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Coachwork by The Style of Carrozzeria Scaglietti
*Please note that the engine currently fitted in this car is not engine number 0935, as was stated in the catalogue. As stated accurately in the catalogue, the current engine is an early outside plug 250 unit with internal number 1586/62E that has been re-stamped with the car’s chassis number, 0690.
From the Collection of Colin Crabbe
The 500 TRC
Among Ferrari’s many strengths, the company’s uncanny ability to create specific models to meet the exacting requirements of the multitude of racing events and classes it competed in remains a key to its stellar victory record. An outstanding case in point remains its four-cylinder competition cars of the 1950s.
Conceived by renowned engineer Aurelio Lampredi in 1951, Ferrari’s “four” was initiated to meet the 2-liter maximum engine capacity mandated for the 1952 World Championship series. Technical highlights included Lampredi’s trademark screw-in piston liners, a DOHC cylinder head with twin spark-plugs per cylinder, dry-sump oiling, and twin-choke Weber carburetors. Delivering excellent power and torque, it propelled Alberto Ascari’s Ferrari 500 Formula 2 Monoposto to consecutive 1952 and 1953 World Championships. Lampredi’s excellent basic architecture translated particularly well to sports-racing cars, including the 625 TF, 750 Sport, and 500 Mondial.
Following Lampredi’s 1955 departure, a new group of Ferrari engineers assembled for 1956, including Vittorio Jano, Alberto Massimino, Luigi Bellantani, and Andrea Fraschetti. Their new four-cylinder sports-racing car, the 180 hp 500 TR, succeeded the 500 Mondial and gained the famous “Testa Rossa” (Red Head) moniker with its distinctively painted cam covers. While highly successful, the 500 TR was rendered obsolete by new CSI Appendix “C” regulations for 1957 mandating a minimum cockpit width of 120 cm, a full-size passenger seat, two doors, and a full symmetrical windscreen, complete with a wiper.
In response, the TRC debuted in late 1956 with the “C” denoting the model’s compliance with the new regulations. Just 19, all customer cars, were built. Of those, 17 were the 2-liter 500 TRC – now in 190 hp tune – and two were the 2.5-liter 625 TRC. The modified chassis allowed a lower engine placement and a consequently lower center of gravity, allowing Scaglietti to design a dramatically lower body. The 500 and 625 TRC were raced to great effect, with the cars figuring prominently in American SCCA competition well into the 1960s. Today, the purposefully sleek TRC is widely regarded as one of the most beautiful racing cars of the 1950s.
As confirmed by factory production records, 0690 MDTR was sent to Carrozzeria Scaglietti for bodywork on April 20, 1957, and completed in early May. As delivered, 0690 MDTR was the 12th of the 19 cars built in the TRC series.
On May 5, 1957, it debuted at the XIX Coppa Consuma hill climb, driven by Siro Sbraci, finishing 8th overall and 6th in Class. Next on May 11, 1957, it contested the 24th and final Mille Miglia. Finished in red with a blue stripe, 0690 MDTR was identified by its Idriz sponsorship and race number 453. In a remarkable result, Sbraci drove the 500 TRC to 3rd in Class and 12th overall. Following the Mille Miglia, Sbraci returned 0690 MDTR to the Ferrari factory in Maranello and the car was prepared for sale.
In fall 1957, Armando Garcia Cifuentes, a member of a wealthy cigar-manufacturing family in Havana, purchased the Ferrari. He entered it into the Cuban Grand Prix held on February 24, 1958, which remains infamous today as one of the most memorable and bizarre sports-car races of the 1950s. After Juan-Manuel Fangio set the fastest lap during qualifying in Temple Buell’s Maserati 300S, he was kidnapped at gunpoint and held by Cuban rebels, and the race was delayed in hopes that Fangio would be returned in time for the start. Race-numbered 54 and refinished in yellow with a black stripe, 0690 MDTR was entered under Scuderia Cuba with Chaguito Gonzales scheduled to drive, but Cifuentes refused to hand the car over. During the third lap near the American embassy, the 500 TRC crashed and ran into a crowd of spectators, possibly due to sabotage, killing seven and injuring more than 40. The race was immediately cancelled and while severely injured, Cifuentes survived the ordeal.
The 500 TRC was seized by the Cuban police and remained there, during which time the fragile Scaglietti aluminum bodywork was discarded and the original engine removed. In 1985, the Cuban government agency in Havana sold the remains of 0690 MDTR to famed car sleuth Colin Crabbe, who exported it to the UK. In the late 1980s, English Ferrari specialist Neil Twyman restored the car, noting “…although the car was stripped down there was a basic rolling chassis comprising of all the original Ferrari parts. A careful check was made on the originality of the chassis and its numbering by the Ferrari factory and it became evident that the chassis and number were 100 percent original and no doubt existed as to what car this was.”
Upon inspection, the main chassis frame was unaffected and measured to be correct. Original parts remaining with 0690 MDTR included the accelerator pedal, brake drums and backing plates, dashboard hoop, front suspension (except for one wishbone), wheel hubs, rear-axle assembly, shock absorbers, and steering idler. Detail pieces were refitted, including internal panels, brackets, door latches, hood release catches, and various clamps. As the original four-cylinder engine was likely lost in Cuba, an early outside-plug V-12 was prepared by Toni Franco in Maranello and installed, along with a 250 GT four-speed synchromesh gearbox. Significantly, the original four-cylinder engine mounts were retained, allowing straightforward conversion back to a four-cylinder engine.
The restorative work was carried out to uncompromising standards and proper replacement parts were sourced from the original manufacturers. RS Panels built an entirely new body using the ex-John von Neumann 0672 MDTR as a template. A clear Plexiglas carburetor cover was fitted in the style of the legendary TR59.
Following completion, 0690 MDTR was invited to the 2nd Annual Goodwood Festival of Speed in 1994 and again in 1997. In 1995, the TRC was driven to the Coys Historic Race Festival in Silverstone, fittingly registered “3000 CC.” Other appearances included the European Concours d’Elegance at Schwetzingen, Germany, and it was driven in the Louis Vuitton Italia Classica meet – during which time 0690 MDTR provided a wonderful companion piece to the Lord Cowdray 246 Dino. In 2007, the TRC was loaned to the Orvieto Car Club in Northern Spain and reunited with Cifuentes, who had driven the car almost 50 years earlier at Havana. More recently, 0690 MDTR was refinished in the distinctive colors of Scuderia Cuba.
Selective modifications by the consignor included forward repositioning of the pedal box and relocation of the battery to the trunk. An electric fan (rarely used) and road clutch provide driving ease. Offered in excellent condition and accompanied by a historical file, including restoration photographs and documents, a report compiled by Ferrari historian Marcel Massini, and copies of the original factory build records. 0690 MDTR is further accompanied by the original and TRC-specific gearbox from 0708 MDTR, a von Neumann car and the last TRC of the series built. As such, 0690 MDTR offers its next caretaker exceptional possibilities, including concours, road rallies, vintage racing, and even occasional road use.
Beautifully restored to its 1958 Cuban Grand Prix livery, 0690 MDTR marks the end of an era as one of the last Ferrari four-cylinder sports-racing cars and as a highly successful entry in the final “classic” Mille Miglia of 1957. Wonderfully reborn decades after the fateful 1958 Cuban Grand Prix, 0690 MDTR also represents the end of the “Golden Age” of sports-car racing when crowds lined roads ordinarily reserved for public traffic and watched as race-bred monsters thundered past.