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The Search for Montezuma's Ferrari

Reprinted from
December 11th, 2002

Of the three works of fiction by Burt Levy, Montezuma’s Ferrari will probably be read by Italian car enthusiasts first—primarily because of the title, and the stirring painting depicting the 340 Vignale Ferrari Mexico (S/N 0224 AT) on the cover. Well, the 340 Mexico ain’t Montezuma’s. Or Buddy Palumbo’s either.

S/N 0171 EL and 0161 EL

Levy recounts the 1952 Carrera Panamericana in vivid detail, putting young Palumbo in the co-pilot’s seat of a Mexican-owned and entered 212 Ferrari, which was promised to be sold to Big Ed Baumstein after the race. Levy’s Mexican driver, Javier Premal, had purchased the 212 immediately after the 1951 event, and was going to buy one of the new team Ferrari cars entered in the 1952 race, after that event was finished. In which case Premal would be free to sell the old Ferrari coupe to Big Ed, who wanted a Ferrari even more than a C-type Jag. Got that?

In the book, all of the steamy financial arrangements were made by Carlo Sebastian, a prettty good stand-in for Luigi Chinetti. Premal was loosely based on Pablo Aguilar, who indeed did buy the 212 Ferrari Vignale coupe, S/N 0171 EL, right after it won the 1951 Carrera in the hands of Taruffi/Chinetti. And like Premal, Aguilar did enter and drive it in the 1952 Panamericana.

The second Ferrari entered in the 1951 Panamericana was S/N 0161 EL, driven to second place by Ascari and Villoresi. This too, was sold to a Mexican by the name of Paco Ibarra right after the 1951 race, and Ibarra finished 7th in the 1952 race with the car. To tell you what happened to the Auguilar/aka/Premal Ferrari would be to give too much away. Curiously, both 0171 EL and 0161 EL were sponsored by Sinclair Oil Company, the same gas Palumbo’s pumped back in New Jersey. Now remember not to put names to all those fictional characters Levy created----

Where are they today?

As far as can be determined, S/N 0161 EL is still in the possession of Lorenzo Zambrano of Mexico City, restored and featured in Prancing Horse # 97. Panamericana race winner S/N 0171 EL is a bit of a mystery. The search for Montezuma's Ferrari goes on. Reader's ideas and comments are welcome.

Two of the four 340 Mexicos were sold after the 1952 race, but not to Ibarra or Aguilar, but to Allen Guiberson, who was buying more Ferraris than Big Ed could even dream about. The Mexico Spyder was owned by Bill Spear, and the third coupe was retained by Chinetti. Per Marcel Massini, the serial numbers of the 340s entered in the 1952 event were 0222 AT, 0224 AT, 0226 AT and the Mexico Spyder was 0228 AT.

The Last Open Road

Description: The most celebrated motorsports story of all time! Likeable 19-year-old New Jersey gas station mechanic Buddy Palumbo takes the reader along as he gets sucked into the exciting, dangerous and glamorous world of open road sportscar racing in the early 1950s. Now in its fifth hardcover printing, Levy’s unique blend of historical accuracy and outrageous humor have made The Last Open Road a genuine cult classic on the motorsports scene. World Champion and 3-time Le Mans winner Phil Hill gave copies as Christmas presents! Picked by England’s Classic & Sports Car magazine as one of the top 20 enthusiast titles of all time. Rave reviews everywhere. A must read.

Potside Companion

Description: An utterly hilarious collection of author/racer “BS” Levy’s “short stories, tall tales and outright lies.” Ride with exotic-car-salesman Burt as he has a Rolls Royce Silver Shadow convertible taken from him at gunpoint on a test drive! Join him as he brings his new wife to her first-ever race and rolls the car over right in front of her! What happens when one of his mechanics drops a customer’s car off the lift at his sports car repair shop? And what was it like to cause the single most expensive accident the Skip Barber Racing Series had ever seen? Find out -- and laugh yourself silly in the process -- when you read A Potside Companion.

Montezuma’s Ferrari

Description: Sequel to The Last Open Road (it starts one week after the first book ends). More and bigger racing, wrenching and open-road adventures with Buddy and his pals. Ride in the shotgun seat of a Ferrari in the 1952 La Carrera Panamericana. Endure the heat and pounding of the 12 Hours of Sebring. Try to balance your girlfriend and family commitments against the demands and travel of your racing addiction! More great reviews everywhere, plus Benjamin Franklin “Book of the Year” award winner. “May be even better than the original,” says Atlas F1.

The Fabulous Trashwagon

Description: Brand new third installment of The Last Open Road saga. Now the adventure broadens as Buddy attempts his own “backyard special” racecar, plus a trip to Bonneville, a visit to the mostly forgotten, never repeated sports car vs. stock car road race at Linden Field in New Jersey and an absolutely stunning portrayal of the tragic 1955 24 Hours of Le Mans, all leading up to a tremendous climax at the first-ever race at Road America in September of 1955. Once again, it’s a whirlwind rollercoaster ride through the real characters, cars and events of racing history, but presented with all the insider insight and wry humor of a racer buddy on the next barstool.