1951 Ferrari 212 Export Vignale Cabriolet

Ferrari’s first production racing car, the 166 MM, was introduced late in 1948. In the following years the model evolved into the 195 Sport, 212 Export, 225 Sport and finally the 250 MM.

For anyone familiar with Ferrari nomenclature, it will not come as a surprise that each of these cars had a slightly larger version of the Colombo V12 engine. Starting in the 166 MM at a discplament of 2 litre (a unitary displacement of 166 cc), the engine grew in size to 3 litre (250 cc) within five years. The chassis remained virtually unchanged, while the various coachbuilders added plenty of variety.

The origins of the single overhead camshaft engine lay with designs penned by Gioacchino Colombo way back in 1946. With Grand Prix racing in mind the initial displacement was just 1500 cc. In Naturally Aspirated form the big successes came once the V12 was enlarged to two litres with victories at Le Mans and in the Mille Miglia. This gain in cylinder size was achieved by increasing both the bore and the stroke to 60 mm and 58.8 mm respectively. The bore would grow further, but the stroke remained the same in all future applications of the Colombo engine.

The first evolution came in 1950 with the displacement lifted to 2.3 litre on four existing 166 MMs to create the 195 S. The following year the bore was raised to 68 mm for a swept volume of just under 2.6 litre. Fitted to the 212 Export chassis, it was good for a healthy 150 bhp. A total of 27 examples were constructed and during the year a shift in favoured coachbuilder became apparent. All but five of the 166 MMs were bodied by Touring, yet less the Milanese carrozzeria worked on less than half of the 212s. Vignale of Turin handled as many cars as Touring and that trend would continue with the next customer racing Ferrari.

In 1951 there also was a slight evolution in the chassis design. The original elliptical-section tubular frame was, for a select few models, replaced by a smaller diameter tubular frame with additional cross braces. Known as the ‘Tuboscocca’, the new chassis was slightly lighter and more rigid. What remained the same was the very short wheelbase, the double wishbone front suspension with a transverse leaf spring and the live rear axle. Stopping power was provided by drum brakes all around and the engine’s horses were transferred to the rear wheels by a five-speed gearbox.

Competition from other manufacturers as well as the larger engined Ferrari Works cars had really picked up in the early 1950s. The smaller customer cars were now rarely in contention for overall victories in major events, but still remained highly competitive in local races, particularly in Italy. In 1952 the cylinders were bored out a further 2 mm, raising the displacement to 2.7 litre. Compression was also increased, which helped bump the power to a very impressive 210 bhp figure for the 225 S. With the exception of a single Touring Barchetta, all 2.7-litre engined cars received coachwork from Vignale.

Ferrari’s annual increase in engine size ended that year. The company’s engineers settled on a bore and stroke of 73 mm and 58.8 mm respectively, which yielded a displacement of 2953 cc. This engine was first fitted to the 1952 Mille Miglia winning 250 S, which would form the basis for a whole range of Ferrari road and racing cars that would win every major race. So the 166 MM, 195 S, 212 Export and 225 S were not only a commercial and competition success for the fledgling company, they also laid the foundation for a very bright future for Ferrari.

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