Quick: Name the first three seat, V12, mid-engined supercar. If you guessed the McLaren F1, you’d be wrong. In fact, you’d be wrong by about 26 years because in 1966 there was built a very special Ferrari, the 365 P Berlinetta Speciale, which would come to be nicknamed the “Tre Posti,” or “three seat.” The story behind it involves endurance racing, a wealthy European dilettante, and three of the most famous names in Italian sportscars. The Tre Posti will be for sale at Pebble Beach in August through Gooding & Co, and Kilometer wanted to bring to light the story of this unique car.
The story of the Tre Posti begins, as so many Ferrari stories do, with Enzo Ferrari being stubborn. The Old Man, as he was known, just didn’t believe that there was a place for a mid-engined V12 road car. Sure, putting a V12 behind the cockpit of a race car driven by a professional driver was ok, and in fact it won his brand quite a few races. But a V12 mounted behind the driver of a street car? Too dangerous, said Enzo. Fortunately for the world, there were others in the Ferrari inner circle who believed otherwise. One of those was Sergio Pinninfarina and another was Luigi Chinetti.
Other than among racing cognoscenti Chinetti is not a hosuehold name, but Luigi Chinetti is among the most important people in the history of Ferrari in North America. When it came to importing European sportscars and popularizing them in the US, Porsche, BMW, and Mercedes had Max Hoffman but Ferrari had Luigi Chinetti. The Italian born Chinetti had been a successful endurance racing driver, having won the 24 Hours of LeMans in 1932 and 1934 driving for Alfa Romeo. It was during this time that he met and befriended a young Modenese team manager working for Alfa named Enzo Ferrari. With the rise of fascism in Italy Chinetti relocated to the US and remained here during the Second World War. After the war, he renewed his friendship with Ferrari and returned to Europe to win his third LeMans – this time driving a Ferrari – in 1949. Following this victory the two men reached a deal that would make Chinetti the first dealer and official importer for Ferrari automobiles in the USA.
Chinetti’s business selling Ferraris was based around his access to wealthy clients, and he realized that a large part of the appeal of the fast Italian cars was in racing. To build this image in the US he established the North American Racing Team, or NART, to be the official racing arm of Ferrari in North America. Chinetti managed the team, but funding was provided by two wealthy gentleman racers named George Arents and Jan de Vroom. NART was successful on the track and in selling cars, and one of the most famous Ferraris to make the crossover from racing to the road, the NART Spider, was designed at Chinetti’s request to be sold through his dealership in 1967. The story of the Tre Posti, however, starts two years earlier.
In 1965 Ferrari had been quite successful with the 330 P2 and 365 P2 race cars. These were pure sports prototype (meaning that they were never intended for homologation for road use, hence the “P” model name) racers with mid mounted V12 engines. The 330 P2 had a 4 liter v12, while the 365 had a 4.4 liter, both of which made over 400HP. They were run at Daytona, and won at the Nurburgring and Reims. During this time, Sergio Pinninfarina was determined to convince Enzo that a mid-engined V12 Ferrari for the street was not only possible, but would be an important part of the Ferrari model line. To this end, he undertook to construct a series of show cars based on the “P” series of racing chassis – the Dino Berlinetta Speciale and Dino 206 Competizione, both of which were V6 models, and finally the V12 365 P Berlinetta Speciale.
Pinninfarina had, by the early 1960s, designed some of the most famous Ferraris ever. The 250GT Lusso, 250LM, and 400 Superamerica all demonstrated that he could turn out spectacular front engined Ferraris, so when it came to convincing the Old Man that a mid-eingine V12 street car would be possible he knew he had to do something very special. To that end, he designed a car that would carry not just one, but three people. The driver’s seat was positioned at the center of the car with each of the two passenger seats set slightly behind the central position, a layout which would be used again by Gordon Murray in the McLaren F1 26 years later. The three seat layout also gave the car its enduring nickname of “Tre Posti.” The exterior of the car featured the trademark oval Ferrari grille and covered headlamps. It also featured flying buttresses that harkened back to coachbuilt Ferraris of the 1950s, the echoes of which can be seen today on the 599 GTB Fiorano.
The Tre Posti was a runaway success on the show stand, being exhibited at Paris, Earl’s Court, Brussels, Geneva, and Florence before being purchased by Chinetti in August of 1967 for the not inconsiderable sum of $21,160. After import to the US, it was sent to the LA Auto Show in September and exhibited there, and then sold to a New York businessman named Marvyn Carton. Carton didn’t keep the car long, as he complained it was too difficult to park in New York City due to the central driving position. He traded it back to Chinetti in return for a 365 GT 2+2. Chinetti then sold Tre Posti to his old friend and racing partner Jan de Vroom, who took it to Cannes for the summer of 1968, and then sold it back to Chinetti that fall. After that, the Chinetti family decided that the car needed a permanent home where it would be preserved, and so they kept it at their dealership and home in Greenwich, CT.
Eventually, cars like the Tre Posti helped convince Enzo Ferrari that there was a place for a mid-engined V12 in his road car lineup, and that not all of his customers would immediately kill themselves in such a car simply because they weren’t professional drivers. The 365 GT4 BB appeared at the Turin show in 1971, and went on sale to the public two years later. It was followed by the BB512 and eventually the Testarossa, 512, F50, Enzo, 599, and LaFerrari. None of these cars would have been possible without Pinninfarina and Chinetti using the Tre Posti to convince Enzo Ferrari that a mid engine V12 road car shouldn’t be the sole provenance of the professional race driver.
Today, Tre Posti is in nearly showroom new condition. Despite passing around the auto show circuit and through the hands of several owners, it has only covered 7,900km (4,900 miles). Luigi Chinetti Jr. has had care o the car since his father’s passing in 1994 at the age of 93. Luigi Jr. has a special appreciation for the car, and has exhibited it several times, notably at the Concorso Italiano in 2001 for a special exhibition of Pinninfarina concept cars. At that show, Luigi Jr., Sergio Pinninfarina, and Piero Ferrari all got in the car together for a drive across the stage, a moment that brought together all three families who had such important parts in the development of the car. It has also been shipped to Europe several times for exhibition, including serving as the pace car at Goodwood in 2000. Tre Posti has had one repaint with the original Glasurit paint by Ferrari specialist Wayne Carini. The interior, chassis, and engine all remain in original condition. Tre Posti is up for auction at Pebble Beach by Gooding & Co. on August 16th and 17th. If your’e in the area, you’ll have a rare chance to see a very special car. If you’re not in the area, you can check out the listing on the Gooding & Co. website.
Photos: Brian Henniker and Mathieu Heurtault for Gooding & Co.