What’s The Deal With The Ferrari 512S Modulo Everyone’s Talking About?
The headlights look like they were sourced from an old Peterbilt parts bin, the wheels are tucked up into the body all retro-future-like (they do function, though), and until a few months ago it had never moved forwards or backwards without being pushed—onto a concours lawn, or down a long hill—which is why the video embedded below has spooky music dubbed in over the sound of rolling rubber instead of any engine noise.
It’s the Pininfarina/Paolo Martin-designed Ferrari 512S Modulo concept car, and underneath that extraterrestrial wedge of sheet metal and fiberglass that’s topped by a fighter jet-style retractable canopy lies a bonafide 512S chassis that served as a spare to the original homologation batch of 25 that Ferrari built in the late 1960s. Being the one-off show car that it was at the time, the midship-mounted V12 was largely gutted and nonfunctional when it was revealed to the world at the 1970 Geneva Motor Show (and remained that way for nearly 50 more years), but if you’ve seen or read anything about this car in the past few days you already know that its current, second owner (who purchased it from the company directly), noted Ferrari collector and SCG principal Jim Glickenhaus, has got it running under its own power on public roads for the first time since, well, ever.
It will be shown at Pebble Beach later this month to collect many oohs and ahhs and what in the hell am I looking ats, but that hasn’t changed much, has it? I wasn’t around in 1970, but I doubt the car’s presence back then was any less arresting than it is today. Impressive and inspiring as it is, the “Glickenhaus revival” of the Modulo is just the latest piece of its fascinating history, so let’s take a look at where it came from, and why.
As the 1960s were approaching the ’70s, Italian coachbuilders and in-house design teams seemed to be following a universal mandate to stop designing cars with curves. Straight lines and angles and grids and fins and strakes and slats were rapidly becoming very vogue thanks to a raft of concepts like the Alfa Romeo Carabo and Iguana, and the longtime Ferrari stylists at Pininfarina were among the busiest bees working to define the next generation of sports car styling. Mid-engine was clearly the optimal format for the top-performing road and race cars of the time and for the future, and as such the Turin-based studio was churning out a succession of sketches and full-scale realized concepts to show the styling possibilities afforded by putting the motor in the middle.
In 1968 they took an ex-race chassis (likely a modified 206S) and built the 250 P5 Berlinetta Speciale on top. Rather than a complete reimagining of the car that came before it in the P# line though, you can clearly see the P4 influences on the car, and to me it looks like a beautiful bastard child of that car and Speed Racer’s Mach 5—especially so in white.
The curves and scallops survived on this one relatively unharmed if a bit sharpened, but a look at the rear end shows where things were headed in the dawn before cars like the Countach and 512BB defined the new decade. The P5 was followed a year later by the Alfa Romeo 33 Coupe Prototipo Speciale (sometimes referred to as the “33.2”), which was based on a Tipo 33 Stradale chassis but was clearly just an evolution of the P5 design applied to a new platform.
There were some other Pininfarina designs in the mix at this time like the rather ugly 1968 P6 that thankfully became the much prettier 512BB in production form, but in terms of wedge concepts built on the underpinnings of now-legendary Italian sports cars, Pininfarina’s 1969 512S Berlinetta Speciale is arguably the most notable of the decade, if not for its hilarious cheetah-print photoshoot (that makes for a good Google search). For one, it was the first full-on wedge with a Ferrari badge on it, and it also happened to be built on a 312P competition car, albeit a wrecked one that had no future in racing. Looking at the progression in just a few years’ time, the trajectory is clear.
But if the design houses were getting a bit nutty with their rulers and protractors in 1969, they really went for it in the new year. That’s when the definitive wedge debuted in the form of Bertone’s brilliant Lancia Stratos Zero (which was also rejuvenated recently by our friend Phil Sarofim), and it’s also when Pininfarina made an equally if not even more intriguing design: the Modulo. While the Lancia was packing a comparatively puny 1.6L V4 borrowed from a Fulvia, the Modulo was packing a six-plus-liter V12 from Ferrari’s 612 Can Am car from 1968. “But wait, you said it was based on the 512S, what’s this Can Am crap you’re talking about now?” It was, it is, but so was the 612.
There are so many of these folklore-type stories out there about concept cars getting new paint colors from show to show to make it seem like more than one existed, or about homologation workarounds wherein the first half of the required batch was shown to the FIA after breakfast and then again after lunch with different numbers assigned to them, but in this case there were actually a few leftover 512Ses that Ferrari never raced, didn’t turn into 512Ms, or otherwise couldn’t find a buyer for.
So they turned one such spare chassis—for you faithful Ferrari nerds out there, Glickenhaus says it’s number 27—into something new after the 512S and M cars were beaten rather handily by Porsche’s 917s. Not finding the success they’d hoped for in Europe, and seeing as the Can Am series in the United States was bursting with spectators and works teams, they repurposed a few of their 512s into 612s to see if they could find some better results in a new format. It was short-lived though, and wasn’t able to keep pace with the still-Chevy-powered McLarens.
So, after that was said and done, Enzo gave one such 612 Can Am chassis (which was itself a 512S chassis), to Pininfarina to make into something special. Something like the Modulo. It was always going to be too alien and impractical even for a production supercar, but cues from this car were carried over to future Ferraris (and while I can’t claim to know for a fact that that red accent line was the first of its kind, but it certainly had some staying power in the world of sports cars—looking at you, GTI), but more than anything concretely traceable like a crease or flat headlights, the significance of the car lay in what it signaled about the famously stubborn Ferrari’s willingness to try something other than a front-engined GT car for road use, which is pretty funny considering it was built on a race car chassis with a race car motor.
The defunct V12 powertrain that came with the car had been modified from its original 512S spec (Can Am allowed larger capacities, so the 5.0L from the 512S was subsequently bored out for its stint in the 612), the gearbox was also updated for the 612, but when Ferrari handed it over to Pininfarina in period they took the internals out of both, leaving the powertrain more or less an ornamental detail in the Modulo. Since Glickenhaus got hold of it both engine and gearbox have been fitted with the correct internals to return the whole package to 512S spec. In other words, it’s been a journey, and one that many wouldn’t have bet on the completion of if you’d asked them last year.
I’d say that Glickenhaus has done more than just realize a dream of his by giving the Modulo the 550bhp it always deserved. To see it out in the world again, on the street, slicing right through the heart of anything mundane, that’s magic. That’s how you inspire the next Paolo Martin, or even just the next car enthusiast.