In the Rearview: Ferrari 365 GTB4/Daytona (1968-1973)

By Eric Peters, excerpted from his forthcoming book, Doomed.

The last of a thing is often a cause for nostalgia, even regret. The new thing may be objectively superior and hard to fault by the numbers. But something’s been lost, just the same.

And the thing will never be the same again.

Art deco-era steam locomotives. Big-gun battleships. Boeing 707s, turbines screaming.

And the last of the classic front-engined Ferraris, the 1968-73 Daytona 365 GTB/4 — aka the Daytona.

But not officially.

Ferrari never called it that — the name was bestowed by Ferrari aficionados in honor of the “triple crown” sweep of the 1967 24 hours of Daytona, also known as the Revenge of Il Commendatore — that is, of Enzo Ferrari — after the drubbing he had received the year prior at the hands of Henry Ford II, of all people.

Who had resources Ferrari lacked.

Ford was a huge operation, second only to GM in terms of money and manpower — and GM at that time owned half the entire North American car market.

In comparison, Ferrari was like a high school kid fooling around in his parents’ garage. A very talented kid, certainly. But talent-less-resources only takes you so far. Henry the deuce had resources in abundance and used them to develop the legendary GT 40. With which he dominated endurance racing, winning not only Sebring and Daytona but also the 24 Hours of LeMans — earning Ford the 1966 World Sports Car Championship trophy.

This, the dude — so to speak — could not abide.

Enzo pulled out whatever stops remained and came back the next year with an incredible 1-2-3 drubbing at Daytona — on Ford’s home turf — using V12s much smaller than the huge V8s which powered the GT40s, re-establishing the Italians as Uno.

These Ferraris — 330 P4s — were “works’ cars, of course. That is, factory-prepped race cars. The 365 GTB/4 that made its international debut the following year at the Paris Auto Show was a street car. But the association with the victory over Ford stuck and the car became known more familiarly as the Daytona.

It is not only the last carbureted/front-engined V12 production car Ferrari ever made, it is in the opinion of many the finest Grand Touring supercar ever made.

It is certainly among the most beautiful.

Classic long hood — to accommodate the longitudinally mounted 4.4 liter V12. Sharp, low roofline. A shove-nosed front clip with pop-up headlights (this to meet U.S. requirements, the original European version had fixed lights and translucent covers but these did not meet DOT standards; one of the few times that federal regs resulted in a car that looked better rather than worse). Side pillars and glass angled inward to meet the roof panel, with the effect that the fuselage looked like a jet fighter in the works.

Just add the wings.

Compared with the Ferraris that came later — including its successor, the mid-engined 365 GT4 Berlinetta — the Daytona was almost demure, if such a thing can be said of any Ferrari.

No gaping maws, airfoils or slats took away from the simple elegance of its form. There were twin reverse-facing ducts pressed discreetly into the Daytona’s hood — to help bleed off underhood air pressure at high speeds and perhaps provide some cooling effect as a side perk.

Delicate bumperettes framed the prancing horse, mounted almost inconspicuously in the low-set eggshell grille. The rake of the glass, just right.

Viewed from behind, you got a sense of the way the metal rolled to embrace the underlying chassis. It is one of those cars that does not need to move to move you. The Daytona’s perfection of form has been likened to what Botticelli might have created had he lived 400 years later and his métier been cold-rolled steel and hammered aluminum rather than canvas.

The Birth of Venus — on four wheels.

But it wasn’t Botticelli whose genius conjured the Daytona’s lines. Credit goes to Pininfarina — with coachwork handled by Carrozzeria Scagliettii, the company Enzo often commissioned to work up many of his now-famous race cars (notables include the 1958 250 Testa Rossa).

The original Daytona’s doors, hood and true lid were made of aluminum (later production cars had steel doors) and underneath that were hoop-style main structural tubes, braced as necessary.

The five-speed manual transaxle — no automatic was offered — was rear mounted, which balanced the weight of the V12 up front.

The result was a true high-speed GT, a car that was stable at speeds that were much iffier in other supercars of the time, including the also-gorgeous but dicey-at-speed Lamborghini Miura — notwithstanding that car’s nominally superior mid-engined layout.

In addition to being the last of the front-engined Ferraris, the Daytona was also the last of the V12 Ferraris . . . for the U.S., at least.

At least, for a while.

The Clean Air Act of 1970 was making life hard on performance cars generally and Italian exotic performance cars particularly. Ferrari would revert to smaller engines for the rest of the ’70s and even into the mid-1980s — until the 1984 Testa Rossa brought the V12 back in smog-compliant form, fuel-injected and catalyst-equipped.

But in ’68, Ferrari could still get away with a V12 fed by six Weber 40 mm carburetors and exhaling through an exhaust not stifled by catalytic converters. To hear it sing was — and still is — like hearing Caruso perform Pagliacci.

It was an enlarged version of the Ferrari 275 GTB/4’s “Colombo” engine — named after its designer, Gioacchino Colombo. It was first produced in 1947 and originally displaced just 1.5 liters. It grew in size as the years went by, reaching 3.3 liters in the Daytona’s predecessor, the 275 GTB.

For the Daytona, the V12 was bored out to 4.4 liters — just under 270 cubic inches in American displacement-speak and so smaller in displacement than most American V8s of the same era. But it made up for its lack of piston displacement by moving immense volumes of air through its DOHC cylinder heads.

It was a narrow-angle (60 degree) engine, with a comparatively short (2.8 inch) stroke that made it born to rev. The redline was 7,700 RPM and peak power was produced just below that, at 7,500.

