Chas­ing the good life in a rare Fer­rari 365GTC

Equipped with the most po­tent Colombo V12 avail­able dur­ing the golden era of grand tour­ing, the Fer­rari 365GTC could flow across con­ti­nents yet en­vig­o­rate through curves. To­day, we drive a rare right-hand-drive ex­am­ple in the UK

Classic Cars (UK) - - Contents - Words RICHARD HESELTINE Pho­tog­ra­phy ADAM SHORROCK

As back­drops go, a trad­ing es­tate in Es­sex doesn’t quite lend the ap­pro­pri­ate Jet-set vibe, but that’s of lit­tle con­se­quence right now. I have a vivid imag­i­na­tion. I’m idly day­dream­ing of crush­ing con­ti­nents in a sin­gle bound; of be­ing an in­ter­na­tional play­boy ac­com­pa­nied by an in­ter­na­tional play­girl en route to the lat­est hot spot of the beau­ti­ful peo­ple. This de­li­cious Fer­rari 365GTC has that ef­fect. It screams late­six­ties soft-fo­cus glam­our. My blissed-out reverie is only height­ened on start­ing the V12. Switch on the ig­ni­tion, lis­ten for the faint sound of the high-pres­sure fuel pump, give the throt­tle a few pumps and then turn the key. What fol­lows is the rus­tle of chains, hum of in­takes and the most choral of back­beats. Idling at less than 1000rpm, it’s a bit lumpy, which gives me an ex­cuse to blip the throt­tle; just to clear the plugs you un­der­stand. As is typ­i­cal of this era of Fer­rari, the GTC has a dog­leg first. Press in the un­yield­ing, sin­gle-plate clutch, ease into gear and en­gine re­sponse is im­me­di­ate. Shift into sec­ond with a slight ker-klunk against the spring bias – the trans­mis­sion oil isn’t warm yet and it’s a transaxle so there are long link­ages – and it’s easy to feel in­tim­i­dated by the baulk­ing of metal con­nect­ing with metal.

Hav­ing ne­go­ti­ated road­works and stop-start traf­fic, and once into open coun­try­side, this sin­is­ter black pro­jec­tile comes alive. More speed, more revs and shift­ing from sec­ond to third needs to be done vig­or­ously be­cause it doesn’t re­spond to tac­til­ity. Fer­rari used Porsche syn­chro­nis­ers and there’s some re­sis­tance across the gate, as is to be ex­pected. Third to fourth is light­ning quick, but the mass of the drive­shaft at en­gine speeds has to syn­chro­nise as well as the gears so the pro­ce­dure may seem a lit­tle hit and miss un­til you’ve be­come ac­cus­tomed to it. Into top for cruis­ing and only tyre roar and buf­fet­ing from the A-pil­lars de­tract. Ac­cel­er­a­tion in any gear is im­me­di­ate – there’s no hes­i­ta­tion as it waits to get on its cams. Let it stray into the up­per reaches and the rum­ble be­comes a bel­low be­comes a scream. When cruis­ing, it’s cer­tainly au­di­ble but never in­tru­sive.

There is so much to love here. The ex­pec­ta­tion that it will be slow-wit­ted evap­o­rates at even mod­er­ately en­thu­si­as­tic speeds. Aboard, say, a 250GTE, or even a Lusso, a cer­tain de­gree of phys­i­cal­ity is de­manded for fast progress cross-coun­try. That isn’t the case here. For a large GT, you’re aware of sit­ting near the rear wheels be­cause of the short wheel­base but the tail doesn’t threaten to spill. Un­like the ear­lier GTS that were set up to un­der­steer, the shorter-wheel­base 365GTC feels neu­tral.

That said, the con­trols are ini­tially weighty, just to re­mind you that this a Six­ties Fer­rari. The unas­sisted steer­ing starts off leaden, but such early ef­fort is for­got­ten once you’re up to speed. The sense of weight dis­si­pates and the 365GTC steers neu­trally, if not al­to­gether quickly, with neg­li­gi­ble kick­back. It doesn’t feel par­tic­u­larly skit­tish over un­du­lat­ing sur­faces, ei­ther. In pe­riod,

‘The ex­pec­ta­tion that it will be slowwit­ted evap­o­rates at even mod­er­ately en­thu­si­as­tic speeds’

the Gir­ling disc brake set up came in for crit­i­cism but it’s hard to see why. The pedal is as­sisted by two huge ser­vos, with di­vided cir­cuits and a tan­dem master cylin­der, and feels over-sen­si­tive at slow pace, but the bite is re­as­sur­ingly ac­cu­rate and easy to mod­u­late at higher speeds. This is the sort of car that you can have fun play­ing with, and it is markedly more user-friendly than most com­pa­ra­ble As­tons and Maser­atis. And while not quite in the same league as a 365GTB/4 Daytona for sheer ac­cel­er­a­tive force, it isn’t far be­hind – plus it’s more user-friendly in the real world, and with ap­pre­cia­bly bet­ter ride qual­ity. It’s equally as at home ne­go­ti­at­ing sleep­ing po­lice­men in sleepy vil­lages in the south-east of Eng­land as it is, I imag­ine, crest­ing the un­du­la­tions of the Au­tostrada at li­cence-los­ing speeds.

