Serenissima. Count Volpi of Misurata and the challenge to Ferrari.

  • 18 November 2023
  • 2 min read
  • 3 images
Serenissima. Count Volpi of Misurata and the challenge to Ferrari. image

Photo credit: Concorso d’Eleganza Villa d’Este, Ferrari, Looksmartmodels

The nobility and pride of Count Giovanni Volpi di Misurata, heir to one of the wealthiest and most influential families of the Glorious Serenissima Republic of Venice, led him in 1962 to create a racing team that would honour his name in the history of international motorsport. The journey started in the right direction, with a Ferrari 250 Testa Rossa from Scuderia Serenissima clinching victory at the 12 Hours of Sebring in 1962, driven by Jo Bonnier and Lucien Bianchi.

This promising start with Ferrari coincided with an event so unique it still seems incredible today: after dominating the 1961 Formula 1 season, Ferrari dismissed his entire management team in November of the same year. After defending the Commercial Director, who had been seriously mistreated by the wife of the Commendatore, the entire team, including prominent engineers Carlo Chiti and Giotto Bizzarrini – who had recently completed the development of the famous GTO – were all let go.

Serenissima. Count Volpi of Misurata and the challenge to Ferrari. - 1 Scuderia Serenissima's Ferrari 250 Testa Rossa winner of the 1962 12 Hours of Sebring with Jo Bonnier and Lucien Bianchi.

Count Volpi, brimming with the enthusiasm of a 25-year-old, joined a financial group whose intentions were to create a Ferrari rival, leveraging the expertise of the dismissed Ferrari team. Simultaneously, he had ordered two 250 GTOs for his team, underestimating Enzo Ferrari's temperament. Ferrari found it unacceptable that a client would race his cars while funding a rival team, ATS – which, despite having World Champion Phil Hill and Giancarlo Baghetti, was a sporting and financial disaster – and he refused the order. The Venetian nobleman retaliated by challenging Ferrari at Le Mans, a bold move for those times. He commissioned Giotto Bizzarrini, who had developed the GTO for Ferrari and was still bitter about his dismissal, to modify his own 250 SWB so it could beat the GTOs. Despite having a four-speed gearbox compared to the five in the other cars, and the constraints of modified mechanics, Bizzarrini, along with Piero Drogo, created a car that was as curiously strange as it was fast due to its extreme aerodynamics. Nicknamed 'Breadvan' by the British, it was incredibly fast at Le Mans but proved to be fragile, and the challenge against Ferrari, under the Serenissima colours, ended in defeat.

Serenissima. Count Volpi of Misurata and the challenge to Ferrari.  - 2 The Ferrari 250 GT modified by Bizzarrini and Drogo. Nicknamed “Breadvan” proved to be faster than the 250 GTO but fragile retiring after 4 hours of racing.

After abandoning the failed ATS project, Volpi created his own prototype with engineer Massimino, whose 3,000 cc V8 engine was also used in Bruce McLaren's first Formula 1 creation in 1966. The huge investments and the unsuccessful attempt to produce GT road cars marked the end of the Serenissima adventure, which closed shortly thereafter. An adventure that took a heavy toll on the ambitious Count's fortune.

Serenissima. Count Volpi of Misurata and the challenge to Ferrari.  - 3 The unfortunate Serenissima 308V Jet Competizione equipped with a V8 designed by engineer Alberto Massimino. This engine will be used by McLaren in the 1966 Formula 1 World Championship.