Pressure. Ultimately, that’s what led to the creation of the Ferrari’s legendary 512 BB/LM Group 5 sports-racing cars. You see, Il Commendatore was a notoriously stubborn man. And not always for the right reasons. While he initially saw no potential – and thus showed zero interest – in a competition variant of his marque’s flagship twelve-cylinder Berlinetta Boxer, his close friend and American concessionaire Luigi Chinetti did.
Chinetti’s North American Racing Team (N.A.R.T.) had enjoyed great success with Ferrari’s prototype and GT racing cars in the 1960s and ’70s. And unsurprisingly, Chinetti wielded great commercial influence in Maranello, thanks to the incredibly lucrative nature of his American market.
It took N.A.R.T. to build its own radically reengineered Ferrari 365 GT4 BB racer and record impressive finishes at Daytona, Sebring and Le Mans for Enzo to take note. Perhaps the elegant mid-engined supercar had the minerals after all. Sure enough, at the French endurance classic in the summer of 1978, Ferrari supplied three five-litre BB Competiziones, developed with input from the Formula 1 team’s chief engineer Mauro Forghieri. Among his more intriguing ideas was the aluminium rear wing, which actually began life as the front wing on the 312 T3 Grand Prix car.
Ferrari could no longer resist the idea of a 512 with which to try and win the world’s greatest endurance races. Veiled in secrecy deep in the factory’s Assistenza Clienti department, ingegneri Giuseppe Girotti and Gaetano Florini were spearheading the development of a bona-fide competition version of the 512 BB, for the hotly-contested Group 5 ‘Special Production’ category.
Unlike the three hastily-constructed cars it supplied for Le Mans in 1978, this second evolution – christened the BB/LM – was a thoroughly developed, no-corners-cut endurance racer. Lucas mechanical fuel injection, an enhanced cooling system, a strengthened gearbox and bespoke Gotti alloy wheels shod with Michelin TR-X rubber were just a handful of the modifications made. In addition, the suspension and braking systems were entirely overhauled, while both the front and rear tracks were widened.
Ferrari drafted in Pininfarina, that age-old engineer of elegance with which it had worked so closely in the 1950s and ’60s, to hone the mid-engined supercar’s bodywork for Le Mans’ six-kilometre Mulsanne Straight. Extensive work was carried out in the Torinese carrozzeria’s Grugliasco wind tunnel, resulting in a sleeker wind-cheating and utterly beautiful ‘silhouette’ that Ferrari somewhat ambitiously reported it had clocked at 212mph in testing. Punchy.
“Ferrari drafted in Pininfarina, that age-old engineer of elegance with which it had worked so closely in the 1950s and ’60s, to hone the mid-engined supercar’s bodywork for Le Mans.”
On a frigid rainy morning in January of 1979, a plane touched down at John F. Kennedy Airport carrying three brand new Ferrari 512 BB/LMs – the first three of the nine second-generation cars built by the end of 1979. Their end destination? The Daytona 24 Hours. While one car was earmarked for Chinetti’s N.A.R.T. outfit, the other two were designated to the French Ferrari concessionaire Charles Pozzi. The 512 BB/LM we’re honoured to be offering, chassis number 26685, was the second of those two cars.
Michelin, whose fancy new radial tyres were fitted to the BB/LMs, took the opportunity to hire the Daytona circuit a full week before the race, granting the Pozzi team invaluable testing time with its new Ferraris. Entered into the top-flight IMSA GTX category, this car was assigned the number 67 and earmarked for French drivers Claude Ballot-Léna and Michel Leclère. And come qualifying, chassis 26685 was the quickest of the three 512s, lapping the famous banked racetrack in 1min57.3sec.
Alas, the race was a less straightforward affair. Unusually high tyre wear on the sister Pozzi car of Jean-Claude Andruet prompted an early pit-stop around 90 minutes in to the 24-hour marathon. And when N.A.R.T.’s entry suffered a scary high-speed blowout exiting the banking, resulting in an accident and subsequent retirement, both Michelin and the Pozzi bosses rightly decided to err on the side of caution and withdraw both its entries after just four hours. Until then, chassis 26685 was running in an excellent seventh position. What could have been…
Next up for this Ferrari was the 24 Hours of Le Mans in June, not only the jewel in endurance racing’s crown but the Pozzi outfit’s home race. In preparation, the French team had conducted a 24-hour test at Le Castellet with both of its BB/LMs – a test which, by all accounts, was a resounding success. The stage was set.
Ahead of the main event, Pozzi commissioned the French artist Jean Fougerol to refinish its brace of 512s in a fabulous hand-painted Pop Art-inspired livery depicting powder-blue clouds and white birds. The two BB/LMs differed only in their numbers and their title sponsors – this car was assigned the number 63 and adorned with the logos of 3M. The driver line-up for chassis 26685 remained the same as it did earlier in the year at Daytona: Claude Ballot-Léna and Michel Leclère.
