|Ferrari 125 S|
In the early 1920s a young Enzo Ferrari entered the racing world as a moderately successful driver, it was not until the end of the decade when formed his own racing team, 'Scuderia Ferrari', that he made a lasting mark. By bringing together Italy's finest engineer and driver, Vittorio Jano and Tazio Nuvolari respectively, Ferrari created a winning package that would dominate the sport in the early 1930s. When Alfa Romeo decided to decrease their racing efforts the independent Scuderia Ferrari replaced the official racing department. Initially cars were assembled from parts supplied by Alfa Romeo, but from 1936 completely new Grand Prix racers were designed and constructed.
After being closely involved with the Milanese firm for almost two decades, Ferrari felt it was time to really spread his wings in 1937. Although Scuderia Ferrari was officially independent, the relationships between the two were so intertwined that Enzo had to agree on not making cars under his name for four years to get out of the contracts. While the rest of Europe was now actively involved with the Second World War, Ferrari was busy constructing his first cars. Complying with his agreement he had formed a new company called Auto Avio Construzioni. Introduced in 1941, the '815' was a combination of various Fiat mechanicals and a custom body. Only two cars were built before the War reached Italy.
During the War all production was aimed at military supplies and the various factories were spread out around the country for tactical reasons. Ferrari's workshop was moved from Modena to nearby Maranello and focused on constructing ball bearing grinding machines. Soon after the fighting was over, Enzo continued work on a new racing car, despite the high demand for his machines. He unsuccessfully tried to employ Vittorio Jano to design his new car, but found a very good replacement in Gioachino Colombo. They had already worked together before the War when the Scuderia Ferrari was developing new racing cars for Alfa Romeo with the 158 single seater as their finest product.
Ferrari understood that the demand for the exotic cars he proposed to construct would not be very high in a world preoccupied with reconstruction. He gave Colombo the difficult brief of designing a drivetrain and chassis that was versatile enough to attract a broad audience. In 1946 the engineer drew up a straightforward tubular frame and a 60 degree V12 engine not dissimilar to his last projects at Alfa Romeo. A displacement of 1.5 litre was chosen, which in Naturally Aspirated form could power a sports racer and equipped with a Supercharger met the Grand Prix regulations. As per Enzo's request a five speed gearbox completed the package at a time when four speeds were the norm.
Rejoining Alfa Romeo, Colombo did not stay long enough for the designs to materialize and Ferrari was on the lookout again for a new chief engineer. In the meantime draughtsmen turned the designs into usable drawings and the first engine parts were cast halfway through 1946. Construction of the chassis frames was outsourced to Gilco, who completed two similar frames in September of 1946. A month later Aurelio Lampredi joined the engineering team to help develop the engines, which suffered from various teething problems. In November Enzo Ferrari officially announced a range of three production cars all sharing the 1.5 litre V12 engine. It was referred to as the '125', as a reference to the unitary displacement; a naming policy that was to be used for many decades to come.
It was not until March of 1947 that the first car was ready to drive around on its own power. Two weeks after the testing commenced, Lampredi left to leave the team of young engineers without a leader once more. By May two distinctively different Ferraris were ready to make their competition debut. The first car featured a fully enclosed roadster design, while the second was equipped with a rather ugly cycle fender body. Two accidents for the cycle fender car and a heavily smoking engine in the roadster disguised the potential of the Ferrari 125 at its debut in Piacenza on May 11th. A fortnight later Franco Cortese drove the roadster to the manufacturer's maiden victory in only their second race!
Throughout the season the racing efforts were combined with the continuous development of the two cars. To take on more powerful cars, the V12 engine's bore and stroke were increased to yield a displacement of 1908 cc and the cars were renamed accordingly as 159. A third car was constructed in the summer and equipped with a newly designed cycle fender body. Colombo returned as a consultant and immediately set out to alter the 159 engine with a significant increase in performance as a result. Raymond Sommer scored the company's first major victory in the Turin Grand Prix with the new cycle fender car, equipped with the Colombo modified version of the 159 engine.
While the new cycle fender style of the third car would form the basis of the first 'production' Ferrari, work on the engine was not over yet. Yet again the bore and stroke were increased, but only slightly to 60 mm and 58.8 mm respectively. The resulting 166 engine displaced just under 2 litres, making it still eligible for the popular sports racing class in Italy. Equipped with this engine, the Turin winner received serial number 002C was renamed 166 Spyder Corsa and sold late in December of 1947. In 1948 another seven cars were constructed from existing and new parts along the lines of '002C' before a second generation of all new racing and street cars was introduced.
Enzo Ferrari could not have picked a worse time to start as a car manufacturer, but due to his determination and excellent management skills he succeeded where many others had failed in even the most ideal of circumstances. Little over two years after the very first Ferrari had turned a wheel in anger, Luigi Chinetti and Lord Selsdon drove a 166 MM to victory in the gruelling 24 Hours of Le Mans race. The design Colombo had hastily drawn up in 1946 would continue to form the basis of much of Ferrari's racing and commercial success up into the 1960s, accounting for a vast majority of the manufacturer's class and overall victories at Le Mans.
There is still a lof of uncertainty about what happened to these very early Ferraris. The cars were constantly under development and many parts were re-used in newer cars and none of this was very well documented. It is commonly believed that the first two cars were completely rebuilt to 166 Spyder Corsa specification before being sold to customer. One of these customer cars is s/n 010I, which contained parts of the very first Ferrari '01C'. It was sold as a new car, but when the owner took delivery he immediately noticed it featured well used parts and as a compensation the factory offered him a rebate.
A few years later the car was sold to England and subsequently fitted with a new roadster style body. This happened to a few other 166 Spyder Corsas and including 010I most of them were also rebodied to their 'original' bodies in the 1970s. Early in the 1990s, the car was bought by Symbolic Motors and inspected closely. Upon this inspection resident expert Bill Noon discovered the area around the serial number on the chassis looked different from the rest of the frame. It appeared to be a slug, which he then removed to reveal another serial number. Although not very clear, with some imagination it could be read as 01C.
With this information, Symbolic sold the car to its new owner, who then set about having a new body constructed for the car along the lines of the fully enclosed roadster body fitted on the original 01C. It was similar to the one fitted on the replica Ferrari had Michelotto construct in 1987 to celebrate the company's fourtieth anniversary. Referred to as a '125 S', the newly rebodied car was debuted in the 2006 Pebble Beach Concours d'Elegance. Much to the relief of some of the class judges, it was not entered for judging. To add to the controversy, the car sported a chassis plaque suggesting it was type 166 chassis and engine.
While the merits of the story are still very much subject of debate, it is safe to say it is the closest thing around to the very first Ferrari. For that reason we have entered 010I or 01C in the database as the '125 S', but we would like to stress we have not taken a stance in the debate yet. The specifications listed here refer to the original 125 S and not to the pictured car.
Article by Wouter Melissen, last updated on August 30, 2006
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