It all started innocuously enough. Reader Trevor Newman sent a picture to Unique Cars magazine back in 2016 with the note ‘taken in Modena in 1986’.
I pored over that picture, took it to some of the smarter minds in the Bauer motoring hub and everyone drew a blank on it.
There was precious little to go on. Yes, it looked instantly distinctive, but I’d never seen huge rear light housings like that on any Ferrari prototype and the date, well that was a mystery.
If it truly was 1986, then it pointed to the fact that this could be a development mule for the Ferrari 348. Yet the rear mechanicals looked like no 348 I’d ever seen and besides, that far ahead of launch, the car probably wouldn’t have engine, suspension and driveline ready.
It also looked a little too rough and ready for a one-off Ferrari special commissioned for a customer like the Sultan of Brunei. Yes, things were done a little differently back then at Maranello, but this looked a long way removed from a kid gloves commission.
More clues about the mystery Ferrari emerge
I’d posted an image of the car online and come back with some informed speculation but no concrete leads.
When it popped up as a Facebook memory a couple of weeks ago, I decided to try again, this time tagging in Ed Callow, the comms guy behind Collecting Cars and possessed of a brain the size of a planet, especially on all things Ferrari.
He’s the guy who can tell you that a given Fez has been sprayed Blu Medio when in fact that paint colour wasn’t offered for that model year.
But, even Ed was stumped.
It's not ringing a bell. Those rear lights are similar to 348 items, but are aesthetically closer to BMW E21 units. The clutch housing you can see below the bumper suggests it's an F119 engine (Mondial T / 348), but the alleged photo date doesn't make sense. Will do some digging!— Ed Callow (@torquespeak) February 24, 2020
The great thing about the internet is its ability to reach out to the hive mind of experts across the globe almost instantly. And yesterday, it delivered, in the form of @Mike_M_Klotz on Twitter.
“HOLY CRAP I FOUND IT!!!!!!!!!!!!!” came his response. I could tell he was excited by the fourteen exclamation marks.
Nobody casually drops the big bomb of fourteen exclamation marks without feeling one hell of a sense of achievement.
What is the mystery Ferrari?
Michael had realised that the date supplied with the image was dodgy, reasoning that the transaxle pictured was only introduced in 1989.
A search for “Ferrari prototype 1992” yielded gold. Designer Fabrizio Ferrari’s Toni Auto GT project (1992-93) was the result.
A look at some of Mr Newman’s other photos showed a time stamp on the prints of 1996. Mystery solved.
Toni Auto is a garage on Via Abetone Inferiore in Maranello that specialises in restoring classic Ferraris. It was founded in the 1960s by Franco Toni, an ex-employee of the Ferrari racing department, the building of his garage overseen by Enzo Ferrari himself.
So the car we see here is a Toni Auto GT, designed by Ferrari in Maranello but not that Ferrari in Maranello.
We’ve reached out to Toni Auto for the backstory on this fascinating bit of automotive curiosity and we’ll keep you posted of their response. In the meantime, Michael Klotz, we salute you.
Putting the scale of Michael’s discovery into perspective is the fact that the two videos he uncovered (above) have a grand total of 18 views between them at the time of writing.
Now that’s some automotive sleuthing!