Friday 20 February 2015

Ferrari Automatic transmission Part II - Dick Fritz - Luigi Chinetti - GM THM400 - Ferrari 365 GT 2+2 - Queen Mary

The FOC UK Magazine that I purchased recently had a very good article about the 365/400/412.
( In that same article it was also highlighted the fact that the 400 Automatic was not the first automatic produced by Ferrari. If you recall my blog:
Or if you are a real Ferrari geek you likely knew this. There are more or less two stories regarding the history of the automatic usage. One by the US Ferrari importer Luigi Chinetti and one by the US Ferrari dealer (Hollywood Sports car Inc) Chic Vandagriff. In any case this article triggered me to look into this again and search more specific on Ferrari + Automatic + Chinetti. As such I came across this link:
It could have been a bogus link as it’s not unusual to find websites that are setup specificly to lure traffic with keywords and buzz information. In some way it was this kind of website as it had all kinds of advert banners around it. Still it did had all the working links towards a lot of Ferrari Manuals. And the page also had the following interesting excerpt – which more or less was the trigger for Google index to provide me this link.
Most discussions regarding the Ferrari 400 have always revolved around the fact that this particular model was the first Ferrari to be offered for sale to the public with the option of an automatic gearbox. Causing a furore upon its launch, some considered it almost sacrilegious that any Ferrari should come with what they believed to be the antitheses of all things the Maranello manufacturer stood for. It had been a long time coming at Ferrari though, with much of the early development work having been carried out by Dick Fritz at Ferrari Chinetti Motors in New York. During the late sixties, Fritz had developed a handful of 330's and 365's modified with automatic transmission. But despite demand for an automatic model originating from North America, the Ferrari 400 wasn't legal for sale in the USA without certain EPA and DOT modifications that forced the price above $100,000 - this in the late 1970?s when a 250 GTO cost about the same. The GT4's chassis was fundamentally unaltered in its transition to the 400, most changes being focused on the engine, now a dual overhead camshaft 60 V12 of 4.8-litres. 4823cc was achieved thanks to a bore and stroke of 81 x 78mm respectively, the latter having been stretched by 7mm (from 71). Output remained at 340bhp although this was achieved at 500rpm less than before, compression and carbs also going unchanged with an 8.8:1 ratio and six twin choke Weber 38 DCOE sidedraughts. Transmission was either a conventional five speed manual or a three-speed GM ?Turbo-Hydramatic? gearbox as used by Rolls Royce, Jaguar and Cadillac. The auto box worked well and not as much performance was lost as some people had been expecting. Automatic examples are referred to as 400 A's while the five-speed manual's are 400 GT's. A few distinctive visual changes were made to all Ferrari 400's to help differentiate them from preceding GT4's. At the front, a small lip spoiler directed more cold air into the engine while the tail featured a pair of circular light clusters at each side, those triple exhaust outlet pipes being replaced by more familiar sets of two. Further alterations came in the form of five-bolt light alloy wheels to replace the GT4's knock-off items but otherwise, Pininfarina's creation was little changed.The cabin could now be equipped with a second air conditioning unit intended specifically for back-seat occupants but this, some minor switchgear changes, new stitching and redesigned door panels were the only changes of note. Launched during October 1976 at the Paris Salon, the 400 was an immediate success, despite the furore over its automatic transmission option. Regardless, nearly two in every three 400's were auto's, production ending in mid 1979 after the completion of Ferrari 353 GT's and 770 Automatic's .
I’m unsure where this text is originating from but it must have been a good source. I continued my search and stumbled upon an sample from the Cavallino magazine (No 169). It had an article about the Ferrari 365 GT 2+2 (Queen Mary) and the story about - one of - the six automatic versions delivered. As such I ordered a back copy for my archive and to learn more about the history (now available in the download folder). It turns out the 365 GT 2+2 was also making use of the same GM THM 400 automatic transmission. More details about this transmission can be found in this WIKI:
Although there were some functional troubles the overall tests were positive about the usage. The article mentions the order for the 365GT4 2+2 automatic versions was given by Luigi Chinetti and carried out by the Ferrari test department. The italic snippet above does mention that Dick Fritz specifically also had been building automatics into 330 and 365 and therefore I suspect there must have been a close cooperation between him and Ferrari. I now wonder how the story from Chic Vandagriff fits in as he had been doing a similar thing. The given dates mentions that Chinetti and Ferrari worked on this in 1969 while Vandagriff worked on it in 1971.
I suppose the work carried out by Vandagriff was helping Ferrari to further fine tune the automatic version and straightened out the minor issues encountered. This is however only speculation from my side. I’m also curious to know more detail about what was done to make it good and a working fit. Anyone? The magazine article only mentions the following issues: after a few miles the oil gets black and it contains aluminium parts.
This specific Cavallino article was written by the owner of the Queen Mary automatic version and is apparently a known contributor of the magazine and the Ferrari scene; Pietro Castiglino. The car itself is equally known and award winner on various concour shows. How’s that, a Ferrari Automatic award winner?
As the start of that article mentions; Nowadays, Ferraris equipped with automatic transmission are quite common and, for the past several years, even their Formula One have featured electronic gearboxes. Again this underpins the automatic is a well valued transmission. And there is nothing wrong to have it in a Ferrari either. I’m not saying it’s better than a manual transmission but it certainly is a good fit for a GT car like the 400 series. If it was a true Ferrari sports car I would prefer to opt for a manual transmission as well. Then again, I can understand the need to have a manual transmission in a 400 too. Clearly the majority of the first new buyers had a good reason for the automatic choice. And surely they were not bogged down by de-appreciation, maintenance costs, image or anything like that. I suspect their choice was made mostly on a luxury and comfy ride.
From what I sense on the current market is that a lot of 400 buyers do prefer a manual version. This might be potentially based on the speculation fact rare is better (=higher value) and the fact that Ferrari are sport cars and as such ought to have manual gearboxes. While this is true in general the other facts remain; the Ferrari 400 is not a sports car and Enzo Ferrari himself was a keen automatic enthusiast. Besides, shouldn’t an automatic Ferrari from those early days not be considered rare and unique? And as for performance, the 400 automatic is nearly as good as the manual version. Click the picture to enlarge:
If you are really that concerned about that performance experience you should not choose a 400 but the alternative from that same era, the Ferrari BB. Although it will be a V12 mid-engine car and not a front V12. Being on this model, another interesting aspect that often is being brought forward in a slightly negative manner for the 400 is that it has never been officially sold in the US. Clearly the demand for an automatic version might have originated from the USA (in combination with Enzo’s preference). And surely it might had an intend for that market but the main reason it was not for sale in the USA was exactly the same as why the Ferrari BB was not for sale in the USA either; Safety and Emission regulations (
For buyers who are currently in the market for a 400 and need to consider between Automatic or Manual you might want to take the following into account. The downside for a manual version is the second gear usage which will require warming up, just like the engine, before it properly can be used. If you use the car for an occasional spin and leisure I personally wouldn’t consider it a huge problem but it’s also pending on your budget as you might run into expensive costs for clutch and gearbox maintenance. Obviously with the THM400 you will have a laugh, it’s rock solid and oil and filter change will be dirt cheap.

First and foremost I think you need to consider your driving style preference in combination for what purpose you will use the car. Happy 400 driving everyone!


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