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Coachwork by Pinin Farina
*Please note that this car is titled as 1960.
Formerly the Property of Gianni Agnelli, Anita Ekberg and Harrah’s Automobile Collection The 1959 Torino and 1960 Geneva Show Car
Born in Torino, Italy, on March 12, 1921, Gianni Agnelli was the heir to a modern Italian dynasty. Named after his grandfather, who founded Fiat in 1899, Gianni Agnelli was the quintessential Italian aristocrat and a leader in both business and culture.
An impeccable dresser, Agnelli influenced men’s style for decades and is widely considered among the most fashionable men in modern history. His unique take on fashion combined classic suits with eccentric details, carefully selected to convey sprezzatura – the Italian art of making the difficult look easy.
Throughout his adult life – even after his marriage in 1953 – Agnelli was a noted playboy, whose mistresses included socialite Pamela Harriman, actress Anita Ekberg, and fashion designer Jackie Rogers.
Glamorous in all respects, Agnelli maintained several beautifully designed homes, built a fine collection of paintings, and enjoyed sailing, skiing, and tobogganing. A regular sight at Alpine ski resorts and exclusive Mediterranean retreats, he was famously nicknamed “Rake of the Riviera.”
Given his intimate relationship with the Italian auto industry, Agnelli always kept an impressive stable of motorcars and developed a deep respect for the Ferrari marque. Between the late 1940s and early 1960s, he owned a number of Ferraris, including a 166 MM Barchetta, a 212 Inter Coupe, a 375 America, and the 400 Superamerica presented here.
In 1966, Agnelli became chairman of Fiat, Italy’s largest and, in many ways, most important manufacturer. As the head of Fiat, Agnelli managed over 4% of Italy’s gross domestic product and, under his direction, the firm acquired Alfa Romeo and Lancia, giving it a virtual monopoly in domestic car production. In addition to their control of Fiat and its many subsidiaries, the family’s various holding companies managed everything from newspapers to the renowned football club Juventus F.C.
Gianni Agnelli was the richest man in modern Italian history and was regarded by many as the true “King of Italy.” Agnelli’s influence on Italian life was so deeply felt that he was awarded the decoration Knight Grand Cross of the Order of Merit of the Italian Public, the title Knight of Labor, and life membership in the Italian senate.
His jet-set lifestyle, vast financial empire, and aristocratic air were tangible evidence of Italy’s post-war rebirth, and his rugged good looks and highly individual style remain the epitome of modern manhood.
In 1959, Gianni Agnelli placed an order for a special new Ferrari – one that was to be reserved for his personal use. The car that he received was 1517 SA, the first 400 Superamerica.
The 400 Superamerica was the latest in a long line of important Ferraris evolved from the 342 and 375 Americas and the 410 Superamerica. As the firm’s most expensive road-going offering, the 400 Superamerica was aimed at clients like Gianni Agnelli who valued the exclusivity, prestige, and performance of a limited-production coachbuilt Ferrari.
As the first chassis built of its kind, Agnelli’s 400 Superamerica is regarded as something of a prototype and its type 163 engine has been recorded by various sources as an experimental unit with a unique combination of internal components, carburetors, and exhaust.
On July 30, 1959, 1517 SA entered the Pinin Farina plant in Torino, where it was outfitted with custom-tailored coupe coachwork.
In designing this special new Ferrari, Pinin Farina created a variation of Agnelli’s first custom-bodied Ferrari, 0355 AL, a 375 America that had been styled by Franco Martinengo. While little directive had been given during the construction of the 375 America, it has been said that Sig. Agnelli requested a car that would not be immediately recognizable as a Ferrari.
In concept and execution, this one-off Coupe Speciale marries contemporary Pinin Farina styling with the various “branded” themes established on Agnelli’s previous commission to create one of the most striking coachbuilt Ferraris.
The most noteworthy aspects of the design are the large square grille, the “panoramic” wraparound windscreen, forward-leaning A-pillars, and an Aerlux sunroof with sliding shades. Interestingly, all of these features – or at least a variation thereof – were applied to 0355 AL six years earlier, giving Pinin Farina’s new clean-sheet design the overall impression of a natural evolution.
Perhaps the most prominent departure from the previous Agnelli Ferrari was the adoption of a four-headlight arrangement, which would become a popular styling cue used on exclusive automobiles throughout the 1960s, from the Ferrari 330 to the Rolls-Royce Silver Cloud III.
When the time came to style the interior, Pinin Farina continued to blend old and new features to establish an utterly unique design language. Similar to Agnelli’s 375 America, 1517 SA was outfitted with a full array of instrumentation, pairing standard Veglia gauges with an elegant Jaeger chronometric clock and Heuer stopwatches. More contemporary details include the custom steering wheel – which featured black trim on the spokes in lieu of the typical filigree – and a distinctive shift knob.
In this remarkable automobile all effort and concept were applied with such care that a perfect balance between restrained elegance and individual extravagance was struck. The design is beautifully proportioned from all angles such that no perspective results in a compromised line. Likewise, the many bespoke details work in harmony with one another and are beautifully integrated into the design as a whole. The 400 Superamerica Coupe Speciale expressed Pinin Farina’s growing mastery as a coachbuilder, while providing Gianni Agnelli with an automotive extension of his uniquely masculine persona.
1517 SA made its public debut on the Pinin Farina stand at the 41st Annual Torino Motor Show held during November 1959 – two months before the first production 400 Superamerica, a short-wheelbase Cabriolet, was unveiled at the Brussels Auto Show.
