The Ferrari 512 S represented Enzo Ferrari’s efforts to compete against the legendary Porsche 917 in 1970-’71 International Championship for Makes. Il Drake was so intent on beating Porsche that he sold a 50% stake in his company to Fiat just to finance this quest. Most motorsports fans probably already know the outcome of this saga, but the history of the 512 S is fascinating and not without some Ferrari triumphs along the way.
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The Ferrari 512 S name derives from the engine displacement, 5 litres, combined with the number of cylinders, 12. This particular 12-cylinder engine was an entirely new design, arranged in a 60° v-pattern and mated to a 5-speed manual transmission. Power was rated at a stout 550 bhp. Even though its main purpose in life was to win on the track, Ferrari’s design ended up being achingly gorgeous, with proportional lines that the 917 arguably couldn’t match. To comply with homologation requirements, Ferrari manufactured the bare minimum of 25 cars, including eight produced as assembly kits. Five-litre cars were outlawed for the 1972 season, forcing Ferrari to abandon the 512 S in favour of a new three-litre design.
Even though the Ferrari 512 S proved lightning quick on the track, it failed to live up to its potential for several reasons. Partly because Ferrari had discontinued its racing program in 1967, finding top driving talent was a challenge. Compared to Porsche’s assemblage of top-tier drivers, Ferrari was forced to rely on a hastily gathered group of drivers, who, while they possessed heaps of talent, were occasionally unavailable for certain races due to prior commitments. Race directory Mauro Forghieri spent the season mixing and matching pairs of drivers according to who was available for which race; not an optimal solution for taking down the mighty Porsche team that year. Reliability issues plagued the 512 S early in the season, most notably at Le Mans, with all four 512s fielded having to drop out with mechanical issues before the race ended.
Driven by Mario Adretti, Ignazio Giunti, and Nino Vaccarella, the 512 S stormed to victory at the 12 hours of Sebring for Ferrari’s lone win in 1970. The lighter Porsche 917 and nimble 908 took the trophy back to Germany for 9 out of the remaining 9 races that year. So, even though Enzo’s efforts didn’t turn out how he had hoped, he could claim to be the only one to take down a legend that year, and there is no shame in that.
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