Car sales might have slowed down somewhat with the current global pandemic but that doesn’t stop the Classic car market, as RM Sothebys get ready for their Arizona auction on the 22nd of this month, amongst the cars on offer, this beautiful 1954 Ferrari 375 America Coupe by Vignale caught our eye…
It is said the Enzo Ferrari entered into the production of road cars reluctantly, and only as a way to fund his true passion, motorsport—an endeavor that he considered to be the highest purpose of the company bearing his name. But if non-competition cars were little more than means to an end, the finished products reveal not one iota of Enzo’s supposed indifference. The roadgoing Ferraris of the post-war decades are recognized as vital elements of the Prancing Horse’s legacy, held in the highest of regard by owners and admirers.
Within the Ferrari road car lineup there existed a strict model hierarchy. Beginning in 1950, the powerful, limited production gran turismos given the name “America” sat at its very top. The Ferrari 375 America, introduced for 1953, continued the burgeoning tradition established by 340 America in 1951, followed by the 342 America in 1952. While its chassis and suspension shared much in common with the 250 Europa GT, under the hood was a racing-derived 4.5-liter Lampredi V-12. It produced an estimated 296 horsepower, which was sent to the rear axle via a four-speed gearbox. It was one of the fastest roadgoing automobiles in the world, and among the most exclusive: Just 11 Coupes and 1 Cabriolet were built, each wearing hand-crafted coachwork.
Pinin Farina was responsible for 8 cars; these made good use of the balanced, uncluttered, and relatively restrained lines for which the coachbuilder is well-known (a notable exception being the distinctively styled 375 America Coupe Speciale created by Pinin Farina for automotive titan Gianni Agnelli). Yet for clients seeking something a bit different, three 375 America Coupe chassis were dispatched to receive special treatment from Turin’s Carrozzeria Vignale. Of these, two sister cars received the latest, most futuristic bodywork.
Alfredo Vignale did not work from a body buck, instead transforming full-scale drawings into aluminum sculpture with his own eyes, achieving what historian Stan Nowak referred to as “a spontaneity of line.” Perhaps owing something to this method, there is a liveliness and inventiveness to Vignale’s designs that is especially apparent in his earlier offerings. Cars completed by his carrozzeria, established in 1948, were also noteworthy for their effective use of chrome and stainless-steel embellishments—ornamentation that, it can be imagined, appealed particularly to the tastes of American buyers.
Vignale’s vision for the 375 America Coupe began with a surprisingly forward-looking fastback profile; its large, wraparound rear window would not have looked out of place on a Detroit-built sport or muscle car a decade newer. In contrast to the relatively unadorned flanks of the Pinin Farina cars, scallops and ducts add depth to the sides Vignale renditions. Just behind the front wheel are a series of chromed louvers that, from some angles, evoke exposed side-exit exhaust pipes; this styling touch is echoed by another cluster of louvers just aft of the side windows.
The car presented here, chassis no. 0327 AL was one of two 375 Americas finished by Vignale to a similar design, the other being 0337 AL. It was set apart, however, by unique front and rear lights, the former set deeply and sensuously into nacelles of the front fenders, and a striking two-tone color scheme (also a Vignale trademark). The result is and was fresh, dramatic, and modern.
Finished in its original Amaranto>/i> and metallic grey livery, with a beige interior, the car was exhibited on both sides of the Atlantic in 1954: first on the Chinetti Motors stand at the New York World Motor Sports Show at Madison Square Garden in January, then in March at the 1954 Geneva Motor Show at the Plainpalais. Later that year it was delivered to its original owner, Robert C. Wilke of the Leader Card Company in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, who traveled to Modena to collect his new toy.
MR. WILKE’S SUPERCAR: CHASSIS NUMBER 0327 AL
Mr. Wilke was a significant figure in American racing of this era, most famously as a sponsor of a very successful Indianapolis team; beginning in the 1920s, he was often in the pits at Indy, instantly recognizable by his cowboy hat and, by the 1950s, the Ferrari waiting for him in the paddock. A frequent guest in Maranello, accompanied by friends Bill Spear and Jim Kimberly, he eventually owned seven Prancing Horses, almost always custom-built, unique cars of very special design, finished in rather flamboyant colors. Appropriately, he had the 375 America refinished first in red with a black roof, then in all-over metallic blue. Afterward he used it, as he did all his cars, as a daily driver, running it at the high speeds for which it was intended. One imagines the looks such a spaceship must have received on the roads of Eisenhower-era Milwaukee.
Many of Mr. Wilke’s Ferraris remained with him until the end of his life; this car was no exception, and after his passing in 1970 was sold by his son, Ralph, to Dr. Robert E. Steiner, also of Milwaukee. Dr. Steiner and his wife kept the car for a decade before it was sold to the famous Ed Jurist of the Vintage Car Store in Nyack, New York. Jurist, in turn, passed the car to David L. Coffin of Sunapee, New Hampshire, in whose ownership it was mentioned and pictured in issue no. 28 of Cavallino as part of an article on the 375 America that included the previous quote by Nowak.
In 1986 Coffin sold the car in Arizona, and after being repainted red—as was the style at the time—it was shortly thereafter acquired by the famous Blackhawk Collection, then by Sander van der Velden of Belgium. It was imported to the Netherlands and purchased by official Ferrari importer Fritz Kroymans, joining his large and impressive collection, where it would reside for the next two decades. During this time, it returned to the pages of Cavallino, in issue no. 78, as part of an article on Wilke and his Ferraris written by noted historian Marcel Massini.
Following the collapse of the Kroymans empire in 2009, the Ferrari was sold to well-known American collector Tom Price, and was returned to the U.S., freshened, and exhibited at the XX Cavallino Classic in Palm Beach in January 2011. Shortly thereafter it was refurbished, including a beautiful new finish in burgundy and silver grey and correct taillights, and sold to the current owner, who has maintained it in his private collection since.
CHASSIS NUMBER 0327 AL TODAY
This 375 America presently wears its two-tone livery, reminiscent of the colors in which was first shown in New York and Geneva. The car’s primary exterior color carries over to the interior, where it appears on the dashboard and in the piping of the beige interior upholstery. The cabin is, as one might expect, comfortable but straightforward, with little to distract from the task of driving quickly. A wood-rimmed steering wheel, as well as a finely detailed shift knob, matched by the door handle and window-crank escutcheons, add carefully considered touches of elegance.
The car is overall still extremely attractive, with the color scheme showing off the audacious Vignale lines to superb effect. There are only minor exterior flaws, including a minor dent in the nose and small paint scrapes. The interior does exhibit signs of use, including some tearing in the upholstery of the seats and wear on the carpeting. Importantly, the car is still equipped with its original engine, as confirmed by Ferrari Classiche, which received the application for certification in July 2018 (please contact an RM representative for more information on the Classiche certification process).
Designed with exclusivity in mind and produced in limited numbers for a select clientele, the Ferrari 375 America remains a rare and special sight today; appearances by the Vignale-bodied coupes are scarcer yet, making the offering of 0327 AL a significant opportunity for a dedicated collector of exceptional Ferrari gran turismos.
To view this and other cars in the lot, visit RM Sothebys here.