This Ferrari ‘barchetta’ really is a boat

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Ferrari-powered hydroplane set speed records and won dozens of races | Larry Edsall photo

Visitors to the Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance did themselves a disservice recently if they rushed down Peter Hay Hill from the shuttle bus station and focused only on the cars parked — spectacular cars though they were — on the 18th fairway. 

Not only did the summit of Peter Hay Hill offer the second Japanese Automobile Invitational, but midway down the hill was one of the most unusual Ferraris ever constructed.

And it wasn’t a four-wheeled sports car. But it was, quite literally, a barchetta, though perhaps not quite so little as that Italian word for “little boat” usually indicates.

That’s an upgraded Ferrari V12 F1 engine that provides the boat’s power | Bob Golfen photos

Display shares boat’s history

This Ferrari was a real boat, built for racing on water, not pavement. It’s the 1952 Arno XI Ferrari hydroplane, the creation of Achille Castoldi, who had been setting speed records on water since 1930. 

The story goes that Castoldi commissioned Cantieri Timossi to create a wooden hydroplane and purchased a 4.5-liter Ferrari V12 engine to provide power. He event painted the upper body in Ferrari Red. 

Such an activity might have set Enzo Ferrari into outrage. Instead, he sent his chief engineer and one of his actually Grand Prix racing engines to Castoldi. Upon arrival, Stefano Meazza and the Ferrari crew realized they needed more power, so they doubled the compression ratio of the methanol-fueled engine, removed the distributors and coils and installed twin magnetos and modified the 4-barrel Weber carburetors to optimize the fuel/air mixture and flow. What started as a 385 horsepower engine was producing more than 550.

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The view over the driver’s shoulder | Larry Edsall photo

The result was a flying kilometer at 150.49 mph, a record that still stands.

After the record run, the boat was sold, revised for better stability, won 43 races over the next decade, and was retired. It eventually found a home on display at the Ferrari Museum and recently was restored by Ferrari Classiche and certified in “perfect running condition.”

It was at Pebble Beach not only because of its fascinating story, but because it is for sale. “Serious Inquiries Only, Please” through TheFerrariBoat.com website.

Cowl opening feeds air to the engine compartment
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A former daily newspaper sports editor, Larry Edsall spent a dozen years as an editor at AutoWeek magazine before making the transition to writing for the web and becoming the author of more than 15 automotive books. In addition to being founding editor at ClassicCars.com, Larry has written for The New York Times and The Detroit News and was an adjunct honors professor at the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Arizona State University.

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