Here's a fun problem to have. Let's say you're a car company famous for going racing. You built yourself a bunch of racing cars so you could beat the pants off your biggest rival. Then you find out you have a couple leftovers! What the hell do you do with them?
If your answer was "Give one of them to your friend so he can turn it into one of the craziest, most spaceship-like concept cars ever made, obviously!" then you could have worked for Ferrari in the early 1970s.
The end result of such a philosophy is this: the Ferrari 512 S Modulo Concept, or Yes, This Really Is A Ferrari, You Are Not Tripping On Acid At The Moment Although The People Who Designed It Probably Did A Ton Of Cocaine.
(Welcome to Long Lost Concept Cars, a new semi-regular series we're trying out on Fridays where we highlight amazing concepts from years past that never made it to production — but maybe should have.)
Today's long lost concept harks back to the glory days of the concept car, the 1970s, when designers really seemed to go nuts with ultra-low, futuristic wedges like the the Lancia Siblio, Bertone Stratos HF Zero, Mercedes C-111, Dome Zero, BMW E25 Turbo, and many, many, many more.
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But the 1970 Ferrari 512 S Modulo is kind of unique among concept cars in that it's an actual Ferrari underneath its skin — and not just a car, a very notable race car.
To understand this concept we have to go back to 1970 when Ferrari ran their famed 512 against the Porsche 917 at Le Mans, Sebring, Daytona and endurance races in the World Sportscar Championship. While the 512S, powered by a stonking 5.0-liter V12, had decidedly mixed results and was later modified into the 512M towards the end of the season, it produced some of the most memorable racing of its entire era.
The funny thing is, Ferrari built too many of them. To follow the homologation rules, Ferrari built 25 512s but was unable to sell all of them, so they gave one — the 23rd — to legendary coachbuilder Pininfarina and told designer Paolo Martin to go nuts with it.
And nuts he went. Martin says he came up with the idea while sketching a dashboard for the Rolls-Royce Camargue, which... looks nothing like this at all. But when inspiration strikes, you gotta go for it, right?
What was it? A mid-engine, two-seat one-off concept supercar that used the chassis and V12 engine from the 512S. It debuted at the 1970 Geneva Motor Show, originally wearing black paint, although it was later made white.
What were the specs? Like the race car, the 512S Modulo produced 550 horsepower. Ultra low to the ground, all of the wheels were covered by body panels, which made the front wheels extremely difficult to turn. This minor detail probably made it difficult to drive.
What else made it special? The car's unique, spaceship-like design was a smash hit with critics from the moment it debuted, ultimately winning it 22 awards. The car showed up at several other international auto shows that year, including Osaka and Turin. From Pininfarina:
The Modulo is characterized by two overlapping body shells, separated by a rectilinear indentation on the waistline. Front assembly, canopy and trunk were joined in a single arching curve, the ample windshield was bordered by truncated come uprights that considerably lightened the extensive surface of the front assembly. The stylistic progression of the side windows was repeated in impression on the lower section of the module, in sheet metal. The rear assembly attracted attention by the fairing around the wheels, which joins up with the bodywork, creating a cylindrical motif of particular originality.
Perhaps the car's most striking feature was its glass canopy, which actually slides forward to allow entry and exit. The mid-mounted V12 engine was also visible through 24 holes above the engine cover.
What did it look like on the inside? Kinda space-y for its time, but certainly spartan by today's standards. You got these cool red seats that look like they came out of an overpriced modern furniture catalog, an odd steering wheel that seems to kind of "flow" out of the steering column, and a gear shifter mounted on the right side like a race car.
Pininfarina also says the car includes "two spherical turning elements working as orientable aerator [sic] and as a support for the main controls."
I have no idea what the fuck they're talking about, but I haven't done much cocaine today.
Did it actually run? Indeed it did, because like I've said so far, it was a race car underneath that futuristic skin. Here's a video of it running around! I mean, turning right and left is kind of a problem, but that's overrated anyway.
Was it ever planned for production? No, it doesn't look that way. Only one Modulo was ever made, and it was only created because they had an extra 512S chassis lying around. If it ever was, it would probably have to have been toned down considerably.
Should it have been built? Honestly, as much as I love insane concept cars, I'm gonna go with "no" on this one.
Why not? As much as I would like to say that Ferrari produced a spaceship-like wedge with a sliding glass canopy and covered wheels back in the 1970s, well, that just doesn't seem like a Ferrari to me. This concept was special enough on its own, and the awards it won speak for themselves.
Now, do I wish someone had taken this design and ran with it in their own way, like the Isdera Imperator 108i? I say hell yes to that. If not Ferrari, it would have been amazing to see some other company put this into production — even if they only made a few of them. Something like that would be highly lusted after today.
But while it wasn't meant for the masses, it remains the weirdest Ferrari ever. And for a brand that's known for speed and style but certainly not "weird," that's what makes it stand out.
Long Lost Concept Cars runs on Fridays. Got a favorite forgotten concept you'd like us to feature? Drop a suggestion in the comments.
Photos credit Ferrari, Pininfarina, Wikimedia Commons