Norwalk, Conn. – On Wednesday, September 28th at 6:30 PM, the New England Auto Museum will host a special one-night celebration of the 60th Anniversary of the North American Racing Team (N.A.R.T.) featuring film presentations on the Ferrari team’s Bonneville speed record attempts in 1974 and the development of the Ferrari N.A.R.T. Spyder at the Stepping Stones Multimedia Gallery in Norwalk. The goal is to raise funds for the nonprofit New England Auto Museum, a 501(c)(3) organization dedicated to establishing a permanent facility for display and education in automotive arts and technology.
In September 1974, with N.A.R.T.’s short racing season over, Luigi Chinetti Jr., son of Ferrari legend Luigi Chinetti, decided it would be fun to go to Bonneville in an attempt to break some old speed records; some by Ab Jenkins had stood for over 35 years. To do this would entail taking three cars, and a pit crew. Having raised about $40,000 in sponsorship deals, it was a viable proposition. Two Ferrari 365 GTB4 Daytona’s, one as a spare car, and a Le Mans prototype 512M, were dispatched together with an eclectic mix of drivers, 2-time Formula One world champion Graham Hill, actor Paul Newman and then current N.A.R.T. driver Milt Minter joined Chinetti Jr., to discover what could be achieved under the direction of team manager Dick Fritz.
There were two courses at Bonneville: the straight-line course and also a 10-mile oval. It was the latter that was being used, with its straights of just over two miles in length, and the curves at each end that, through necessity were very long and gradual. The shorter distance records were attempted first in the 512M, and then progressively longer ones in the 365 GTB4, each record falling as the string of drivers took his turn at the wheel. It all seemed surreal, having two cars circulating in the middle of nowhere, coming in for rapid refueling, and driver change-over, and at the same time being filmed by CBS-TV. The only unfortunate thing was that the 24-hour record remained unbroken, as the 365 GTB4’s front right tire burst, affecting the suspension. A half-hour’s work to rectify the problem took the car out of the equation for breaking the record, so the team gave up the unequal struggle. After the event, Chinetti Jr. said, “It was easy to see how the old record had stood for so long.”
In addition to the Bonneville film, the program will include documentary footage by Peter Leahey about the development of the legendary N.A.R.T. Spyder. Luigi Chinetti’s influence with Enzo Ferrari was such that he convinced the factory to build a series of 10 275 GTB4/Spyders with bodies by Scaglietti which became known as the N.A.R.T. Spyders. The first N.A.R.T. Spyder was shipped to America in February 1967, just in time for the Sebring 12-hour race where it was driven by Denise McCluggage and Pinkie Rollo. They finished in a respectable 17th place and second in class behind a Shelby GT350, a good result considering that, mechanically, it was a standard production specification car. Of the ten N.A.R.T. Spyders built, the McCluggage car was the only one raced before being sold to a customer. Initially painted in pale yellow, it became even more well-known later on as the car Faye Dunaway drove in the “Thomas Crowne Affair” with Steve McQueen in the lead role. The car was resprayed maroon for the movie, with McQueen famously calling it “one of those red Italian things”.
Complementing the Bonneville and N.A.R.T. Spyder film presentations, the event will include a panel of former N.A.R.T. team members who will share reminiscences on the eve of the 60th anniversary of the team’s formation in 1957. At this writing, this group includes former mechanics for N.A.R.T. Roger Colson and Francois Sicard, and it will be emceed by Jerry Cotrone, ex-Chinetti Motors employee and curator of the Malcolm Pray Achievement Center in Bedford, N.Y.
This special one-night commemoration of the 60th anniversary of the N.A.R.T. Racing Team will take place Wednesday, September 28th from 6:30 to 9:30 PM. Beverages and hors d’oeuvres, provided by Rive Bistro Restaurant of Westport, will be served in the hour before the show. Weather permitting, the actual Ferrari 512M that went to Bonneville will be on display in the museum’s courtyard. Location will be the Stepping Stones Museum Multi-Media Gallery at 303 West Avenue in Norwalk (Mathews Park). Sponsors of the event include Dragone Auctions, Hagerty Insurance, Pray Auto Body, Pray Achievement Center, Spacefitters Logistics & Technology Group and Rive Bistro Restaurant. Tickets will be $20 per person and space is limited to 150 attendees. Tickets can be purchased at www.neautomuseum.org
Article includes excerpts from “N.A.R.T. A Concise History of the North American Racing Team 1957 to 1983” by Terry O’Neil
N.A.R.T. Bonneville Record Runs
September 23 – 24, 1974