Can it really be 50 years since the debut of the 330 P3, one of the most revered Ferrari racing cars of all?
Nineteen sixty-six. It was evidently one of those very special years. For football fans – English ones, anyway – it will forever conjure memories of England’s sole win in the World Cup. For music aficionados, Brian Wilson piloted the Beach Boys in a transcendental new direction with the album Pet Sounds, while The Beatles released Revolver. Motor racing fans, meanwhile, often point to the mid-1960s as halcyon days for the sport, and a time when sports car racing didn’t just rival Formula One, it eclipsed it.
Ferrari’s dominance in this era helps that narrative, and the 330 P3 (like the P2 that preceded it and the P4 that would succeed it) now sits at the summit of the Prancing Horse pantheon. As with pop music, some magic combination of factors was at work, although anyone who has seen a P3/4 in the flesh, or better still heard its engine, will testify to its allure whatever the context.
Then again, the backstory is so good that it’s on Hollywood’s radar once more (Brad Pitt was at Le Mans this year researching an upcoming project). When Enzo Ferrari courted and then rebuffed Henry Ford II about a possible sale of his company, Ford’s response was to create a racing programme with the sole aim of beating Ferrari at its own game. At that point, Ford had zero experience in frontline world sports car racing, while Ferrari would win Le Mans nine times by 1965. The result was the GT40, one of the most famous racers ever, and the flipside antagonist to Ferrari’s 330 P protagonist. Battle was joined.
The Ferrari was and remains a competition car of almost impossible aesthetic perfection. An evolution of the P2, the P3 managed to be more aggressive without losing the voluptuary sensuality of its basic form. It was lighter than its predecessor and used a tubular chassis and fibreglass tub. Fibreglass was also used in the doors, replacing aluminium, while Lucas fuel injection was introduced in place of the P2’s six Weber carbs. The P3 was a strikingly low car, difficult to get into and see out of, so the seat was lowered in the cockpit and centrally mounted for the optimum driving position.
It also gained a wider track for greater stability and a more user-friendly ZF five-speed gearbox replaced the ’box previously used on Ferrari’s mid-engined endurance racers. A 4.0-litre V12, derived from the 3.0-litre F1 unit, sat in the heart of the P3, producing up to 420hp at 8,200rpm (making for a scintillating power-to-weight ratio in a car weighing just 851kg).
This isn’t just one of the best-sounding Ferraris, it’s one of the most sonorous pieces of machinery of any kind. It’s also very much a racing tool: it hates low-speed idling and is really only getting into its stride at 5,000rpm and above.
Just three 330 P3s were manufactured and, while Le Mans in 1966 wasn’t kind to the Prancing Horse and indeed ushered in a four-year period of Ford dominance, the Ferrari won the 1,000km races at Monza and Spa, driven by Mike Parkes, John Surtees and Ludovico Scarfiotti. The car’s near-mythical status is partly due to the fact that the original cars were later converted to P4 and 412 P specifications.
Nineteen sixty-seven was another great year, of course. Not least because Ferrari exacted revenge on Ford on the US company’s doorstep by scoring a 1-2-3 win at Daytona. But that’s another story.