Red, or rather Il Rosso, has been associated with Ferrari since the Company’s inception, but other colours have played their part in the Prancing Horse’s illustrious history too, the rarest of which is definitely green. However, there have been many famous cars, such as the Thinwall Specials, the GTOs and Barchettas, all in vibrant, verdant shades
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It is as well known that, just as the sky is always blue, so the colour of Ferrari is red. However, since its earliest days another colour has been part of Ferrari too, one that shares equal space on the Italian flag and whose importance to the future of the Company is only
going to increase. That colour is green.
Moss cannot remember whether he drove the car in practice or not, but does recall driving a GTO prototype in 1961. Today he describes it as ‘formidable, much faster than a Short-Wheelbase but just as good to drive’. It’s green because that was the colour of the British Racing Partnership, a team started by Moss’s father Alfred and run by his manager Ken
Gregory. Today, it wears a tartan strip across its bonnet in memory of the great Innes Ireland, who stepped into Moss’s shoes and used it to win the RAC Tourist Trophy at Goodwood, beating other GTOs driven by talents like John Surtees, Graham Hill and Mike Parkes. At the end of the race, three GTOs were in the first three positions, with every other car in the race lapped. It is a terrifying car to drive, not because it is in any way difficult (in fact, when compared to a 750 Monza, which I have had the great fortune to race, the GTO is breathtakingly friendly and easy), but because you are afraid it might disappoint. No car has a bigger legend built around it, or carries a bigger burden of expectation. However, settling into its seat, even for the very first time, is like putting on your favourite suit. It just fits. Incredibly, given its value, you feel comfortable as you fire Gioacchino Colombo’s majestic 3.0-litre V12 engine and drive out on to the circuit. Goodwood could have been made for the GTO. Fast and flowing, it requires a car to have power, grip and strong brakes, but most of all, it needs to give its driver confidence. And this is what the GTO provides. It is equally happy to be driven under, on or far over the technical limit of tyre adhesion.
Its fundamental desire is to drift under power, neither over nor understeering, but sliding as a whole from entry to apex to exit. You can’t do it if you think about its value for a moment, but if you can erase that thought from your mind, it’ll drift all day or, at least, until you run out of fuel or tyres. Then, on your slowing down lap, you can soak in the sights and sounds of what you have just done; the huge, wood-rimmed wheel with alloy spokes pointing to the Cavallino Rampante at its centre, the classic gear shift with its exposed gate. Those
Veglia dials and, above the tick-tick-tick of cooling metal, the incomparable richness and complexity of the sound produced by that unparalleled engine. And it dawns on you: I’ve driven a Ferrari 250 GTO. There is no feeling like it. Even so, the association of green and Ferrari goes back further still, almost to the birth of the Company itself when a series of fearsome green racing Ferraris helped develop a technology that is still used in Formula One cars to this day. Once famous, but little known today, this is the fascinating story of the Thinwall Specials. Four of these cars were built between 1949-53 in a collaboration between Ferrari and British industrialist Tony Vandervell, whose company made special thin-wall bearings for racing engines that were both more durable and easier to engineer than traditional white metal bearings. Vandervell had been supplying bearings to Ferrari for its grand prix engines but, with the intention of gaining the experience required to set
up his own F1 team, wanted the experience of running and developing his own racing cars.
The first two, which he bought from Ferrari, used 1.5-litre supercharged V12 engines and were not successful in 1949 and 1950, but the third used Lampredi’s new aspirated 4.5-litre V12. And it used it to devastating effect. It is well known that, in July 1951, Froilán
González won Ferrari’s first World Championship Grand Prix at Silverstone, finally defeating the might of the all-conquering Alfa Romeo factory. Less known is the fact that, three months earlier at the same circuit, Reg Parnell, a British farmer driving the new Thinwall Special, had already beaten the works Alfas of Juan Manuel Fangio and world champion Giuseppe Farina in a rainshortened International Trophy meeting. It didn’t count towards the Championship, but it was the first time since the war Alfa Romeo had been beaten, and it was a green Ferrari that had done it. Indeed, the car was so fast, its next feat was to
break the Goodwood lap record with Parnell driving again; impressive in its own right, but
quite astonishing when you discover it was done from a standing start. It won the race too, this time beating Farina’s Maserati to the flag. Vandervell continued to develop the Thinwall Ferrari through 1951, but sadly its true potential was never uncovered because, realising it had no answer to the strength of the Ferrari team, Alfa Romeo withdrew from racing at the end of the year. This would have left red and green Ferraris with no serious opposition, so it was decided that, from 1952, grands prix would run to two-litre, Formula Two rules, with the Thinwall competing in nonchampionship Formula Libre events. González
used it to win a 1952 F1 race at Goodwood, but then the third Thinwall was retired.
The fourth and final Thinwall was the ultimate development of Ferrari and Vandervell’s ideas. With a new body, gearbox and frame, it looked and sounded terrifying. It wasn’t joking either. In the 1952 Ulster Trophy, with the underrated Piero Taruffi at the wheel, it took on Fangio in the V16 BRM and won comfortably. Taruffi won again at Silverstone, despite a 30-second penalty. Battling to keep the rest of the car strong enough to cope with the ever increasing power of the V12, it suffered some transmission failures towards the end of the season, but it was back and looking good for the 1953 campaign, complete with a new set of Goodyear disc brakes. This is the car in which Farina recorded the first ever 100mph (160km/h) lap of Silverstone and in which the great Mike Hawthorn won twice at Goodwood, breaking the lap record again. The car also ran in 1954, with another Ferrari protégé Peter Collins winning again at Goodwood before being retired for good.
Perhaps if the Thinwall Specials had been painted in the more traditional red rather than
green, they would be better remembered today. The truth is they were hugely successful, winning nearly half the races they finished, and driven with great skill and passion by some of the greatest drivers of the era. In short, they are the unsung heroes of Ferrari’s early racing years.
Words Andrew Frankel