Ferrari 553

The mark of a champion isn't just one good performance. It is the continual, repetitious performances at the top levels that make a champion. Therefore, the concern isn't so much about the present, but preparation for the future. Becoming satisfied means defeat.

It all started toward the later-half of the 1951 season. Scuderia Ferrari had earned its first World Championship victory and would go on to almost absolutely dominate the rest of the season. Were it not for tire choice, Ascari may very well have been the 1951 World Champion instead of Fangio. However, both the team and Ascari would enjoy a streak of dominance that wouldn't be equaled or broken until well over thirty years later. And it was the result of Ferrari looking to the future.

In motor racing, to remain a champion costs a great deal of money and resources. Leading up to the 1952 season, it had become obvious to the Maranello outfit that it had truly become the only serious competitor in Formula One. The costs to challenge Ferrari's building authority would certainly be more than Alfa Romeo was willing to invest, so they would depart the series altogether. Ferrari, in a moment of clear discernment, realized things could not carry on as they had. It seemed logical Formula 2 regulations would be the only possible path for the race organizers and governing-body for the series could go. While in the midst of the 1951 Formula One season, Ferrari would be hard at work designing a new Formula 2 car.

Always focusing on the future, Aurelio Lampredi had already designed and built a 2.0-liter, 4-cylinder engine that would end up conforming to Formula 2 specifications. This would become the basis for what would be the all-conquering 500 F2. The car would make its debut at the end of the 1951 season. It had cost a lot of money and resources, but it would certainly be worth it.

The tremendous success of the 500 would both help and hinder Ferrari. They had become the target and other manufacturers were prepared to spend a lot of money and invest a lot of time and material to unseat Ferrari's dominance. In order for Ferrari to maintain their dominance they would also have to be willing to spend a lot of money. This would be a difficult proposition given the fact they had already spent so much to have a dominant car for just two seasons. Such an investment would end up causing Enzo Ferrari to ponder its involvement in the World Championship.

Manufacturers like Lancia and Mercedes-Benz were planning extensive investment to create a new car for the new Formula One regulations coming at the start of the 1954 season. Weighing out costs and other factors, even any involvement at all, it would be decided to try and make due with existing designs and elements; only tweaking them for the new regulations. Given the dominance of the Ferrari 500, which would serve as a basis for the new design, the decision wasn't exactly foolish. Thus, at the Italian Grand Prix in 1953 the 553 would debut.

Immediately the changes in the car's design from the Ferrari 500 F2 would be more than evident. In preparation for the larger 2.5-liter engines expected as part of the new Formula One regulations, the width of the 553 would be enlarged to accommodate the engine. The tubular steel chassis would be widened in order to accommodate for air to flow through the radiator and oil cooler inlet at the front of the nose. The top line of the bodywork on the 500 would have a steep ascent upwards toward the driver's cockpit. This was mostly due to the need to cover the inline 4-cylinder engine and make the airflow as aerodynamic as possible. One specific design element for the 553 would cause the nose design to evolve.

The wheelbase on the 553 would help to make the upper line of the engine cowling and bodywork much more horizontal to the ground. The ability to pull this design off, despite having an overall length shorter than the 500, came through the positioning of the fuel tanks. One problem all of the cars had been suffering from was instability. This instability was the result of the fuel tank positioned at the tail right behind the driver. Its location past the rear axle acted like a lever depending upon the amount of fuel in the tank. For the sake of stability, this needed to change. Lancia's D50 would end up being introduced with twin fuel tanks attached to either side of the chassis between the front and rear wheels. Ferrari's design team would end up coming up with something similar, and yet, ultimate different. What would result would end up leading to the 553 being called 'Squalo'.

Ferrari would create twin fuel tanks positioned between the front and rear wheels. However, their design was something different than that utilized by other teams. The tubular steel frame would provide the car enough strength, but also, enough room to house the fuel tanks inside the car's bodywork. To make it work, the bodywork would be widened a great deal and would be greatly rounded. This would earn the nickname 'Squalo', which meant 'shark'.

The large bulbous shape of the car would blend into the nose design. As a result, the nose would be wider than the 500 F2. This would enable the engine to be arranged under the bodywork in such a way as to level the line of the upper bodywork. And whereas the radiator inlet on the 500 would have something of a 'D' shape, the 553 would end up with a much more oval design.

The front suspension had worked quite well on the Ferrari 500, and therefore, would end up being adopted for the 553. But it would include a couple of important evolutions. The fully independent suspension would still utilize a lower transverse leaf spring, but it would also utilize a Houdaille hydraulic shock absorber and an anti-roll bar. The rear suspension would end up being practically the same. Braking power for the heavier car would still come from hydraulic drum brakes. The large brake housings would incorporate large channels and inlets to help with cooling.

Underneath the engine cowling would rest virtually the same inline 4-cylinder engine used in the 500. However, its displacement would be slightly larger, edging right up to the 2.0-liter limit. Although it would have a slightly larger displacement than the engine used in the 500, it would end up producing less horsepower. So while the car handled better with the more balanced weight distribution, the car lacked straight-line speed.

The engine also posed another challenge; this time to the driver. Besides the unique position of the air inlet leading to the two Weber carburetors, the engine position inside the bay would also lead to the exhaust pipes exiting out of the bodywork further up on top of the left hand side of the car. The four pipes would eventually end up blending into one large pipe, but not before it would pass right alongside the left shoulder of the driver. This required car on the part of the driver, and a large, drilled heat shield.

The cockpit would be sandwiched between two large fuel tanks. Power would be delivered to the rear wheels through a 4-speed gearbox with a limited-slip differential. And of course the driver would wrestle the car around the corners utilizing the large wood-trimmed steering wheel. The steering input would be accomplished via a worm and sector arrangement. The presence of the exhaust right beside the cockpit on the left side would cause the cockpit to feel tighter. Even the low-cut right side would still give the feel of the driver sitting down inside the car. This would especially seem the case given the width of the car at that point. Unlike most other designs of the time, the back of the driver was quite exposed. Because the fuel tanks had been moved the bodywork behind the driver was much lower.

All told, the water cooled engine, with its gasoline and alcohol mixture, would power the car to speeds in excess of 150 mph. It could go from zero to 60 in just 7 seconds and could cover a quarter of a mile in 13 seconds while touching 106 mph. But in its debut, the wider, heavier car struggle at top speed against its venerable brother and the A6SSG from Maserati. This rather poor showing would cause the Ferrari designers to take another look at the 500 chassis. The 553 represented the future. The design team had taken what it had and tried to tweak it as much as possible to create an almost new design. However, it still needed some work. But time was running short. Lancia and Mercedes were working away on their new designs. Something else needed to be done to provide the team with options. What would result would be the 625.

The 553 represented the future for Ferrari. It had something of a fresh design, whereas the 625, which would sub while the new 553 F1 would be developed, was certainly nothing more than a Ferrari 500 with an enlarge 2.5-liter engine. The team was looking and hoping for the same kind of performance advantage and dominance it had enjoyed with the 500 F2, all while not having to create a whole new car. The designers had tweaked what they had to the point they had something practically new. But because it was an adaptation more than a clear focus, more needed to be done before it could take up the mantle of its certainly more famous predecessor.

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By Jeremy McMullen