Never miss an issue of Classic & Sports Car and save money when you subscribe! Check out our latest offers
75 years ago, the motoring world changed for ever as a clutch of iconic vehicles made their debuts on a wave of post-war optimism. Here we look at the Ferrari 166MM…
“Stop fussing around changing up at 4000rpm, let it rev to six,” encourages owner Clive Beecham.
“You can’t truly appreciate it without using the revs.”
Such trust in one of the most famous early Ferraris is surprising, but he’s right: only then does the performance really open up.
The way the 2-litre V12 pulls through its advanced five-speed ’box, accompanied by a glorious thoroughbred rasp from ingegnere Gioacchino Colombo’s racing heart, is wonderful now, but 75 years ago when the 166MM barchetta was launched, it must have been a revelation.
Against the post-war trend for torquey, large-capacity engines such as its Talbot-Lago rival, the first Maranello production model heralded a new age of responsive, high-revving lightweights.
The 140bhp 2-litre quickly proved it could match killer pace with dependable reliability in the greatest sports car challenges with Luigi Chinetti and Clemente Biondetti.
The V12 became a headline feature of the greatest Ferraris, but the 166MM’s chassis, steering and brakes all complement its eager power.
The Latin roadster has superb cornering balance, and even rough Sussex roads fail to unsettle this early post-war jewel.
The new model had a signature look to match its superb pace, thanks to the talents of Carlo Felice Bianchi Anderloni and Federico Formenti at Touring.
The earliest Ferraris lacked glamour, with unresolved, functional bodies, but the Milanese carrozzeria created a look that gave the young marque a fresh face.
The simple, enveloping shape had a muscular aura, with wheels tightly filling the arches, but the way the flanks curved subtly under the chassis gave the barchetta a singular style.
Novel details such as a low ’screen, bold trim stitching and fantastic tail-lights that Dalí could have painted all embellished the masterful shape.
The impact of the 166MM’s debut at the 1948 Turin show resulted in extensive press for Ferrari.
Among those smitten was 27-year-old Giovanni Agnelli, the Italian industrialist and international playboy with a huge allowance to spend.
With his family links to Fiat, Agnelli’s determination to own the new V12 sports car was not approved of, but story has it he made secret visits in disguise to Carrozzeria Touring in Milan to discuss the build.
Agnelli had a sharp eye for style, and the bespoke details he ordered for chassis 0064M made it arguably the most beautiful of the 25 built.
Where other customers prioritised performance for competition, Agnelli was forbidden to race so his focus was more on glamour.
Changes included a long bonnet with leather strap and no air scoop, a lower ’screen and a unique grille emphasising the horizontal bars.
But it was the inspired two-tone metallic blue/green paint scheme that gave 0064M its distinctive identity.
How much Agnelli drove his first Ferrari isn’t recorded.
The car remained a secret from his family and no pictures of his ownership have been found, but he loved driving the 166MM.
“It was light and agile, easy to drive and it gave that unforgettable feeling of the air flowing around your body when you drove fast,” he recalled.
“The chest was out of the car and the sound of the engine was fantastic since there was no silencing.
“I was used to driving Bugattis but the Ferrari was completely different, a new generation of motor cars.”
The lack of roof or tonneau gave the Agnelli 166 a pure, unadulterated style with no fittings to spoil Anderloni’s crisp styling.
“The car could only be used in good weather,” said Agnelli, but what an amazing experience it must have been for a warm night drive up the Passo San Marco or along the Côte d’Azur to a secret retreat.
After his right leg was shattered in an accident, when his Fiat estate collided with a truck at night, the Ferrari was sold because Agnelli found it difficult to drive.
Confirming its impressive performance, 0064M began an active competition life piloted by some of the greatest Belgian Ferrari drivers including Olivier Gendebien and Jean ‘Beurlys’ Blaton.
From 1952, its sale and care were handled by Jacques Swaters of Garage Francorchamps, who became very attached to 0064M, selling it six times and always regretting it.
So when associate Christian Philippsen discovered the famous barchetta hidden away in an Antwerp garage in 1967, his boss had to secure it.
The rebuild progressed slowly but, once returned to Agnelli’s two-tone colours, the concours invitations piled up for ‘Nonna’, as Swaters christened the car.
Highlights included L’Idea Ferrari, where it was presented in a glass cube in the grounds of Forte di Belvedere, and at the Museum of Modern Art in New York.
When Clive first saw the 166 at that Florence exhibition, he was seduced by its beauty and for years tried he unsuccessfully to convince Swaters to sell.
After his death, the family made contact and the famous car came to London.
Although a regular at top events, 0064M is no trailer queen: as well as three Mille Miglias (one for Swaters and two for Clive), the Ferrari has regularly returned to Italy, where its signature exhaust yowl is always applauded by the locals.
The enduring appeal of the 166MM goes far beyond its looks, because it’s such a fantastic driver’s car.
To win the Mille Miglia, Spa 24 Hours and Le Mans takes a very special machine.
Images: Luc Lacey
Few styles have been so copied as the first Ferrari barchetta.
All-enveloping sports cars weren’t radical in ’48, but Touring gave its streamlined form a purposeful clarity in a seductive package.
Donald Healey credited Anderloni’s design as an influence on the Healey 100, too.
Other carrozzerie created more beautiful or refined bodies, but Touring’s 166 was Ferrari’s first successful series and tempted US buyers, confirming to Enzo that exotic road cars could fund his racing ambitions.
- Sold/number built 1948-’50/46 (25 Touring Barchettas)
- Engine all-alloy, sohc-per-bank 1995cc 60º V12, three Weber carbs
- Max power 140bhp @ 7000rpm
- Max torque 117lb ft @ 5000rpm
- Transmission five-speed manual, RWD
- Weight 1433lb (650kg)
- Mpg 15
- 0-60mph 8.3 secs
- Top speed 130mph
- Price new £2000
- Price now £5-8million*
*Prices correct at date of original publication
Enjoy more of the world’s best classic car content every month when you subscribe to C&SC – get our latest deals here