166 MM

The Most Important Ferrari on Earth


Which Ferrari is most significant?

Ferraris – they’re a strange breed of car. Sometimes I love them; sometimes, they leave me cold.

I can’t explain precisely why that is. I think everybody is expected to believe the modern incarnation of the Italian brand is as sexy as hell. That annoys me sometimes. It’s a bit like the unblemished beauty in the room who knows she’s gorgeous. It can be a turn-off. A little bit of humility and a few flaws can be more attractive.

That’s why the Ferraris of the 1940s and 50s do it for me. They are classically beautiful – and far less showy than the ‘supermodels’ of today. They probably weren’t even overly pretentious in their era, but they had something about them. I guess everything does have a certain je ne sais quoi when you look back with rose-tinted spectacles.

Now, I don’t claim to be an expert when it comes to classic cars. Indeed. I don’t profess to be a specialist when it comes to any kind of motor. All I know is that, largely, I appreciate vehicles in all the forms they come in. And, increasingly, I’ve become more fascinated by the cars of yesteryear.

Whether on-road or on track, classic and vintage vehicles have charm. They have usually got a ‘face’, and they’ve certainly got character. That can’t always be said for the motors that are on show today. Some have got about as much ‘charisma’ as a large fridge-freezer.

Motor shows are often nothing more than a willy-waving contest – and an immense place to go window shopping. It is a different feeling to the classic auto exhibitions. These are worth perusing for historical reasons as much as anything. And, yes, there is eye-candy; but it’s different from the highly-strung glitz you get at, say, Geneva or Frankfurt – or indeed any international motor show.

Now, the Concours of Elegance showcases some of the most astonishing cars ever to have been built. Yes, you’re right, the name does sound pompous, but the Ferrari display it had this year was a sight for sore eyes. Why? Because the most significant Ferrari on the planet was there. By today’s standards, it’s a basic machine, but back in the 1940s, the Ferrari 166MM Barchetta delivered Ferrari’s first triumph at the 24 Hours of Le Mans. That very same year -1949 – it went on to win the Mille Miglia. I’m talking about chassis number 0008M – now bearing ‘22’ on its bodywork.

166 MM

Those wins made it the only car of any brand ever to have accomplished that feat. The piece of automotive history was at the Hampton Court Palace event as part of the 70th birthday celebration of these race victories. But it wasn’t just the one car. No less than four of the most historically important 166MM chassis were gathered at the Concours of Elegance.

The second works-entry 166MM, #0010M, triumphed at 1949’s 24 Hours of Spa. This Ferrari also featured in the Palace display, has been stateside for the last fifty years or so. It made the trip across the pond, especially for the Concours of Elegance. I’d go as far to say that it represented a once-in-a-lifetime chance for British petrolheads to check it out.

Similarly exhibited was ex Fiat and Ferrari owner, Gianni Agnelli’s 166 Barchetta #0064M. The two-tone green and blue work of art secured both class and overall wins at the Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps in-period. Since then it has been given the ‘Coppo d’Oro’ at the Villa d’Este Concorso d’Eleganza.

The car featured in conjunction with the third Ferrari Barchetta ever manufactured – yet another Villa D’Este sensation from 66 years earlier – chassis #0006M. This is a Barchetta that took part in 1949’s Mille Miglia, coming sixth in class. Precisely seven decades after its first conquest at Concorso d’Eleganza, chassis #0006M was once again named the winner at the occasion during its 2019 participation.

A couple of examples of the 166’s successor, Ferrari’s 212 Export, also joined the line-up at the Concours of Elegance. A 212 Export Barchetta #0078E, champion of 1951’s Tour de France and piloted by Phil Hill to success at Torrey Pines back in 1952, was in attendance. It was there together with the 212 Export Berlinetta #0108E; a competitor in 1952’s Mille Miglia.

Deemed to be Britain’s premium concours d’elegance, the Hampton Court Palace Concours of Elegance, returned to the beautiful gardens of the one-time home of Henry VIII in September. The assembly of marvellous motors not only included the nod to the 166, but it also comprised a world-first exhibition of Aston Martin Zagatos. Now, what was I saying about pretentious? But, come on, Astons, modern and retro, are always classy – aren’t they?

Whatever the case, the Concours of Elegance’s display of rare and significant classic Ferraris was the focal point, telling a story that goes far beyond the pizazz of some of today’s shallow-as-a-teaspoon events. These cars are all about pioneers and icons. They are indeed rarities from one of the world’s most famous car marques.