Following its debut at the Torino Motor Show, the 400 Superamerica returned to Pinin Farina to undergo a number of important changes, presumably at Sig. Agnelli’s request.
Among the many subtle revisions, the size and shape of the grille were softened, the twopiece front bumperettes were replaced by a single one-piece bumper, the hood scoop was repositioned, the seats were reupholstered, and the flanks – between the front and rear wheel wells – were embellished with brushed stainless steel trim and a distinctive spear, finished in the Agnelli family colors of green and blue.
In this final form, 1517 SA was pictured in several Pinin Farina promotional photographs and displayed at the 1960 Geneva Motor Show held between March 10th and 20th. As delivered to Sig. Agnelli in June 1960, the 400 Superamerica Coupe Speciale was finished in Argento Luna Savid with black Connolly leather upholstery.
Registered in Torino as “TO 333333,” the 400 Superamerica served as Gianni Agnelli’s personal transport for over two years before being replaced with a Maserati 5000 GT fitted with a similar, albeit less extravagant, Pinin Farina body.
On September 26, 1962, Agnelli sold his custom-built Ferrari to Giuseppe Cornacchia, a resident of Milan. Less than a month later, the 400 Superamerica was sold to famed Swedish actress Anita Ekberg, star of the 1960 movie La Dolce Vita. Based on this time frame and the rumored affair between Agnelli and Miss Ekberg, it can only be surmised that the Ferrari was intended as a rather generous gift.
Between 1962 and 1966, Miss Ekberg enjoyed use of the bespoke Ferrari and had it serviced at the factory’s Assistenza Clienti in Modena, Italy. In May 1966, Ekberg sold the Coupe Speciale to Mario Rossi of Torino. In October 1967, he had the Ferrari serviced at the factory, by which time it had accumulated 35,842 km (approximately 22,270 miles).
In 1968, Sig. Rossi sold the 400 Superamerica to Milan’s official Ferrari dealer M.G. Crepaldi S.a.s. The following year, Crepaldi sold 1517 SA to Luigi Chinetti Motors in Greenwich, Connecticut.
Soon after its arrival in the US, the Coupe Speciale was sold to Peter Jacobs through Algar Enterprises, Inc. in Rosemont, Pennsylvania. From there, the car was sold to Pete Sherman of Maitland, Florida, who damaged the nose in a road accident.
In 1974, Gilbert Ranney of Santa Ana, California, purchased the Ferrari from Mr. Sherman with the intention of someday restoring it. After eight years in his care, the restoration never commenced and, in November 1982, Mr. Ranney donated the Coupe Speciale to the Harrah Automobile Foundation in Reno, Nevada.
When much of Harrah’s Automobile Collection was dispersed in 1986, 1517 SA was sold at auction to its current caretaker, a Southern California Ferrari enthusiast.
After a decade in storage, the current owner decided to undertake a restoration of this most deserving car. Overseen by the most highly regarded Ferrari specialists on the West Coast – Carl Steuer of Blackhorse Motors, Norbert Hofer of Grand Touring Classics, Sports Car Classics, and Hot Rods and Hobbies – the restoration was performed to the highest possible standards, returning this special car to its original splendor.
The result of this painstaking effort is nothing short of spectacular. This car’s sheer presence, wealth of bespoke features, and attention to detail are not properly served by words. One must see this marvelous machine in the flesh to truly capture a sense of its greatness.
Since its restoration was completed in 2004, the Agnelli Superamerica has participated in some of the most exclusive automotive gatherings including the Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance, the Quail Motorsports Gathering, the Concorso d’Eleganza Villa d’Este, and the Palm Beach Cavallino Classic. This unique Ferrari has also been displayed at several Southern California concours and has always garnered accolades, both for its exquisite presentation and historical import. In its most recent showing, at the May 2013 FCA Concours in Pasadena, 1517 SA received Best of Show honors.
Beyond its impressive concours pedigree, this coachbuilt wonder has been included in several important museum exhibitions. Between April and November 2009, 1517 SA was a featured display at Galleria Ferrari, the factory’s museum in Maranello. Beginning in fall 2010, the Agnelli Superamerica was part of a six-month exhibition held at Ferrari World on Yas Island in Abu Dhabi. As recently as 2012, 1517 SA was invited to take part in a special exhibit at the Petersen Museum in Los Angeles entitled “Sculpture in Motion: Masterpieces of Italian Design.”
Today, 1517 SA remains in show-quality condition and is offered complete with a tool roll, Ferrari Classiche Red Book, and an impressive file of documentation that includes a Certificate of Exhibit from Galleria Ferrari, numerous documents from Harrah’s Automobile Collection, copies of the original Ferrari build sheets, various correspondences, archival photos, and a history report compiled by Ferrari expert Marcel Massini.
A singular expression of power and exclusivity, Gianni Agnelli’s Coupe Speciale exudes the individual character and artistry of a bygone era in custom coachbuilding. Tailored to the exacting standards of one of Ferrari’s most important customers, 1517 SA is not only a striking one-off creation and the first 400 Superamerica built, it also boasts a prestigious show car pedigree and remarkable provenance. Certified by Ferrari Classiche, featured in countless books on Ferrari and Pinin Farina, and exhibited at the world’s finest venues, this 400 Superamerica is a Ferrari of particular distinction and a fascinating one-of-a-kind object that represents the height of automobile production in post-war Italy.
Those with an appreciation for the prestige, glamour, and sophistication embodied by a bespoke 400 Superamerica should recognize the appearance of this important coachbuilt Ferrari as an opportunity not to be missed.