1971 FERRARI 512M
Words by samuel cuthbert & PHOTOGRAPHY COURTESY OF JOHN HEINY
Looking through this album I can't help but think of the legendary Steve McQueen movie Le Mans that featured an epic battle between Porsche and Ferrari where McQueen spoke that famous line; "Racing is life. Anything that happens before or after is just waiting."
It wasn't the 512M in the movie, but it's closely related predecessor in the 512S that was featured instead. The story with these cars is really pretty interesting - due to rule changes in 1968 that said Group 6 race cars would then have a limit of 3.0-liters on the engine. That really threw a spanner in the works at Ferrari, rendering their 5.0-liter V12 racer redundant for that season. They sat it out, and studied their competitors and the rule book closely to try and find a solution. They soon found their way back in, with a loophole in FIA rules that said if 25 examples of a car were built, they would be eligible for entry into the Group 5 Sports Car category with their 512S. So, like Porsche did with their 917, Ferrari built 25 examples of the car so they could go racing again. Sounds easy enough right? It was actually incredibly expensive to complete that task, and Enzo didn't have anywhere near enough cash to do it alone - but he was desperate to keep racing. He sold half of his company to Fiat to bankroll the build of 25 cars.
Compared to the air-cooled flat-12 of the 917, the 512S was a mess of cooling pipes and a huge radiator and carried a 100kg weight disadvantage to the Porsche. Although considered equally as fast as the 917, they suffered reliability problems and Porsche won 9 out of the 10 races in the 1970 season. Only some spectacular driving by Mario Andretti (absolutely determined to not be beaten by some flashy movie star) stole the 12 hour endurance race at Sebring from Steve McQueen and Peter Revson in their Porsche 908 by just seconds.
The 512M then - I like to think that the M stands for monster (it actually stands for modificato) - as this were essentially 15 512S cars that went on a 90lb diet and found another 70hp to be able to produce a mighty 620hp at 9,000rpm. Straight away the car was setting a furious pace on the track, lapping faster than the 917's qualifying time with full tanks in the opening laps of it's first race. The development gap had finally been closed and the playing field leveled. Only around 16 cars from this stretch still survive today, four still as the 512S and a dozen in full "M" specification - watch one here to fully appreciate the experience from the driver's seat.