Ferrari 250 MM Vignale Berlinetta
Looking back into the history of any Ferrari from the 1950s is not only great fun but almost always an eye opener. These cars are a window into a world long since gone, one where people took a different approach to life in general and cars in particular.
Back then, racing and sports Ferraris were kept and cared for as functional tools. These days, Ferraris from that era are (generally) treated as precious jewellery only to be seen at special occasions, on concours lawns or at art exhibitions.
While investigating this unique Vignale-bodied 250 MM for a museum client I realised that Ferrari chassis number 0334 MM is no exception. As its interesting history underlines, it’s a Ferrari that was used as intended.
Most Ferrari 250 MM Berlinettas were produced by Pininfarina – all of them extraordinary cars. Indeed, the 250 MM chassis was surely the supercar of its day. However, the 250 MM Vignale Berlinetta is, to my mind, even more extraordinary and especially intriguing in many ways. To my knowledge, 13 Vignale 250 MMs were built: 12 Barchettas and only one Berlinetta – this one.
Above: A shot of Ferrari 250 GT Vignale Berlinetta 0334 MM taken in the streets of Bern. Notice the Vignale chromework on the sills.
Ordered initially by Swiss gentleman and racing driver Karl Lanz, the Berlinetta was duly delivered to his home in Bern in spring 1954. With its long bonnet and curvaceous rear it must have been quite a sight, even in this rich Swiss city famous for its international flair and elegance.
In August 1954 the Ferrari was entered into the gruelling Liége-Rome-Liége Rally, with the Lanz/Sägesser pairing claiming class victory – a grand success for its first owner. No mechanical troubles were reported.
Above: Chassis no. 0334 MM participated in the 1954 Liége-Rome-Liége Rally. No mechanical defects were recorded.
One detail struck me right away when looking at the imposing Vignale rear design. The complicated aluminium roof architecture integrates two air vents just like those on the famous Uhlenhaut-designed Mercedes-Benz 300SLR Coupé. The air vents are practically identical in both cars.
Above: Vignale air vents in the roof are similar to those in the 300 SLR Uhlenhaut coupé, which came a year later. Engine heat in the cockpit was a big challenge back then.
In a conversation with renowned Ferrari historian Keith Bluemel we both agreed the Vignale design came at least a year before the 300 SLR Coupe since that was developed in 1955 for the 1956 season, though it never competed as Mercedes-Benz withdrew from racing after the 1955 Le Mans tragedy. Of course, the 300SL (W198) first shown at the New York Motor Show in February 1954 also featured twin vents above the rear window, as did the W194.
While it’s probably not important who got there first, I think it’s remarkable to see two competitors using the same design idea. It’s likely that engineers had to find solutions to solve the problem of excessive engine heat entering the cockpit under racing conditions. Maybe the similarities are purely coincidental, maybe not, but the solution is both elegant and functional.
Air vents were not yet de rigueur in the 1950s, but the idea caught on and was developed late into the 1960s where, for example, they became an integral design feature of the Lightweight E-types.
Above: In the 1960s, air vents became an integral part of race car design, seen here on the 1962 Peter Lindner Lightweight Jaguar E-type
In 1955, Mercedes-Benz won the World Sportscar Championship by only two points – a very small margin over fierce rivals Ferrari. That rivalry continues today in the equally competitive world of classic cars. We all know how valuable a 250 GTO is these days, but there are those who say that if one of the two 300 SLR ‘Uhlenhaut’ Coupés would come onto the market, it’d be worth twice as much as a GTO. But that’s another story.
After the Liége-Rome-Liége Rally the Vignale 250 MM was sold via an advertisement in Automobil Revue to Peter Monteverdi in 1956 for 10,000 Swiss francs along with his Porsche 356 as trade-in.
Monteverdi, a racing driver, car dealer and founder of the automobile marque Monteverdi, loved the car intensely and did hillclimbs, rallies and slaloms with it. It was Monteverdi who had the car painted bronze with a black roof. In 1957 he became the first official Swiss importer for Ferrari until he fell out with Enzo Ferrari around 1969. He went on to sell Jensens (among other brands), and later built his own cars.
After a few more Swiss owners, pioneer classic car dealer Rob de la Rive Box found the car advertised for sale and immediately bought it for trade from an industrialist in Rapperswill. He paid 20,000 francs for it in 1975.
