The Ferrari 166 MM “Barchetta” gave Ferrari the identifiable car it needed to establish itself on the world's automotive stage.
Enzo Ferrari had been producing cars for little more than a year when his marketing instincts took over. The handful of machines he had made ranged in appearance from homely to plain, at best.
The immortal Ferrari 166 MM “Barchetta” changed that. The “MM” designation stood for Mille Miglia, the famed 1,000-mile Italian road race won by a Ferrari in May 1948. The “166” referenced the displacement in cubic centimeters of one of the engine’s cylinders.
The Ferrari 166 MM Barchetta was originally described as
"a little boat." See more Ferrari images.
For its seminal shape, Ferrari turned to Carrozzeria Touring, Italy’s most prestigious designer and manufacturer of car bodies at the time. Ferrari knew the firm from his Alfa Romeo days, when the coachbuilder was building an incredible variety of street and race-winning competition cars. Touring also designed and constructed the body and cockpit for Ferrari’s first-ever cars, a pair of open two-seaters released in 1940 as the Auto Avio Costruzioni 815.
Touring’s designs were not only stunning but extremely weight efficient, thanks to the company’s patented “Superleggera” coachbuilding system. Superleggera means “super light” in Italian, and that was the goal of Carrozzeria Touring -- to make its bodies as svelte and aerodynamic as possible. “Weight is the enemy and wind the obstacle” was how company cofounder Felice Bianchi Anderloni summed up the firm’s philosophy.
Like all coachbuilders, Touring received a chassis from a manufacturer such as Ferrari. The carrozzeria’s craftsmen would then make up a frame composed of small-diameter metal tubing that was shaped on a jig; they then gas-welded the tubing together. The frame resembled the shape of the car’s body, and it was arc-welded onto the chassis. The thin aluminum body panels were formed by hand or made by mechanical hammers and welded to the supporting tube frame. The resulting package was quite rigid, durable, and very lightweight.
“Enzo Ferrari was a very clever man,” remembered the man who styled Touring’s 166 models, Carlo Felice Bianchi Anderloni, Touring’s head of design. “He recognized he needed a sophisticated, uniform appearance so that when a number of his cars lined up at races such as the Mille Miglia, people would recognize that they were Ferraris.”
Anderloni had two reasons to work exceptionally hard on the project. Ferrari was a well-known name in Italy’s automotive world. And Carlo’s father, Felice, had unexpectedly passed away; the industry was wondering whether the son could carry on with the same degree of creativity.
The Ferrari 166 MM engine is a 1996cc V-12, and produces
up to 140 horsepower.
“My first impression was a car for Ferrari should not look like something already seen, for the name ‘Ferrari’ was new, as were the engine and chassis,” Anderloni said. “This meant the body should also have a new appearance -- not extravagant, but technical, something that was fresh.
“In my mind it was absolutely imperative to give Ferrari his own ‘emblem’ -- an identity.”
Anderloni met with Ferrari engineer Gioachino Colombo to brainstorm ideas. Ferrari then supplied the dimensions of the tube frame, 140-horsepower 2.0-liter V-12 engine and other mechanical components.
Even with the pressure on him, the creative process was immensely satisfying for the stylist. Carlo’s mind was always working, and Ferrari had given him a blank sheet of paper. Like his father, Carlo would often wake during the night, roll over and grab the pad of paper on the bedside table, then scribble some notes.
Touring’s Ferrari 166 “Spyder da corsa” (racing spyder) was first seen at the Turin Auto Show in September 1948. Its arresting looks astounded all, including Italy’s most prominent automotive journalist, Giovanni Canestrini. “When he saw the open two-seater,” Anderloni remembered with a smile, “he said, ‘I am stunned, for that is quite unsettling. That is not a car; it is absolutely new! That is a little boat -- a barchetta!’”
The name stuck, the model being forever associated with it. Not only would Barchettas go on to win many races for Ferrari, but its revolutionary looks would influence scores of sports cars, from Alfa Romeo’s famed Disco Volante to Shelby’s AC Cobra.
Several months later, Anderloni designed a closed coupe that also used the Ferrari 166 MM’s chassis. This berlinetta was primarily a competition machine, its fastback styling taking cues from the Barchetta.
The Ferrari 166 MM would soldier on into 1953, and other coachbuilders, such as Vignale and Zagato, made bodies for the chassis. But it was the designs from Touring that were instrumental in giving Ferrari its first “face,” and they will always be most closely associated with the 166 legacy.
The Ferrari 166 MM berlinetta is a closed coupe design
inspired by the Barchetta.
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