Ferrari F1, #3, 1975-1980, The 312T

Where we left off
In the second installment in this series we reviewed the failure of the 1970-1974 Ferrari 312B series, again beaten by twenty or so English “Assemblatori” or “Garagiste” kit-car teams, thanks in large part to English innovation, the deadly reliable Cosworth DFVs, unbreakable Hewland gearboxes, and both brave and talented English drivers. As this column will show, thanks to a focus on F1 plus the sale of a major stake of Ferrari’s road car business to Fiat, Ferrari would fight their way to the front of the pack with the much more successful 312 T cars.

The path to the podium
Because of the disastrous 1970-1974 F1 seasons Ferrari dropped the 512 S/M and 312 PB sports prototype program, the 365 GTB/4C program and built the team’s private Fiorano test track, literally across the street from the Factory. Once Luca de Montezemolo had Ferrari’s leftist labor unions on board, Niki Lauda implemented a disciplined testing program. Team manager Marco Piccinini, head engineer Mauro Forghieri and the team focused on the 312 T, an uncomplicated and clean design, the main improvement being a transverse gearbox, hence the “T” in the name. The mass of the new gearbox was now mounted ahead of the rear axle, giving a low polar moment of inertia with all the major weight now inside the wheelbase and, thanks to the flat-12, that weight was mounted low in the car. The entire suspension was improved over the 312B3 with the 312B’s tub’s front sub-frame pickup points replaced by a more rigid monocoque. The front chassis was now much narrower, allowing longer, inboard mounted, rocker front suspension arms. Handling became much more neutral, eliminating the understeer of the earlier 312B3.

1975, a long-sought Driver’s and Constructor’s Championship
In the 1975 season Ferrari enjoyed what lead driver Niki Lauda often referred to as “the unbelievable year” thanks to the Ferrari 312T, the technically-superior weapon-of-choice over the competition. After a slow start to the season in which the Cosworth-powered Brabham, Tyrrell and McLaren put up strong competition, Lauda, in his second year with the Scuderia, won four out of five races mid-season and claimed the Drivers Championship title at Monza by finishing 3rd, while team mate Clay Regazzoni’s win at Monza gave Ferrari its first Constructors’ Championship since 1964. Lauda then went on to win the US Grand Prix at season’s end, confirming Ferrari’s 1975 season superiority. Death was never far away with Mark Donohue killed in August, and, just as the season ended, Graham Hill’s Team Embassy airplane crashed in England with all six onboard killed, including team owner Graham Hill and driver Tony Brise. Six Ferrari Championship year cars were built for 1975, s/n 018, 019, 021, 022, 023 and 024, all except s/n 019 survive, crashed in a test session at Vallelunga.

The Lauda-Hunt battle of 1975 had ramped up international television coverage, with Bernie Ecclestone landing the television rights. Ecclestone offered each of the constructors a share in the TV rights, which the constructors accepted. Ecclestone then packaged the TV rights to the Fuji showdown, but only if the various networks committed to showing the next year’s complete F1 season. And that is why Bernie Ecclestone today owns the best F1 car collection on the planet and is a Billionaire.

