Daddy of them all?



Ferrari 166 LM

It’s not often I go to view an interesting old car at Hyde Park Corner in the middle of London, but within taxi-hailing distance of the Duke of Wellington’s town house I was shown into a haven of interest for the car lover. Behind an unlabelled pair of doors, classic car specialist David Clark ran through the current stock in trade of Taylor and Crawley, a selection with a strong racing slant — Clark himself is often seen at the wheel of the ex-David Duffy Connaught or his Lister-Chevrolet. Lined up under evocative paintings by Franco Sciamia were single-seater Marches and Lolas of the Sixties and Seventies, several sports-racers and sports cars (including a sports Cooper with four-cam Porsche power raced in the USA by Lex Dupont) — and a scarlet coupé bearing all the signs of competition.

It seems to be an early type 166 Ferrari with a Le Mans berlinetta body by Touring, which in itself is a desirable combination — that dainty 2-litre V12 in a sculptured and, for its time, aerodynamic bodyshape. But the chassis frame is an older one, and there is much evidence that it came from the very first Ferrari to compete in a motor race. Certainly the car as it now is was bodied in 1949 to the order of Franco Cornacchia, Ferrari’s agent in Milan, before returning to Maranello for completion in early 1950. But Cornacchia did not start with a new chassis; he did a cut-price deal on a stripped frame which had been gathering dust at the factory, having it fitted with the newest 2-litre version of the V12 engine (developed by Giuseppe Busso from Gioachino Colombo’s original 1500-c.c. unit when Colombo was tempted back to Alfa Romeo to oversee the development of the Alfetta 158/159). Because the result was effectively a new machine, Ferrari gave it a new chassis number, the one it bears now — 020 1. Unfortunately, conclusive documentary evidence for which old frame was used is absent, but the balance of probability points to its being chassis 02C — the car which made the Ferrari name’s race debut at Piacenza In May 1947.

These cars, Tlpo 125, revealed for the first time the tiny 1500-c.c. V12 engine with which Ferrari intended to go Grand Prix racing. He knew that it would be vital to sell road cars to support this enterprise, and that sportscar racing was the best advertising, as well as benefiting race development. Thus the sportscar project came to fruition first, with two cars entered for that race at Piacenza. Photographic evidence of the historic firing-up of the first complete Ferrari to bear the name seems to make it clear that this was 02C, which had the framework for full-width bodywork, and not 01C, which first raced a month or so later with narrow body and cycle guards.

The 55 x 52.5mm (1496-c.c.) V12 engine had a single cam per bank, twin distributors and three downdraught twin-choke carburettors nestling in the vee, and produced some 118bhp at 6,800rpm. Chassis design was fairly conventional, using round tubes, with semi-elliptic rear springs and double wishbones at the front with a transverse leaf.

Piacenza was a promising start: Franco Cortese led for much of the race In 02C with its all-enveloping body (a little reminiscent of the two Ferrari-built AAC 815s which contested the 1940 Mille Miglia), until the centrifugal fuel-pump failed. But it won the next race, and soon the two cars and a subsequent development, the 1900-c.c. Tlpo 159, were building Ferrari the name he craved, as a builder of race-winning cars instead of merely a team manager. In the following year, 1948, Busso again increased the bore and stroke of the engine to reach two litres, and the cars became Tipo 166. But according to Ferrari historian Tito Anselml the two 125 cars were stripped and laid aside. Commercial pressures on a young company being what they are, 01C was soon resurrected with a 166 engine and new Spider Corsa body and still exists. 02C simply stops being mentioned, but Carlo Anderionl of Touring remembers Cornacchla coming to the carrozzerla in late 1949 with his old chassis, and is convinced it must indeed have been the Piacenza car.

