50 years ago, Ferrari's 212 E struck gold by winning every single European Hillclimb Championship race it entered
Perfection is normally reserved for fairytale realms of myth and legend. Achieving 100 per cent success in the real world – in any walk of life – is near-impossible, let alone the ultra-competitive world of motor sport. Yet that is precisely what Ferrari achieved 50 years ago. We’re talking about an era when Ferrari was highly active across numerous forms of motor sport: Formula 1 and Formula 2; Can-Am; the Tasman Cup; and World Sports Cars.
Yet in 1969, it branched out into yet another form of competitive sport, by building a car to contest the European Hillclimb Championship. Ferrari already had form in this tough arena, in which drivers battle to set the fastest times up challenging hill courses. A Dino 166 P had won the 1962 title, while a 206 SP had emerged victorious in 1965, on both occasions with Ludovico Scarfiotti at the wheel.
For 1969, Ferrari engineered a new car specifically for hillclimbing: the 212 E. In order to set the fastest possible times on Europe’s narrow hill routes, it needed to be powerful, especially at low revs, as well as very light. Ferrari built a unique 12-cylinder ‘boxer’ engine with a capacity of 2.0 litres, developed from its 512 Formula 1 powerplant.
Generating 290hp at 11,500rpm and mated to a five-speed gearbox, it certainly had impressive performance, being capable of a top speed of 250km/h. Lightness was achieved via a tubular chassis on to which thin plastic bodywork was fixed. In start-line specification, ready to race, it weighed just 500kg. Where that weight was placed was another crucial factor: for instance, Ferrari positioned the rear brakes inboard, well away from the wheels.
Piloted by Swiss driver Peter Schetty, the Ferrari 212 E won its first two non-championship races. Then Schetty proceeded to dominate, in the most decisive possible way, the European Hillclimb Championship proper. The car won every single round of the 1969 championship in which it was entered: Montseny, Rossfeld, Mont Ventoux, Trento-Bondone, Cesana-Sestriere, Friburg and Ollon-Villars.
Not only that: the car also set new course records at every round (with the exception of one because the course was wet). That’s an incredible record by any standard. Small wonder that the 212 E easily won the 1969 European Hillclimb Championship. Schetty’s success would be rewarded by his being asked to drive the Ferrari 512 S in the World Sportscar Championship in 1970, after which he became race director at Scuderia Ferrari.