According to collector and Ferrari restorer Paul F. Schouwenburg, who bought the car from Rob, he was a good friend and a very clever businessman who made a living finding and selling classic automobiles. Rob apparently disliked Ferraris even though he had been selling them for decades. He fancied rare Porsches just like the other classic car hunter, Corrado Cuppelini, who loved his 356 Carrera Speedster and RS61 rather more than any Ferrari. Despite this, both spent their lives looking for and trading important Ferraris and Maseratis. I asked Corrado about Rob de la Rive Box. He said that while they were arch rivals, Rob was also a gentleman and a good friend in those days. They did quite a few deals together. As an example, Rob sold Corrado’s centre-seat Porsche 550 to the Collier collection.
(You can see more of Corrado’s car-finding exploits in my book, SuperFinds, published by Porter Press International).
Rob de la Rive Box and Corrado Cupellini are, in my humble opinion, the truest car treasure hunters, and along with Englishmen Colin Crabbe and Danny Margulies, among the greatest early pioneers in our field.
I have heard there is a book written by Rob de la Rive Box, published in 1992, called Do you mind if it is a Ferrari? I would love to get hold of a copy. Can anyone help?
Rob, who sadly passed away a few years ago, never drove Ferraris but just trailered them having learned his lesson.
Paul Schouwenburg, a surgeon who later became head of the ENT at the University of Amsterdam’s Academic Medical Centre, restored the car with his own hands. The engine was done completely by him. He told me that Rob’s home near Geneva, often referred to as ‘Hotel Box’, was a meeting point for American, Swiss and German collectors alike and they seldom passed through Switzerland without paying a visit to ‘good old Rob’.
Above: A typical Rob de la Rive Box ad from 1970. A mint Ferrari 250 GT California Spider for 4,800 US dollars anyone? Not a bad deal I would say!
Above: Pioneer classic car dealer Rob de la Rive Box trying to start the dusty 250 MM Vignale Berlinetta after its discovery in Rapperswil, Switzerland in 1975
But there is more; the background story of buying 0334 MM in Rapperswill is an amazing one. Paul Schouwenburg tells it so well in his book Ferrari Fever published by Eau Rouge Publishing, which I greatly recommend and quote here…
'The seller was the director and owner of an important factory near Lake Constance.'
Since the man loved the Ferrari that had participated in the Liége-Rome-Liége Rally and won the Concorso d’Eleganza di Stresa in 1957, the car was initially very dear to him. He used it regularly from 1966 to about 1969.
'When the owner wanted to dispose of the car after a few years, he put it up for sale in front of his company with a large “Zu Verkaufen” cardboard sign on the windscreen. It remained outside for a long time and nobody ever appeared to show any interest. The 250 MM clearly was not an easy car to get rid of. Its owner got quite frustrated and angry, and by that point could no longer stand the sight of it. After several months trying he gave up and ordered his workers to take it to the highest floor of the factory building… Once upstairs he ordered them to build a brick wall around it. His request was carried out. The story is that there was no access to this artificial Pharaoh-like tomb. Time went on, people left the company and the car faded from collective memory.'
Above: Surely one of the last important discoveries of very early Ferraris from the 1950s
Above: 0334 MM has a full set of matching numbers and an amazing history.
'Years later, the new factory boss knocked on the door of the director, mentioning that he had found a strange wall in the attic with possibly a hidden space behind it. As they were renovating the factory there was good reason to remove these walls. The director suddenly and painfully remembered the car which he had willingly forgotten. He ordered the wall to be torn down and decided to put a little advertisement in Automobil Revue, the leading paper in Switzerland for selling a classic car. Because he was no longer an insider in the ‘Ferrari scene’ his estimate was very reasonable to say the least, resulting in quite a furore when his advertisement finally hit the market…'
Rob de la Rive Box was a clever, well-connected businessman; he got tipped off by the magazine’s assistant and therefore secured the car the night before the ad went out.
'Surely this must have been one of the last important Ferraris that many overlooked, and which was unearthed in total ignorance of its meaning and value.
'Rob transported the Mille Miglia on my behalf to Holland and it actually ran, which was amazing after so many years in storage…'
Above: Chassis no. 0334 MM was walled up in a factory in Rapperswill, Switzerland for many years. Here Rob de la Rive Box puts the car on a transporter ready to go directly to its new owner, Paul F. Schouwenburg, in Holland.
Since the mid-1980s 0334 MM has been well maintained in a family collection in Germany. Its numbers all match, even the carburettors are numbered in sequence 1/2/3. What a great Ferrari history to look into!
(My special thanks go to Paul F. Schouwenburg, who let me quote text passages and copy important photos from his book‚ Ferrari Fever. Furthermore, I want to thank Keith Bluemel, Philip Porter and Thomas Hamann for their cooperation in discussing the history of 0334 MM.)