1950 Ferrari 166 MM Touring Barchetta (© Bruce Whitaker / MSN Autos)Click to enlarge picture

1950 Ferrari 166 MM Touring Barchetta

The new Ferrari made its sensational debut at the 1948 Turin Auto Show, where it's innovative and tightly wrapped design left viewers perplexed.

The little open car looked nothing like any previous car; it was wider at the beltline than at the sills, there was a rib down the side, and it appeared to have a mustache at the front. It was also high in the back, it had cut-down doors, and its headlights were placed low at the front of its upswept profile. Separate fender forms were eliminated.

The standard names for open car body types — roadster, spider, tank, pontoon and skiff — did not apply, and for a time nobody knew what to call the revolutionary car. Then Italian journalist Giovanni Canestrini declared that it looked like a barchetta, which is Italian for "little boat." So the Ferrari 166 MM was christened "barchetta." This was a magic moment — when automobile engineering and extraordinary body styling were combined.

After the publicity of its launch, the new 166 MM Touring barchetta proved its racing prowess by winning the 1949 Mille Miglia, the 24 Hours of Le Mans, and 24 Hours of Spa Francorchamps.

The success of the new Ferrari was no overnight triumph.

Although he did not produce a car of his own design named Ferrari until 1947, Enzo Ferrari spent his life racing automobiles. Between 1919 and 1929 he was a team driver for Alfa Romeo. In 1929 he left Alfa Romeo to start his own racing team, Scuderia Ferrari, which also raced Alfa Romeos and soon became the official Alfa Romeo racing team. Alfa Romeo even loaned the team some engineers, including Gioachino Colombo, to design, build and race formula cars.

In January 1938 Alfa Romeo reclaimed the racing team and changed the name to Alfa Corse. Ferrari moved to Milan as racing director, but he soon quit. He had been chafing at the fact that Alfa Romeo was given credit for "his" race victories. The severance agreement stipulated that Ferrari could not build or race cars under his own name for four years, so he returned to Modena and reconstituted his racing team as Auto Avio Costruzioni (AAC).

Soon after creating AAC, Ferrari was commissioned to build two cars for the 1940 Mille Miglia. He used Fiat 508C platforms with Touring roadster bodies and installed an eight cylinder engine with Fiat- and Ferrari-designed parts. These two cars were called AAC 815s.

At the end of World War II, Ferrari turned to some former colleagues for help. In 1945 Alfa Romeo laid off Colombo, making him available. Colombo went to work for Ferrari on August 15 and completed the design of a V12 sports car by November. That same month, however, Alfa Romeo reinstated Colombo, so he left Ferrari.

In May 1946 AAC was renamed Auto Costruzioni Ferrari; Enzo was more than ready to build cars under his own name. Giuseppe Busso, who had worked for both Fiat and Alfa Romeo, joined Ferrari that June as its first technical director.

In the intervening seven months since Colombo's departure, little progress had been made on his V12 engine, officially named the Type 125 for the cubic capacity of one of its cylinders in centimeters, but under Busso it was completed and ran on a test bed on September 29, 1946. Those first tests were inauspicious; the engine failed to run smoothly or produce the expected power. So Aurelio Lampredi, an aero engineer, was hired to further refine it.

The first complete Ferrari bare chassis ran on its own power on March 12, 1947. By that time Giuseppe Peiretti was employed as body builder, and he produced the body for that first car. A second car was completed before May, but it was given an ugly cycle fender body based upon a sketch provided by Busso. Neither car set any styling standards, and Peiretti soon departed.

Both Ferraris were entered in a race at Piacenza on May 11, 1947. The new Ferrari was not the star; Ferdinando Righetti won in a Fiat. Ferrari next entered the Grand Prix of Rome on May 25, and on that occasion, a Ferrari won.

In June, a third car with a slimmer, cycle fender body was built. Busso consulted Bruno Ermete, a professional body designer, for ideas, but it is not known who crafted the improved body.