1978 Ferrari 365 GTB/4 NART Spider

1978 Ferrari 365 GTB/4 NART Spider

Unseen in public since 1988, this ultra-rare and forward-thinking Ferrari 365 GTB/4 NART Spider will soon be unleashed at The Quail, Monterey. David Lillywhite got to see it first.


Photography Blair Bunting


FERRARI 365 NART SPIDER

Exclusive! One of five and never seen before

1978 Ferrari 365 GTB/4 NART Spider

‘THAT’S THE THING ABOUT THE 365 GTB/4 NART SPIDER: IT PRE-EMPTED SO MANY STYLES OF LATER ERAS’

You could squint and stare at this curious vision in black and red for as long as you like, but without prior knowledge would you ever come to the conclusion that it started life as a Ferrari 365 GTB/4 Daytona? You surely wouldn’t.

1978 Ferrari 365 GTB/4 NART Spider

And then would you come to the conclusion that it’s significantly more valuable than the iconic Daytona? Maybe don’t answer that at this stage… After all, there’s more than a touch of the lovechild of Triumph TR7 and Pontiac Fiero at first glance in this rare machine.

But that’s the thing about the 365 GTB/4 NART Spider: it pre-empted so many styles of later eras. This car, chassis 15003, hasn’t been seen in public since 1988 when it joined what is now the Lee Collection in Reno – but in August this year it will break cover at Th e Quail, A Motorsports Gathering (a highlight of California’s Monterey Car Week). It’s one of only five 365 GTB/4 NART Spiders created between 1974 and 1981, each one a little different from the next. And its heritage is off -the-scale.

NART at the time was flying high. And NART, in case the evocative four-letter acronym has evaded you until now, was North American Racing Team, created by racing driver and original North American Ferrari distributor Luigi Chinetti.


1978 Ferrari 365 GTB/4 NART Spider

To understand the car, first you need to understand its creator: Italian-born Chinetti had started young, qualifying as a mechanic aged 14. Two years later, in 1917, he joined Alfa Romeo, where he met a similarly junior Enzo Ferrari. Like Ferrari, Chinetti also began to race, specialising in sports cars and competing at Le Mans from 1932. When World War Two broke out he emigrated to the United States, but he returned to Europe at the end of the 1940s, where he was reunited with Enzo Ferrari.

‘THAT’S THE THING ABOUT THE 365 GTB/4 NART SPIDER: IT PRE-EMPTED SO MANY STYLES OF LATER ERAS’

With so much of his native Italy destroyed, including his own property, it wasn’t long before Chinetti went back to the US, and from there he started his East Coast-based Chinetti Motors – the first ever importer of Ferrari cars in North America. He soon built up a customer base of wealthy car buyers and racers, and in 1958 he formed NART to help promote Ferrari in the US.


1978 Ferrari 365 GTB/4 NART Spider

Chinetti’s connections with Enzo and the factory ensured that he was able to secure the best cars for his racing team, which soon notched up successes around the world, most notably at Le Mans and Sebring.

He was also able to influence the factory’s build choices to suit the American market. When that didn’t work, he would commission his own variants to suit his clients; the most famous example of this was when 250GT California Spyder production ended, leaving Chinetti without a convertible to sell. With permission from Enzo, he commissioned a run of 275 GTS/4 NART Spyders, based on the 275 GTB/4 coupés.

By the mid-1970s, Chinetti was himself in his seventies but still highly influential. Th e 365 GTB/4 Daytona was only just out of production yet had been made to look distinctly old school compared with Lamborghini’s Miura and Countach, while its replacement, the 365 GT4 Berlinett a Boxer, hadn’t quite caught the imagination of potential buyers in the same way.


1978 Ferrari 365 GTB/4 NART Spider

This, then, was the background that explains the car you see here. Chinetti wanted something more modern, eye-catching and – crucially – open-top to sell to his most important American customers. For that, he went to one of the most talented and prolific designers of the time, Giovanni Michelott i. Then in his early fifties, Michelotti had worked for many of the great carrozzerie, including Stablimenti Farina, Bertone, Ghia and Vignale, before opening his own studio in 1959. Many of the great Alfas, Lancias, Maseratis, Ferraris and – the odd one out here – Triumphs of the 1950s and ’60s were designed by Michelotti. (Before you ask, the TR7 was one of the few Triumphs not designed by him during the 1960s and early ’70s.)

