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THE 1951 Ferrari 212 Export Touring Barchetta wasn’t the first Ferrari that I ever drove nor the most recent one. But it was certainly one of the most memorable. The venue was the 1996 Colorado Grand old car rally. The Ferrari belonged to sportsman and gentleman Sherman Wolf, rest his soul.
Sherman Wolf owned several Ferraris with great pedigree (his beloved dog was named Enzo as well). His 1951 Ferrari 212 Export Barchetta, 0078E, is a perfect example of this. (Barchetta, being “little boat” in Italian.) The car’s roadster coachwork is by Touring. Its 212 Export moniker implies several things: Its V-12 of 2562 cc gives an approximate cylinder displacement of 212 cc (Ferrari arithmetic is never very precise in this regard). Its Export designation implies a higher compression ratio, 8.0:1, and shorter wheelbase, 2250 mm/88.6 in., compared with the Inter model’s 7.5:1 and 2600 mm/102.4, respectively.
This particular Ferrari ran Le Mans in 1951 and won that year’s Tour de France. Phil Hill, its second owner, placed 1st in the car at Torrey Pines in 1952. Sherman bought the 212 in 1986 and took a Blue Ribbon with it at the Meadow Brook Concours d’Elegance in 1991.
The Barchetta was anything but a garage queen: Sherman exercised the car at the Colorado Grand in 1991, 1992, 1994, 1995, 1996 and 1999; the Tour de France Auto in 1993-1995; Monterey in 1994, when Phil drove it again; and the 1991, 1992, 1995 and 1999 Mille Miglia retrospettivas.
In my 1996 Colorado Grand adventure, I encountered kindness that was typical of Sherman. When people would ask for a ride, he’d respond “No, you drive it.”
I found the 212 a little sweetheart. Its V-12 produced more torque than I expected and required none of those clutch-slipping revs I’d seen in old racing flicks. The gearbox is a 5-speed, a rarity for its day, though still without synchromesh. A timed pause on upshifts and double-clutching on the way down—with proper heel-and-toe, of course—did the trick.
The oversize wood-rim steering wheel required some force, but this proved useful in exploiting the car’s handling. At my modestly enthusiastic pace, the 212 understeered. But as front grip was probed, the steering got noticeably lighter. After a few miles of Colorado twisties, Sherman was urging me to do more of that probing.
On one particularly mountainous set of twisties, we caught up to another Ferrari, a larger, more powerful 375 being driven rather gently.
Then came a straight stretch, and Sherman—from the left-hand seat with the road view ahead—signaled me to go for it. Together, we timed it to blow by the other Ferrari easily.
When we pulled into the hotel parking lot at the end of the day, Sherman said with a broad grin, “Thanks for bagging that 375.”
Thanks, Sherman, for giving me that go-for-it signal. ds
© Dennis Simanaitis, SimanaitisSays.com, 2013