Ferrari 166 MM Touring Barchetta
Ferrari's first sports racing cars rank among the historians biggest nightmare. The cars were a continually changing mix of engines, chassis and body styles. The car that is currently believed to be the oldest existing Ferrari chassis, s/n 002C, has been fitted with at least three different engines and as many bodies.
At the end of 1948, Ferrari launched their first "production" car, and from then onward the history of Ferrari cars gets a little less complex. To commemorate the victory of a Ferrari 166 Sport in the Mille Miglia, the new competition car is dubbed 166 MM Touring-Barchetta.
Technically the 166 MM was very similar to the first Ferraris, and shared the tubular frame that was characteristic for all of the company's sports cars of the 1940s and 1950s. Suspension was equally straightforward with wishbones at the front and a live rear axle at the rear. Where the early Ferraris really excelled was in the engine compartment, which housed the beautiful Gioacchino Colombo-designed V12. In its first configuration, the tiny engine only displaced 1.5 litres, but in its third incarnation had grown in size to just under two litres or 166 cc per cylinder.
What set the 166 MM apart from the previous Ferrari racers was the new car's body design and construction, for which a third party was commissioned. What the small car needed was a lightweight body — a task ideally suited for Touring of Milan, whose Superleggera designs were the lightest available.
At the car's Turin launch, the press quickly dubbed the Touring bodystyle "Barchetta," which is Italian for "little boat." The name stuck, as did the design, which today is the most famous Touring design ever fitted on a Ferrari chassis.
Ferrari had intended the 166 MM mainly as a customer racing car, but when they discovered the potential a number of works cars were also built. Between 1948 and 1950 just 30 examples were constructed of which 25 were fitted with the Touring Barchetta body. By the time the last 166 MM rolled off the line, Ferrari had diverted their attention at exploring the full potential of the long block Lampredi design V12. In the early 1950s, the interest in two-litre racers quickly grew, and to meet the demand Ferrari developed a second series of 166 MMs in 1953.
Both in the hands of the works drivers and privateers, the 166 MM proved to be a very commendable racer, with a large number of class and overall victories. The most famous of these victories was scored at Le Mans in 1949, where Ferrari scored a victory the first time out. The winning car was entered by Lord Selsdon, but the later North American Ferrari importer Luigi Chinetti did most of the driving — 23 hours to be precise. The only reason Lord Selsdon took the helm of his Ferrari was to comply with the regulations.
The 166 MM was a big success on and off the track and contributed greatly to the conversion of the Scuderia Ferrari racing team to a full-fledged manufacturer of road and racing cars. After being abandoned for a number of years, the Colombo engine was revived and would form the basis of the 250 GT series powerplant, which had an identical bore as the 166 MM engine.