Nowadays, when you associate Ferrari and motorsport, your mind immediately skips to Formula 1 – the only championship where the Scuderia runs officially. Little over six decades ago, when Ferrari was still a low-volume manufacturer, the Modena-based team would consistently run in both open-wheel and closed bodywork formulas, and their works drivers split between the chores. One such success story away from the dazzling world of F1 is the Ferrari 375 Plus which built on the lessons learned by the factory during the 1953 race season, hence the Plus in the name.

The car, in spite of its short lease of life in works-supported competition, proved to be a force to be reckoned with, even in the company of the newly-launched Jaguar D-Type that went on to become a true legend while history has been far more harsh on the 375 Plus which wasn’t much less of a car. The facts back this statement, as a Le Mans and Carerra Panamericana-winner cannot be considered a bad contender.

Designed during the big-engine era of the World Sports Car Championship, the 375 Plus proved a bit hefty when compared to its direct competition from Jaguar, Maserati and Lancia. The car was routinely out-handled by Lancia’s D24 as well as the D-Type which was famously equipped with disc brakes. But, the brute from Modena never gave up without a proper fight, bringing to the table its gargantuan amounts of power from the meaty 4.9-liter V12 engine.

Continue reading to learn more about the 1954 Ferrari 375 Plus.

  • 1953 - 1955 Ferrari 375 Plus
  • Year:
    1953- 1955
  • Make:
  • Model:
  • Horsepower @ RPM:
    330@6000
  • Displacement:
    4954 L
  • car segment:
  • body style:

Exterior

1953 - 1955 Ferrari 375 Plus High Resolution Exterior
- image 657398

Only five 375 Plus chassis ever saw the light of day, their riveted bodies being penned by Pininfarina. All of them were spyders and were easily distinguishable by their muscular appearance with the long hood featuring a power bulge and benefiting from the uproarious 12-cylinder powerplant hiding underneath.

Most often, the 375 was raced as a single-seater sports car, but for certain races a passenger could find room next to the driver

Most often, the 375 was raced as a single-seater sports car, but for certain races a passenger could find room next to the driver as a body panel that covers the right-side seat could be removed. The brave men doing the all-too-important driving bit would not rely on the comfort of a headrest, barring for certain long races like the grueling Mille Miglia. In spite of this, Umberto Maglioli escaped death when his 375 Plus rolled over on one occasion — an accident usually proving fatal in the days before roll-bars.

The rather flowing profile of the car is stricken by the considerable bulges on the rear fenders which somewhat poorly attempt to hide the fuel tank, which was slightly increased in accordance with the engine capacity. The front is dominated by the generous radiator grille, with the headlights mounted on the edge of the fenders, and the swooping hood in between. For the races that went on through the night, a set of extra lights were mounted in the lower corners of the grille.

While it was by no means a beauty queen, especially when racing next to the far sleeker D-Type, the 375 Plus is without a shadow of a doubt an emblematic machine that embodies in grand style the magnificence of the F1-based V-12 it was powered by.

Exterior Dimensions

Wheelbase 2,600 MM (102.36 Inches)
Front track 1,325 MM (52.16 Inches)
Rear track 1,284 MM (50.55 Inches)
Weight 1,030 KG (2270.76 LBS) (dry)

Interior

1953 - 1955 Ferrari 375 Plus High Resolution Interior
- image 657409
The large, wooden rimmed, steering wheel is so unmistakably Ferrari, even down to the style of the spokes

The 375’s interior premises are as no-nonsense as a racing car’s cockpit could be. The large, wooden rimmed, steering wheel is so unmistakably Ferrari, even down to the style of the spokes. Behind it lay five dials informing the daring man that’s driving about his fuel level or the oil pressure, with the big tachometer placed in the middle as speed was not really relevant. This becomes especially apparent when the engine’s humming in high revs with a sound reminiscent of a thunderstorm.