1976, back-to-back Constructors Championships
In 1976 Montezemolo was promoted to head of all Fiat racing activities, with the 312 T2 as the Scuderia’s F1 weapon of choice. The 1976 season was famed for the well-known battle between McLaren’s James Hunt and Ferrari’s Niki Lauda, a battle won by Hunt, thanks to a single point. The season and the battle were immortalized in the 2013 Ron Howard Film “Rush”, the best racing film this writer has seen, thanks to great racing shots and the Hunt versus Lauda story line. Hunt won in Spain but was disqualified, giving the victory to Lauda, but the results were later overturned, giving the victory back to Hunt. Hunt then won in France and England, but that victory was overturned after a first lap crash, when Hunt drove on an access road to get back to the pits, handing the win to Lauda and Ferrari. Lauda then had a suspension failure and crashed in a spectacular fireball in Germany in 312 T2 s/n 028. Lauda was not expected to survive, let alone to return to racing. Hunt won the German race and then finished 4th in Austria. Miraculously, Lauda returned to finish 4th in Italy and Hunt DNF’ed. Hunt next won in Canada and again at the US GP but Lauda took 3rd to lead Hunt by three points going into the final race in Japan. In appalling weather Lauda withdrew his 312 T2, on the second lap, because of the deadly conditions, Mario Andretti won and Hunt eventually finished 3rd to take the title by a single point, although Ferrari did win an all-important second Constructor’s Championship. After Niki Lauda‘s near-fatal accident at a hard-to-accessible point at the treacherous 14.2 mi (22.8 km) Nürburgring in West Germany, the Nürburgring and the 8.7 mile Spa circuit were taken off the calendar. For those into tall airbox spotting, new regulations forced Ferrari to launch an evolution of the 312 T halfway through the 1976 season. Dubbed the T2, it featured new air intakes on either side of the cockpit. Seven 312 T2s were built, s/n 025, 026, 027, 028, 029, 030 and 031. All survive except 028, destroyed by Lauda in Germany.

1977, a hat-trick of Constructors Championships
The 1977 season started in chaos as Lauda’s standing within the Scuderia had been destroyed by his decision to withdraw from the 1976 season’s last race at the Japanese Grand Prix. The Scuderia pointedly excluded Lauda from the all-important winter testing. Lauda also resented Carlos Reutemann, his replacement while Lauda was in the hospital after his crash in Germany. Lauda announced he would quit Ferrari at season’s end but left earlier after winning the Drivers’ Championship at the United States GP, exacerbated by the team’s decision to run new driver Gilles Villeneuve in a third car at the Canadian GP. While Andretti won more races in the Lotus 78, Lauda won the championship in the 312 T2b through consistency rather than outright pace. With Carlos Reutemann finishing in 4th, Ferrari easily won an all-important 3rd Constructors Championship. Last year’s s/n 026, 027, 029, 030 and 031 were re-used for the 1977 season. All survive except s/n 030, destroyed by Villeneuve in Japan.

Over three glorious years, 1975, 1976 and 1977, Lauda had won two Drivers Championship’s and Ferrari became the first team in F1 history to win a hat-trick of three back-to-back Constructors Championships. The 312T and 312 T2 were neither the fastest nor the most competitive, but amongst the fastest and, after many long years, the most reliable.

Renault, Lotus, Tyrrell, March and Williams as game changers
The 1977 season saw Renault enter F1 with the bright yellow RS01, a 1.5-liter turbo car, spectacular to watch as it spit massive flames out the back, but chronically unreliable. It tended to blow up regularly, usually in a cloud of white smoke, earning the nickname “the yellow teapot”. The Renault RS01 was also the first F1 car to use French made Michelin radial racing tires. The Lotus 78 (a.k.a. the John Player Special Mark III) of 1977 introduced the black science of ground effects to F1, with sliding side skirts keeping air from underneath the car, but poor reliability ruined the Lotus team’s chances. Massive increases in downforce and hence much higher cornering and straightaway speeds meant that suspension components and circuit’s safety were inadequate. Tyrrell would introduce the P34 six-wheeler (four front tires) in 1975 while March would introduce the 2-4-0 six- wheeler (four rear tires) in 1976, Ferrari would test the 312T6 (four front tires mounted side-by-side, on the rear). Brabham also introduced the BT46B fan-car in 1978. All were, over time, uncompetitive or banned. While tall airboxes were now eliminated, fat tires were obligatory and carbon brakes (introduced by Gordon Murray at Brabham in 1976,) were soon to be ubiquitous. F1 remained a deadly game with driver Tom Pryce and a course marshal killed at the South African GP, and Carlos Pace killed in an airplane accident only a couple of weeks after Pryce’s accident. To improve safety, pedal box structures were stronger, gravel traps slowed spinning cars and drivers’ helmets now had to meet FIA standards.

