Beginning in the 1920s, Chiron raced Bugattis to great effect and by 1928 he became the factory team’s number one driver with a dozen victories that year. Interestingly, it’s Chiron who shares a unique connection with this other rarified sports car—a 1951 Ferrari 340 America Barchetta.
In 1951, Chiron raced this Ferrari at the iconic 24 Hours of Le Mans. Now the rare barchetta—said to be the third of just 23 built—is up for auction, expected to cross the RM Sotheby’s block in Monaco in May.
According to the auction house, Ferrari 340 America chassis #0116/A began its life in January 1951. It was completed in April, mated with its gorgeous Carrozzeria Touring coachwork in May, and returned to Ferrari in June, complete with its storming 4.1-liter Ferrari V12, which made a colossal 317 horsepower and notched a rumored top speed in excess of 150 mph.
With engines derived for Formula 1 use, the Ferrari 340 Americas were fast GT cars, and on June 16th, Pierre Louis-Dreyfus (a World War II hero and eventual CEO of the Louis Dreyfus Group) bought this one. Target… Le Mans.
In 1951, Louis-Dreyfus teamed up with none other than Louis Chiron (then at the end of his racing career) and the pair joined the crowded field at the 24 Hours of Le Mans, amongst three other Ferrari 340 Americas as well.
Unfortunately for Chiron and Louis-Dreyfus, the close match-up with the other 340 America sister cars signaled a premature end to their race. During the event, Chiron was so focused on the Ferrari 340 America of Eddie Hall that he missed his pitstop signal to refuel and ran out of gas on the circuit. Crucially, a mechanic drove out to the stranded car and topped up the Ferrari with gas, which allowed Chiron to return to the pits as if nothing had happened.
The driver swap was made, Louis-Dreyfus went racing, however the incident didn’t escape the watchful eye of the race directors, and the pair were black flagged after just 29 laps. Despite that, the car did show impressive pace and notched the 11th fastest lap time of the entire race.
The intimate Bugatti connection does indeed end there, but not the story of this 340 America. Louis-Dreyfus campaigned the car at Le Mans the following year in 1952 and qualified an impressive 15th, however he retired after five hours due to a failed clutch.
In 1955 it was sold to a French resident who traded in his Bugatti Type 57SC Atalante for it, and in 1964 it exchanged hands once again, this time to renowned Ferrari collector Pierre Bardinon.
In the five decades since it has subsequently exchanged hands many times over, but it’s been active in retirement.
The auction house notes the car has participated in many vintage events like the famous Mille Miglia, of which it has campaigned seven times since 1990. Oh yes, there’s still some fight left in that Prancing Horse.
Today it’s said to be fully restored to its 1951 Le Mans guise, and it passes under the gavel on May 14th.
Photo Credit: Tim Scott, RM Sotheby’s