While it may be a nigh impossible task to define the single most significant Ferrari model in the company’s illustrious 75-plus year history, plenty of standouts are worthy of vying for a spot among the top ten. Just as every work of art in the Louvre is significant enough to deserve a place in those hallowed halls, every Ferrari needs to be worthy of the Cavallino Rampante badge in some way, and there are many incredible machines worthy of consideration. Most historians would agree that the case for the Tipo 166 being at the sharp end of such a list is undoubtedly strong. This potent little racer with its jewel-like 2-liter V12 engine was the car that cemented Ferrari’s credibility as a manufacturer on the global motorsport stage. The 166 MM is the only car to win Mille Miglia, the Targa Florio, and the Le Mans 24 Hours. Luigi Chinetti famously drove 22 out of 24 hours at the French classic to bring his 2-liter 166 home ahead of many vastly more powerful machines, and deliver Ferrari their maiden victory at Circuit de la Sarthe. A week after that, another 166MM won the 24-hour race at Spa Francorchamps in Belgium and went on to score a plethora of victories in Europe and the USA.
Ferrari produced several variations of the 166, including the S, Corsa, and Mille Miglia, with odd serial numbers typically reserved for road cars and even serial numbers for competition cars. The final run of 13 MM chassis constructed in 1953 received a /53 designation, with updated spec to include 9.5:1 compression and a trio of massive Weber 36 IF/40 carburetors bumping output to about 160 horsepower. It also got a 120-liter fuel tank for endurance racing, all while keeping the weight below 1,800 pounds. These are the most potent variants of the 166 and, with just 13 produced, are highly sought after by collectors.
On home soil in the Mille Miglia, the 166 earned its “MM” moniker and its place in the hearts of countless Italians. In the USA, the sports car racing scene was heating up, and wealthy gentleman drivers lined up for a chance to buy “previously enjoyed” Ferrari 166s from Chinetti’s newly formed North American Ferrari distributorship.
Despite relatively low production numbers, the 166 amassed a tally of 88 victories between 1948 and 1955, putting it in rarified company among the winningest competition cars of all time.
1953 166 MM/53, S/N 0278 M
S/N 0278 M is the 6th of only 13 166 MM/53s produced and was equipped with rakish and lightweight spider coachwork by Vignale, one of Enzo’s favored coachbuilders of the early days. According to records provided by marque historian Marcel Massini, 0278 M completed factory testing in the early days of April 1953. Soon after, it was delivered to its first owner, Count Enrico Sterzi of Milan, who wasted no time putting the 166 to work, entering the Giro di Sicilia on April 12th, 1953. Alongside co-driver Enzo Pinzero, Sterzi scored a class victory in the car’s very first outing. The good fortune continued just two weeks later at the Mille Miglia, where Sterzi, with co-driver O. Rossi, brought 0278 M home in 15th overall – a mighty result for a privateer driving a 2-liter car in one of the most competitive road races in the world. Several period photos document its Mille exploits, with race number 446 reflecting its 4:46 AM start time.
The excellent results continued with an 8th overall at the Messina 10 hours in July 1953, with Sterzi sharing driving duties alongside Franco Cortese, and 3rd overall at the Pescara Coppa Acerbo 12 hours (Sterzi/Cortese). For the 1954 season, Sterzi entered 0278 M in the Mille Miglia, with Ugo Scotti signed up for driving duties, but the car did not start. Later in 1954, Count Enrico Sterzi sold 0278 M to Philip Toll Hill of Santa Monica, California. Of course, Phil Hill is best known as the USA’s first Formula 1 World Champion, but he was also an active sports car dealer, racer, restorer, and collector.
In 1954, Phil Hill sold 0278 M to MGM Studios in Hollywood. The studio bought the car with the intention of using it in their upcoming feature film The Racers starring Kirk Douglas and Gilbert Roland. MGM modified the coachwork, significantly reworking the nose and tail sections, adding faux side pipes, and making many detail changes. After the movie’s release in 1955, the studio sold 0278 M to Terry Hall of Pacific Palisades, California. He raced the car in its modified state in West Coast club events for the 1955 season before selling it to Richard Amon of Santa Monica.
In the early 1970s, Steve Griswold of Berkeley, CA, discovered 0278 M tucked away in an airport hangar and managed to acquire it. In 1973 the respected collector and vintage racer, the late Peter Giddings of San Francisco, added 0278 M to his collection. Giddings owned the 166 for a couple of years before selling it to another well-known Ferrari collector, P. Paul Pappalardo of Greenwich, Connecticut, in 1975. Pappalardo had the engine rebuilt by Griswold and, according to the most recent owner, removed the modified coachwork and set it aside. In 1980, the current owner acquired 0278 M from Pappalardo as a complete rolling chassis sans bodywork, and embarked on an extensive restoration.
The new owner commissioned the well-known East Coast Ferrari specialists Grand Prix SSR to perform a complete restoration, which included the construction of new coachwork in the style of the original Vignale design. The car was beautifully detailed and finished to a high standard, earning entry into the 1984 Monterey Historics and the 1984 Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance, where it scored 3rd in class H-2.
Since then, 0278 M has lived a quiet life in the hands of the same collector who purchased it more than 40 years ago and oversaw its restoration. It has been meticulously maintained through the years and remains in excellent condition, with a pleasingly mellow character that invites regular enjoyment. Notably, inspections have found that the chassis, engine, 5-speed competition gearbox, and rear axle numbers correspond with those on the factory build sheets. It retains the correct trio of Weber 36 IF 40 carburetors, 120-liter fuel tank, proper Magnetti Marelli electrics, Veglia instruments, and authentic touches like Marchal Optilux headlamps. From behind the wheel, the 166 MM/53 feels deft yet incredibly tough – like a ballerina in combat boots. The clutch and gearbox feel hewn from solid and are built to handle the incredible abuse of 1950s open road racing, while the steering is light and direct, and the V12 engine sounds considerably more potent than its 2-liter displacement might suggest.
There is no doubting the remarkable success of Ferrari’s first world-beating sports car, and chassis 0278 M represents the height of the 166’s development. Along with its lovingly maintained restoration, this car boasts exceptionally well-documented ownership and competition history, rarity as one of just 13 ‘53-spec examples, and eligibility for a wide range of historic motoring events. The availability of this marvelous 166MM/53 represents a rare opportunity to add an essential piece of Ferrari history to your stable.
Offers welcome and trades considered