Restoration of the '57 Ferrari GT 250 Tour De France Begins...
Superleggera. A word that many (maybe most) American car fancies are unfamiliar with is anchored deeply in the Ferrari legend. With this segment of the D & D Classic Restoration website, we'll explain why that strange word Superleggera played an important role in the construction of the GT and continues to play an important role in its restoration.
First, what is Superleggera? Italian in origin, it basically translates as super light (weight). How the principle was applied to the building of this legendary Ferrari is based on the use of a network of lightweight steel tubing and channels to compose a body frame on which aluminum body skins are attached. With Superleggera construction, a weight savings of some 80-85% is common when comparted to a steel bodied car built on the more conventional heavy support steel framework. One published source cites a front fender on a Superleggera-based vehicle as weighting 10 pounds while on from a similar appearing conventional steel frame car tips the scales at 150 pounds. Sounds a bit incredible? Yes, it does, but it's true!
Interestingly, it's not uncommon for first timers introduced to the Superleggera principle to judge such construction as fool heartly and unsafe. Not true! In fact, when compared to its rival, it's just as crash resistant. In fact, maybe more so. These same doubters probably are familiar with the images of current Indy 500 and NASCAR race drivers who almost magically bounce right out of crashed cars unscratched. Superleggera is one of the reasons. Statistics show that it allows the frame work to take the crash damage and (normally) spare the driver.
Let's drop back to the late 1930's to take a look at where Superleggera took root. Introduced to the world in the second half of 1937 by Carrozzeria Touring an Italian coachbuilder with aircraft building experience. It represents a coming together of several converging theories and technological breakthroughs. Included were the use of lightweight alloys (both cast and extruded), a keen interest in the aerodynamic efficiency of oval shapes and the introduction of transplant plastic sheeting for use in window panes. Historically, interesting were the sanctions promoted by the Fascist regime, then in power in Italy, which endorsed self sufficient economy. Certainly the propaganda stimulated research and usage of lightweight components, ie. Castings, reservoirs, etc., as well as chassis-body assemblies.
Superleggera separates the body covering from the load-bearing supports. The bulk of the body skins are fastened to the supporting frame work at only a few points, while at other points, contact is controlled by placing felt pads to avoid slap and vibration irritations.
Auto legend, Enzo Ferrari enlisted body-builder Scaglietti, a proponent of the Superleggera principle, to build the 250GT body shown here. When the car arrived at D & D Classic for restoration, it showed many signs of race damage that had been hastily repaired. Fortunately, for the race crews, damage to Superleggera construction is somewhat easier to repair in its segmented form than damage on the mass production vehicles which are typically based on a solid frame which components are either attached directly or indirectly.