Ex-Niki Lauda 1975 Ferrari 312T Chassis #022

Knotty Nawadhinsukh Words by Knotty Nawadhinsukh
One of designer Forghieri's finest shapes

The sad loss of former triple World Champion Niki Lauda earlier in May this year left quite a void in the heart of many racing fans and the current Formula One fraternity in the past summer. The gritty Austrian, known for being one of the most tenacious drivers in Grand Prix history was very much respected (grudgingly or otherwise) by many in the F1 paddock even long after his second retirement from competitive racing back in 1985.

“T”-Minus—Flat-12 engine was the biggest bad boy on the F1 block against most rivals' Cosworth DFV, now even badder with transverse gearbox

His heroic comeback from that fiery 1976 German Grand Prix crash at the Nurburgring as we all know by now was a stuff of legends. Numerous recounts of that particular incident however sometimes tend to cloud over Lauda’s talent as a very gifted—and calculating—racer. By that we mean his above-average understanding of the mechanics in making a racing car go faster than most drivers and his meticulous preparations by working closely with the engineers to achieve that desired result—winning. A perfect example would be this 1975 Ferrari 312T chassis number 022, the first ever public sale offering of such a car by Gooding & Company in only a couple of days’ time at Pebble Beach, that propelled Lauda to his first of his three Drivers’ F1 Championships—as well as for Ferrari in twelve years.

312T rear wing back edge now delta-shaped than previous 312B3's straight edge

Chassis 022 is one of five that were ever built when Formula one cars were made to include additional spare cars for their drivers at each race.  For the entire 1975 season Lauda and then-teammate Clay Regazzoni were entrusted with the all-new Ferrari racer and also briefly at the start of 1976 before being replaced by the 312T2, as new regulations forbade high air scoops such as that on the 312T. Undoubtedly, the 312T series became one of the most successful racing cars of all for the Scuderia—and a testament of Lauda’s involvement in making it so.

The front end shot also shows its narrower front than the 312B3 and more sculpted side pods, air flow now above rear tyres

After Regazzoni was pipped to the 1974 championship post by Emerson Fittipaldi in his McLaren M23 and suffering a series of retirements (eight in all—and consecutively in the last five races) by Lauda himself with the Ferrari 312B3, legendary Ferrari chief F1 designer and its engineer extraordinaire, Mauro Forghieri sets about to ensure that such outcome would not happen again for the following season.

Current American owner had #022 mechanically restored by Dennison International and bodywork by John Byers, front wing had to be refabricated to exact spec to original

The story goes that, even though he was still just a sophomore with the team, Niki expected a lot more from himself after such a disappointment as well. That meant working even harder to help Forghieri with the next new car. The 312T was a departure from the 312B3, in that there was a redesign with a transverse gearbox or “Transversale” (hence the “T”) by Forghieri. The transmission casing now sat in front of the rear axle instead of beyond it, giving a lower polar moment of inertia for this single-seater and thus better handling than its predecessor. This was further improved with a better aero package and narrower body, thanks in part to the input by Lauda during its development.

#022 was shared between Regazzoni and Lauda, but the Austrian took it to victory here at the 1975 French Grand Prix and also the non-championship BRDC International Trophy race at Silverstone (Photo Credit: Rainer W. Schlegelmilch)

With the new 312T, Lauda was able to exploit the power of the Ferrari Flat-12 unit than he ever had before and it showed: nine pole positions out of the total fourteen races in 1975, in which five of those were accomplished by the 022, including his wire-to-wire victory at the French Grand Prix at Paul Ricard. Such dominance was Niki and the 312T throughout the year that, after winning five races in all, the World Championship title was pretty much clinched by the time they got to the final race at Watkins Glen.

So much motor racing memory and of the man from behind this steering wheel

In the later years, Ferrari still kept 022 until it was sold privately to a collector in the U.K, then onto a couple more ownerships in France and Holland before settling with the current American owner. The car was then fully restored before it made its public appearances in Amelia Island in 2015 and in 2017 at Pebble Beach for Ferrari’s 70th Anniversary there. By this weekend we should know if this championship-winning Ferrari 312T would achieve its estimated value of six million dollars. Given the legacy of the man who was behind the wheel of chassis number 022 at one time, it probably could—and probably more.

All Photos By (Unless Otherwise Stated):  Mike Maez for Gooding & Company