The leather-upholstered bucket seats lack seatbelts as back in those days people figured you were better off being thrown from the out-of-control machine than strapped inside. The gracious gear lever which switches through the five gears of the updated box is located in close vicinity to the steering on top of the transmission passage. More rivets also completing the look of the open-top cabin.

Drivetrain

1953 - 1955 Ferrari 375 Plus High Resolution Drivetrain
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The V-12 that’s housed in the front, and longitudinally-mounted, is based on the earlier 4.5-liter engines used by Ferrari’s sport prototypes in the previous two seasons.

A small history lesson is necessary when discussing the center piece of this car: its engine. The V-12 that’s housed in the front, and longitudinally-mounted, is based on the earlier 4.5-liter engines used by Ferrari’s sport prototypes in the previous two seasons. Those powerplants also find their roots in the V-12 that was first used by the company in their F1 exploits at the start of the decade. The engines were initially designed by Gioacchino Colombo before being improved by Aurelio Lampredi. They were brought back in actuality a few years later by the situation in F1 where, after the dominant 1952-1953 campaigns, Ferrari were to meet much stronger opposition from the eight-cylinder-engined Mercedes and Lancia. Maserati was back in the picture as well with the 250F and its six-cylinder powerplant. These cars were all superior to Modena’s own 500 F2 design used during the previous seasons when, in order to attract more manufacturers, the F1 World Championship was run under F2 rules.

Realizing that coming up with a brand-new car for the 1954 season of F1 was out of question, Enzo Ferrari instead thought about concentrating on the sports-car racing scene which, as he observed, was growing in popularity with his latest cars — the 375MM and earlier 3.3- and 4.0-liter cars being favorites amongst privateers. Thus, the money went into building an updated engine for the 1954 title contender, which was meant to follow up on the successful ’53 racer. In hindsight, Ferrari was right: the battle in F1 would be all but lost, the 500 F2s being only updated with a 4-liter engine, but in endurance racing Ferrari would still be at the top of the game.

The 375 Plus could reach 160 mph down the Mulsanne straight during that year’s Le Mans race

The updates were multiple, chief among which being the increased capacity to 5.0 liters (302 cubic inches) which, in turn, raised the power figure to 340 horsepower at 6,500 rpm — making it the most powerful engine in sports car racing at the time. This meant the 375 Plus could reach 160 mph down the Mulsanne straight during that year’s Le Mans race – 13 mph shy of Jaguar’s top speed. But, while the body-builder from Modena lost on top-end speed, it held an advantage in acceleration, as the high-reving non-supercharged behemoth thrusted the car ahead quicker than anything dressed in British Racing Green.

Another significant technical upgrade applied to the 375 Plus regarded the gearbox. The traditional four-speed transmission was now in unit with the final drive, making it a five-speed box. Despite being in unit, the final drive was split from the gearbox along the centerline to facilitate ratio changes – a critical element when considering this car’s racing calendar included runs at the Mille Miglia, Le Mans, La Carerra Panamericana and Silverstone, among others.

The rear axle was a De Dion on the Plus, an improvement from the rigid design found on previous iterations. The tube for the De Dion axle was fixed at the front and ran through a channel in the transmission/differential casing, whereas at the back a roller engaged with a slot was mounted on a tubular arch linked to the rear ends of the frame side-members. (Davey & Pritchard, 1967)

The vented drums hid behind the gorgeous Borrani spokes offered good braking, the hydraulic system proving superior to Jaguar’s discs early on at Le Mans. The system was equipped with twin leading shoe brakes, a separate brake master cylinder being fitted to each axle.

