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Guest Editorial

Ferrari Serial Number 0600MDTR, The Testa Rossa Prototype Part I

Ed McDonough
Photos Copyright Peter Collins

When I first saw chassis 0600 MDTR, it was at Paul Lanzanteís' workshops in Hampshire, UK, being prepared for the 2003 season for owner Bill Binnie. At first I took this to be a "run of the mill" Ferrari 250 Testa Rossa. Now we revere them like everyone else does, but we've been there, done that, etc. etc. Except one glimpse at the chassis plate rang some serious bells for me. That and the fact that there was a four cylinder rather than a twelve under the bonnet. Well, engines get swapped around, and we know about V-12 Monzas, but it was that chassis number. It sits near the beginning of my complete record of cars driven by the Rodriguez brothers, Ricardo and Pedro.

This wasn't their first Ferrari, but indeed was something more significant. It was to be the first Ferrari they would drive at the Le Mans 24 Hours in 1958. However, the officials of that great event decided that Ricardo, at aged 16, was just too young to be allowed in their race, in spite of his already impressive array of victories against some well known opposition.

So the North American Racing Team entry was changed at the last moment to allow Pedro, at a much more mature 18, to be partnered by Jose Behra, brother of the great Jean.

While the Rodriguez connection stood out for me, this particular Ferrari has encountered a number of other serious racing drivers in its reasonably lengthy active history, and in many ways is lucky to still exist considering the verve with which several of them drove!

Ferrari's 500 Mondial had been a very successful though somewhat heavy two-liter sports racer for a couple of years, and the new model was to be known as the Testa Rossa. It had a much-improved engine, though it was still a two-liter. The change of model was designated by the painting of the rocker covers bright red, giving the car its famous name and distinguishing it from its less powerful predecessor. TR was added to the Mondial type designation on the chassis plate. 0600 was the very first Ferrari Testa Rossa, 0600 marking the start of a new series, hence 0600 MDTR. On the build sheet, still preserved for this car, it was described as the "prototype".

According to the surviving record, 0600 MDTR had its gearbox assembly completed on Jan. 11, 1956, the chassis frame finished on January 31, the complete engine assembly done on February 18 when the body was painted yellow. It was ready for its delivery to Jacques Swaters who had ordered it for the Ecurie National Belge. Swaters wanted the car ready for the Grand Prix of Senegal at Dakar in Africa on March 11, where he duly won his class, came 8th overall and recorded the first race win for a Ferrari Testa Rossa before the new model had even been launched at the New York Motor Show.

The Ecurie Belge driver brought 0600 MDTR to the UK in May to run in the sports car race at the Daily Express Trophy Meeting at Silverstone, where he was 4th in class, and 18th overall. A week later Paul Frere, journalist and race driver won his class at Spa back home in Belgium, with the yellow car now sporting a black nose band. Seven days later Laurent was 2nd in class at the Grand Prix des Frontieres at the super fast triangular road circuit at Chimay on the Belgian/French border. Dubois and Rouselle failed to finish at the 1000 Kms. Of Paris at Montlhery early in June, and Frere was sharing with Milhoux for the Supercortemaggiore 1000 Kms. At Monza on June 24, but again retired. Lucien Bianchi and Count de Changy brought 0600 to Le Mans for the first time on July 28, and were running well when they had steering failure after eight hours. While Ecurie Belge could make the car perform well in short races, they didn't have much luck in the endurance events, and 0600 was sold back to the Ferrari factory early in 1957, as was Swater's custom, as it would have been traded against some newer model.

Ferrari didn't have the car very long, as French privateer Francois Picard bought it early in 1957, had it painted blue and, with co-driver Daetwyler, placed 1st in class and 2nd overall at the Wien-Aspern race in Austria on April 28. Picard won his class at the 6 Hours of Forez at the end of May, and shortly thereafter sold the car back to Ferrari. Some months later, towards the end of the year, Pedro Rodriguez ordered the car in his name as it had been purchased for him and his brother as a gift from their father, Don Pedro Rodriguez, who by this point had embarked on spending a great deal of money to see his sons become world class racing drivers. Pedro was 17 at the time, and Ricardo 15. The car was quickly entered under the NART banner for the 1957 Nassau Speed weeks, and Ricardo immediately won a preliminary race, still two months short of his 16th birthday. Pedro was 2nd in class and 8th overall on December 1 in the Nassau Tourist Trophy in spite of time lost in an accident. Five days later Pedro damaged the car further in the Governor's Trophy when he collided with a Porsche. 0600 MDTR was still in Rodriguez ownership when it was decided to send it back to Italy to Scaglietti to rebody it with the then current pontoon-fendered body, the more familiar classic Testa Rossa shape, which it retains today.

The car was entered for Le Mans, 1958, by NART and there was no reason to think that there would be a problem with the entry as Ricardo had already done international races and beaten international opposition. The brothers and family entourage showed up at Le Mans to find that the officials of the AC de lí Ouest had disqualified Ricardo for being underage. Ferrari-Porsche-Maserati-Gordini driver Jean Behra helped to organize is brother Jose to co-drive with Pedro.

0600 MDTR ran at the 1958 Le Mans with the regulation high windscreen, and a regulation soft top, which had to be presented at scrutineering. It also had wheel arch extensions riveted on to meet the Le Mans rule about tires not extending beyond the bodywork. Pedro wore a black armband throughout the weekend to protest his brother not being allowed to race the same car he had already won with at Nassau. The car refused to fire at the start and when it did, Pedro and Jose Behra charged through the field of larger engine cars to 12th overall and 3rd in class before overheating slowed and finally retired them at the midway point. At one point the 2 liter car was running the same pace as the eventual winner, Hill and Gendebien in the 3-liter Testa Rossa.

Part II: Life after Le Mans, Driving the TR Prototype

This article courtesy of Veloce Today and the author and photographer.

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