It was the latter who, at the close of qualifying, once again recorded the quickest lap of the four BB/LMs entered: a smidgen over the four-minute mark. Alas, it was also Leclère who, having clawed his way into the top 10 after an impressive drive through the night, agonisingly retired at eight o’clock in the morning after a sudden downpour and subsequent contretemps with a slower car.
This Ferrari’s third and final competitive outing came 12 months later at the very same event: the 1980 24 Hours of Le Mans. This time around, Pozzi fielded three BB/LMs, all finished in the striking blue and yellow colour scheme of the European University in Belgium. Chassis 26685 ran with the number 75 and was due to be driven by Lucien Guitteny and Gérard Bleynie. Once again, however, bad luck plagued this Ferrari and an accident forced retirement in the seventh hour. The sister car of Jean Xhenceval, Pierre Dieudonné and Hervé Regout clinched a well-deserved class podium for the French outfit. The car was returned to Ferrari to be repaired and, with the factory’s blessing, sent to Pininfarina to be rebodied in the more aerodynamically advanced second-evolution bodywork, in which the last 16 BB/LMs were dressed.
Its competitive duties complete, chassis 26685 was sold to Prince Pierre Sanguszko – a prominent member of the Polish aristocracy who was a close friend of the Pozzi boss Daniel Merin. In his castle in Senlis, France, this Ferrari lived happily alongside a number of incredibly special motorcars, including the Iso Grifo A3/C famously once owned by the French rock ‘n’ roll legend Johnny Hallyday.
Sanguszko passed away in 1992 and this BB/LM passed through the hands of a small number of French owners before it was acquired by the well-known British Ferrari collector Nigel Chiltern-Hunt just before the New Millennium. Chiltern-Hunt commissioned a ground-up restoration, including the reapplication of its iconic Jean Fougerol livery. Upon completion, chassis 26685 was returned to the racetrack at the 2001 Historic Festival at Rockingham.
It made several further outings at Ferrari Owners’ Club UK Concours meetings until 2010, when it was acquired by Jacques Bajol and returned to France. It’s important to note that by this point, this BB/LM had been submitted for and received its full red-book Ferrari Classiche certification, confirming the originality of the chassis, engine and gearbox, in addition to the provenance
“This BB/LM received its full red-book Ferrari Classiche certification in 2008, confirming the originality of the chassis, engine and gearbox, in addition to the provenance.”
In what was an especially memorable occasion, at the 2012 Le Mans Classic, chassis 26685 was returned to the Circuit de la Sarthe for the first time since it competed there in 1980 and reunited with its sister Pozzi car, chassis number 26681, famously finished in the same Jean Fougerol ‘clouds’ livery.
This 512 BB/LM’s was acquired by its penultimate owner, a Swiss collector and historic racing driver, in 2019. As a friend of Claude Ballot-Lena, he’d long been hunting for a car raced by the Frenchman in period. This Ferrari more than fitted the bill. With a view to returning the Ferrari to the racetrack for the first time in 40 years, while preserving its incredible originality, he commissioned Tommaso Gelmini’s renowned GPS Classics outfit in Italy to prepare the car to modern historic racing safety standards. The Historic Technical Passport was acquired in 2019, and remains valid until 2029.
Pleasingly, the owner capitalised on the extraordinary eligibility of this Ferrari, entering it in a plethora of historic motorsport meetings – including Peter Auto’s Historic events at Monza, Vallelunga and Paul Ricard, and, in the summer of 2022, the Le Mans Classic.
An enticing thought for the next custodian is that there are still many events at which this 512 BB/LM would be welcomed with open arms. Personally, we’re not sure we’d be able to resist returning it to the hallowed banking of the Daytona International Speedway, where chassis 26685 first turned a wheel in anger, for the popular HSR Classic Daytona meeting.
To truly appreciate the historical significance of the 512 BB/LM, it’s important to frame it in the context of the Prancing Horse’s competition history – more specifically the trajectory it followed in the decades after this car hung up its figurative boots. You see, every Ferrari entry at Le Mans since then – immortal machines such as the F40 LM, 333 SP, 550 Maranello, F430 GTC and 488 GTE – has been built by a third party with the factory’s blessing.
That makes the 25 BB/LMs which left Ferrari’s Assistenza Clienti department the marque’s final in-house-built sports-racing cars to have raced in the world’s greatest endurance competition. The third example built, chassis number 26685 distinguishes itself further in a number of significant ways. Not least its competition résumé, which comprises the two most prestigious endurance motor races, and its Pop Art livery, which is arguably the most famous and recognisable of all the 512s which raced. The beguiling originality, full red-book Ferrari Classiche certification and extraordinary eligibility in today’s historic motoring world are the proverbial cherries on the cake.
“The 25 BB/LMs which left Ferrari’s Assistenza Clienti department the marque’s final in-house-built sports-racing cars to have raced in the world’s greatest endurance competition.”
Hailing from a fondly-remembered and hotly-contested era of endurance racing, this ultra-special EU-taxes-paid Ferrari 512 BB/LM is in the esteemed company of the very finest thoroughbred Prancing Horses in the marque’s storied history.