AUTOLUST | 1954 Ferrari 750 Monza Spyder Scaglietti

Even in the 1950s, Ferrari looked to build the most aggressive, high performance supercars in the world. And, the iconic Italian automaker sold its elite consumer supercars to fund its international racing efforts from Formula to sports car racing. 

Throughout the early 50s, Ferrari used small, V12 engines in its racing designs. Such an engine was fast, but heavy — needing its own horsepower partly to carry its 12 cylinder weight around a track.

So, Ferrari decided to move away from V12 engines in the middle of the 1950s and over to four cylinder engines. Engineers of the time looked to the design that found success with the 2.5 liter Ferrari then F1 car of the time. Those four cylinder racing engines faired well on international tracks throughout the 1950s and gave birth to the 750 Monza.

Only 30 Monzas were ever produced, all using bodywork by one of the era’s top Italian tuning designers, Scaglietti. The car was built on a simple oval steel tube structure, making for solid rigidity and stability.

A four cylinder setup would power the car with high torque and startling speed for its era because the body structure limited weight, while the smaller engine used an alloy for its cylinder head, block assembly and crankcase. The smaller four cylinder displaced only three liters and put out 260 horsepower — a massive amount of brute force for such a small car.

Also: AUTOLUST | 1965 Aston Martin DB5

The small, yet narrow machine might seem to have too small a wheel base to handle high speed racing, but underneath it uses independent suspension up front and a rear axle with radius rods in the back to stay balanced.

The Monza used oversized drum brakes at all four corners, but it’s safe to say that was no more a strength for this car than it proved to be for any other racing machine of the era. Drum brakes of the 50s, 60s and 70s were poor at their best, and once they get hot and expanded, they were practically useless. A driver had to stand on the pedal to get any response from them at all. That’s why disc brakes dominate 21st century cars, whether racing or driving the byways.

Of course, the majority of the 30 cars built by Ferrari headed out into the world in classic, Italian racing Ferrari red and remained so painted — unless they were purchased by racing teams running under a foreign color.

Sports cars of this era, Ferraris in particular, are commonly viewed by experts and collectors alike as some of the most beautiful cars ever designed. Today, they are highly desired by collectors and eligible for popular historic motorsports events and classic car races around the world.

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After these 30 Ferrari racing machines arrived on the scene, the car did well in international racing immediately — stealing the spotlight from the Jaguars that were dominating before the 750 Monza Spyder Scaglietti arrived. One story says the second Ferrari 750 Monza out of the factory was purchased by racer Joe Kelly of Dublin – forgoing a UK ride. After winning a couple of races, Kelly then sold the car to the Jaguar Car Company so they could tear it apart and essentially reverse engineer it to discover how it was whipping them.

To the happy, untrained eye, the Ferrari 750 Monza Spyder Scaglietti is an absolutely classic 1950s racing machine. The Scaglietti body is beautifully simple, disrupted only by the tiny, single seat cockpit and tiny windshield. To most gearheads, the racing cars of the 195os remain some of the most striking classic rides ever built — evoking a mix of both nostalgia and a passion for reckless, seat of the pants speed.

The Monza Spyder raced in a different era — a time that (for better or worse) concerned itself less with safety and put the responsibility or staying alive on the driver. One look at a racing machine like this and that’s very clear. No roll cage. The driver is exposed to the open, rushing air. If the car crashes, it’s small body offers little in the way of protection. If it rolls over, the only thing saving the racer’s skull is his helmet.

It all sounds crazy, but there’s something romantic and stirring about the bravery of driving something like that. It’s better left to the Steve McQueen types of its time. The modern world is too bubble wrapped to embrace such a car.

You can get a detailed look at racing history in the gallery below.

All photos by John Scott Lewinski.