RAC­ING LEG­ENDS Fer­rari 166 MM

Top Gear (Malaysia) - - Pace Notes - WORDS: JA­SON BAR­LOW

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.

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