Fast, sleek, beautiful, classic. These are all words that perfectly describe the 1959 Ferrari 250 TR59, yet even they don’t do this car justice. And you can add ultra-rare to that list, as there were only five of these cars ever made, with only four of those still around today. The TR59 (the TR stands for Testa Rossa, which translates to “Red Head” in English, and should not be confused with Ferrari’s Testarossa, a sports car from the 1980s and 90s) proved to be a monster on the track, picking up quite a few wins in its two seasons on the circuit.
In 1958, Ferrari’s 250 TR58 model won the World’s Sports Car Championship. Not content to sit on their laurel’s, Ferrari hired Medardo Fantuzzi, a former employee of competitor Maserati, who worked with chief designer Carlo Chiti to update the 250 Testa Rossa line for the 1959 race season. Fantuzzi started from the ground up, building the TR59 off of a tubular frame chassis that provided great rigidity at reduced weight. The mid-engine was actually mounted off-center in this chassis in order to provide a farther back and lower driver’s seat. This didn’t thwart the car’s balance, though, as the engine was precisely placed to be perfectly balanced by the weight of the driver. Talk about precision (and probably a strict diet for the drivers).
Mounted over this body was a wonderfully sculpted body by Pininfarina, an Italian design house. Aside from its obvious stylistic appeal, the bodywork also made for a lower-slung car than the 1958 that featured a few new elements, including brake ducts. And those ducts were important, because the TR59 helped mark the end of drum brakes for Ferrari racers, and the adoption of disc brakes. Disc brakes had first hit the scene on a Jaguar C-Type in 1954, and Ferrari fitted the TR59 with new discs from Dunlop that provided better and more reliable stopping power than the old drums, but (as the design was still being perfected), generated a fair amount of heat (hence the ducts).
Under the hood was a 3.0-liter V12 engine (yes, that is a small V12) that pumped out 306 horsepower in the TR59 (the same engine was tuned to about 275 horses for the Ferrari 250, a road-going version the racer was based on). The peak output of the engine wasn’t reached until 7,400 RPM, and the peak torque of 281 lb-ft was reached at 5,500 RPM. The redline was set at 8,800. The engine was mated to a cast magnesium, light-weight five-speed gearbox. The new body work, revised engine, and the light-weight transmission added up to a slight increase in horsepower, and a car that weighed 100 pounds less than the 1958 model.
In the 1959 race season, the TR59 started off with great promise, taking the #1 and #2 spots at Sebring. However, the Le Mans, Nurburgring, and Targa Florio races didn’t go as well. When the final race of the season came around, Ferrari was virtually neck and neck with Aston Martin in the points standings for the World’s Sports Car Championship, but ended up getting beaten by only three points.
One of the problems that led to this loss was the aforementioned high red line. During the Le Mans race, all of the competing TR59s had problems with their main bearings. The high revs, and inadequate lubrication, spelled disaster. This led Ferrari to introduce a new dry-sump oil system halfway through the season. If that system had been introduced earlier, the TR59s would have made a more impressive showing at Le Mans, and would have secured the points necessary to win the championship. This point wasn’t lost on Ferrari engineers, as the next year, they fielded the TR59/60, which was essentially a few TR59s that had received a few modifications during the off-season. Ferrari ended up the 1960 season in an even tie with Porsche.