History is littered with significant Ferraris. None as more import than the car before you. The Tipo 166 was the first Ferrari to win a major race. This particular Tipo 166 was also the first racing Ferrari to arrive in the United States.
Prior to World War II, Enzo Ferrari had distinguished himself as a superb race team organizer and a man who was best at being his own boss. Racing Alfas as head of Scuderia Ferrari, he was successful. Yet as an employee of the factory’s Alfa Corse, he lasted less than a year. Despite being barred from competition for four years by his Alfa agreement, Enzo competed anyway, producing two cars designated “815” (8 cylinders, 1.5 liters, conjured mostly of Fiat parts) under the marque name “Auto Avio Construzione”; the informed press called them “Ferraris” anyway. At the 1940 Mille Miglia, Europe’s last race for the duration of the war, an 815 broke the lap record and then broke down.
The war over, with the help of former Alfa engineer Gioacchino Colombo, Enzo was ready to do battle again. Now he could call his car a Ferrari. That it would be powered by a V-12 engine was the first decision made, purportedly because of the impression a V-12 Packard Double Six had made on him, perhaps also because Alfas were eights – and because a twelve promised maximum power with acceptable complexity. Ferrari began racing in 1947. Success proved Columbo’s V-12 a masterpiece.
In 1948 the new Tipo 166 was victorious in the Targa Florio in April and the Mille Miglia in May. That September, in the car on display, Luigi Chinetti won the 12 Hours of Montlhéry and returned to the track in November to break two-liter class records for the hour, 100 miles and 200 kilometers – all at 124+ mph.
Purchased from Chinetti and brought to the States in 1949 by Briggs Cunningham, this Tipo 166 (serial number 016-1) scored its first U.S. victory (Briggs driving) at the Suffolk County Airport Race on Long Island in May 1950. In June, at Bridgehampton, Sam Collier put up the fastest lap and placed second to Tom Cole’s 5.4-liter J-2 Cadillac-Allard. Tragically, that September, a crash at Watkins Glen took Sam’s life. The car was all but retired from competition soon after.
Photos – Peter Harholdt
Most race cars were non-competitive after their first campaign — the 1927 Vauxhall was competitive for 23 years (1927–1950) and you can see it in person. Learn more