RACING LEGENDS Ferrari 166 MM
The 166 won the Mille Miglia in 1948 and again in 1949. Such feats from a nascent Italian car manufacturer were amazingly impressive, and inspired the 166 MM. Ferrari would anoint Pinin Farina his preferred creative partner in 1951, but until then a multitude of Italy’s carrozzeria were tasked with clothing the chassis. Touring of Milan was renowned, not least for its lightweight ‘superleggera’ technique that artfully encased the 166’s tubular steel chassis in aluminium panels of breathtaking beauty and simplicity.
From the distinctive egg-crate grille to its pert posterior, the 166 MM was a perfect evocation of the artisan’s skill. The car was done entirely by eye. It was powered by Gioacchino Colombo’s magnificent V12, a 2.0-litre bored and stroked for duty in the 166, and with a consequent increase in power to 140bhp. No wonder Ferrari got himself on the radar: this was heady stuff in the Forties.
But the 166 MM’s exalted place in the grand scheme of things is also attributable to the victory scored by Luigi Chinetti in the 1949 Le Mans 24 Hours, the first to be held in the wake of WWII. Amazingly, he used the same car that had just won the Mille Miglia, following its purchase by British aristocrat driver Lord Selsdon. So while the 166 MM is hugely significant in the Ferrari story, it’s nothing compared to the role played by the man who scored the first of Ferrari’s nine victories in the world’s most famous race. Aged just 16, Chinetti joined Alfa Romeo’s R&D department, which is where he first met Enzo Ferrari, at the time one of Alfa’s principal drivers. His first race was 1925’s Paris Six Hours; just six years later, he won Le Mans for the first time.
In 1934, he set up his own race team, Ecurie Bleue. He used the 1940 Indianapolis 500 as a fig leaf to escape fascist Europe. He became a US citizen in 1946, but hooked up with Enzo Ferrari on a visit to Modena that same year. It was he who persuaded Ferrari to enter Le Mans; perhaps more importantly it was Chinetti who first turned Enzo onto the opportunity the US market represented.
Luigi Chinetti Motors opened for business in Manhattan in April 1954, Ferrari’s first US distributor; four years later, he founded the North American Racing Team, which soon became successful on the rapidly evolving Fifties and Sixties racing scene. He died in 1994, aged 93, having helped shape the destiny of one of the world’s most revered companies. As for the 166 MM, and the 24 hour race he won in it, its status as one of the coolest racing cars is irrefutable.