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Ferrari 365 GTB/4 Daytona – purple reign

The engine may be at the wrong end for some, but this V12 GT giant was Ferrari’s first supercar – here’s how one should be used

‘You know, you’re quite lucky that it’s looking so shiny,’ smiles Bertie Gilbart-Smith with a glint in his eye. ‘I don’t polish it very often. But I’m chief steward for the Concours of Elegance and, even though the Daytona wasn’t taking part at Hampton Court this year, those chaps from Autoglym insisted on polishing every car that was there. I simply had to chamois it before bringing it to the studio.’ The impression might be of a car that’s not cared for, but that is very clearly not the case. Bertie has owned the Daytona for 11 years and loves it to bits. And it’s to his credit that he derives his enjoyment from driving it rather than looking at it, gorgeous though it is. If gorgeous is quite the word, that is. Some years ago I wrote of the Daytona that ‘it’s diabolically beautiful, with stupefying proportions that pin down your aesthetic senses, only for its deft and subtle detailing to coax them back’. Purple prose that applies equally to this purple car. It’s still knock-em-dead, and I’ve been up close and personal with quite a few in-between. 

And much has happened in the Daytona’s world in that intervening period. Is there another car that’s seen such volatility in its values? The ’68 car that I drove in 2001 was valued at £85,000, way down on previous peak prices (£500,000 in the late 1980s), and I’ve driven one since – a decent one – that was on the market for £55,000. Such days are gone; the best are now easily beyond those previous boom prices. I’m not going to embarrass Bertie here and ask what he paid for his or what it’s worth. Safe to say that, 11 years ago, a Daytona would have bought quite a comfortable home, and now it’d buy a more comfortable one. 

That colour, though. We don’t really call it purple. I’ve seen the bill of sale. It’s Viola. And it comes with a restrained (and wholly original) black hide interior. The glorious hue of that paint was a second thought, when the factory order was modified from the intended Grigio Ferro. Changes of mind don’t come much more, well, vivid than that. ‘If you can live with the colour, you’ll never get a better car,’ says Bertie. ‘That’s what I was advised. Well, in the pictures it had looked blue, so it was something of a shock to the system when I went to see it. But the grey would have been a bit dull, perhaps, and I really don’t like them in red. As with any car, you buy the best there is. It’s always cheaper in the long run.’ 

And this was the best there was when Bertie went hunting. ‘I’ve had my AC Ace since 1965, when it was five years old. Lord Cross [the first British person to buy an AC Cobra, the fourth in Europe] bought his Cobra just a few months ahead of that and he did so much with it – I would have loved that car. When he died, I’d hoped to buy it but it wasn’t to be. And I had all my ducks in a row, so to speak. I’d never dreamt before that I could own a Daytona but I started looking. I wanted right-hand drive, Plexiglas headlamps, and I saw quite a lot. But nothing appealed until I saw this one.’ And to want one, whatever the colour, is entirely understandable. It’s worth, at this point, decoding the car’s nomenclature: 365 GTB/4 Daytona. The latter word is an epithet coined following the Scuderia’s 1-2-3 finish in the 24-hour race at that Florida circuit in 1967 – not with a 365, even a Competizione, but with a 330 P3/4, a 330 P4 and a 412 P. Naturally, the Competizione racing version followed in 1970, two years after the road car was launched, and a year after an aluminium- bodied car had raced (and crashed out) at Le Mans. The Competizione scored multiple class wins, notably at Le Mans among privateer entrants (including fifth overall in 1971). A total of 15 were built, in three batches of five (the last coming in 1973), all featuring lightweight aluminium and glassfibre bodywork, Plexiglas windows, and an engine that had been tuned from the standard 352bhp of the first cars up to 400bhp and then 450bhp in the second and final batches respectively. But the Daytona was really a road car. There were 1284 closed coupés (the ‘B’ for berlinetta) produced between 1968 and 1973, plus 122 GTS spider versions, all with the same 4390cc four-cam Colombo V12 (365cc per cylinder, hence the ‘365’; ‘4’ for the camshafts). 

Mechanically, the car followed on from the 275 GTB, with a five- speed transaxle transmission and coil-sprung wishbone suspension all-round, all seen for the first time on the 275, which had made its debut in 1964 and marked the end of live axles for the company.Equally, that four-cam V12 was a development of the 275’s, and part of the long line of V12s developed by Gioacchino Colombo that could chart its heritage right back to the first 125 S of 1947. The 275’s 3.3-litre was the last development to share the original’s 58.8mm stroke, and can really be considered as the final step beyond the definitive 3.0-litre 250 engine, which was so successful in racing yet spawned equally iconic road cars. The final 275 GTB/4 featured a dry sump, six-carb induction and a four-cam cylinder head configuration, with the valve angle reduced to 54o for compactness. The twin-cam-per-bank layout meant that all 24 valves were aligned perpendicularly to the camshafts. Colombo’s engine had been upgraded for the 4.0-litre 330 of 1963, its new block featuring wider bore spacings. The Daytona’s engine included many of the 275’s developments, and took as its basis the 330’s block but with a wider bore. It was the first 365 model to feature a dry-sump, four-cam layout; in other applications (such as the California, and the GT 2+2) the engine was run in softer tune, appropriate for more luxurious GT cars. 

And while the Daytona was certainly a GT, and one that could race, it was also Ferrari’s first true supercar.Yes, while the Daytona looked back over a proud 20-year history, it marked a new direction for Ferrari. The first cars were built during the takeover by Fiat, so even the company itself was changing – a sign of the times. And while the 275 GTB could be called the last of the classical Ferraris, there’s no shame in suggesting that the Daytona was the first of the modern era. Its styling, by Pininfarina’s Leonardo Fioravanti (see page 72), certainly nodded towards the future, with wind-cheating lines in place of classical curves and Plexiglas fairings over the headlamps… until US legislation forced a move to retractable covers in 1971.

