Enzo Ferrari and the mystery of the 156F1

There’s a missing link in Ferrari history…

Estimated reading time: 4 minutes

There’s a missing link in Ferrari history.

We all know that there is least one example of all the cars that won the World Championship still in existence. Except, that is, for probably the most beautiful and original of them all, the Sharknose in which Phil Hill took the title in 1961. The reason it no longer exists is that Enzo Ferrari himself ordered it to be destroyed. Why?

We’ve told you about and shown you photographs of the yellow 156F1 in the colours of the Equipe National Belge – it went through its paces at Monza in early June to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Hill’s World title victory. We also told you that the car had been meticulously and patiently reconstructed by Belgian enthusiast Jan Biekens who started off with just the original engine and gearbox. In fact, he rebuilt it mainly from designs and photographs. In other words, the sole surviving example of an extraordinarily successful car is basically a replica. I suppose that if we didn’t have the original Nike of Samothrace, we’d be happy with a faithful replica so that we could still feast our eyes on one of the great icons of sculpture. But that’s quite a different kettle of fish.
To cut a long story short, we decided to investigate why Ferrari decided not to keep at least one of the single-seaters that dominated the 1961 season with 5 victories in 8 World Championship grands prix (it had also won others that weren’t in the event as often happened in those days). Romolo Tavoni, who was sporting director at the time and also one of a group of dissidents that left Ferrari after a dispute with the Engineer in the months after the 1961 Championship, remembers the cars being broken up. “Cut up,” is how he describes it. Others say that the decision was made in the wake of the controversy surrounding the terrible tragedy at Monza in which Ferrari driver Wolfgang Von Trips and a large number of spectators were killed. Ferrari had been attacked on several occasions over racing deaths, including De Portago and Nelson’s tragic accident in the 1000 Miglia, so he may have made the decision in a moment of anger. However, we have to remember too that the rules were going to be changed the following year anyway and the cars would no longer have been competitive.
Angelo Castelli, who worked in the technology side of Ferrari for many years, tells one curious story about what happened to the chassis from those cars – he says they were cut up and put into the cement being used to stabilise the large square of the factory. So anyone visiting Ferrari today quite literally walks over the grave of the glorious 156F1s!
To try to find out why the Engineer made a decision that was odd at the time but almost feels criminal today, we also turned to his son, Piero. He too is at a loss to fully explain his father’s reasoning. But he did give us something to work on. However, as they say in the detective novels, it’s still just a theory. Who built the car? The answer is there in the history books: Engineers Chiti and Bizzarrini who, along with Tavoni and the whole management staff, left Ferrari shortly afterwards after the aforementioned dispute.
So perhaps the reason is straightforward: perhaps Ferrari wanted to destroy the single-seater built by the people he felt had “betrayed” his company. It’s only a theory but one that does make sense.
We’ll never know the whole truth, of course. What we do know, however, is that episode and the split brought a brilliant new technical director to Maranello: Mauro Forghieri. He too went on to build winning cars, albeit very different from the stupendous 156F1.

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  • http://www.facebook.com/aiden.cameron Aiden Cameron

    It just seems such a waste for such beautiful machines. =[

  • Anonymous

    True a great loss………..However the 1961 Ferrari 250 GT by “Bertone” featured the “shark” nose……………A beautiful Ferrari BTW….. 

  • David Gutierrez

    I didn’t know about this story…But I do now, thanks to The Offiical Ferrari Magazine.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Mark-Christman/730484563 Mark Christman

    Thanks Mr. Ghini, had you not been such a success at Ferrari, you definitely could’ve been a detective.   Grazie.