The name Pinin Farina is synonymous with many of the greatest Ferraris of all time. Ross Alkureishi takes to the road in one of the carrozzeria’s very first collaborations with Maranello. Photography Alex Tapley.
Ferrari 212 coupé prototype driven Symbiotic Dawn. On the road in one of Maranello and Farina’s first collaborations – the exquisite Ferrari 212 Inter. The start of a berlinetta dynasty – Farina and Ferrari united with the 212 Inter.
Is it a Bristol, mate?’ cries an onlooker as I rumble slowly past, wedged fore and aft by school-run mothers and respective child cargoes in their monstrous German 4x4s. To be fair, from his side-on viewpoint – long elegant snout, straight flanks, broken only by a slight kick in the swage line on the rear wing, and high glasshouse cabin – it’s a semi-reasonable guess, although my returned head shake denotes no cigarillo for you my friend.
Up closer now, he clocks the Pinin Farina badge on the lower front wing. He nods knowingly in a manner that seems to suggest his inner thought process – Ah, Italian. But as I continue on and he sees the large chrome Ferrari script on the bootlid, his newfound confidence is obliterated. ‘No way,’ I hear him shout. ‘A Ferrari? Really?’ I’d reply ‘Way,’ but with traffic now moving, the legendary Colombo V12 up front is starting to sing an enticing tune.
Discreet isn’t necessarily the word you’d instantly reach for when describing most Ferraris. However, clad in its Blu Azzurro Maserati and white coupé body, with Borrani wire wheels, this 212 Inter seems a far cry from the screaming Rosso Corsa-coloured racing Barchettas of the late Forties and early Fifties; the very ones that set the products of Enzo Ferrari’s Scuderia on their irresistible path to the top of the automotive tree.
Except it’s not. Remove the coachwork and you’ll find the same tough tubular chassis design and mechanicals as its shorter-wheelbase 212 Export and Barchetta brethren. What that means is that this is a sleeper – a racing car wearing civvy clothes. It’s also one of Ferrari’s lesser-known crown jewels; the very first Pinin Farina-clothed coupé, and only right-hand-drive example from the carrozzeria’s 15 built. Whisper it, prototipo. Then, to maintain driving sanity, forget it and pretend it’s any (ahem) old Ferrari.
Threading it along slowly is giving me plenty of time to analyse the low-speed experience and it’s a physically intensive, if surprisingly docile, one. The unassisted steering requires regular hefty manful manipulations of the large three-spoke light alloy Nardi steering wheel, but it responds wilfully to the driver’s inputs, while the clutch has a similarly beefy feel to it. The five-speed box gives its best when a positive hand is applied to the long lever on the way up, with a mid-change throttle blip changing down into the non-synchromesh first and second.
Suspension is firm and somewhat sharp, juddering over imperfections in the tarmac, but that’s more of a reflection on Blighty’s roads, because on smoother stuff it copes comfortably. Most surprising is that engine, which you’d think would be lamenting in protest and throwing a Latin hissy fit at all this suburban crawling. Nothing of the sort, it’s velvet-smooth and progressive, with plenty of low-down pick-up, an accompanying gently urgent song hinting at wilder times higher up the rev scale.
A quick burst of hard acceleration confirms this, the engine’s tone hardening instantly with a deep bark as its triple Weber carburettors greedily ingest air. Harder on the throttle and, while big US engines maintain a constant deep bass note, its low-down baritone tightens to the higher octaves of a deliciously malevolent howl. First use of the drum brakes reveal that the go/slow ratio is firmly biased in favour of the former – and pre-programmes your brain to future forward thinking in matters of the anchors.
The briefest of glimpses into its underlying character certainly whets the appetite, but also makes the disparity between that and its luxury interior all the more apparent. Inside, there are no slim bucket seats. Luxurious padding sees them distinctly more armchair in disposition and, although comfortable, force an antirace car, upright posture on the user. Large, centrally-positioned Jaeger dials, elegantly surrounded by chrome, dominate a classy body-coloured dashboard. In the rear there are two dinky seats, perfect for the Italian industrialist’s bambino future heirs, while all-round cabin visibility is superlative, especially at the rear, thanks to a three-piece panoramic rear window.
As I break free from the confines of town and hit the national speed limit territory of an A-road, the 212’s controls lighten perceptibly. The star of the show is undoubtedly the engine, which in 170bhp guise produces gutsy bouts of acceleration, its flat torque curve allowing unfettered access to power. Out here the car’s obedient in-town nature has dissipated, transformed into one of a hard-charging GT that disposes of high-speed sweepers with contemptuous ease. And yet, pop it into fifth, lighten your throttle foot and like all the best Italian GTs, the full caffeine hit of a double espresso is replaced by a smooth and creamy kilometer-devouring single-shot flat white.
