Model history: At Alfa Romeo, Enzo Ferrari had achieved success in all major races and when he founded a company of his own he aimed to do the same. To achieve these ambitious plans, he had his chief designer Gioachino Colombo draw up a V12 engine. Even though Ferrari's experience with this type of engine was limited, he had been fascinated with the V12 ever since the 1920s after seeing the incredible Delage 2LCV. Colombo's new engine was designed to power the full range of Ferraris announced early in 1947, which included a sports racer and single seater Grand Prix car.
Anticipating its multiple purposes, Colombo set the initial displacement at 1.5 litre, but with plenty of room to grow. This was right inside the bracket of the Grand Prix regulations, which allowed for a displacement of 4.5 litre for Naturally Aspirated engines and 1.5 with forced induction. The V12 was constructed from light alloys and featured a single overhead camshaft for each bank of cylinders. It was installed in a relatively simple steel tubular frame with independent front suspension and a five speed gearbox. Dubbed the type '125' after the engine's unitary displacement, the first Ferrari debuted halfway through 1947.
The very first Ferrari racers were used for a variety race and changed only in detail for the type of event; for a single seater race the fenders were removed for example. By 1948 the Ferraris became more specific with the sports cars now powered by a 2 litre engine and renamed 166. The 1.5 litre engine was further developed and fitted with a single stage Roots-Type Supercharger. This literally boosted the power to 230 bhp. These cars proved to be no match for the Alfa Romeos in the Grands Prix, which were also designed by Colombo when he and Ferrari still worked for Alfa Romeo. Making the most of the V12's possibilities, Ferrari developed a second version of the 125 F1 with the Naturally Aspirated two-litre engine for Formula 2. Logically dubbed the 166 F2, it proved to be a lot more competitive than its big brother both in the hands of the Works team and privateers.
Disappointed with the results, Colombo left Ferrari and returned to Alfa Romeo. His place was taken by Aurelio Lampredi, who continued to develop Colombo's engine, while working on a much larger V12. During 1949 a twin-stage Supercharger was fitted to the 125 F1, further increasing the power to close to 300 bhp. The Ferrari racer was still no match for the old Alfa Romeos and they continued to dominate that season and also in 1950, winning every major Grand Prix. Ferrari eventually replaced the 125 F1 in 1951 with the 4.5 litre engined 375 F1. It was not quite the end for the Colombo engine in Formula 1 racing as Ferrari built two Naturally Aspirated cars in 1951 with a 2.5 litre version of the original V12. These served as a test-bed for the anticipated new regulations, which would come into effect in 1954.
The most successful of the early V12 engined Ferrari single seaters were no doubt the Formula 2 cars. Raced between 1948 and 1951 the 166 F2 scored many victories. It was replaced in 1952 by the four-cylinder 500 F2, which Albert Ascari used to win back-to-back World Championships. For the so-called Formula Libre races, two F2 cars were modified and fitted with a Supercharger. These were good for a staggering 310 bhp.
The pictured Ferrari 166 started life as an F2 car and was later modified to FL specs with a Superchargers. In its first guise, it was driven to victory by Juan Manuel Fangio at Monza in 1949. After its Works duty, it was sold to Argentina and raced in the country's national colours. Froilan Gonzales won several Formula Libre races with it. Fully restored, it is shown above during the 2003 Modena Motorsport track day.