It’s com­pelling, that’s for sure. So much so, you have to won­der why its praises aren’t sung more loudly. That said, in or­der to un­der­stand the model’s place in Fer­rari lore, first you need to ap­pre­ci­ate the car that bore it – the 330GTC. In­tro­duced at the March 1966 Geneva Mo­tor Show, and slot­ted in the line-up be­tween the 275GTB and the 330GT 2+2, the new sub­species bor­rowed its short-wheel­base (2400mm) frame and in­de­pen­dent rear end from the for­mer. This was an ex­cel­lent choice, the GTB prov­ing it­self in competition by tak­ing class hon­ours at Le Mans just a few months later. It was the only Fer­rari to fin­ish the en­durance clas­sic that year.

Just as night fol­lows day, the 330GTC’S sil­hou­ette was the work of long-time col­lab­o­ra­tor, Pin­in­fa­rina. There was noth­ing par­tic­u­larly dar­ing about the out­line; no push­ing en­velopes or break­ing moulds here. In­stead, there was a de­gree of fa­mil­iar­ity with other mod­els, the front end be­ing pure 500 Su­per­fast, the rear end hav­ing been lifted whole­sale from the 275GTS (see also the Turin styling house’s one-off Ron­dine Corvette show queen). Only the cen­tre sec­tion was any­thing like orig­i­nal but, if you’re go­ing to ran­sack a back cat­a­logue, Pin­in­fa­rina’s is as good a place to start as any. As to who pre­cisely was re­spon­si­ble for shap­ing the car, it de­pends on whose ver­sion of his­tory you be­lieve be­cause de­sign­ers were rarely ac­knowl­edged in pe­riod – there’s no ‘I’ in team and all that. Decades down the line, credit has ret­ro­spec­tively been be­stowed on for­mer Cisi­talia man Aldo Brovarone, this lik­able artiste hav­ing also penned the 400 Su­per­amer­ica Coupé Aero­d­i­nam­ico and the Dino Ber­linetta Spe­ciale that fore­told the 206GT pro­duc­tion car.

Be­neath the skin it was sim­i­larly a mix­ture of some­thing bor­rowed, some­thing new. Pe­riod fac­tory lit­er­a­ture claimed a use­ful 300bhp from the en­dur­ing V12. Con­sid­er­ing man­u­fac­tur­ers’ pen­chant for, cough, ‘fine-tun­ing’ power out­put fig­ures in pe­riod (or just ran­domly pluck­ing a num­ber out of the air), this is per­haps a lit­tle fan­ci­ful and def­i­nitely a net fig­ure. Even so, the Tipo 209/66 unit was a gem. With a dis­place­ment of 3967cc, the cylin­der block, heads and crank­case were cast in al­loy but with iron lin­ers in the block and a seven-main bear­ing crank­shaft honed from solid steel bil­let; this was a hugely ex­act­ing and labour-in­ten­sive method of con­struc­tion. It was chain-driven – nat­u­rally – with sin­gle over­head camshafts per bank, and car­bu­ra­tion was by three twin­choke We­bers strad­dling the 60-de­gree vee.

As with most Fer­raris of the pe­riod, the 330GTC’S de­sign blended con­tem­po­rary tech­nol­ogy with time-hon­oured prac­tices. Mounted, like the en­gine, on rub­ber bushes to re­duce vi­bra­tion, the five-speed trans­mis­sion sat in unit with the spi­ral bevel fi­nal drive at the rear, with en­gine and transaxle joined by a torque tube. It was sus­pended on dou­ble wish­bones and coils all-round, with anti-roll bars, co-ax­ial springs and Koni dampers, and brak­ing was via big servo-as­sisted discs with twin cir­cuits, with steer­ing by a worm and roller set-up. The steel body was then welded and bolted to the lad­der/perime­ter frame combo with a ten­dril-like multi-tubu­lar struc­ture af­ford­ing sup­ple­men­tary sup­port.

Pre­dictably the GTC bore an open ver­sion, the 330GTS be­ing aimed at the State­side mar­ket. Me­chan­i­cally iden­ti­cal to its fixed-lid brother, the Spi­der was heav­ier at 1408kg (3105lb) and slightly slower at 146mph out­right, but what’s five mph be­tween friends? Clearly 100 pun­ters felt sim­i­larly, Fer­rari scor­ing a cen­tury to 1968 along with around 600 GTCS. Not bad for a two-year pro­duc­tion run.