To be fair to our ‘Bristol’ chap, if he’d viewed the front of the car with its high, circular headlights and large, oval grille first, his guess would no doubt have been different. He may have gone straight to the correct continent and deduced the visual similarities to Ferrari’s Barchettas; had he missed the prancing horse badge on the nose, it could have been ‘AC’, so close is the resemblance to John Tojeiro’s Ace (and the Aceca) it influenced. The 212 Coupé is definitely a design of paradoxes – racy at the front but, with its high roofline, slightly doughty from a front rear-quarter angle, and yet restrained and modest at the rear. It’s best viewed from side on, by far. In fact the overall impression is of a design house starting the search for its own Ferrari style.
That, of course, is something that quickly followed. In the early Fifties, with most manufacturers beginning to move away from separate chassis to monocoque construction, the time of the buyer turning to any one of the many artisan coachworks to clothe it was coming to a close. The surprise is that it would be Pinin Farina that would go on to become the company’s de facto house stylist.
Ferrari’s early cars including the 815 (built under the Auto Avio Costruzioni Modena banner, because of Alfa Romeo’s enforced ban on Enzo using his own name after he left), 125S, 159S and 166 had numerous bodies by any number of carrozzeria, but it was the 166MM Barchetta designed by Carlo Felice Bianchi Anderloni at Touring that initiated a recognisable Ferrari style.
Come the advent of the 212 in 1951 and Vignale had usurped its competitor, and was now clothing the majority of chassis – although by no means all, as an array of companies including Touring, Pinin Farina, Ghia, Fontana and Motto were still being utilised. Hell, even Abbott in the UK built one.
During a meeting at a restaurant in Tortona – symbolically halfway between their respective businesses – in 1951, a gentleman’s agreement was reached between Enzo Ferrari and Battista ‘Pinin’ Farina. As a result Pinin Farina would become Ferrari’s ‘house’ stylist.
The numbers certainly back this up; from producing 17 of 78 bodies on the 212 Inter chassis and five of six 342 Americas during 1952-1953, this rose to 33 of 35 250 Europa GTs and 30 of 34 410 Superamericas and Superfasts. During that decade and into the next, Pinin Farina went on to develop its elegant style highlighted by a wider front grille and rounded, more defined lines.
‘That relationship stretched right up to very recent times,’ explains DK Engineering’s James Cottingham. ‘If you think of great Ferraris then, whether one-offs or production models, its cars were arguably the best designs. One of the things you look for is that Pinin Farina design; the most iconic models, think 375MM Spider, the Rossellini car, Berlinettas, Short Wheelbase, Tour de France, amazing cabriolets, Super Americas, via the Lusso. You name your top 10 Ferraris, and eight are going to be Pinin Farina designed. This car is the start of that.
‘The 212 is pretty much as early as they get and every collection should have a 166 or 212 in it. This example is a really important part of Ferrari’s history. It’s the earliest Pinin Farina-bodied coupé – there were two cars before, 0177EL and 0235, both cabriolets – and the second bodied by the carrozzeria going by chassis number.’
This car, 0229 EL was completed by Pinin Farina on July 28, 1952, and delivered new to New York-based importer Luigi Chinetti in September. Its first owner was Allentown, PA-based heir to the Hess retail empire and serial exotic car buyer Max Hess Jr. With a flamboyant reputation, he was known to buy cars and in some cases give them away to employees and associates without even having driven them himself. The Inter, however, stayed in his ownership until 1964 when it was sold to T Dan Smith, a resident of Sherman Oaks, California.
At some point during the Seventies it suffered the indignity of having a Chevrolet V8 fitted. However, in 2001, and after changing ownership a further three times, it was reunited with its original Colombo V12 during a comprehensive restoration. Five years later it left the North America for the first time since 1952, when former 747 airline captain and Ferrari collector Warren De France bought and shipped the car to his home in Auckland, New Zealand.
Today it’s fresh from a recent restoration by Christchurch-based Auto Restorations, which makes the Tesco delivery van currently trying to squeeze past me a concern. To be fair, I’ve deviated from the main thoroughfares in order to test out the chassis on more demanding roads; I just didn’t expect this one to turn into a singletrack lane. ‘I don’t want to bump your lovely car,’ states the driver, as she narrowly squeezes past. If you’re going to a hit a car then this probably isn’t the one to do it to.
Obstacle negotiated, I gun the throttle and the 212 is propelled briskly up the hill, the sound of the twin exhausts reverberating off the surrounding woods. As the road returns to two-lane normality I hit the first tight corner, feel the steering load up, and it’s nicely balanced through with very little body roll. On my second attempt I take it a little harder and, as the lateral forces build and the Dunlop tyres reach the limit of their adhesion, the rear end starts to drift, so I ease off the power.
To be fair, it didn’t feel as if there was any danger of overcooking matters and ending up chewing tree bark. My gut instinct is that the car would continue to drift in a controllable manner – drivers of the stature of Piero Taruffi and Alberto Ascari were perfecting that particular art form long before Japanese fanboys took it up – but today it’s not something I’m particularly desperate to prove for obvious reasons. One million of them.