Compression was a relatively low 8.8:1 for the U.S. version (it was slightly higher in Europe) which made it feasible if not optimal to run the thing on unleaded regular gas without risking potentially catastrophic detonation in those pre-knock-sensor days. But it did its best work when fed premium leaded. The result was a smell at the quad pipes out back as delicious to the aficionado’s nostrils as the bouquet of a fine wine to the sommeliers.

Maximum output was 352 hp and 318 ft.-lbs. of torque.

These may not seem particularly impressive numbers by modern standards, but one must take into account how light the Daytona was — especially for a GT.

Though it had about the same overall footprint as a current (2017) Corvette, it weighed just 2,646 lbs. vs. about 3,200 lbs. for Chevy’s modern supercar — which has the nominal advantage of composite body panels, even lighter than the Daytona’s mostly aluminum skin.

But the ‘Vette is much heavier under its skin because of the need to pass muster with the panoply of modern bumper impact, rollover/roof crush and other such standards — which the Daytona’s designers never had to worry about.

The 365 wasn’t as quick as a new Corvette — but it was nearly as fast.

The former — acceleration from a standstill, zero to 60 especially — being as much a function of traction as horsepower. And the Daytona, like all the powerful cars of its time, lacked traction. This V12 supercar came from the factory with 15×7 “star” wheels mounting P215/70-15 tires, insufficient to corral the 4.4 liter V12’s horses, particularly from rest.

A current-year FWD economy car — for instance, a Toyota Corolla — has rolling stock about the same size (if not slightly wider and grippier) than what the Daytona had to work with. And the current Corvette has 18-inch wheels up front and 19-inch wheels out back, mounting P285/35 series rubber. More contact patch than the Daytona’s 330 P4 race car siblings that won Daytona had to work with.

And of course, the Daytona — a child of the ’60s — had no traction control or launch control, either — both of which the Corvette has.

No wonder the new ‘Vette is quicker.

But faster is another story.

A stock (unmodified, as it came from the factory) Daytona was a 180 MPH car — haltingly fast in 1968 and still damned fast today, almost 50 years after the fact. A brand-new Corvette is no faster, or only slightly so — maybe. Even with all the advantages of its modern enhancements.

And notwithstanding its skinny tires, the Daytona was safe to operate at the speeds it was capable of attaining — assuming you had the nerve to venture there. Car & Driver legend Brock Yates and racing legend Dan Gurney took a Daytona across America at such speeds, winning the also-legendary and notoriously not-legal Cannonball Baker Sea-to-Shining-Sea Memorial Trophy Dash in 35 hours and 54 minutes.

Gurney promised he’d “never once exceeded 175 mph.”

The Daytona’s top speed record stood for years. And largely still stands in that there are only a small handful of factory stock production cars available today that can exceed 180 MPH.

That is something.

Almost all Daytonas were Berlinettas — hardtops, in Ferrari-ese — but there were a few factory convertibles, or 365 GTS4 Spiders, in Ferrari-ese. Scaglietti performed the work, which involved welding in cowl supports and other such to make up the structural rigidity lost by losing the fixed roof, which otherwise tied the whole together.

Very few of these were made, however. Or rather, very few were made by Scaglietti/Ferrari. Most sources say 122 — the others being chop-jobs done by various unauthorized shops, mostly during the 1980s as the result of a fake Spider guest-starring (along with Don Johnson) on the popular TV show, Miami Vice.

That car wasn’t even a Daytona. (The square headlights are an obvious giveaway.)

It was re-bodied Corvette. Ferrari considered this an insult to the real Daytona’s legacy and sued the show’s producers for trademark dilution. This is the real reason why the ersatz Daytona/pseudo-Spider was literally blown up on camera toward the end of the show’s second season.

It was replaced the next season by a real Ferrari Testa Rossa — generously provided by Ferrari.

No one — not even Ferrari — makes a car like the Daytona anymore. Because cars like the Daytona have been effectively outlawed and not merely because of the Smog Police. Modern Ferraris prove that an EPA-compliant V-12 is possible. But the Renaissance elegance of the 365 GTB/4 shall not pass this way again because the delicacy of such form has been effectively outlawed by the Safety Nazis, who eschew beauty for the sake of girder-like windshield pillars to support a turn-turtle roof and clumsy-looking but crashworthy noses and tail-ends.

No more wing vent windows; no more being able to see what’s going on around you. Plenty of air bags, though.

What they have done to cars is not unlike putting sweat pants on Venus.

These wreckers have ruined our time. But the Daytona is physical proof — like Botticelli’s Venus — of an earlier and better time.

Daytona Trivia

• The Daytona was the last Ferrari designed prior to Fiat acquiring control of the company in 1969.

Road & Track magazine declared the Daytona the “best sports car in the world.”

• In addition to the Spider convertibles, there were also a handful of 2-plus-2 versions of the Daytona.

• Several race iterations were made, most at Ferrari’s Assistenza Clienti facility in Modena. There was also an all-aluminum race car made for Luigi Chinetti’s racing team. These cars had chin spoilers and widened wheels to accommodate larger tires.

• All Daytona V12 featured dry sump oiling for racing — and an air-injection system to meet American emissions standards.

• Approximately 1,284 Daytona coupes were made over the car’s five-year production run. Another 122 Spider convertibles were also made, these becoming officially available — from Ferrari — beginning in 1971. These are the most coveted of Daytonas due to their extremely low production, which accounts for the fairly large number of converted convertibles. Some of these are so well converted that it’s difficult to tell whether the car was originally a hardtop or . . . not. Caveat emptor.

• Current market value of a Daytona coupe is the range of $650,000 according to Hagerty, a well-known insurer of collectible cars. The value of a legitimate Spider runs to about twice that.


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