Fol­low­ing the in­tro­duc­tion of the 365GT 2+2 at the 1967 Paris Mo­tor Show, it was only a mat­ter of time be­fore the model’s lat­est Tipo 592 strain of this en­dur­ing V12 found its way un­der the bon­net of the 330GTC, and thus the 365GTC was born mid­way through 1968. While the stroke re­mained the same as with the out­go­ing model at 71mm, the bore size was in­creased 4mm to 81mm for a dis­place­ment of 4390cc. This hike in ca­pac­ity, plus the adop­tion of a triple We­ber 40 DFI/5 ar­range­ment, boosted horse­power by 20bhp. This might not seem like much of a dif­fer­ence, but the torque spread was that much wider.

The only stylis­tic change of note over the pre­ced­ing 330GTC con­cerned the re­moval of air in­lets from front wings, with smaller vents be­ing sunk into the bon­net in their place. But then why would Fer­rari have wanted to change a sin­gle line? Though not fêted as one of Pin­in­fa­rina’s land­mark

cre­ations, it re­ally should be. The 365GTC – like its fore­run­ner, is com­mend­ably free of stylis­tic tin­sel. The real power here is that of re­straint. The car’s long, im­pe­ri­ous nose, gap­ing maw and tusk like quar­ter bumpers lend it pres­ence, the high waist­line ta­per­ing into the un­der­stated rear, all topped by an ex­pan­sive glasshouse with spindly pil­lars for panoramic all-round vis­i­bil­ity. Re­s­plen­dent in deep­est nero, and rid­ing on Bor­rani wire wheels with three-ear spin­ners, it re­ally is mag­nif­i­cent.

It is sur­pris­ingly dainty, too. Pho­tos do not lend a sense of scale. The 365GTC is just 1626mm wide, which makes it three inches nar­rower than a hardly ele­phan­tine Dino 206GT. It is also 4505mm long and stands just 1314mm off the deck so it doesn’t take up a lot of acreage. Nev­er­the­less, real thought went into the pack­ag­ing. This is a proper gran turismo with all that en­tails.

For starters, there’s no need to stoop and tum­ble into the driver’s seat, un­like with so many com-tem­po­raries. It’s an invit­ing cabin, too. The in­stru­ment lay­out is co­her­ent, with large white-on-black Veglia speedo and rev counter mounted di­rectly in front of the driver within an ovoid bin­na­cle, oil pres­sure and tem­per­a­ture gauges sited be­tween them. Other di­als in the cen­tre of the dash’, how­ever, ap­pear a lit­tle lost and aren’t al­to­gether easy to read at a glance, while the bank of tog­gle switches on the cen­tre con­sole are baf­fling with­out fa­mil­iar­ity. The Nardi wheel is at the ex­pected bus-like an­gle, prompt­ing the usual arms straight, knees slightly splayed driv­ing stance. You barely no­tice this af­ter a while.

Au­to­car, a pub­li­ca­tion that halfa-cen­tury ago rarely in­dulged in hooli­gan­ism, made an ex­cep­tion for the 365GTC. The cover im­age de­picted one amid a fug of charred rub­ber, its rear tyres ablaze as it blasted off the line. Maranello’s finest was fa­mously loath to let any­one per­form out­side eval­u­a­tions of its wares, and the mo­tor­ing weekly was obliged to bor­row one from Rob Walker’s Cors­ley garage be­fore test­ing it at the MIRA prov­ing ground. It re­ported breath­lessly, ‘From a stand­ing start, the ac­cel­er­a­tion is breath­tak­ing, 100mph be­ing reached in a fear­some 14.7sec through the gears, and 120mph in only 21.8sec. On the MIRA hor­i­zon­tal straight, we reached 120mph in un­der one mile from rest – some­thing we have never achieved there be­fore, with 127mph com­ing up at the end of one kilo­me­tre.’

It went on to add, ‘As far as the fun­da­men­tals go, and the 365GTC is tremen­dously dy­namic in each depart­ment, the Fer­rari lived up to ev­ery ex­pec­ta­tion and even ex­ceeded our wildest hopes. For the price of a sub­stan­tial house, and with a fuel con­sump­tion which fills a Green Shield stamp book ev­ery 800 miles, this car is only for the af­flu­ent. But even by their stan­dards, it never fails to im­press the driver, pas­sen­gers, by­standers, ex­ec­u­tive chair­men and, above all, cognoscente and en­thu­si­asts.’

Noth­ing has changed in the in­terim. Just 168 365GTCS were built to 1970 along with 20 open vari­ants. A mere 22 right-hand-drive fixed-head coupés were made, mak­ing this among the rarest pro­duc­tion mod­els ever to emerge from Maranello. It is also one of the most en­joy­able to drive, if not the best-re­mem­bered. In this re­spect, it’s that rarest of things – an un­der­rated Fer­rari. It may not be the best Six­ties GT, but it’s hard to think of one that is more civilised or play­ful when you want it to be. The pass­ing of half a cen­tury hasn’t di­min­ished its spell, that’s for sure.

Vents in the bon­net rather than the front wings tells you this is a 365GTC with the big 4.4-litre V12

Serene on a cruise yet soul-stir­ring when sum­moned into ac­tion, the 365 is a plea­sure to drive wher­ever you’re go­ing

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