The ex-Turin Motor Show

1949 Ferrari 166 Inter Coupé

Coachwork by Touring


The earliest Ferraris quickly evolved through a series of development models in an array of chassis, bodies and engine sizes. Cars were often reworked into later models and identities shifted to suit competition opportunities, take advantage of the lessons learned in racing and deal with the exigencies of a nascent commercial enterprise with limited resources. In post-war Italy everything – except labour – was scarce, particularly the quality materials and machining which were essential for construction of high performance racing cars.

The culmination of Ferrari’s early racing and development activities was the Ferrari 166, a series of 2-litre automobiles that achieved unprecedented competition successes which form the foundation of the Ferrari legend. There is arguably no more important or significant Ferrari model than the 166.

The original 1 1/2 litre Ferrari 125 V12 proved to be successful but post-war racing regulations soon adopted a two litre limit for Formula 2. Ferrari’s long term associate Luigi Bazzi increased the 125’s 55x52.5mm bore and stroke to 59x58mm for the 1,902cc 159 engine which appeared late in 1947. Its increased output of something over 100bhp encouraged another increase in displacement to nearly two litres for the 1948 season. The first version, of which very few were built, had a 60mm bore and 58mm stroke giving 1,968cc displacement. Increasing the stroke to 58.8mm brought nearly the optimum 2-litre displacement: 166.25cc per cylinder, 1,995cc in all and the model designation 166.

First produced for Scuderia Ferrari with cycle fendered botticella-style Spider Corsa bodies adaptable to both Formula 2 and sports car competition, Ferrari also built two long wheelbase (2620mm) 166 Sports, one of which, coupé-bodied by Allemano, was driven by Clemente Biondetti and Giuseppe Navone to a stunning overall victory in the 1948 Mille Miglia.

The 166 chassis was simple, effective, reliable and easily adapted to different requirements. The frame was based upon two oval tubes with X-members for torsional strength and outriggers to support the body. Its simple design and construction made it possible for Ferrari to vary the wheelbase to suit individual races as well as different passenger accommodations. The front suspension was independent with parallel A-arms supported by a transverse leaf spring and snubbed by Houdaille lever-action hydraulic shock absorbers. At the rear was a simple live axle with semi-elliptical leaf springs and trailing arms to control axle location and torque, also with Houdaille shocks. Big drum brakes filled the wire wheels.

Recognizing the potential of the 166, Ferrari turned to Felice Bianchi Anderloni’s Carrozzeria Touring to create lightweight bodies for a series based upon the 166 engine and chassis. Enzo Ferrari’s relationship with Touring had begun years before when Touring supplied bodies built with its patented superleggera construction system of lightweight alloy panels supported by a network of small diameter tubes for the Alfa Romeo competition and sports cars of Scuderia Ferrari. Touring also had bodied the two Torpedino Brescia-style Auto Avio Costruzioni 815s which Ferrari created for the 1940 Mille Miglia.

Capitalizing on Biondetti’s victory in the 1948 Mille Miglia, Ferrari called the new 166 “Mille Miglia”, leaving potential clients no doubt whatsoever that their new Ferrari carried within it the spirit and performance of Biondetti’s winner in what was then the most demanding and prestigious automobile race in the world.

Two versions of the series-production Ferrari 166 debuted at the 1948 Turin Motor Show in November. On the Touring stand was a long wheelbase “coupé 2-3 posti” (which today would be described as a 2 + 2) which shared its design elements with the Touring-bodied 2-seat roadster on Ferrari’s display, the “spider da corsa”. Both were a daring departure from conventional designs. The bodies’ greatest width was just below the wing peaks, set off by a swage line that ran from the front wheel well back to, and over, the rear wheel. The sides curved down and in from the swage line, ultimately curving gently under the rocker panels. The trailing edges of the wheel wells also blended smoothly into the sills. Touring’s design retained visibly separate wings, particularly around the headlights where the catwalks flowed down and under the headlights. The grille was large and ovoid with egg crate trim dominated by horizontal bars.

Chassis ‘029’ wears just such elegant two-seat granturismo coachwork from Touring of Milan. Rich in handcrafted detail, from its jewel-like V12 engine to the refined appointments of its cloth trimmed passenger cabin, everything about this pioneering Ferrari speaks of quality reserved for the very few, a far cry from the volume-produced offerings of later years.

The first owner of this motorcar was a gentleman in Rome; imagine the impression it must have created driving around the capital city in those early post-war days, when any kind of sports car was a rare sight indeed, let alone a brand new design from a bespoke manufacturer known only to a handful of conoscenti. So rare, infact, that chassis ‘029’ was borrowed back for display at the 1950 Turin Motor Show before leaving for America, where it introduced what was to become Ferrari’s most important market to the marque of the prancing horse. Following its return to Europe in the late 1980s and its subsequent restoration to ‘as new’ condition by renowned specialist Dino Cognolato of Padova, ‘029’ has been admired at events ranging from the Tour Auto to Ferrari’s 60th anniversary concours in Maranello where it took 2nd in class.

It has been in the present ownership- that of well-known Dutch Ferrarista Nico Koel- since 1999. During that time it has benefited from an engine and gearbox overhaul (including lead free conversion) by top Dutch ‘mechanical wizard’ Piet Roelofs, plus a suspension set-up. Bills for €18,000 are on file. A larger alloy radiator, of similar appearance to the original, has been fitted for cool running in modern traffic, and the Excelsior tyres are new. Some 10,000 trouble free kilometers have been covered by Nico and the car is ready to undertake any journey.

Certified as fully authentic by Ferrari Classiche, European road registered and ready to be driven or shown, this rare early survivor represents an important milestone in Ferrari’s illustrious history and is still presented in faultless, ‘concours’ condition as the illustrations show clearly.