When Evo asked me to write 250 words on the history of the Ferrari Colombo V12 engine for issue 169, the biggest challenge proved to be adhering to the word count. My initial draft ran to well over a 1000 words and it was necessary to pare it down to just the salient points relevant to Evo's main article. Rather than go to waste, here is the unabridged version…..
The world was first introduced to the Ferrari V12 on May 11, 1947 when Ferrari entered its 125 Sport in a local sports car race at Piacenza. Driven by Franco Cortese the little open sports car did not finish but reportedly showed well against the competing Maseratis. Cortese, and the crowd watching, probably did not realise that the little 1.5 litre V12 would form the basis of a series of road and race engines that would go on to power some of the most legendary cars on the road and in motorsport.
Designed by Gioacchino Colombo the engine was an over square 60 degree design which utilised an aluminium block with steel wet liners. Power was an impressive (for the day) 72bhp. With the addition of a supercharger, the engine would also power Ferrari's early entries in F1. However, in this form the engine met with limited success and Ferrari would quickly abandon this concept for a separate design of larger capacity V12 for the single seaters.
The failure in F1 resulted in Colombo's departure from Ferrari (he would go on to design the world championship winning Maserati 250F) but the engine would continue to be used in sports cars. Capacity was increased to 2.0 litres for the 166MM – the naming convention was taken from the cubic capacity of one of the engine's cylinders. The 166MM gave Ferrari its first win at Le Mans in 1948. Evolution was rapid and by 1952, a small increase in bore and larger increase in stroke resulted in the 3.0 litre version of the Colombo which would power the 250 series of Ferraris.
The 250 series were the cars that really put Ferrari on the map. In endurance racing, the 250 Testa Rossas used a 300bhp version of the engine with the cam covers painted red. Testa Rossas would win Le Mans in 1958, 1960 and 1961, while the engine would be fitted into the mid-engined 250P which would win Le Mans again in 1963.
The 250 would also dominate the GT classes with successive versions - from the Tour De France to the mighty GTO - being the car of choice for the gentleman drivers looking to enter the big races. For the road, the likes of the 250 GTE and Lusso established Ferrari as a proper car manufacturer of with series production cars rather than just small numbers of coach built GTs.
The most extreme development of the Colombo in its original form was the 4.0 litre version that powered the 400 Superamerica. Using the same basic block design as the original 1.5 litre unit, the heavily bored and stroked unit was marginal on cooling with little space left between the cylinders. However, power was exceptional: the road engine was good for 340bhp but up to 400bhp in race trim. A Superamerica engine would be installed in an old 250 Testa Rossa chassis to create the 330TRI that would win Le Mans in 1962 and become the last front engined car to do so.
Regardless, by the mid sixties the 250 unit was beginning to show its age on both road and track. On the circuits, Ford had entered sports car racing with the Cobra and the GT40 powered by big, simple - but very powerful - American V8s. On the road, upstart manufacturer Lamborghini introduced its 350GT powered by a four cam V12.
Ferrari's initial response was to enlarge the Colombo unit to 3.3 litres and introduced the 275GTB for the road in 1964. In street trim, this was good for 280bhp. Fitting race versions into the 250P chassis would give Ferrari two further wins at Le Mans with the 275P in 1964 and closed roof 275LM in 1965. Race prepared versions of the 275GTB would also capture the GT class from 1965 to 1967.
Following on from the 400 Superamerica, Ferrari introduced a heavily reworked version of the Colombo for the larger engine cars in the new 330 Series. The bore spacing in the engine was increased from 90 to 94mm to allow for better cooling. The first 330 was the GT 2+2 producing 300bhp but more importantly, considerably more torque at lower engine speeds.
Increased capacity on its own was never going to be enough against the now 7.0 litre GT40s, so new chief engineer Mauro Forghieri developed dual overhead camshafts which would be fitted to race versions of the 275 and new 330 engine in mid engined sports prototypes. Ferrari was by now suffering on the track from a lack of funding compared to arch rival Ford, and the four cam engines would never repeat the success of the earlier two cam engines at Le Mans. The last great victories at the very top level of racing for the Colombo engine came in 1967 when the 330P4s, complete with fuel injection and 3 valve per cylinder heads, won the World Sportscar Championship including a 1-2-3 finish at the Daytona 24 hours.
With such close links between the road and racing cars it was inevitable that the four cam head would also appear on the road, and it duly did in 1966 when the 275GTB was upgraded to become the 275GTB4. Power was now up to 300bhp (at 8000rpm!) but this was still some way behind the outputs Lamborghini was claiming for its engines.
Tightening emissions regulations in the United States meant that the 275GTB4 was only offered for sale there for one year. However, its replacement would offer the ultimate expression of the Colombo engine in a road car. The increased bore spacing version of the engine had already been stroked to 4.4 litres to create the 365 engine. This was then married to the four cam heads of the 275GTB4 to create what was known as the Tipo 251 engine fitted to the 365GTB4 'Daytona'. Fitted with race style dry sump lubrication and six Weber carburettors the Tipo 251 produced 352bhp at 7500 rpm and propelled the car to 174mph. The Daytona was designed from the outset as a road car but race prepared versions had considerable success in GT racing. It took class wins at Le Mans, an outright win in the Tour De France for automobiles, and, perhaps most famously, a second overall at the Daytona 24 hours in 1979 - some six years after the car had gone out of production.
The Daytona was the last Ferrari Berlinetta to feature a Colombo based V12, as Ferrari moved to a new generation of Flat 12 engines in the Boxer. The 2+2 coupes would continue to use a softened wet sump version of the Daytona's engine all the way up to the 412 which was discontinued in 1989. As a result, the Colombo engine continued in unbroken production for forty-two years.