“AUSTRALIA HAD NEVER SEEN OR HEARD ANYTHING LIKE THE FERRARI 250 LM. SURELY THIS WAS THE BEST-KNOWN RACING CAR IN THE COUNTRY”
OVER EASTER IN 1965, I hitch-hiked from Melbourne to Bathurst to see a Ferrari climb Mount Panorama. From Skyline, on the same day, schoolboy Peter Windsor watched the Ferrari dance across McPhillamy Park and dive down through The Esses. Weeks earlier, 17-year-old Mel Nichols cadged a lift from Burnie to Longford to see this tiny, beautifully proportioned, blood-red Ferrari at full tilt – 296km/h – on the Flying Mile. For all of us, it wasn’t just the seeing, but also the hearing.
Soaring up Mountain Straight, the 3.3-litre V12 exhaust note swung from a bellow to a whoop and then, finally, just when you sensed it couldn’t possibly rev any higher and the engine was about to explode, to a glorious wail, the upshift slicing from second to third. The Ferrari unerringly repeated the drama again into fourth, the sound of the car at full cry echoing across Bathurst. I can hear the symphony now.
Australia had never seen or heard anything like the Ferrari 250 LM: low, petite (at 4089mm, it was half a metre shorter than a 911) but wide, the curvaceous body squatting over the rear haunches, the cabin with its panoramic windscreen so far forward. The sohc V12, with its six Weber twin-choke carbies, mounted longitudinally behind the alloy bulkhead. Surely this was the best-known racing car in the country. Worth remembering too that in 1965 another LM became the last (of nine) Ferraris to win the 24 hours of Le Mans.
You should know about the LM’s pilot, Spencer Martin. As a panel-beater desperate to go racing, Martin first ran a homemade Triumph Herald Special in 1960, progressed to a Maser 300S-like Prad and then a Humpy
Holden in which he won 17 of 20 starts.
David McKay, a fine judge of drivers, and impressed by Spencer’s calm smoothness and speed behind the wheel of the Holden, believed the 25-year-old was the right man to drive his new 250 LM and the ex-Graham Hill Brabham BT11 Tasman car. Almost unbelievably, Martin successfully graduated directly to serious racing cars with four times the power-to-weight ratio of his Holden.
After an acrimonious departure from McKay’s Scuderia Veloce, the Brabham, now run by Bob Jane, took Spencer to the 1966 and ’67 Australian Gold Star as the champion Australian driver. This is when open-wheelers still dominated local racing.
How do I know this? Because for the past 15 months I’ve been helping Spencer with a just-released book – Historic Ferrari and Grand Prix Cars – he has written about his career. I dislike the title because the book (forgive the free advert) is so much more than just another tome devoted to Ferraris. Spencer’s justification is that, long after retiring at the end of 1967, he drove a variety of old Ferraris in historic racing.
Anyway, upon telling him my Bathurst story, I was keen to know what revs the LM pulled climbing Mountain Straight.
“It depended upon the urgency of the moment,” he explained, laughing. “Mostly I changed up between seven-five and seveneight, but we could go to the 8000rpm redline. For Creek Corner at [Warwick] Farm, instead of going down from fourth directly to second, I deliberately went through all the gears to first, blipping the throttle between downshifts, playing to the crowd.”
The Scuderia Veloce 250 LM, one of only 32 LMs built, won first time out and went on to a distinguished career, winning 26 races. In 1984 it was sold to fashion mogul Ralph Lauren for $500,000, 20 percent more than the going price. Today’s value: around $25 million. If only I could travel to New
York to again listen in on the LM.