Drivetrain Specifications

Type front, longitudinal 60° V-12
Bore/stroke 84 x 74.5 mm
Unitary displacement 412.86 cc
Total displacement 4954.34 cc
Compression ratio 9.2 : 1
Maximum power 330 HP @ 6000 RPM
Power per liter 67 hp/l
Top speed 280 KM/H (174 MPH)

Racing History

1953 - 1955 Ferrari 375 Plus High Resolution Exterior
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Ferrari surprised everyone by debuting the 375 Plus in late February at the Moroccan GP, a 75-mile long race held through the winding streets of Agadir. Giuseppe Farina was handed driving duties and easily won the event which belied the car’s tricky handling characteristics. All of these issues would become apparent in early April when the 375 Plus took part in the Tour of Sicily. For the grueling 675-mile challenge, Umberto Maglioli and Nino Cassani were entrusted with handling Scuderia’s only Plus. The car, which was then said to weigh only 2,111 lbs and go as quick as 185 mph, proved dominant for much of its running in spite of the fact that the rivaling Lancia squad was armed with the swiftly-handling D24. Maglioli, a young Italian long-distance specialist who was regarded rather highly at the time by "Il Commendatore," led the Lancias and Luigi Musso’s three-liter Maserati by over three minutes after four hours of racing with six more to go. But things would take a disastrous turn after Umberto passed the checkpoint at Enna, with the car rolling over. Neither Umberto nor Nino were injured but Ferrari’s demise left the road clear for Pierro Taruffi to claim the win for Lancia – the fight for the world title was now officially on!

Up next came the fabled Mille Miglia, the race where the 375 Plus should have debuted.

Up next came the fabled Mille Miglia, the race where the 375 Plus should have debuted. By that time, the V-12 had been fiddled with and the torque curve was now more linear, offering more mid-range power and drivability. Two 5.0-liter 375 Plus’ were given to Maglioli and Farina. The latter would subsequently retire after a serious crash in the early morning after skidding on the damp road surface and darting from a concrete post straight into a tree. This left only one 375 Plus in the running, adding to the other works 4.5-liter spyders driven by Giannino and Paolo Marzotto and Piero Scotti. Marzotto moved up to second, with Maglioli on third, after Taruffi’s superior D24 retired before Marzotto himself also retired with gearbox trouble. The conditions would simply not improve, and both Scotti and Maglioli would also fall to the wayside between Florence and Bologna after running out of road, incapable of keeping their cars under control. The Lancia squad, which was down to one car after Eugenio Castelotti’s car also retired was looking good nonetheless. The 240-horsepower D24 was dancing on the wet roads with Italian genius Alberto Ascari driving, Ciccio fully benefitting from the car’s great handling characteristics and power to weight ratio, which was very close to that of the Ferrari. Indeed, the sole Lancia won after the last of the Ferraris, Giannino Marzotto’s 4.5-liter model stopped with Marzotto overwhelmed by the difficulty of the motor race.

The Argentine driver, known as "El Cabezon" won with ease, the car earning the nickname "The Fearsome Four-Nine’’.

After the defeat on home soil, Ferrari sent a single 375 Plus for the Daily Express meeting at Silverstone prior to the British GP. There, in pouring rain, Jose-Froilan Gonzalez would give everyone a taste of what they were about to witness in the Grand Prix that followed. The Argentine driver, known as "El Cabezon" won with ease, the car earning the nickname "The Fearsome Four-Nine’’.

Finally, came Le Mans. This time, Ferrari would face Jaguar which brought three factory-backed D-Types. The new cars had debuted at that year’s 12-hour enduro at Sebring and proved quicker than the Ferraris. During the race, two of the "Four-Nine’’ cars would retire with gearbox problems, leaving only the Gonzalez/Trintignant running by Sunday morning. At that time, the lone Ferrari was leading the lone Jaguar by a lap. Tony Rolt lost an extra lap to the leader after he stuffed his D-Type in the sandbank at Arnage as he tried to avoid a slower car. The Ferrari, albeit benefiting from a two-lap lead, wasn’t faring that much better as the Lampredi V-12 was losing compression and became increasingly adamant to start. During the very last pit stop, the 375 Plus simply did not want to fire back to life again. The crowd rushed to watch the hectic attempts of the crew to get the car back in the running. The bulk of people effectively blocked the watchful eyes of the officials who apparently missed the fact that Ferrari engineers worked on the car even after they eventually got the engine running again. Hamilton, who took over from Rolt, won back a lap during Ferrari’s lengthy final stop but it was not enough for the Leaping Cat to win at La Sarthe. Gonzalez managed to get the car across the line for a fine victory which would be the last for Ferrari until 1958. The winning car covered 302 laps, posting a new lap record in the process.