What Michelotti created for Chinetti was as far removed as it was possible to get from the Daytona, built in aluminium hand-formed over a wooden buck. Open-top and unashamedly wedge-shaped, with a single, striking beltline from front to rear, cut-down doors and moulded bumpers, the first 365 GTB/4 NART Spider was very much of its time.

The first of the five started life as a 1971 Daytona coupé (chassis 14897) that had apparently been accident-damaged within the first few months of its life, and bought back by Chinetti Motors as a wreck – roof crushed and missing some panels. It was shipped from the US to Studio Tecnico Carrozzeria G Michelotti in Turin for conversion into the NART Spider and unveiled at the November 1974 Turin motor show on the Michelotti stand, resplendent in metallic pale blue with orange/ brown leather, cut-down doors, quad headlights, roll bar and a removable targa top.

The next of the five was very different: built to race specification with the intention of competing in the 1975 24 Hours of Le Mans. Once again, it was based on a road-spec Daytona coupé (chassis 15965) and shipped to Michelotti for conversion. However, it then went to a specialist in Modena for race preparation, using a competition-spec Group IV engine that had powered another Daytona to sixth overall and second in class at the 1972 Le Mans 24 Hours.


1978 Ferrari 365 GTB/4 NART Spider

With a roll hoop, targa top and distinctive red, white and blue livery, this second NART Spider qualified for the ’75 Le Mans on a lap time of 4:31:08 with Jean-Pierre Malcher and co-driver Patrick Langlois. But then the ACO and Chinetti became involved in an argument over the qualification of one of the other NART entries, causing a furious Chinetti to withdraw his entire team from the race just 88 minutes prior to the start. If it’s any comfort, the race car still exists and has since competed at Le Mans Classic as well as Monterey Historics and in Tour Auto.

In 1976, Chinetti commissioned three more 365 GTB/4 NART Spiders from Michelotti, one of which was our feature car here, in case you were wondering if we’d ever return to it. However, the first of the three was chassis 14299, which returned to Chinetti in 1977 finished in dark blue over grey – and Chinetti immediately gave the car to his wife, complete with ‘Marion’ script added to the boot-lid in her honour.

The couple’s son, Luigi ‘Coco’ Chinetti Jr, remembers the car well. He’s currently delving deep into his father’s archives, with help from wife Jacqueline, in preparation for a new book to be published by Porter Press on the Chinetti story, and has found plenty of old images of the cars. ‘I thought the 365 NART Spider was really nice to look at, especially the front, which was very, very clean. You know, for the year, it was pretty nice-looking, especially in the dark blue with the lighter bottom.’

And so we come to the final two: our feature car, chassis 15003, and its sister, chassis 16467 – the only one of the five to start as a genuine GTS/4 Daytona Spyder (Ferrari named its convertibles as ‘Spyders’ until the advent of the 348 but NART mostly used ‘Spider’ for its 365). Th is car had been crashed during the filming of Th e Gumball Rally and also appeared as the crashed Daytona in A Star Is Born before heading to Michelotti, emerging in red with a black and grey interior.


1978 Ferrari 365 GTB/4 NART Spider

This was the car that Chinetti Jr spent the most time with, recalling that it drove well but pointing out that there wasn’t much chance ‘to really wring out a car in the States’ at the time. ‘Th at was the one that I had for a fair bit of time, a matt er of months; that was the one I had the most experience with. And it was a really nice car to drive. It didn’t flex, it was well-built. It was very well-made. I really enjoyed that car.’

The Lee Collection’s NART Spider, meanwhile, was based on a Daytona coupé. Although it’s still known as chassis 15003, it had been restamped as CT 29264 even before it was shipped to Michelotti in May 1978 for conversion into a NART Spider. Th at CT number is a Connecticut standard to identify a ‘composite vehicle’. Some have speculated that this means that the donor Daytona had been crashed, but it’s just as likely that it was Chinetti Motors pre-empting the change of body panels – and Chinetti Jr thinks that only two of the four road-spec 365 NART Spiders – 14897 and 16467 – were built from wrecks.