Touring had by this time developed a tidy, compact coupé just capable of claiming to be a 2+2 for the 166 series Ferraris, and this was what they fitted to the “new” car, whose number 020 1 places it as an early competition car: cars intended for the road, even if outwardly identical, had odd numbers, and were by now onto a four-digit series, though total Ferrari production was still In the low thirties. As well as the coupé, Ferrari offered the type 166 In two body styles. The earliest, the Spider Corsas, were equipped with cycle wings and narrow bodies with just room for two, and could double as sportscar or Formula 2 racer. (Much like Clark’s ex-Abecassis Alta-Jaguar which was co-incidentally sitting alongside the 166 when we inspected it.) The Spider Corsa was functional, but not especially pretty. More memorable aesthetically is the open version of the coupé, the barchetta, a simple two-seater which in 166, 195 and later 212 variants became something of a design benchmark, inspiring many Fifties sports-racers and famously evolving into the AC Ace.

In offering a closed coupé, Ferrari hoped to attract the enthusiastic road driver who might also use his car for competition, and the body-style was sometimes labelled “Le Mans”, although “Mille MiglIa’ was the more usual term. In fact 020 1 did not race at the Sarthe, but did contest the 1950 and 1951 Mille Miglias; it failed to finish on both occasions.

In 1953 it passed to an American living in Rome, who kept it In Italy for a couple of years before taking it back to the States, where, under a succession of owners, it had one minor and one major rebuild before coming to Britain via Brooks’ Monaco auction in 1990.

Having inspected the car closely, historian Doug Nye agrees that the chassis Is older than the body, as its body-mounts appear to have been adapted, and it shows fitments for an earlier type of damper.

Close to, the delicate body reflects the compactness of the 12-cylinder engine; it Is a dainty little car, whose lack of corners accentuates its small size. This is effectively the first Ferrari to have any sort of regular production run (around 32 cars, including a dozen coupés), but using a coachworks with Touring’s experience means that the car Is as well finished as anything of its period, with every detail from grille through recessed door handles to rear number plate surround beautifully crafted. The interior is unashamedly naked in places, notably on the doors, whose drilled framing is fully exposed inside, and the fascia is scarlet-painted aluminium whose only decoration is the perspex control knobs. An unadorned ally gearknob controls the five ratios.

Three round sculptured pods thrust out of the dash behind the slim wooden wheel, tachometer and speedometer cradllng the central one which houses three round Jaeger dials for the vital body fluids. Cord-covered seats are equipped with comfortable hip bolsters, while the three-point harnesses and fat Borrani spare wheel strapped over the fuel tank with its chunky quick-fill fuel cap make it plain that this is a competition car. Vents in the moulded perspex side windows are further testimony to function coming before comfort. There is no pretence at rear seats. With Its strong tumblehome on the upper ‘glasshouse’ compared to the rounded sides and hollow doors, the feeling is of tailor-made neatness: plenty of room for wielding the upright wheel, but no wasted space beyond that. There Is a separate boot, but it is open to the cabin, and there is nothing more than thin black carpet for insulation anywhere inside; a thousand hIgh-revving miles in this would blunt the hearing for days.

Despite its two restorations, the engine nestling low under the light sculpted bonnet does not look over-prepared; the simple rounded cam-covers have the soft gleam of unpolished aluminium alloy as they run back to the two vertical distributors, while a squashed sleeve of alloy crowning the vee inhales cool air from the small bonnet scoop and crams it into the three twin-choke 32 DCF Weber carburetters. The motor starts with the characteristic “ching” from the ring gear, then a cough and a snort as a dozen tiny cylinders catch and suddenly the alr Is alive with cam-chatter and gulping carbs, against a sharp-edged background rasp echoing from the twin tailpipes.

In 1948 the 166 left Ferrari’s mark on sportscar racing; today, as compared with younger rivals, David Clark says that the car Is “not terrifically fast”, but is a pleasure both to race and drive on the road. With its sharp-revving motor and predictable handling, it is the sort of car which can be driven hard, making the most of its abilities instead of being wary of its limits. Its Mille Miglia history Is a nice bonus to a lovely little car, and while the “02C” evidence is not cast-iron, there seems to be no other plausible identity for the stripped chassis which Cornacchia took to Touring.

I looked arqund the showroom as the Ferrari was slotted back into Its spot, alongside a rather fine AC. It seemed very appropriate: the Touring body on the Ferrari 166 and the 289 Cobra, the beginning and the end of the barchetta line. G C