I remember the day it rolled off the trailer. I couldn’t believe the car was here. THIS car. Dirty and worn, sure, but every bit as beautiful as in my childhood memories. I had to sit in it. Hold the steering wheel HE held. Imagine the Veglia tach sweeping toward 14,000 RPM. Snap the gated shifter through the gears. I could have stayed in the seat for hours.
I spent that first afternoon removing bodywork from Niki Lauda’s Ferrari 312T-022 and taking photographs. I felt like a kid again. It was like working on the model car I had built so many years ago, but in reverse. As I peeled back the layers, thoughts of that great time in racing flooded back.
The Golden Age
Formula One in the mid-70′s was nothing nice. The cars possessed brutal power (and only basic safety considerations). Racing was done on a razor’s edge. The risks were ever-present, the rivalries intense. Lauda, Hunt, Regazzoni, Stewart… When the conversation turns to Grand Prix racing, these names echo loudly.
I became acquainted with F1 through magazines and television. The blood-red cars from Ferrari, with their screaming 12-cylinder engines, were especially fascinating to a kid in that era. I really began to follow F1 in 1975; the year Lauda won his first Drivers’ Championship. Back then, it seemed, you had James Hunt fans and Niki Lauda fans. Both were talented, but something about Lauda’s approach to racing and commitment to “the craft” put me in his camp.
The Making of a Champion
Niki Lauda was one of the early so-called “ride buyers,” who actually took out personal bank loans and paid teams for the chance to drive. Lauda first laid rubber with the March team in European Formula Two, where up-and-coming drivers put their skills on display for F1 team owners. He so impressed March in the ’71 and ’72 seasons, that he was promoted to their Formula One squad. Unfortunately, a series of poor performances in somewhat experimental cars put Lauda on his heels, deep in debt, and ready to throw in the towel.
Call it “Champion’s Instinct,” the inescapable feeling that one is destined for greatness, but Lauda knew this wasn’t the end of his story. He took out one more loan and moved to the BRM team in 1973. Financially it was a gutsy move, as the BRM team was running nowhere near the front of the grid. Lauda was quick, but the car was under-developed. He finished 17th in the Championship that year, but did manage to impress one important team owner.
Enzo Ferrari, buoyed by the endorsement of Lauda’s former BRM teammate Clay Regazzoni, offered Niki a paid ride with Scuderia Ferrari. The offer was generous enough to erase his debts of the preceding years. It was time for Niki Lauda to show what he could do behind the wheel.
A second-place finish in his debut race (in a car widely considered to be uncompetitive) rewarded Enzo’s faith in Lauda. His first GP victory – and the first for Ferrari since 1972 – followed only three races later. Though he won only one more race that year, Lauda was able to achieve six consecutive pole positions and finished fourth in the Drivers’ Championship, demonstrating his commitment to testing and his drive to win.
Lauda and the Ferrari 312T
Enzo Ferrari prided himself on having the most powerful engine on the starting grid. However, this focus on horsepower sometimes came at the expense of chassis development, as was the case with Ferrari’s 312B3 in the early 70′s. In spite of extensive testing by Lauda and others, handling issues with that car proved insurmountable, leading to a radical re-think of the design.
The resulting car was the 312T. Its revolutionary transverse-mounted gearbox put more weight ahead of the rear axle, for confidence-inspiring neutral handling. The venerable flat-12 powerplant finally had a chassis to manage the power. In all, 312T’s won 27 races, four Constructors’ and three Drivers’ titles (including two for Lauda).
At Griot’s Garage we love anything that rolls on rubber. We also recognize the importance of preserving (and driving!) vehicles of all types. It’s the best way for us to honor and protect our shared automotive heritage.
With its rich competitive history and all-encompassing aura, Ferrari 312T-022 is a natural candidate for restoration. And with the highly-anticipated release of Universal Pictures’ “Rush”, which chronicles the intense rivalry between Niki Lauda and James Hunt, the time is right to shine a spotlight again on this iconic automobile.
The 312T is the source of countless racing memories from my childhood. A legend in red and white. The car I watched in near-disbelief being unloaded from a trailer just a few months ago now sits outside my office window, undergoing a full, concours-level restoration.
Some guys have all the luck.
We look forward to sharing more with you as we give this celebrated machine a second lease on life. In the meantime, get out there and…
Have fun in your garage!
Thumbnail: By Verhoeff, Bert / Anefo. / neg. stroken, 1945-1989, 2.24.01.05, item 928-0037 [CC-BY-SA-3.0-nl], via Wikimedia
1: By Peters, Hans / Anefo / neg. stroken, 1945-1989, 2.24.01.05, item 927-2750 [CC-BY-SA-3.0-nl], via Wikimedia
2: By Gillfoto (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0], via Wikimedia