Pierino Scalco is a retired panel beater who now spends his days re-creating many of the cars that he dreamed about as a young boy. And in his late teens, one of the most formative moments of his young life, was working in the pits at Kyalami, assisting the famous English racing driver, David Piper.

Piper had shipped an exotic Ferrari 250 GTO to Cape Town in October 1962, then driven it up to Johannesburg to take part in the Rand Daily Mail Nine Hour Endurance Race. That GTO went on to win the race that year and followed it up with a second victory in the 1963 event. ‘I helped load spare wheels and tyres, carried tools, that sort of thing,” recalls Pierino.

Piper went on to win the annual Nine Hour race a record six times, while the Ferrari 250 GTO has become the most collectable Ferrari in the world, thanks to a great racing record at races like Le Mans. Just 36 examples were ever made, and as the cost of owning a genuine one has soared to hundreds of millions of rand, Pierino decided to re-create his own GTO.

“I managed to acquire a wrecked Ferrari 365. The chassis was still good but the upper-body was destroyed, and the car had been stripped and many of the parts had gone missing, including quite a lot of the engine parts. The 365 GT4 is actually a 2+2, with a longer wheel base, so I had to change the proportions of the 275 to get it to look like a 250 GTO.

“I ended up making the body a lot wider at the rear, because the rear wheels I could get at an affordable price were a lot wider than the front. So I decided to flare the fenders. I had started learning to work with an English Wheel to do aluminium work many years ago when  I worked at African Body and Coach, making bus bodies in the 1960s, and ever since then I have been learning more about working with an English Wheel.

“My idea was not to try and build a replica of the 250 GTO, because that car was based on a much smaller Ferrari chassis. Also, I couldn’t afford a genuine Ferrari engine because of the price, so I ended up using a BMW V12 engine, which gives out the same sound as a V12 GTO. And I even dressed the engine up to look a bit like a Ferrari motor!”

“I added extra slots on the fenders to balance the longer length. When the purists tell me that the extra slots are historically wrong, I tell them I built the car for myself, and I am happy with it, because the extra slots balance the fenders which have more metal in them than the shorter GTO.”

The Ferrari 250 GTO project took three and a half years to build, which is not a long time, especially when one considers that Pierino had to take on other body work for friends in the collector car field to finance his car projects.

There were other projects overlapping the 250 GTO, and perhaps the best-known one around Johannesburg’s northern suburbs is his 250 P lookalike, which he based on a Ferrari 348. The 250 P was a car that Pierino was smitten by in the early 1960s, as it won the 1963 Le Mans 24-Hour in the hands of Lorenzo Bandini and Ludovico Scarfiotti. It was the first outright Le Mans victory for a mid-engined car (the engine is located behind the driver, but still ahead of the gearbox).

That mid-engined layout was used for a number of road-going Ferraris a few decades later, and the wrecked 348 that Pierino bought from Rosso Sport in Kyalami was the replacement model for a line that began with the famous 308, the so-called “Magnum Ferrari”.  Once again, Pierino’s idea was not to try and create an exact replica, but to use elements of one of his favourite Ferraris in a much more modern Ferrari chassis.

Working with aluminium, he has created a unique Targa-topped version of the race winning open-topped prototype. Apart from the bodywork, the car is essentially a 348, still running its 3,4-litre 32-valve V8 engine and five-speed gearbox. The 348 is a quick car, with a top speed in the region of 270 km/h. Pierino has badged the car as an amalgam of 348 and P 250 nomenclature, again illustrating that he can see the lighter side of his car-creation endeavours. He calls it the “348 PP”, the first P standing for “prototype” and the second P standing for “Pierino”.

For the 80-something Signor Scalco, his on-going projects are a way of keeping busy since he was forced to retire from his panelbeating business a number of years ago, due to serious health issues that saw him hospitalised for over a year. His work in aluminium forming with his English Wheel has won high praise from serious car collectors all over the Gauteng region. Recently he recreated an entire body for an Alfa Romeo Giulia Sprint Speciale that won an award at an Alfa Romeo Concours.

Other projects that Pierino has completed over the past decade or so include a Jaguar-engined take on a Bugatti Type 59, with some delightful vintage touches, while he has also embarked on a Maserati 450S project, one of the great racers from the 1950s. Just three months down the line he has progressed a long way with the body. The car is based on a Cobra car kit chassis and uses a Lexus V8 engine (the original 450S ran a V8 engine).

All this came about, says Pierino when he bought a little Fiat 500, almost as an after-thought, to help out a friend who had discovered the little Fiat’s twin-cylinder 500 cc motor needed serious repair work. Pierino bought the car for just a few thousand Rand, but discovered that repairing the engine with imported bits from Italy would be hellishly expensive. So he did some measurements and discovered that the mechanicals from a Daewoo Matiz three-cylinder hatchback from the late 1990s could be adaptable to the little Fiat body.

All sorts of issues ensued with the Matiz project, including a troublesome rebuild on the Daewoo engine. Along the way Pierino also widened the little Fiat’s body by 25 cm to accept a wider track, and also fitted a turbocharger (mainly to silence the engine sufficiently to pass roadworthy).

“I ended up spending too much on the Fiat, but it’s a lovely little car to drive, and after I took it to a Ferrari owners’ club meeting, Piero from Rosso Sport told me I shouldn’t bring the Fiat again because all the women loved it so much they were ignoring the Ferraris on display that day!”

That in turn led to the Ferrari projects and all the rest. Pierino realising that it was better to spend so many skilled man-hours on a car that would have much more re-sale value than a simple little car like a Fiat 500. He says he loves all sorts of cars, not just those of Italian origin: Mercedes-Benz 300 SLs, Jaguar E-Types, early Chevrolet Corvettes – they are all beautiful in Pierino’s eye.

“I’ve been a car nut my whole life, and luckily my sons Renzo and Gianni have shared my interest. When I’d completed the first Ferrari my wife told me I would have to build another one, because I would have to leave each son a car to remember me by.”

“Now I start new projects to keep nice and busy during the day. I get up in the morning, feed the dogs, have breakfast, and I am in the workshop by 9 am. What else am I going to do with my time?”

“I ended up spending too much on the Fiat, but it’s a lovely little car to drive, and after I took it to a Ferrari owners’ club meeting, Piero from Rosso Sport told me I shouldn’t bring the Fiat again because all the women loved it so much they were ignoring the Ferraris on display that day!”

iThat in turn led to the Ferrari projects and all the rest. Pierino realising that it was better to spend so many skilled man-hours on a car that would have much more re-sale value than a simple little car like a Fiat 500. He says he loves all sorts of cars, not just those of Italian origin: Mercedes-Benz 300 SLs, Jaguar E-Types, early Chevrolet Corvettes – they are all beautiful in Pierino’s eye.

“I’ve been a car nut my whole life, and luckily my sons Renzo and Gianni have shared my interest. When I’d completed the first Ferrari my wife told me I would have to build another one, because I would have to leave each son a car to remember me by.

“Now I start new projects to keep nice and busy during the day. I get up in the morning, feed the dogs, have breakfast, and I am in the workshop by 9 am. What else am I going to do with my time?”

Story by : Stuart Johnston

This article was first published here