If the Daytona’s front-engine, rear-drive layout was a step behind the competition at Lamborghini, the company explored the possibilities of a mid-engined road car right alongside, with its junior brother, the Dino 206. It took the next generation of Ferrari supercar – the 512 BB of 1973 – to follow the Miura’s lead, though Ferrari’s car owed more to its own racers than it did to developments at nearby Sant’Agata. And anyway, the Daytona had already earned the mantel of fastest road car of its day. That’s enough of a history lesson for now. With practised ease, Bertie swings open the Daytona’s door, falls into its low-set seat, and reverses it from its parking barn in a single arc. 

Time for a drive. ‘One of my favourite things about it is the way it starts,’ he smiles. ‘That voice as it turns over and fires, it just gets the hairs on your neck. And it’s so effortless to drive. The only problem is that it’s at its happiest at 90mph – way happier than it is at 70mph. You just can’t drive it as it’s meant to be driven very often, these days.’ He’s a confident driver, placing the Daytona perfectly on the road and unafraid to explore the rev range once the oil is warm. ‘There’s so little body roll and it barely dips under braking. Yes, it has a very firm ride; you need to try one before you buy it, and to accept it for what it is. That’s the whole point. But Continental trips are wonderful.’ In fact, long trips are at the root of Bertie’s love for the car. ‘Back in the 1980s I was invited by an AC owner friend to drive his Daytona from Colorado to Pebble Beach in California. There was a Ferrari Owners’ Club meeting at Laguna Seca and we hurled the Daytona around there. It was the first time I’d driven one and I found they’re totally different at high speed – they’re not designed to do anything other than be driven hard. And when it’s hot – really hot – the gearshift really is like a knife through butter.’ There have been long drives in this one too: ‘My longest trip was to the Modena Cento Ore rally – 3500 miles in total. We drove to the start in Rimini via the Stelvio Pass and I stayed on after with friends to do the scrutineering at Monza, then headed back through Switzerland via as many passes as possible. That was a fun trip.’ 

He pulls over and invites me to take the wheel. I pull away and gradually build speed, reminding myself of the way every millimetre of throttle travel translates not only into increased pace but also changes in the V12’s tone, from the busy bluster of its idle via a wailing mid-range to a full-on roar by the upper reaches of the revcounter. Bertie is a calm passenger and relays some of his car’s history: ‘It was in OK condition when it was sold in 1977. The engine, transaxle, bearings and brakes were all rebuilt by the second owner, Jim Whitehouse. He owned it until 2006, and it was resprayed in the original Viola during that time too. He was a BRDC member, and the owner of Mini racing specialist Arden Engineering.’ The car came with no bills because all the work had been done in-house. ‘I was told Jim Whitehouse was “just a garage owner”. But he was one of the best garage owners who could have owned it. There are so many notes in the handbook, all the settings he worked out so it would run at its best for his use. ‘When I found it, it was spotless underneath. So original everywhere too, especially under the bonnet. People ask why I don’t replace the fusebox, as the labelling has faded. But why? It’s part of its history.’ 

The going gets a little twistier and the steering certainly gives you a work-out, yet the gearshift’s movement through the open gate responds positively to an assertive left hand. Meanwhile, Bertie continues: ‘I met Jim Whitehouse once at Silverstone and told him I thought I needed to change the oil temperature gauge. “Why?” he asked. “Everything works perfectly on that car! It really doesn’t even register unless you’re driving it really hard.”’ Regular use and maintenance ensure that the Daytona still drives with great verve: there’s no stickiness in the controls, and no dead spots as you accelerate. Equally, there are no creaks in the body or through the suspension, and the car feels wonderfully tight yet alive with it. ‘There’s been no need for any major work in the 11 years I’ve owned it, just maintenance. Most recently I replaced the limited-slip plates in the differential. It’s nearly 50 years old! And I’ve never had any problems. I don’t do trackdays, they don’t appeal. I would rather drive to a track I’ve never been to before and enjoy the journey. I can’t think of many cars I’d rather drive a long way in. It even has a decent-sized boot.’ 

Bertie combines his love for the Daytona with another occupation. He says: ‘I began scrutineering in the late 1960s and I go all over Europe with the Historic Grand Prix Cars Association. I drive to every race in one of my cars, including the Daytona. I bought it to enjoy it. Cars can get damaged but they can also be repaired. If it rains, it rains. If you were worried about where to park it, you’d never use it. We’re only custodians. If you use them they work better as a result.’ And he’s equally nonchalant about what it might be worth. ‘There’s no point buying a car and hoping it will increase in value. That’s a bonus if it happens, but you have to keep it going along the way and invest in maintenance and repairs. I don’t play golf but many that do come back with a smile on their faces. That’s why they pay green fees. And it’s exactly the same with a car.’ It’s difficult to disagree with that.

Factfile – 1970 Ferrari 365 GTB/4 Daytona 

Engine 4390cc V12, DOHC per bank, six Weber 40DCN20 carburettors Power 352bhp @ 7500rpm Torque 318lb ft @ 5500rpm Transmission Five- speed manual, rear-wheel-drive Steering Worm and roller Suspension Front and rear: double wishbones, coil springs, telescopic dampers, anti-roll bar Brakes Vented discs Weight 1633kg Top speed 173mph 0-60mph 5.9sec

This article was originally published in Octane 175, October 2018

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