It’s curious to think how Enzo Ferrari, such a visionary and authoritative character, had a certain reluctance towards everything that was distant from wherever he was. He had never liked to travel and as the years passed, he did so less and less. For him, Modena was the centre of the world “in Modena I am Ferrari, anywhere else I’m just one of many” he used to say. But in many ways his talent helped him overcome his reluctance to become international.
Ferrari developed different models starting from the original 125, increasing the engine displacement and bringing the shape closer to a single-seater design. This is the 166 Intercorsa that debuted in 1948.
It only takes two names to describe the turning point: Tazio Nuvolari and Luigi Chinetti, two old friends-enemies. Both were to leave a lasting mark of the creation of the Ferrari legend.
In 1948, after a string of rivalries, alliances and betrayals in the 1930s, Nuvolari returned behind the wheel of one of Enzo Ferrari’s cars, only this time it was actually built by Ferrari, which made headlines across the globe.
Final check. Nuvolari was dominating the 1948 Mille Miglia behind the wheel of the 166 Inter S even though he had lost his engine hood and a fender. The dream was to vanish forever shortly after discovering that one of the leaf springs had broken.
The great champion entered the Mille Miglia with the 166 Inter S. He was ill, and his doctors tried in vain to get him to renounce this crazy endeavour. He was already 55 years old but the fire of his extraordinary talent still burned as bright as ever. Alfa also wanted him for the event but Ferrari, cleverly, put him behind the wheel of one of his creations.
The image that everyone would have wanted to see: Nuvolari victorious in Brescia. It would have been the most extraordinary conclusion of the long relationship between Enzo Ferrari and the great driver.
The race was an epic one: Nuvolari was firmly in the lead with the finish line almost in sight. He lost the engine hood, snapped off a fender, broke the seat fastenings of his companion. But the car drove sensationally. In Reggio Emilia, where Ferrari was waiting for him, they discovered that one of the leaf springs had broken. They forced him to retire. A Ferrari won all the same, driven by Biondetti, but Nuvolari was the real hero and the news spread fast. To thank him, Enzo offered him one final car for the race in Mantua, his hometown, in memory of his two sons, both of whom had died at the age of 18. The moment was a touching one, Nuvolari shot into the lead and drove undisturbed until he suffered a stroke on the fourth lap. His body no longer responded. He died in his bed after a life of risk, five years later. Ferrari went to his funeral.
1948 Mille Miglia. Ferrari won in any case, with Biondetti driving the 166 Coupé Allemano
But, if this introduction to our story appealed to the heart, the conclusion, the one that introduced him to Luigi Chinetti, went straight to the wallet. Ferrari was very ambitious and wanted to be able to finance himself. Victories at the races were never going to be enough to finance an already well-established company and any future models were going to require a considerable amount of money.
Nuvolari’s final race in a Ferrari. In Mantua, his home city, during the race dedicated to the memory of his two sons. Now 55, he was in the lead but was forced to retire due to an illness. His career was coming to an inexorable end.
From Italy, and also Europe, wealthy drivers such as the Marzotto brothers had begun to appear, but it was Luigi Chinetti’s visit that turned Ferrari’s fortunes around. The two knew each other: Chinetti had started out as an Alfa Romeo mechanic working on Antonio Ascari’s P2 at the 1925 French GP. During the race, Alberto’s father lost his life. Luigi Chinetti decided to remain in France and became an excellent driver - two victories at Le Mans and others in important endurance races, including Spa - but also a valuable consultant to wealthy enthusiasts. He moved to the United States in 1940 to organize the participation of René Dreyfus in the Indianapolis 500 and did not return to Europe which by now was at war, and instead built his American future by exploiting his knowledge of European races and the cars that competed in them.
September 1948. The first Ferrari F1, the debut at Monza with the 125 C. The engine was the 1500cc V12 designed by Gioachino Colombo.
When Chinetti showed up in Maranello in 1948, he had already guessed the commercial potential of the cars from Maranello in the United States. First he tried to convince Ferrari to officially race at Le Mans but, faced with Enzo’s fear of not being ready for such a demanding endeavour, he bought two 166 MMs which went on to win at the 1949 Le Mans.
Ferrari’s first major international success came with victory at the 24 Hours of Le Mans in 1949. With the 166 MM, Luigi Chinetti, who went on to become the famous importer of Ferrari in America, dominated together with Lord Selsdon.
It was Enzo’s consecration: Chinetti had seen the potential and, despite being forty-eight years old, even drove one of the cars himself for 23 of the 24 hours! The American market was now wide open. From that moment, Chinetti became a sort of bank for Enzo: every year he guaranteed important sales in the United States guaranteeing numerous purchases, which allowed Enzo to sleep more peacefully at night. This was what Chinetti meant to Ferrari. A role that far too few have recognized.
24 Hours of Le Mans 1949: Chinetti on his way to victory after driving 23 of the 24 hours of the race!
Just three years after opening for business, Ferrari now had the solid foundation to aim for the next Formula 1 Championship or World Championship whose first edition was scheduled for 1950. His opponents? First of all they were Italian: Maserati and... Alfa. That is correct. The same Alfa with the 158, refreshed and rebadged 159, which had been built in Modena, in the Scuderia. Scuderia Ferrari.
Franco Cortese, one of the key figures in the early success of Ferrari for his skilful work as a driver and above all a test driver.
CLASSIC CAR MATCHER