Model history: With the imminent departure of Alfa Romeo from Grand Prix racing, Formula 1 looked set to be desperately short of entrants in 1952. Except for Ferrari, no other manufacturer could or wanted to field a competitive Formula 1 racer. They were understandably preoccupied with rebuilding their road car business before considering entering the highly expensive Grand Prix World Championship. As a stop-gap the sport's governing body decided to run the World Championship under the Formula 2 regulations. There was a much larger market potential for these smaller engined and less expensive single seaters and accordingly far more specialist manufacturers were engaged in F2.
Ferrari's original F2 car, introduced in 1949, was the two-litre V12 engined 166 F2. It struggled against the more straightforward British cars that featured twin-cam, four cylinder engines. Enzo Ferrari was very impressed with these engines and asked his lead engineer, Aurelio Lampredi, to develop a similar unit. Lampredi initially focused on a multi-purpose 2.5 litre version but once the change of formula for the World Championship was announced, all attention was diverted to the 2 litre. He closely followed the British example and created an alloy unit with chain-driven, twin-overhead camshafts. Breathing through two Weber carburetors the new Ferrari engine was good for 165 bhp at the start of the season.
Dubbed the 500 F2 (in reference to the engine's unitary displacement), Ferrari's new Formula 2 car was virtually identical to the company's earlier single seaters. The ladder type chassis was constructed from two oval-tube members with considerable cross-bracing. The front suspension was by double wishbones with a single transversely mounted leaf-spring. A DeDion axle was installed at the rear but here Lampredi broke with convention by employing two trailing arms to keep the axle in check. Hydraulically operated drum brakes and a four-speed gearbox completed the mechanical package. The rolling 500 F2 chassis was clothed in a simple but elegant single seater body. Unlike Ferrari's earlier single seaters, the new Formula 2 car featured an open nose.
Facing strong competition from the likes of HWM, Gordini, Maserati, Cooper and Connaught, the Scuderia Ferrari kicked off the season very well with Piero Taruffi winning the first of eight World Championship rounds. Although part of the championship, the subsequent Indy 500 was run under different regulations. Ferrari did send a team of V12 engined cars, derived from the 1951 F1 machine, to the United States but they stood no chance against the purpose built 'Roadsters.' Once back in Europe, Ferrari's lead driver Alberto Ascari won all six of the remaining rounds. Not surprisingly Ascari was crowned World Champion at the end of the year, followed in the standings by his team-mates Giuseppe 'Nino' Farina and Taruffi.
Even though the competition had a full year to get up to pace with Ferrari's 500 F2, the domination continued in 1953. This year Ascari managed to win 'only' five of the nine rounds. Mike Hawthorn and Giuseppe Farina also crossed the line victoriously. Needless to say, the Indy 500 was a lost cause again. The 500 F2 was finally beaten in a World Championship in the final race of the 1953 season. It was the great Juan Manuel Fangio in a Maserati that managed to break the Ferrari stronghold. In addition to six works cars, Ferrari also built five 500 F2s for privateers. They were raced very effectively in 1952 and 1953 in non-championship races all over Europe. Rudi Fischer and Louis Rosier were particularly successful.
After two years Formula 1 was reinstated for the 1954 season. With a 2.5 litre displacement limit, the regulations differed only in detail, giving the manufacturers ample opportunity to 'upgrade' their existing designs. With its original 2.5 litre displacement, Ferrari's straight four could be easily adopted to serve as the team's new Formula 1 engine. The resulting 625 F1 was however outpaced by the far more advanced Mercedes-Benz W196 and subsequent Lancia D50. Froilan Gonzales nevertheless won the 1954 British Grand Prix and Maurice Trintingant took a victory at Monaco in 1955 after Ascari steered his Lancia into the harbor. Lampredi's four cylinder engine was also used for a host of highly successful sports racers like the 500 Mondial and 750 Monza.
With Ferrari's common practice of recycling old chassis for customer cars, it is impossible to say how many 500 F2s and 625 F1s were actually built. Most of the surviving cars were fitted with larger engines and continued to race for several more seasons. The four cylinder Ferraris were very popular in Australia and New Zeeland. Above all the 500 F2 will be remembered as the very first car that brought Ferrari the World Championship. Winning all but one of the European rounds in 1952 and 1953, it also remains as one of the most successful Grand Prix cars ever built.
In addition to the works cars, Ferrari built a total of five 500 F2 chassis for customers. This is the third built and was sold to Bobby Baird in Northern Ireland. He had bought it for Roy Salvadori to pilot but he enjoyed driving it so much that he raced it himself. In 1954 chassis 0188F was sold to Reg Parnell, who fitted it with a 625 F1 engine and campaigned it quite successfully in local events, scoring several victories. At the end of the year, he traded the car in for a newer 553 'Squalo.' Ferrari subsequently donated the car to the Biscaretti Museum in Turin. The car is seen here in the Galleria Ferrari in 2007 when the Biscaretti Museum was undergoing a complete renovation.
This Ferrari 500 F2 was the fifth of six examples built for Scuderia Ferrari. It was used throughout the 1952 and 1953 season by Alberto Ascari. Noted historian Doug Nye has described this car as "Possibly the most successful chassis in Grand Prix history." The car was also piloted by Maurice Trintingant and future World Champion Mike Hawthorn. After its Grand Prix career, it was sold with a larger version of the straight four engine. For the last decades it has been part of the superb Donnington Collection. At a rare outing, it is pictured here at the Hall & Hall stand of the 2009 Retromobile show in Paris.