Newsletter 60 – A ROAD CAR WITH AN F1 ENGINE
FERRARI GOT VIGNALE TO BUILT A ROAD CAR WITH AN F1 ENGINE, AND THERE’S ONLY ONE!
This Vignale bodied Ferrari 250 Europa is powered by an engine that was designed for a Formula 1 car and wears bodywork made by a panel-beater, who quit his job at Pininfarina only five years earlier to start his own company. Car enthusiasts overuse the word “special”, but this car really is special! Of the 22 Europa’s built, this is the only one with this body.
Today, Ferrari is one of the most recognizable brands in the world, in 1953 however, the company was only six years old and the name was effectively unknown outside the realm of motor sport, and that’s a shame really, because they were making stuff like this.
If you’ve never seen a Ferrari that looks like this, it’s hardly surprising. During this period, Ferrari almost never made the bodies of their cars themselves, instead, a number of coach builders designed and built the bodies, and this is one of two made by Vignale. Underneath this extraordinary coachwork is the first ever Ferrari 250, an iconic model that would become Ferrari’s first volume production series. At the time of manufacture though, it had more in common with the low production models that came before it.
Ferrari began to produce road cars as early as 1949, understanding that enthusiastic and wealthy owners would part with cash to drive a thoroughbred race car on the street, something which interested Enzo only so far as the “cash” component was concerned. His first love was racing, a profoundly expensive activity, and the sale of road cars to bankroll his motorsport obsession was an integral part of the Ferrari business in the early years. During this period, a variety of Italian coach builders like Bertone, Scaglietti, Pininfarina, Ghia and Zagato, designed and built bodies for Ferrari, so there were no standardized designs for what a Ferrari should look like. But even in this context, Vignale’s work stood out.
In 1947, Ferrari’s first year of existence, they built three cars, followed by five more in 1948 and 21 in their third year. The majority of their early cars received clean, formal even sombre bodies, by touring or occasionally Pininfarina, but by 1950, Enzo had decided to transition a significant portion of the work to Vignale, a company which was only two years old, but had rapidly established itself as a builder of flamboyant, intricately decorated designs, which reflected the bold visions of the men behind it.
Alfredo Vignale was a panel-beater who started his career at Stabilimenti Industrali Giovani Farina, as a teenager and founded his own firm in 1948 at the age of 33. Working together with designer Giovanni Michelotti, Vignale was incredibly prolific and creative, producing hundreds of bodies, including more than 150 for Ferrari, between 1950 and 1954. Despite this volume they never produced more than about a dozen of the same body design for any Ferrari. Many designs, like the 250 Europa, were produced in tiny numbers. As little as one, two or maybe three examples.
The mechanical bits designed and built by Ferrari were closely related, or in some cases, identical to the hardware used in their racing cars. Although the Ferrari company was only a few years old at this point, they had already earned a well-deserved reputation for making world-class sports cars. Before starting his own company, Enzo Ferrari had driven and ultimately managed Alfa Romeo’s legendary Grand Prix team and with the relationships and knowledge he built there, Ferrari’s own racing team was properly competitive from the beginning. The first car Ferrari built won on its second outing and the following year, 1948, a Ferrari won the Mille Miglia, a feat they would repeat for the next five years in a row. Their first Le Mans Victory followed in 1949 and so the Ferrari motorsport legend was already well established by the start of the 1950’s
Ferrari road cars of this period evolved quickly, the first ones used 2-liter v12’s, designed by Colombo, which gave way to 2.3L and2.5L versions within three or four years. In 1953 Ferrari’s production exceeded 50 units for the first time, and it was starting to become clear that the company would need to standardize its designs and manufacturing to continue its growth. Vignale had always made its bodies by hand, which limited their capacity, so Ferrari turned to one of the most established Italian coach Builders, Pininfarina, to supply most of the bodies for their newest model, the 250 Europa. Of the 22 examples built, 18 had Pininfarina bodies and the other 4 were by Vignale. From that point on, Pininfarina had what was effectively a chokehold on Ferrari designs. With the exception of the Bertone designed 308GT4, every standard production Ferrari Road car, for the next 60 years would be styled by Pininfarina.
This Europa 0313 EU is very special because of how it fits into all of this. It is among the last Vignale bodied Ferraris ever made. Only six more were made after this car, but it is also one of the first Ferrari 250’s made, the model which would ultimately turn Ferrari into a serious volume manufacturer. Curiously, the Europa is the only variant of the dozens of types of 250’s made that use the lampretti engine, while every other variant used the smaller Columbo engine instead. This unique collection of attributes makes for an extraordinary car and that’s before it was even sold to its first owner.
Finished in late 1953, this car was first brought to the United States for display at the New York Auto Show in January of 1954, by Luigi Chinetti. Chinetti had set up shop in Manhattan as the first American distributor for Ferrari automobiles.
Chinetti sold the Europa to its first owner right after the New York Auto Show and it lived in Massachusetts until the second owner bought it in 1958. A resident of New York, he used it as his daily driver. After getting married the following year, he drove it across the United States with his new wife to pursue a new job in San Diego. He kept the car for a few more years before selling it on when his son was born, and needed a bigger car. The Europa remained in California for the next 50 years, initially on the road after receiving a supercharged Corvette engine swap and a repaint in purple, and later lived in storage for a few years, after being painted red again. In 2009 a Swiss collector, and Vignale expert, bought it and performed a painstaking restoration to the car’s original specification, just as it was when it was displayed at the New York Auto Show.
Today the car functions just as it should which is a rolling embodiment of everything Ferrari felt was ideal for motor racing in the early 50’s.
It is an expression of a culture and values that are so different from today’s. To experience this car is to transport yourself to a different era. This is a car for touring that is properly grand. Suddenly you find yourself with incredibly good taste, living in a world that no longer exists.
This car doesn’t have character, it defines and embodies what character is!