1978, ground effects versus the Flat-12
In 1978 new driver Gilles Villeneuve was fearlessly-fast in the 312 T3 but had a nasty habit of crashing spectacularly, winning only the last race of the year in 312 T3 s/n 034 at his home track in Montreal, finishing the championship in a lowly 9th place. Fellow Ferrari driver Carlos Reutemann won four races but was only able to finish 3rd in the championship while Ferrari finished 2nd in the Constructors Championship. Ferrari’s results were complicated in part by the switch from Goodyear to the new Michelin radial tires and an attempt at ground effects with token sliding skirts. Colin Chapman’s Lotus 78 ‘wing car’ was the first to be developed using a wind tunnel with a rolling road, resulting in the development of Venturi tunnels (thank you Giovanni Venturi) and sliding side skirts, creating a low-pressure area under the car, producing phenomenal downforce, much higher grip and higher cornering speeds, ushering in the F1 downforce wars. Mario Andretti won the Drivers’ Championship thanks to the then-revolutionary ground effects of the Lotus 78 and 79, while Andretti’s co-driver, Ronnie Peterson finished posthumously in second place, following his death after complications from an accident at Monza. Team Lotus won eight of the season’s sixteen races, total dominance by standards of the time. Canadian readers will most likely remember Villeneuve winning his first Grand Prix at the Canadian GP in Montreal in 312 T3 s/n 034, a car we sold to its current Canadian owner in 2012. For the 1978 season five new 312 T3s were built, 032, 033, 034, 035 and 036. All five cars survive.

1979, a return to the Podium
Ferrari’s fortunes changed for the better for both new driver Jody Scheckter and for Villeneuve in 1979. The Peter Wright designed Lotus 78 had been an F1 game changer thanks to ground effects and sliding skirts and Ferrari had been forced to join the club. Ferrari tested the as-raced 312 T3 where it produced 1.8 g lateral acceleration on the 100-meter skid pad. Sliding skirts were added and the ground-effects modified 312 T3 produced 2.2 g’s – a 22% increase, and that was on a car not designed or optimized for ground-effects. While the 312 T4 had been designed long before Ferrari had any understanding of ground effects, the narrow monocoque 312 T4 combined with much-improved radial Michelin tires proved to be very reliable, while crude sliding skirts helped to overcome the aerodynamic compromise of the flat-12. When the T4 was introduced in the third round, at Scheckter’s home track in South Africa, Ferrari finished 1-2, making the 312 T4 the car to beat, winning six races in 1979. Villeneuve won at the South Africa GP, the US GP West in Long Beach and the US GP East at Watkins Glen, plus three 2nd place finishes for 47 Championship points while Scheckter won at Belgium, Monaco and the Italian GP plus three 2nd place finishes for 51 points, giving Scheckter his only Drivers’ Championship. The s/n tracking gets tricky but to over-simplify s/n 37 (rebuilt as s/n 42), 37-R, 38, 39 (rebuilt as s/n 43), 39-R, 40, 41(rebuilt as s/n 44) and 41-R were built for the 1979 season.

Video of Gilles Villeneuve in the 312 T4 versus Rene Atrnoux in the Renault RS10, as they battle for 2nd place at the French GP, Dijon, 01 July 1979.

