Of all the cars that have won the World Cup in Formula One, at least one of each has been preserved for posterity – with the exception of the one that won in 1961. The Ferrari 156 F1 “Sharknose” is that exception. Most will have probably heard the tale of Enzo Ferrari cynically ordering the remaining cars to be scrapped.
Nowadays we can wonder whether Enzo’s arrogance towards history was the sole reason behind the legendary scrapping? An act that was foolish at the time, but almost criminal today.
The Ferrari 156 was the factory’s first true entry into mid-engined racing cars. It was designed by Carlo Chiti, who later worked wonders at Alfa Romeo’s racing division, Autodelta. As was still popular at the time, the Ferrari 156 was constructed around a tubular spaceframe chassis. However, the 156 was still considered to be a bit behind the leading designs from the likes of Lotus and BRM, but the Ferrari proved to be extremely service-friendly and this gave it a competitive advantage. The real star of the 156 was however the Dino engine, with the small 1.5-litre 120 degree V6 being truly innovative while complying with those the new F1 regulations. It was an extraordinarily lightweight construction as well: In comparison, it weighed 15 kg. less than, for example, the 4-cylinder Coventry-Climax used by many of the British teams. The high angle of the cylinder banks also offered the engine a position in the car, which provided an advantageously low center of gravity.
As the 1961 season kicked off, several of the competing teams were still discussing the need for development within the new regulations, while Ferrari simply arrived with a brand new chassis and a newly developed engine. The result was noticeable. Five wins in seven races and at Spa, the 156 even took both first, second third and fourth places. With the competition left in their wake, the World Cup became an internal showdown between American Phil Hill and German Wolfgang Von Trips. In the end, the American pulled the longest straw and took the Driver’s World Championship title by a tiny margin with two wins to his credit. Sadly though, the victory was gravely overshadowed by the accident at Monza late in the season. It could very well have been the culmination of Von Trip’s career, as a third place finish would have been enough to secure him the World Championship title. Unfortunately, he clashed with Jim Clark and his Lotus. Von Trip’s car was catapulted into the air and he was thrown out of the car. Both Von Trips and 14 spectators were killed that day, and it has remained a black chapter in both Formula One and Ferrari’s history.
Some say that Von Trip’s death plagued Enzo, and that could be why the “Sharknose” cars were subsequently banished from the earth’s surface. Ferrari faced great criticism for its involvement in a number of accidents, including the fatal accident which had claimed both De Portago and Nelson’s life in Mille Miglia in 1957. The Von Trips accident may just have been the final drop which caused the beaker to overflow, and during a moment of remorse, Enzo decided upon the sad future for his winning F1 car.
Romolo Tavoni, who was one of the team managers at Ferrai in 1961, later explained that the reason could also be that Enzo felt betrayed by his loved ones. Many – also very prominent people from the team behind him such as Chiti, Bizzarini, Tavoni and several others – left Ferrari when the 1961 season was over, and the choleric and dramatic boss may well have responded by grabbing the project by the roots and destroying the whole thing – well and thoroughly.
It should of course be borne in mind, that the F1 regulations once again faced a radical change and the 156 model was now useless. Ferrari’s economy did not tolerate grand decisions to save cars for posterity admirers. Everything needed to be focused on tomorrow’s racing cars, including the big winners from yesterday. Angelo Castelli, a former Ferrari technician, said that all the frames for the 156 cars were cut and used instead to reinforce the concrete mix used for one of the new factory halls. Visitors and employees can say today that they are standing on top of the legendary “Sharknose” cars.
One of the giants within Ferrari’s history is gone, and that is of course a shame. The 156 “Sharknose” could today almost be comparable to Formula 1’s answer to the Lighthouse of Alexandria or the Hanging Gardens of Babylon. Of course, it only makes the legend of the most recognisable of all Ferrari’s racing cars even bigger. Had Enzo not swung the ax back then, the “Sharknose” would have no doubt still been popular today, but perhaps not a mythical highlight in automotive history.
Belgian enthusiast Jan Biekens (the word enthusiast is in all honesty a much too mild word for describing his passion) simply could not settle with pictures and anecdotes alone. He therefore decided to recreate one of the famous cars. Starting with an original engine and gearbox, he began the crazy journey of recreating a “Sharknose” from scratch. He and his team only had photographs and a few drawings to work from. If you haven’t already seen the short movie below explaining how they went about creating the yellow “Sharknose”, then you definitely owe it to yourself to spend the next 13 minutes taking it all in. It really is quite astonishing…
Sources: Wikipedia, Motorsportretro.com and ferrari.com