This Ferrari 512 BB/LM is a gentle monster

09th July 2017
Ethan Jupp

The 512 BB/LM is an odd one, isn’t it? Like many other footnotes in the story of Ferrari’s uneasy relationship with sportscar racing, it was never a forefront project for Ferrari back at home base, whose attention since its withdrawal from top-flight prototypes in the early ‘70s had been primarily fixated on Grand Prix racing. 


NART (North American Racing Team) had been fielding its 365 GT4 BB for three years, with the relative success of a sixth-place finish at Sebring proving the viability of a BB-based sportscar effort. Ferrari, tempted by the potential NART had tapped, brought the home-cooked BB/LM into play in 1978, when it failed to finish Le Mans. The car you see here is a later example with the re-styled Pininfarina bodywork, longer tail and fruitier internals, and is what most think of when you say “512 BB/LM”. For 1979 they were taking this seriously.

This car ran under the stewardship of Ecurie Franchorchamps at Le Mans in 1979 and was one of 9 in the field. It finished a respectable but not headline-worthy 12th place with Steve O’Rourke, Nick Faure, Jean Blaton and Bernard de Dryver at the wheel. In 1980, Pink Floyd manager O’Rourke bought up the car, re-painted it British Racing Green and brought it back to La Sarthe for a re-match. After a nasty tyre blowout that relieved the car of most of its rear end bodywork, the resplendent red hindquarters of the crashed red Bellancauto BB/LM were grafted on for the remainder of the race. The technicolour Berlinetta finished the race – Baboon’s bottom blazing – in 23rd place.


This BB/LM, under the ownership of Pink Floyd drummer Nick Mason, sees regular service, with this not being its first appearance at Goodwood. It took part in the Le Mans Classic in 2014 with Bob Houghton jockeying, who prepared the car for its 1980 Le Mans attempt. 

The BB/LM, as with many Ferrari sportscar efforts following that 3.0-litre golden era and the Group 5 monstrosities, was never really much to write home about. So why are we telling you about this car? Its story at Le Mans is an interesting, if not a massively successful one. At this year’s Goodwood Festival of Speed presented by Mastercard it sat alongside a rather less broad-shouldered 512 BB, joining a class spanning 70 years of Ferrari’s illustrious road and racing history. Nevermind how good (or not so good) it was, the crowds were absolutely captivated, and so was this GRR hack. It’s one of those cars whose beauty and presence transcends any objective measure. It’s a gentle monster, whose (relatively) humble 512 origins hide beneath a gloriously steroidal Pininfarina-penned bulk-up. Those broad haunches. That belligerent chin. The way the exhausts snake out from the delicious flat-12 – tantalisingly visible through the rear mesh – out into the typical Ferrari two akimbo arrangement. Then there was the noise. If ever a mechanical yowl could make you question whether an engine merely is the sum of its parts, it's this. It's as if they were mapping out everything we'd end up wanting from a supercar 10 years before the genre really kicked off.

It’s one of the last truly beautiful sportscars, we think, whose racing function went hand-in-hand with the kind of form that would spurn younglings to do well at school for years to come. This was Ferrari's true '70s pinup, putting it's firmest foot forward in battle like a model draughted to fight in the trenches.

Photography by Tom Shaxson

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