1953 Ferrari 342 America

1953 Ferrari 342 America

Ferrari Maserati of Silicon Valley owner Giacomo Mattioli describes monarch King Leopold of Belgium’s 1953 Ferrari 342 America at Ferrari’s 60th-anniversary celebration at his Silicon Valley dealership in Redwood City, CA

Courtesy of Ferrari;

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342 America (the 1950s)

The 342 America was Ferrari’s most exclusive model of the period and represents the first series of Speciales designed by Pininfarina. Only six built in two years. Each example was unique and a significant part of Ferrari’s history. The first 342 America was bodied by Vignale and the remaining five by Pininfarina with the entire series producing three cabriolets and three coupes. The 342 America employed a long 2,650 mm wheelbase because of the ‘long block’ Lampredi engine’s length. It also served to fulfill the model’s intended purpose as a comfortable, powerful, grand touring automobile with room for occupants and generous luggage capacity. With the 342 Americas and, simultaneously, the 250 MM Berlinetta, Ferrari and Pininfarina began a solid working relationship that has continued unabated to this day.

In addition to the longer wheelbase Ferrari widened the 342 America’s track dimensions by 47 mm (1.85′) at the front and by 7 mm (2.75′) at the rear. A reinforced live rear axle with a 4-speed, now synchronized, gearbox. Standard power was modest, rated by Ferrari at some 200 brake horsepower with a pump-fuel friendly 8:1 compression ratio. 342 Americas could be ordered with special factory tuning, producing up to 300 brake horsepower. King Leopold’s 342 America was one such example.

In a departure from Ferrari’s independent practice of reserving even chassis numbers for its competition cars, Ferrari acknowledged the heritage of the Lampredi V-12 powered 342 America by conferring even numbers of all six of them, a convention not followed by the succeeding 240 Europa and 375 America models. The ‘AL’ (America Lungo) suffix attached to these few cars signified the long wheelbase chassis and built with left-hand drive. Interestingly, the model designation, 342, is the individual cylinder capacity of the America’s 4,101 cc engine. The Ferrari 340, with the same dimensions as the 342, is an aberration from current Ferrari model numbers at the time and added further significance to Ferrari’s first series of Speciales.

The model here on display is, in fact, the one owned by King Leopold and as such is outfitted with some unique and exclusive options requested by the King. It is also significant in being the first Left-Hand Drive Ferrari convertible ever produced.

About the Author:

Lou Ann Hammond is the CEO of Carlist and Driving the Nation. She is the co-host of Real Wheels Washington Post carchat every Friday morning and is the Automotive, energy correspondent for The John Batchelor Show and a Contributor to Automotive Electronics magazine headquartered in Korea. Hammond is a member of the North American Car and Truck of the Year (NACTOY), Women's World Car of the Year (WWCOTY), and the Concept Car of the Year.

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