George Orwell was right: he who controls the past, controls the future. Or, when it comes to unobtanium grade classics, he who can build a beyond perfect version of something old and awesome is onto a winner.
Manufacturer sanctioned continuation models might still be relatively new, but the UK’s high-end restoration industry has also been enjoying a boom in recent years. Especially in the area where renovation and recreation meet. That, essentially, is what this Ferrari 330 LMB project from Bell Sport & Classic is. It’s not one of the original cars, although there is a fair amount of a period Ferrari 330 GT underneath it, rather a perfect replica which, despite not being built by Ferrari, has taken an obsession with originality to the n-th degree.
The project’s history is a complicated one. It was started by Ed Carter, a Ferrari enthusiast who originally planned to follow the well-worn path of creating a replica version of a 250 GTO or SWB from a more commonplace 330 GT, before being persuaded to attempt the far rarer LMB instead. Only four of these were built to compete in long distance races, featuring an extended chassis and dry sump lubrication. Jack Sears and Mike Salmon drove one to fifth overall at Le Mans in 1963. Duly persuaded, Carter bought a 1964 330 GT to donate parts and identity and commissioned bodywork, this based in part on measurements taken from an original LMB. But work was far from finished when, tragically, Carter was killed in a road accident in 2015.
Bell Sport & Classic bought the unfinished car and has spent an estimated 4,500 hours of work both completing Carter’s original vision, and also achieving a level of finish that is exceptional even by the standards of top-flight restorers. The expression priceless is bandied around too often, but here it is literally true as the company has no intention of selling the finished car. Achieving something similar from a standing start would almost certainly cost seven figures. But buying an original 330 LMB, in the unlikely event of finding one for sale, would add another digit to that.
While many of the highest-grade classic restorations have been created for no tougher dynamic challenge than the lawn of a high-end concours event, the LMB replica is intended to be driven. It can still do the show-stopping stuff, too – with flawless paint and perfect panel gaps way beyond those it would have left the factory with. Every under bonnet warning and decal is correct, and what looks like a strangely lumpy finish to the Ferrari shields on the wings is because they have been hand painted, just like those on period cars.
As race cars the LMBs were built with little in the way of cabin fripperies, but Bell has given this one the sort of ‘sport lusso’ cabin the originals were subsequently upgraded to by owners planning to use them on road. This features both beautiful leather stitching and corduroy trimmed bucket seats; there is also some hidden sound deadening to improve everyday usability. Many parts had to be made from scratch to meet Bell’s exacting standards, including the sand-cast window catches and the cabin’s defining feature, the spectacular aluminium turret that contains the lever for the five-speed synchromesh gearbox. (The transmission is another slight anachronism, as the racers would more likely have used four-speed dog boxes.)
Getting in is a predictable squeeze, ‘sixties Ferrari drivers being expected to fit themselves around their cars, not the other way around. The seating position feels far forward and the bulbous gear-lever seems far back, with a cramped footwell adding to the ergonomic confusion. Chrome bezelled dials report on charge, oil temperature and pressure, water temperature, fuel level and fuel pressure – with a much bigger rev counter in the middle. There’s no speedo, so a modern GPS unit sits on top of the dashboard instead.
The engine fires up without drama and settles into a muscular idle, the faint aroma of unburned petrol entering the cabin from the six carburettors that feed it. The basic ‘Colombo’ V12 is original to the car, keeping matching numbers with the chassis, but with capacity increased to 4.0-litres and internals upgraded to LMB specification. It has a dry sump system, which uses a separate oil reservoir at the back of the car, and has been fully balanced to support a substantial increase in peak revs over the regular V12. This engine has proved itself capable of making 390hp at 7,500rpm on a dyno – with a bit more to come, apparently – but the redline has been set at a safer 6,100rpm today. But only having to haul about 1,280kg of car, the result is still 21st century fast.
The first big surprise is how tractable the LMB is. Actual sixties Ferrari racers weren’t designed for low speed docility, but the big engine pulls cleanly and without complaint from little more than idle, the carburettors delivering a snuffling induction noise that – as revs rise – soon gets overwhelmed by the hardening exhaust note and mechanical symphony from the V12 itself. The result is what the louder bits of heaven probably sound like. The gearchange is both light and easy to guide between ratios, although it prefers smooth and steady inputs to the wham-bam brutality of the era’s racing gearboxes.
Steering is where older sports cars tend to feel most different from newer ones, but although the Ferrari’s unassisted rack is much lower geared than the modern equivalent would be it is light once moving and full of feel. It has a small dead area around the straight ahead – they all do that, sir – but once turned into a corner and with the suspension loaded up the steering turns accurately.
Front end bite feels limited at first; I drove to Bell’s showroom in a Puma ST, which calibrated me to attack dog steering reactions. But faith in the Ferrari’s helm builds quickly, with the modest limits of the Michelin XWX tyres clearly communicated as slip angles build. At the other end traction is impressively good, certainly on dry tarmac, but the engine clearly has more than enough urge to dramatically alter the handling balance. There’s a reason so many of the pictures of racing Ferraris from this period show their pilots clutching the fabled dab of oppo.
Not that the drive is without surprises. The first is the plushness of the LMB’s ride over broken surfaces, suspension remaining compliant over everything short of craters and speed bumps. Cabin refinement is also remarkably good, and with much less heat soak than I’ve previously experienced in cars of this vintage. The stranger revelation is the presence of powerfully servoed brakes. This is something the original race cars had in period, but the pedal’s soft initial reactions feel at odds with the directness of the other controls. The all-round disc brakes graunch a little under gentle applications, seeming to prefer bigger stops and higher thermal loadings.
My drive is conducted at a respectful pace on public roads, not least as Elliot East, the man who put in most of those 4,500 hours of work, is sitting in the passenger seat. But it is enough to confirm how special this recreated LMB feels, and how well suited to the congested and speed limited modern world cars like this really are. With limited grip and respectable go it’s fast enough to be interesting, yet slow enough to be driven at a good percentage of its abilities.
But the standard of craftsmanship is also spectacular, turning this one-off into a moving piece of art – something its creator hopes will demonstrate how seriously it will take future paid-for projects on similar aged Ferraris. Fittingly, there’s a 275 GTB about to head into the workshop. Bell Sport & Classic might be new to the restoration game, but this is a hell of a manifesto piece.
SPECIFICATION | FERRARI 330 LMB REPLICA
Engine: 3,967cc V12
Transmission: five-speed manual, rear wheel drive
Power (hp): 390@7,500rpm
Torque (lb ft): 300@6,000rpm
0-60mph: 6 seconds (est)
Top speed: 180mph
Weight: c. 1280kg
CO2: non chiedere!
Image credit | Mark Riccioni (action and statics), Tim Scott (studio details)