Part Numbers - A Primer
Volume 46 Issue 21
Oct 9, 2021
Part numbers: everybody has them. Early Ferrari part numbers tell a story.
There was a commercial a while back deriding the virtues of a certain brand of chicken nuggets. The tag line that became famous was “parts is parts”. Yes, the questionable nuggets were made from parts; which parts, what parts or where the parts came from was not important, parts is parts.
It is generally accepted that automobiles have lots of parts and all of those parts had to be created, first on a drawing, then machined and ultimately fitted to the final product.
While we celebrate the genius of Enzo Ferrari, Gioachino Colombo and even Aurelia Lampredi, there had to be some Italian worker whose job it was to organize and track the flow of drawings and assign a number to each part created.
From the very beginning there had to be an organizational system of the parts created. A V-12 engine has many components to it. Not only the block, but studs, bolts, and nuts comprise the final assembly. It would be cumbersome to draw the first part and call it 1. Then the next one 2. There needs to be order within the chaos.
Ferrari chose, or copied, a system that many pre-computer manufacturers used. This system format uses a three-digit prefix coupled with a five-digit base number.
The first Ferrari engine Gioachino Columbo designed was the Tipo 125. It had twelve cylinders and overhead cams that rode above detachable cylinder heads. The front of the engine held a timing chain that drove the camshafts and accessories.
This basic design with refinements would propel Ferrari race and street cars for the next several decades. The initial design was so good many of the components were used through the early 1960s with the 250 GT and 275 GT engines.
Manufacturers today try to limit the number of new parts by demanding the engineers reuse an existing component instead of creating another with slightly different features. Ferrari keeps using parts that work, and only redesigning when necessary.
When I first started to sell Ferrari parts, the 308 GTB was still a new car. Daytonas and Dinos had been out of production only three years. Information was hard to come by and getting the correct part could be an even larger challenge.
Parts manuals didn’t exist for anything earlier than an inside-plug 250. That sorta covered Boano, TdF and 250 GT PF Coupes. There was no parts manual for the Cabriolet, GTE, SWB or Lusso. The next newest book was the 275 GTB/S.
After the 275 manual there were generally manuals for all the cars, but no perfect manual showing all the parts, versions and changes made during production.
The trick was to know which book and particular version a part could be found. An example would be the 330 GT brake master cylinder. Early cars with pedals going into the floor used a master under the floor. The early 330 GT manual showed this configuration.
Later 5-speed 330 GTs had a Dunlop master cylinder that could be found in either a late 330 GT manual or in the 330 GTC manual. Even later 330 GTs had a Bonaldi master cylinder and booster that was not in the 330 GT or the 330 GTC manual but could be found in the 365 GT 2+2 manual.
Pity the poor parts guy!
But there were clues to find the right part. Back to the part numbering system Ferrari used.
Colombo’s first engine was called a type 125 and all the parts used 125 as the prefix. Other mechanical components also used a prefix in the part number.
Type prefixes could be engines, i.e.: 125, 166, 250/D, 250/E, 213 (275), 209 (330), 245 (365 GT), 251 (365 GTB/4).
Or transmission and chassis types, i.e.: 508 (250), 563 (275 and 330 GTC), 592 (also 275 and 330 GTC), 605 (365 GTB/4).
The prefix identifies which engine or chassis the part was first designed to fit. As Ferrari designed new models, if the part was reused the number would not change.
Generally, the main five-digit part number started with a code to identify where on the car it was used.
10 – Engine block
11 – Oil pan
12 – Crankshaft
14 – Piston and rods
16 – Cylinder head
17 – Valve train
18 – Intake system
19 – Air filter, linkage, fuel hoses
20 – Exhaust
22 – Timing cover
24 – Oil system and pump
26 – Cooling system
28 – Ignition System
30 – Distributor
34 – Fuel pump
50 – Clutch
52 – Transmission
53 – Transmission
56 – Driveshaft
58 – Differential
60 – Springs - shocks
61 – Axle housing
64 – Suspension
66 – Pedals
67 – Pedal box
68 – Hydraulic
69 – Brakes
70 – Wheels and hubs
74 – Steering
76 – Steering
78 – Fan
81 – Radiator and hoses
82 – Fuel tank
83 – Oil tank
84 – Tools
9x – Hardware
Parts within these categories would start with the first two digits and the rest of the number would identify an individual part.
