Doug Nye: The rebirth of the Ferrari Sharknoses

01st August 2017
new-mustang-tease.jpg Doug Nye

On the last day of July, what our late friend Denis Jenkinson of ‘Motor Sport’ and Mille Miglia fame used to describe as “a splendid little gathering” took place at restoration and race-preparation specialists Setford & Company’s rural workshop on a farm a mile outside Droxford, in Hampshire.


Italy-based American car collector and Historic driver Jason Wright was showing his appreciation for all who had assisted in some way with his Setford-built 1961 ‘Sharknose’ Ferrari Formula 1 car programme – which has produced the remarkable pair of original-components-packed facsimile cars which made such an indelible impact at our recent Goodwood Festival of Speed presented by Mastercard.

Dan Setford and Mike Mark and their colleagues transformed one of their farm-building workshops into a most comfortable-quality Italian eatery for the evening… amidst, of course, a most diverse cross-section of Historic motor racing machinery. Their hospitality centred upon antipasti and salad, olives with sun-dried tomatoes and a fine choice of pasta, con vino for the drinking fraternity – to which I don’t subscribe because my reaction to alcohol has been compared by friends to “darting an elephant”. That’s right, a 17-18 hour period of comatose unconsciousness is followed by a couple of days of feeling lousy. And that’s after only a half-inch of sherry, so I realised in my teens that if you don’t enjoy it, why do it? That leaves me as essentially just about everybody’s driver for the trip home. As such I claim to be reliable, quick and trustworthy… (advert).

Real guests of honour at Jason’s Setford bash were his two Formula 1 ‘Sharknose’ Ferraris, one with the model’s initial 65-degree V6 engine and the other with the later – World Championship-dominating 120-degree wide-angle V6. It was fascinating in the gathering dusk to see (and hear) Dan and Mark firing-up their charges – the narrow-angle Vittorio Jano-inspired, Andrea Fraschetti-detailed engine racketing into life with a familiar Ferrari cadence while the definitive Carlo Chiti-masterminded wider-angle V6 sounds initially more like a motor-cycle warming up.

Both cars are presented more in less in the form their original predecessors – long since broken up by the factory – presented on the startline for the ill-fated 1961 Italian Grand Prix. That race was poised to decide the outcome of the year’s Drivers' World Championship title between the two Ferrari works drivers, Phil Hill and Count Wolfgang ‘Taffy’ von Trips. 

Dan Setford and Mike Mark (back to camera) with their Jason Wright ‘Sharknoses’

Dan Setford and Mike Mark (back to camera) with their Jason Wright ‘Sharknoses’

By that stage of the 1961 season – which was the first for the new 1 1.5-litre Formula 1 class – everybody else, including Stirling Moss in his Rob Walker-entered Lotuses, was out of the running – leaving just that internecine battle between the two Ferrari stars.

Moss had won the season-opening Monaco GP, with Phil third behind his ‘Sharknose’ team-mate Richie Ginther in second place. In the following Dutch GP Trips won from Hill. The year’s Belgian GP saw the great Ferrari ‘Sharknose’ triumph with the cars finishing 1-2-3-4 – driven respectively by Phil, Trips, Richie Ginther and Olivier Gendebien.

Phil Hill should have won the French GP in broiling heat at Reims. He led in dominant style, before making a mistake on melting tar in the Thillois Hairpin when he spun and lost a lap restarting. His engine then failed – and it was left to Giancarlo Baghetti in yet another ‘Sharknose’ to win upon his World Championship-qualifying race debut…

At rain-swept Aintree in the British GP, von Trips won from the sister ‘Sharknose’ cars of Hill and Ginther – a V6 1-2-3. Moss then put on a masterly display to win the German GP at the Nurburgring, while Phil – who had qualified on pole with the first sub-nine-minute lap of the Nordschleife circuit, six seconds faster than Jack Brabham’s new V8 Cooper – had a last-lap confrontation with Trips which saw them spin in unison in last-moment rain. Trips recovered first, and he took second place ahead of Phil – 1.1 seconds separating the pair.

