earlier 4.5-liter Formula 1 Ferrari shapes. Or Alberto Ascari’s Indianapolis Ferrari.
4. The bubble roof is very much like the 300SL’s but much shorter, without quarter lights, and much less graceful, a surprise for any Italian car.
5. The utility truck-style side window is the least attractive aspect of the body.
6. The backlight wraps around so completely that the C-pillar is no impediment to all-around good visibility.
7. The rising haunches of the rear fenders are the most beautiful part of the bodywork, perfectly integrated into the tail.
8. It is surprising that these two lines are in opposition, both in disposition and in presentation. One would expect an elegant radius at the lower corners of the doors.
9. Typical of Italian racing cars of the period, a lot of chassis mechanisms, or the frame itself, hang out the bottom of the bodywork.
10. The horizontal bottom of the grille is more typical of American practice in the period. Placement of the lamps, both driving and signal, is artful, and the little diagonal links from bottom to arc of the tip are elegant.
1954 Ferrari 375 MM Scaglietti Coupe Rear 3/4 View
11. The hard lines parallel to the ground are an unhappy contrast to the well-rounded bubble form of the top.
12. The voluptuous curve of the transverse section blends well with the rounded tail, but not at all with the top of the backlight and side glass.
13. Unlike the sharp-cut doors, the decklid is a beautifully sweeping curve in the purest tradition of Italian carrozzeriere.
14. The downsloping tail is a poor aerodynamic shape, inducing unwelcome lift, not widely understood in the mid-’50s.
15. Beautifully placed, at exactly the right angle for formal harmony, these lamps are perfect in an aesthetic sense. Perhaps they’re not so functional today, but acceptable in 1954.
16. The slightly squared-up wheel opening emphasizes the wheels and tires.
17. Such visual elegance. But wire wheels are heavy and require a lot of care, and are sorely missed in serious performance cars.
18. An anomaly, in that typically Italian practice was to paint anything below the sill line black. Leaving this extraneous “goiter” body color seems a mistake.
19. Don’t these tires look skinny to modern eyes? Yet they have an undeniable elegance.
1954 Ferrari 375 MM Scaglietti Coupe Interior View
20. It is hard to imagine anything better than these simple seats with good side support. Elegant practicality was the watchword 60 years ago.
21. Plain inner panels provide excellent map pockets and demand the sliding glass that so disfigures the door shape above the waistline.
22. The yellow-orange translucent shift knob was an Italian hallmark long ago.
23. The Plain painted sheetmetal is magnificent. And the surround for the main instruments is a work of art.
24. As is the elegant integration of the small central gauges in subtle nacelles.
25. They may not be terribly crashworthy, and they require leather gloves, but wood-rim steering wheels are the summum of elegance with their rivets.
26. Spokes are often chased with textures, but this simplicity is even more beautiful.
27. This industrial-looking heater, it was once explained to me in Torino, is invisible to Italian designers and metalworkers. It doesn’t exist for them, so we can safely ignore it, too.