‘They say that Enzo Ferrari used to say you pay for the engine and the rest of the car comes with it, but that’s not necessarily true,’ says James. ‘Taken as gospel though, it’s not far from the truth. I’ve said it before, but it really is a masterpiece.’ The 60-degree all-alloy V12 had a single overhead camshaft per bank, each with its own coil, distributor and six-branch exhaust manifold. From a 1.9-litre capacity in the 166, it expanded – via the 195 – to 2.5 litres in the in the 212. In Grand Prix guise, the Colombo engine powered the supercharged 125 and non-blown 4.5-litre V12 race cars.
And I’m lucky to be sampling it, the original unit. To think it could have been a Chevrolet V8… sacrilege. And yet for many a US car, when the complex Italian power unit came to the end of its natural life, the natural choice to keep the car going would have been to reach for a home-grown lump. It’d no doubt have significantly upped the power too.
It wouldn’t have sounded like this though – sonorous, uplifting and a pleasure overload for the senses. Today, while the 166 Mille Miglia or Touring-bodied 212 Export SWB Barchetta are the pinnacles when it comes to early Ferraris, this 212 Inter can trace its roots directly back to those very early cars.
Right from the start, the legend of Enzo’s prancing horse blossomed on the race tracks of Europe and beyond. You can’t buy history. The 125 sports racer scored seven wins in Italian races in its first season in 1947, followed by the 166’s Who’s Who of victories – Le Mans, Spa, Targa Florio, Mille Miglia – and Piero Taruffi and Luigi Chinetti’s 1951 triumph on the Carrera Panamericana in a 212 Inter Export Vignale Coupe.
Even when new, the buyer of this car could bask in all that reflective racing glory, while enjoying the relative discretion afforded by its aesthetics. That glorious Colombo V12 would have devoured US highways with high-speed aplomb, but only until the urge to nip off and test that formidable chassis on significantly more demanding roads became irresistible.
Those echoes of victory remain, as do this 212 Inter’s origins at the very dawn of Pinin Farina’s magical Ferrari dynasty.
Thanks to: DK Engineering (dkeng.co.uk, 01923 287687) where this Ferrari 212 Inter Pinin Farina is currently for sale
TECHNICAL DATA FILE SPECIFICATIONS 1952 Ferrari 212 Inter
Engine 2562.51cc, sohc per bank V12, with triple Weber 36 DCF carburettors
Max Power 170bhp @ 6500rpm / DIN nett
Max Torque 152lb ft @ 5250rpm / DIN nett
Transmission Five-speed manual, rear-wheel drive
Steering Worm and sector
Suspension Front: independent by unequal-length wishbones, transverse leaf spring and Houdaille hydraulic dampers; Rear: live axle, semi-elliptic springs, Houdaille hydraulic dampers Brakes
Drums front and rear
Weight 1000kg (2205lb)
Performance Top speed: 124mph; 0-60mph: 7.5sec (est.)
Fuel consumption 19mpg
Cost new (1952 UK) £4000 (approx)
Asking price (2019 UK) £1million
‘It was reunited with its original Colombo V12 during a restoration’
No slides today, but Ross senses any breakaway would be progressive and controllable. Colombo’s Magnum Opus in 2.5-litre form, complete with a single overhead camshaft per bank. Behold the first Ferrari coupé that Pinin Farina bodied. Unassisted steering and non-synchromesh gearbox make the 212 an involving steer.
‘This is a sleeper – a racing car wearing civvy clothes… Whisper it, prototipo’
FERRARI’S DESIGN STRENGTH
‘The early Ferrari road cars were very much a reflection of its race cars, and this car is very similar,’ explains DK Engineering’s James Cottingham. ‘Fundamentally the only difference is that the chassis is a bit longer for space and comfort. Obviously the engine is detuned – no high-lift camshafts or big carburettors – and the brakes are smaller, but underneath it really is a similar car.
‘The Colombo V12 was a fantastically advanced engine for its time. Right through the Fifties and on to the Daytona the basic design stayed the same, albeit with huge development in capacity and cylinder heads. It’s a masterpiece.
‘The chassis was strong and heavy-duty. It wasn’t a simple ladder design with two main tubes, but had a bit of complexity built in right from the start. Those early 166 and 212 chassis frames were reinforced, which made them stiff and gave them torsional rigidity. Combined with the engine, it was a formula for success.
‘Designers of the time had cottoned on to lightweight design, but that made many cars fragile. Ferraris were always strong; they lasted the distance, but had the power and torque as well.
Handling may not have been up to competitors’ standards and they were heavier but that made them more rugged and durable.
‘With circuits as they were – like Le Mans, very fast, long and straight-edged – it played to Ferrari’s advantage. Compared to other cars of the period, they really don’t have any weaknesses.’