1980, the T5 is left in the dust
Just as the 1979 312 T4 was an overwhelming winner, the 1980 season was an overwhelming disaster as the 312 T5’s flat-12 “Boxer” engine wasn’t viable in the fast-evolving science of ground effects, which requires rear venturis or tunnels on either side of the V8 engines. Ferrari’s Flat-12 effectively blocked any potential tunnels. The T5 was not a bad car, but as the Cosworth crowd evolved and improved from race to race, the T5 became less and less competitive. For the first time since 1973, Ferrari did not win a race over the fourteen-race season, finishing a dismal 10th in the Constructors’ Championship. Scheckter failed to qualify in Canada and, after only managing 2 points, retired from the sport at the end of the year. Ferrari recognized the aerodynamic challenges and quickly turned its development efforts to the 1.5-liter 120-degree V-6 twin-turbo powered 126C for 1981. Australian Alan Jones, in the deadly reliable and well sorted Williams FW07B won, in Argentina, France, Britain, Canada and Watkins Glen to win the world championship and Williams’ first Constructors’ Championship. For the first time all tracks had fast-response safety cars with permanent medical facilities staffed by FIA approved medical staff. Six cars were built, s/n 042, 043, 044, 045, 046 and 048. All survive. S/n 047 was the first of the next-era’s 126 C Turbo cars which will be the opener for the next installment in this series.

So what are they like to own, maintain and drive?
The 312 Ts raced on super-sticky slicks mounted on 10 x 13 front and outrageously wide 18 x 13 rear wheels.
A full-width front wing and a pedestal-mounted overhung rear wing combined to give substantial downforce
through the corners and traction as the car accelerated out of the corner. The 312 T4, fitted with sliding skirts and Ferraris 485 hp @ 12,200 rpm flat-12, had been good enough to win the 1979 Championship, but by 1980 the T5 was left in the dust by the ever-evolving Cosworth-powered cars. Today, sliding skirts are banned in vintage races for safety reasons.

Any of the 312 Ts is a drivers delight thanks to the roomy (if you are 5’9” and 160 lbs, or less) cockpit. The steering, shifting and braking is light, the cars are very neutral at speed and the engine makes sounds to thrill any driver’s soul. Once wings started generating serious downforce (in the early ‘70s) it was great for traction, but wings only work if the airflow over them is straight: get a serious wing car more than a few degrees off the airflow and the wings stop working. Therefore, you must drive them “stuck” rather than “loose”. Soft, sticky tires overheat if you start sliding them around, so stickier tires required downforce and extremely low slip angles to work right. Simply put, any Ferrari F1 car of this era is so well balanced, with the right, user-friendly, combination of downforce, power, brakes and tires that they make an average driver look professional.

As one reader, who’s owned and raced a B3, a 312 T and an F2000 explained: “The F1’s are in two camps. Those (early, on-board-starter equipped cars) that most competent shops can run, and those (post Turbo-era) that require 10 Ferrari mechanics standing around (and a stack of computers) to run. I’ve had both and as you state, I prefer the former, ones you can run yourself.
I think your article is spot on. It is amazing to me, how rare Ferrari F1’s are. Then narrow down to the chassis that won. Then narrow down the list of cars that won in championship years. The list is tiny, and in my opinion worth as much as a soup can picture (and far more than a dead shark). Everything about an F1 car IS ART. The shifter, the body, intakes, the cast magnesium cradle up front. All pieces of exceptional beauty. Oh… and by the way… when I drove the Lauda car, more emotion came over me than I’ve EVER experienced looking at a piece of art. That’s the difference”.
As another 312 T owner replied: I had been running Cosworth-powered cars previously… a McLaren M19. It’s a nice car. I liked it, had a great time with it, but the Ferrari was different. Very different. Right off the bat, the 312-T2 felt different than the Cosworth powered F1 cars I had owned previously. They have a distinctive feel, a vibration and sound. The Ferrari was much smoother, the engine revved seemingly with less effort. It just seemed more refined. The whole car had a certain synchronicity to it. Everything worked in harmony.”
When interviewed for this column about Ferrari’s internal politics, Jody Scheckter said: [Marco] “Piccinini… was the team manager …and Forghieri was the head engineer”, (but) “what Mr Ferrari said it was absolute! He made everybody scared!….”I came for my first race and I didn’t speak Italian. Mr Ferrari asked me what was it like, and I said, well the engine hasn’t got as much power as the Ford because they pull away from me coming out. And they wouldn’t translate it, so I said, no you must translate it, but they wouldn’t, because the engine guy would have got his head chopped off”.