Whatever the case, ‘our’ NART Spider returned to the States in 1981 – the last of the five to be delivered. It was sold to the larger-than- life oil tycoon, racer and team owner John Mecom in Texas. Some sources say that it was initially finished in a silver/blue but that’s still not clear; what we do know is that in 1988 it was offered for sale in its current black and red livery at Barrett -Jackson’s Scott sdale auction – and sold for $370,000 to Robert M Lee, founder of the Lee Collection.

Up close, it’s a much bigger car than it looks in the pictures, as you’d expect from its Daytona roots. It sits on period-correct high-profile Englebert tyres and chrome wire Borrani wheels, its height cleverly disguised by the sloping front and narrow bumper. It’s been said that Michelotti struggled to achieve the wedge look that Chinetti desired due to the high positioning of the big front-mounted V12 and those six downdraught Webers, but the result was a resolved if surprising design.

Robert M Lee passed in January 2016 but his widow Anne Brockinton Lee has continued to nurture and build the Lee Collection with her trademark enthusiasm, working with collection manager James O’Brien and the Lee Collection team to show as many of the 200- odd cars as possible, recommissioning and restoring them when necessary. The NART Spider needs a mechanical checkover and overall spruce-up before it ventures out, but it will otherwise be shown just as it was when Lee bought it in 1988.

The 365 GTB/4 NART Spider proved to be a swansong for both Michelotti and Chinetti. The designer died aged just 58, in January 1980, before our feature car had been completed. As for Luigi Chinetti, he retired and sold Chinetti Motors in 1977, though NART continued to race Ferraris until 1982, having entered more than 200 races with more than 100 different drivers, including Mario Andretti and Phil Hill. Chinetti died, aged 93, in August 1994.

Quizzed on who came up with the idea for the style of the 365 GTB/4 NART Spider, Chinetti Jr is convinced that it was his dad rather than Michelotti. ‘He [Michelotti] was just wonderful, I loved him, but I think it was dad’s idea because dad was the one that would furnish the cars and the finances to build it. I know he was very pleased with it.

‘Dad really enjoyed making special cars,’ he adds. ‘It wasn’t just Ferraris early on. It was other cars too. The racing, of course, was number one. Second was building special cars. Probably a very distant third was his desire to be a collector. He just wanted to continue making and racing things. And I can’t say I blame him because I seem to have inherited that same malaise. It’s wonderful fun.’

If you’re lucky enough to make it to The Quail this year, then you can judge the Lee Collection’s 365 GTB/4 NART Spider for yourself – and remind yourself of the remarkable history behind it.

‘UP CLOSE, IT’S A MUCH BIGGER CAR THAN IT LOOKS IN THE PICTURES’

THANKS TO Anne Brockinton Lee, James O’Brien and the rest of the Lee Collection team.

‘MANY OF THE GREAT ALFAS, LANCIAS, MASERATIS AND FERRARIS WERE DESIGNED BY MICHELOTTI’

Right It’s claimed Michelotti found the height of the six-carb V12 made achieving a wedge shape difficult – difficult maybe, though clearly not impossible.

TECHNICAL DATA 1978 Ferrari 365 GTB/4 NART Spider

  • Engine 4390cc V12, DOHC per bank, six Weber 40 DCN/20 downdraught carburettors
  • Max Power 352bhp @ 7500rpm
  • Mx Torque 318lb ft @ 5500rpm
  • Transmission Five-speed manual transaxle, rear-wheel drive, limited-slip differential
  • Steering Worm and roller
  • Suspension Front and rear: double wishbones, coil springs, telescopic dampers, anti-roll bar
  • Brakes Discs
  • Weight 1200kg (est)
  • Top speed 174mph
  • Acceleration 0-60mph 5.4sec

Left This is the last of five NART Spiders built by Michelotti on a Daytona base, in a style that foreshadowed many cars that followed during subsequent years.

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