Photo courtesy New England Auto Museum.
Pinning down a birth date for Luigi Chinetti’s North American Racing Team isn’t exactly straightforward. Could have taken place in 1948, 1958, or any number of dates in between. Rather than let a chance to celebrate that founding slip by, the New England Auto Museum will later this month host a 60th anniversary celebration for the team that will bring together some of the team’s former members.
“There was no official paperwork,” Nick Ord, the museum’s marketing director said, noting that even Terry O’Neil, who literally wrote the book on N.A.R.T., wasn’t entirely sure of the team’s date of origin. “Maybe late 1956, though we do know that their first race was at Sebring in 1957.”
Chinetti’s role in founding the team, however, is undeniable. The New York- and Connecticut-based North American Ferrari distributor who, reportedly, convinced Enzo Ferrari to go into the carmaking business after World War II, had plenty of wealthy customers – among them George Arents and Jan de Vroom – who wanted to take their Italian sports cars racing.
“At the beginning, it was never a team in the sense of Penske or Ganassi,” Ord said. “They didn’t start to blend in the pros until later.”
However, adding the professionals to the mix – among them Phil Hill, Mario Andretti, and even Stirling Moss – helped the team rack up some pretty heady accomplishments, largest among them a win at the 24 Hours of Le Mans in 1965.
Of course, Ferraris played an outsized role in the team’s exploits, and Chinetti was even able to convince Ferrari to produce a model exclusively for the North American market with the N.A.R.T. name attached. But the team also famously ran a Corvette at Le Mans in 1972, and Chinetti turned to Zagato in 1970 to build a N.A.R.T.-branded Cadillac-powered road car that he intended to sell through his distributorship.
Then, in 1983, the team withdrew from racing altogether. The intervening 30-plus years, however, have done little to diminish the notoriety of the team or of its cars, so the New England Auto Museum has put together a pair of N.A.R.T.-focused documentaries for its anniversary celebration. The first, produced by CBS, thanks, in part, to Paul Newman’s involvement with the team, follows Chinetti and the team as they traveled to Bonneville in September 1974 to break some of Ab Jenkins’s speed records in a Le Mans 512M prototype and a Daytona competition car. The second, a documentary produced by Connecticut-based automotive historian Peter Leahey, focuses on the development of the N.A.R.T. Spyder, particularly the first, aluminum-bodied example that Denise McCluggage drove in the 1967 Sebring 12-hour race.
In addition to the films, organizers hope to have the Bonneville 512M on display and to gather as many former members of the team as possible, including chief mechanic Francois Sicard, mechanic Roger Colson, and ex-Chinetti employee Jerry Cotrone.
The celebration will take place September 28 at the Stepping Stones Museum for Children in Norwalk, Connecticut. For more information, visit NEAutoMuseum.org.