The market for Ferrari 312T cars
Ferrari had now won three Driver’s Championships with the 312T, in 1975 and 1977 with Lauda and 1979 with Scheckter, plus four Constructors Championships in 1975, 1976, 1977 and again in 1979. Like all F1 cars of this era, the 312Ts are pre-computer, have an on-board starter, can be started with a push of the starter button and can be maintained by a single mechanic from any qualified race shop. They can easily be stored in a private collection and can be taken to your local track for test days or practice sessions. All the 312Ts are eligible for both the European and US Masters Historic F1 Series, the prestigious Monaco Historic GP and much more. Even though the 312 Ts are easily the most user-friendly of any era of Ferrari F1 cars, few ever run in Ferrari’s F1 Clienti program because of the speed differentials with the newer Ferrari F1cars. Any of the 312Ts will sell for well into seven-figures and the Championship winning cars in the eight-figure range, if and when they come to market.

This author argues that any Ferrari F1 car or, indeed, any F1 car, of any era, is kinetic art, with many displayed as the center-piece of a significant Ferrari collection. All are comparatively cheap in a world where a pop artist such as Damien Hirst could sell a 14 foot Tiger Shark, billed as modern art, for a reported $12,000,000 in 2004!

Dead sharks versus Championship winning Ferraris
For those into shark spotting, Hirst’s artwork was funded in 1991 by Charles Saatchi who had offered to pay for whatever artwork Hirst wanted to create. Hirst wanted a strong visual presentation, so something “big enough to eat you”. The original shark was caught off Hervey Bay in Queensland, Australia, by a fisherman commissioned to find a sizeable shark. The original shark cost Hirst £6,000 and the total cost of the shark, the formaldehyde and tank was £50,000. Unfortunately the original shark was improperly preserved and deteriorated, turning the surrounding liquid murky. In 1993 the gallery gutted the shark and stretched its skin over a fiberglass mold, but, as Hirst commented, “You could tell it wasn’t real”. In 2004 Steven A. Cohen paid some number between $8m-$12m for the shark. New buyer Cohen then funded another shark, again caught off Queensland in 2006 and preserved by injecting formaldehyde into the body, as well as soaking it for two weeks in a bath of 7% formalin solution; so now a re-bodied and/or re-numbered shark. The question then becomes, would the reader have chosen a dead shark in the $8m-$12m range in 2004, or a dozen or more Ferrari F1 cars, ALL of which could have been purchased in that time-period for the same $8m-$12m? Your choice!

The next Chapter
Thanks to ever-increasing sponsorship, the next decade’s Turbo-era would feature an explosion of technology. Turbocharging, massive boost pressures, solid suspensions, honeycomb and carbon fiber construction and one Bernard Ecclestone would all be F1 game changers. Horsepower went from 500 hp to 1,000 hp in only a few years. For the 1981 season Ferrari would run the 126 C, a 1.5-liter turbocharged V6 which produced far more power than the previous seasons 3.0 liter flat-12 and which allowed under-body-space for all-important Venturi tunnels. The new 126 series were aerodynamic barn doors, but that story will be part of the following column. Stand by for the 1981-1984 Turbo-era.

Thanks to the following, in alphabetical order: John Amette, (Ferrari Newport Beach Classiche); Arnaud Blanfuney; Ross Bowdler; Jim Busby, (Busby Racing); Andy Dayes; Scott Drnek, (Virtuoso Performance); Trevor Griffiths; Richard Griot, (Griot’s Garage); Alastair Henderson; Brad Hoyt; Jim Hunter (Prancing Horse); Kevin Kalkhoven (Cosworth Engineering); Chris MacAllister; Mike Matune; Paul Osborn (Cars International); Nigel Petras; Thor Thorson (Vintage Racing Motors); Spencer Trenery (Fantasy Junction); Matthias Urban ( and a special thanks to Glen Smale and Jody Scheckter.