After Le Mans, it was decided that the works team would continue on in the season with their smaller 3.0-liter V-12 cars as well as their four-cylinder models because the thunderous 4.9-liter 375 Plus proved exceedingly tricky on technical road courses – the decision proving clever, Ferrari snatched the title by 12 points. In spite of this, the 375 Plus had not yet had its swan song. Umberto Maglioli entered one under his own name, alas, with strong factory support, in La Carerra Panamericana — a race held along the Panamerican highway that crossed the South American continent. Maglioli won the motor race, the car having one last victorious outing its career at the sharp end in the World Championship. A 375 Plus entered by two locals won the first round of the 1955 World Championship, the Argentine 1000 km race. This would be the last victory for the 375 Plus that would go on to race in the United States without major success.

Prices

1953 - 1955 Ferrari 375 Plus High Resolution Exterior
- image 46856

Perhaps Ferrari’s most brutal V12-powered sports car, the 375 Plus is an exceedingly rare machine. The car, of which five were built – one being destroyed in Farina’s crash, has been trading hands for astronomical sums in the past decade.

Recently, chassis #0384 AM which features a slightly different body was sold for 18,2 million dollars during the Goodwood FOS Bonhams sale. The sale subsequently ignited a legal dispute over the car’s status but that is not particularly relevant for us. What matters is that chassis #0384 became the second most expensive Ferrari sold at auction after the 250 GTO sold at the Quail Lodge auction.

Considering such models rarely, if ever, trade hands such prices are to be expected in today’s market that seems to know no limits and no financial woes.

Competition

Jaguar D-Type

1954 - 1957 Jaguar D-Type
- image 653772

Jaguar’s finned racer that debuted in 1954 proved to be a proper challenger for the 375 Plus at that year’s Le Mans 24 hours race. The short-nosed prototype was quicker down the Hunaudieres and, when its revolutionary disc brakes warmed up, managed to also stop more effectively. It was so good that it would win three times in succession at La Sarthe, an astounding feat in itself. What is more, its unique shape is part of automotive folklore and it inspired the hugely popular E-Type.

Read our full review on the Jaguar D-Type here.

Lancia D24

1953 - 1955 Ferrari 375 Plus
- image 658076

Lancia’s last foray into sports car racing featured an engine that was down by 100 horse power compared to Ferrari’s V12, but the D24 was far more nimble. Also, while Ferrari brought Farina, Gonzalez and Maglioli to the table, Lancia answered with Fangio, Ascari and Taruffi, the battles that ensued being monumental. In spite of the fact that Lancia did not run at Le Mans, their victory at the Mille Miglia more than makes up for it – especially if you think that no factory Ferrari could even reach the end.

Conclusion

1953 - 1955 Ferrari 375 Plus High Resolution Exterior
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Ferrari’s 375 Plus was a brute. It was a true challenge to drive and the engine’s noise would make you hard of hearing for days. But, at the same time, it was brutally fast, boosted massively quick acceleration and, in all, was the epitome of the big-engine era in long-distance endurance racing. That is why, many decades since that era has been confined to the history books, these cars still make your hairs sit up even by looking at them. Also, this is why they stir the bidders when they go up for grabs at high-level auction houses where they sell for stupidly big figures. It’s all because of the emotions – emotions felt by their drivers then as well as generations of aficionados and fans that followed.

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