Sharknose Ferraris - 120-degree foreground, 65-degree beyond

Sharknose Ferraris - 120-degree foreground, 65-degree beyond

And so fate took us to Monza for the World title-deciding Italian GP – only Phil Hill or ‘Taffy’ von Trips still in contention. Phil had won this race the previous year in a front-engined V6 Ferrari Dino 246. Now he fled off the line to build a rapidly growing lead. Tragically, in his wake, von Trips made a mistake in traffic on the second lap of the race, when running flat-out along Monza’s back straight, towards the right-handed last corner – the Curva Parabolica.

Having just powered past Jim Clark’s humbly-specified – yet lightweight, fleet and nimble – Lotus-Climax 21, Trips changed line before reaching his braking point for the coming corner. What he failed to factor into the instinctive equation he was making was the lightweight braking performance, and judgement-quality, of young Jimmy – the emergent Lotus star. 

As Trips unconcernedly stepped across to the left, Jimmy – to his horror – realised that the popular (and very competitive) German had no idea of the Lotus’s sustained presence, almost alongside in the fast-narrowing space between left-side verge and the passing Ferrari’s left-side wheels.

Setford & Company car lift press-ganged into alternative duties - July 31, 2017

Setford & Company car lift press-ganged into alternative duties - July 31, 2017

In an instant the two cars locked together, the Ferrari veered broadside across the Lotus’s nose, and both of them spun up the sloping grass bank towards the spectator fence, still at around 150mph. 

Tragically, while the Lotus just spun along the bank, coming to rest without further harm, Trips’s ‘Sharknose’ careered more sharply left, up the sloping grass bank topped by packed spectators, and then flew and spun and flipped along the line of the spectator fence, bouncing off people. It landed upside down, its unbraced regulation roll-over hoop collapsed, and as it tumbled poor Trips – already crushed – was thrown out. With him died 14 luckless spectators, and many more were left injured. It was a truly ghastly incident – from which Jim Clark, though thoroughly shaken, was fortunate to emerge uninjured.

Meanwhile, team-mate and Championship challenger Phil Hill was already long gone in his dominating race lead. He pressed on, non-stop as was standard practice in those days, to win his second consecutive Italian Grand Prix for the Ferrari factory team – the chequered flag confirming him as1961 World Champion Driver.

Mick Walsh of ‘Classic & Sportscar’ with the first Phil Hill book pages - publisher Paul Vestey right.

Mick Walsh of ‘Classic & Sportscar’ with the first Phil Hill book pages - publisher Paul Vestey right.

For Phil it was initially “A fantastic, soaring feeling” – at having achieved his life’s ambition – but the moment he drove into the pit lane and saw the Ferrari mechanics’ faces he felt sure the news of ‘Taffy’, whose wrecked car he had seen lying by the trackside lap after lap, was the worst possible. Engineer Chiti confirmed the fatalities to Phil – and the worst possible then felt worse still – yet Phil had been involved in no part of the incident whatsoever. He had instead driven a faultless race…and he had scored blameless victories in both that Grand Prix and in the overall World Championship title chase.

Now this year, Phil’s son Derek drove Jason Wright’s Setford-built 120-degree ‘Sharknose’ car at the Festival of Speed, and he flew in from a TV filming task in Bulgaria (of all places) for the Droxford bun-fight, where we also showed the first finished pages straight off the printing press of our Phil Hill book – if you have another idle moment see – to be published next month…

And as Dan and Mike ran up the ‘Sharknose’ cars’ engines in the Monday-night gloaming we spared a thought for the combine-harvester driver trying to complete his pattern in the adjacent fields while the weather remained dry, shaking his head, and worrying what that strange, insistent whooping noise might be, and from just what part of his vast, vibrating, complex and costly machine might it be emanating… worrying times for someone down near Droxford, last Monday night? I hope if he – or she – reads this it might put their mind to rest.

Photography courtesy of The GP Library

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