Lauda vs Hunt. Senna vs Prost. Clark vs Hill. All epic rivalries — and yet what is perhaps the best motorsport rivalry of all time didn’t take place in F1 or even between racers themselves. This feud was between Ferrari and Ford, and its battles took place on the track at Le Mans. This arms race would result in two of the best Ferraris ever made.
The blood started boiling in 1963. Enzo Ferrari’s company was short on funds and needed to sell. Henry Ford II jumped at this opportunity — but after a deal was struck, old man Enzo opted out at the last minute. This rubbed Ford the wrong way, and, so they say, he decided to create a Le Mans racer to dethrone Ferrari’s dominance there. A year later Ford had the GT40.
Ford might seem like a ragtag underdog going against Ferrari, the sultans of speed, but set against Ford’s massive size and resources Ferrari was actually at a big disadvantage. That’s not to say Ferrari was some two-bit operation — they had won every 24 Hours of Le Mans between 1960 and 1965. But Ford’s new GT40s were a serious threat to the Prancing Horse. Their racer for the 1966 season, the 330 P3, had to take a big step forward in engineering if they wanted to fend of Ford’s army of brutal, V8 speed demons.
Engine: 4.0-liter V12
Transmission 5-Speed Manual
Top Speed: 193 MPH
Horsepower: 420 @ 8,200 rpm
Weight: 1,587 lbs
No. Produced: 3
Measures were taken to make the new P3 more light, balanced and efficient than its predecessor, the 330 P2. The aluminum doors were discarded in favor of lighter fiberglass and the Weber carburetors were replaced by more efficient Lucas fuel injectors. The car’s seating position was nearly centered in the cockpit and was reclined in order to accommodate the low roofline. The P3 gained a wider track to improve handling, and while that added weight, the P3 was still 200 pounds lighter than the P2. Using a 410 horsepower 4-liter V12 mated with a 5-speed ZF gearbox (previously Ferrari built gearboxes in house for P-Series cars), the P3 was capable of 193 miles per hour.
“Although it lacked the ultimate top-end pace of the 7-liter Ford, it gave you the feeling that you could drive it to the maximum for the whole race.”
Unfortunately for Ferrari, Henry Ford won his revenge with a 1-2-3 finish at the 24 Hours of Le Mans in 1966. Ferrari’s loss wasn’t entirely disastrous, though — one P3 finished first in the 1966 Spa 1000km in Belgium, proving that it was still a worthy racer.
Engine 4.0-liter V12
Transmission: 5-Speed Manual
Horsepower: 450 @ 8,000 rpm
0-60: 5 sec
Top Speed: 210 mph
Weight: 1,746 pounds
No. Produced: 4 (3 P4s, 1 P3/4)
Despite their comparative lack of resources, Ferrari wouldn’t give in: in 1967 the P3 was succeeded by the 330 P4. This new racer looked almost exactly the same as the P3, but utilized an F1-derived V12 that was bored out from three liters to four. Power grew to 450 horses, and the engine featured a new head with three valves per cylinder (as opposed to the previous car’s two).
And yet it seemed history was destined to repeat itself: Ford beat Ferrari at Le Mans yet again, and the P4 managed to snag another win at Spa. However, as a counter to Ford’s 1-2-3 Le Mans finish the previous year, a Ferrari P4, a 412P and the P3/4 crossed the finish line at the 24 Hours of Daytona simultaneously, all taking a spot at the podium; this was known as “The Revenge of Il Commendatore” (Enzo’s nickname).
But while the GT40 may have taken all the glory at Le Mans, the Ferrari was arguably the more refined, well-engineered car. Former driver Chris Amon said of the 330, “It was a great deal more nimble than the Fords I was used to. Although it lacked the ultimate top-end pace of the 7-liter Ford, it gave you the feeling that you could drive it to the maximum for the whole race, which really wasn’t the case for the Fords, especially the brakes.”
Due to an FIA rule change in 1968 banning prototype cars with more than 3 liters of displacement, Ferrari boycotted sports car racing for a year while Ford GT40s were still campaigned by privateers, winning the 24 Hours of Le Mans in ’68 and ’69. Ferrari returned to sports car racing a year later with an all new car, the 312P. But it had to deal with new competitors from Stuttgart: Porsche. The Germans proved a worthy adversary, and eventually Ferrari dropped out of sports car racing to focus on F1 in the early ’70s.
If anything, Ford’s campaign against Ferrari helped the 330 cars achieve infamy. It forced Ferrari to fight harder and to engineer a car that would become a precursor to future prototype race cars. Though the Ford overshadowed the Ferrari at Le Mans, considering its incredible performance at other races, the scrappy 330 put up one hell of a fight — and frankly, looked better than just about any other race car while doing it.