With this knowledge we can see the progression of a part over time.
The early inside-plug 250 GT parts book indicates the connecting rod bearing is a 125 14111. The prefix identifies it from the original Type 125 and since it starts with 14 we know it is part of the piston and rod category.
A look into the 275 GTB/S manual shows the same rod bearing as a 125 14111. It can be deduced that the same bearing would have been used for all the outside-plug 250 GT engines also since the 125 prefix had been used.
If we look at the connecting rod itself, we see the inside-plug 250 number is 125 14102 indicating all Colombo engines used the same rod from the 166, 195, 212 and early 250 GT engines.
The 275 GTB/S manual shows the connecting rod as 213 14791. The prefix of 213 indicates a Type 213 engine and the 14 shows it to be in the piston and rod category.
In order to receive the correct connecting rod for a late 250 GT, it would require getting the number from the engine assembly sheet. That would indicate a 128/E 14606 was used.
If a part used on a later engine had a type number from an earlier engine you could recognize the part was carried over or used previously.
This becomes helpful when parting out cars and identifying parts that may be used on other models.
The parts manuals also help to identify items that are proprietary or commonly available parts. Ferrari made, or had made, much of their own components, but not all.
Many of the small parts used could be purchased ‘off-the-shelf’ at any good hardware store. These were identified in the manuals without an official Ferrari part number.
Things like nuts and bolts, O-rings, studs, circlips and other mundane hardware items were identified by the accepted universal size or number. Most of the common bearings were listed with the standard nomenclature making cross-referencing easy.
Then Fiat bought into Ferrari, and the Dino began to change everything.
Items in the Dino parts manuals made by Ferrari still carry the type designation first (236) and follow with the first two digit’s category number. But, the items made by Fiat carry the Fiat number.
This mix of part numbers was both good and bad. The good was parts made by Ferrari were clearly visible. The bad was Fiat used its own designators for common hardware items.
It was not possible to determine the size or length of a bolt or stud because Fiat used a proprietary part number.
In the old days, pre-computer, if you stepped into a NAPA or other auto parts store, behind the counter was a long rack of manuals. It didn’t matter what you requested, the parts guy would flip those manuals and sort through the pages to find the part you needed.
I had a rack just like that with every Ferrari manual I could get my hands on. In the margins and blank pages, I wrote copious notes about hardware sizes, seal sizes, bearing cross-references and any other nugget of information that would make it easier to get the correct part for the customer.
The set of manuals I used, with notes, is still at Ferrari of Atlanta. I have tried several times to buy the whole thing just for nostalgia, but they claim it has too much valuable information on older cars.
There was a time at FAF we had sections set up in part number order and all the engine parts could be in the same section. Same with transmission and suspension parts. Then computers came into use, and it all changed.
In part number theory there are two numbering methods. Non-significant part numbers and significant part numbers.
We have already seen Ferrari use the non-significant numbering system. Computers make it easier to identify parts with better descriptions and the significant numbering system was put in place.
Numbers are now assigned sequentially, or at least close to sequential. This system means a suspension part could be next to a connecting rod on the shelf if arranged in order.
Of course, with a location code finding the part on the shelf is much easier, as long as the inventory is where it should be.
Today the part number is just that, a part number. A soulless number with no history attached. It is not as simple to determine if a particular part will crossover to another car.
Without a set of corresponding parts manuals to look at, it would be difficult to find if the numbers match. An experienced parts professional carries an incredible wealth of knowledge and numbers in his head.
Most also have serious OCD issues. The other morning, I spent some time with Brian Keegan from T. Rutlands.
During the conversation we were discussing what I do now to keep up with the database of information, how we collect it, store it, and organize it. His tasking is similar.
We decided if anyone overheard what we did for a living, both of us would be immediately taken to a special place and fitted with a jacket that had no sleeves. He didn’t think he could be cured. I know there is no cure.
It has been nearly forty years since I sold parts. I can still rattle off the part number for shock bushings, or oil filter, or exhaust hanger.
Then there are body part manuals with numbers created by Pininfarina and Scagiletti. That will have to be a subject for another day.
One day I will go to a meeting and stand up and say, “Hi, my name is Jim Weed, and I have OCD.” Sorry, not today, or tomorrow, I still have files to scan…