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Ferrari's fearsome 512S


The sound coming through the headphones is surprisingly-guttural, but then this V12 Ferrari was built to last 24 hours at Le Mans, not shriek its way around a Grand Prix circuit.

The sound comes courtesy of Pink Floyd drummer and car owner extraordinaire Nick Mason’s book Into the Red, a compilation of the racing cars in his garage at the time of writing (1998). It’s accompanied by a CD of the cars being put through their paces.

The car in question is the hairy-chested 1970 Le mans 512S sports racer, a car that Mason bought in pieces for 6000 quid and immediately felt he’d suffered a “nasty bout of overconfidence to think I really needed this car.”

The ex-works car “came with a reputation as a truly fearsome beast, from an era of the fastest Le Mans races of all time.”

Mario Andretti used it to win a race in America, and Derek Bell and Ronnie Peterson had driven it at Le Mans. Later it was used in Steve McQueen’s classic film, Le Mans.

Mason bought it from the film production company. During a stunt, it had suffered a dramatic cockpit fire that “guaranteed the familiar scenario of the entire car turning up in pieces.”

Ferrari built the 512S for new rules that limited sports racing car engines to 5.0-litres.

Its V12 developed 550bhp at 8500rpm, and gave a 660bhp/ton power-to-weight ratio.
It weighed 840kg, and could hit 96km/h in 3.3 seconds. Top speed was around 312km/h.
Suspension was by double wishbones at the front, lower wishbones and top links and radius arms at the rear.

The car was a miniscule 990mm high and had a 2400mm wheelbase.

Wheels were 15-inch, and a five-speed transaxle drove the rear wheels. Its chief rival was Porsche’s equally fearsome 917.

On Mason’s CD, the V12 reaches a spine-tingling crescendo as it propels the 512S down the main straight, then the stage moves to inside the cockpit, where the gear lever snicks, and the V12 barks its way up and down the rev range, the headphones seeming even to convey the vibrations
within the car as Ferrari’s finest of 37 years ago sings its siren song.

Time to dig out the ex-rental video of Le Mans and sit back for en evening of visual splendour to rival this soundtrack from an era when race cars sounded loud and muscular.

Ah, the magic of old sports racers: there’s nothing clinical or antiseptic about them.

– Mike Stock

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