Giosuè Boetto Cohen
A very storied Ferrari 166 Inter was ‘rescued’ by a pair of Belgian collectors, who brought it back to life with the expertise of Ferrari Classiche
This is the story of a very special Ferrari 166 Inter — first ‘born’ in 1950, then ‘reborn’ in 2019. While this particular model, bodied by Stabilimenti Farina, may not be the most beautiful rossa of all time, it is surely a work of art. And it was the appreciation of this car as an oeuvre that led Belgian cinema industry entrepreneurs Nicolas and Joost Bert to take on a costly restoration. As Nicolas Bert – who shares the pleasures and the ‘burdens’ of the reborn 166’s ownership with his father, Joost – explains: “It is a unique object. And it’s ours”.
Asked why these very first Ferrari cars have such allure – aside from their being the progenitors of a legend – Nicolas responds: “I think it depends on simplicity, on their essential beauty. The car’s lines, when examined closely, are simple. The shape is pure and, in some respects, more modern than that of other Ferrari of the same period. Just look at the rectangular radiator grille".
This is a car with a long and – at times – tormented history. After having been exhibited in auto shows in 1950 an 1951, the 166 began its 'private' life in the hands of Swiss motor racing driver Baron Emmanuel 'Toulo' De Graffenried, who won the British Grand Prix in 1949. But 'Toulo' used his new spider for only one year. The second owner was Charles-Edmond Tocchio, who was photographed whilst racing the Col de la Faucile in France and the 'Kilometre' of Eau Morte, in Switzerland. But in September 1953, the pictures stop. Eleven years later, the first coup de théâtre: the car is found rusting away in a junkyard near Zurich.
Robert De La Rive Boxe, a Dutch classic car dealer, senses a unique opportunity and buys it. Soon afterwards, he sells the wreck to Bernard Worth, a restoration expert in England. Worth believes the Farina chassis is beyond repair. Not only: he also decides to shorten the frame to fit it to the shape of a 'spyder corsa' made by Lorenzini Auto Sport. But he keeps the original radiator grille.
After Worth sold the car, it changed hands four other times, before reappearing at 'The Auction' in Las Vegas, in 1991. The event offered a unique opportunity, as it gave what remained of the original chassis 0063s a price: $204,705. A price which dropped to $90,500 in 1999, when the car was sold at Christie’s. No documents exist for the following nine years. But when the chassis reappeared – in 2008, at the “20th Annual Tecno Classica” event, in Essen — nobody recognised it. The red spider chassis was gone: in its place appeared a replica – quite well made – of a Touring barchetta.
Finally, in 2014 the car was offered to the Berts by another dealer. The two men knew it had lost most of its pieces. But the Touring design was pretty eye-catching and the price was right, so they bought it. The Brussels dealership advised its clients to seek the restoration expertise of Maranello and soon the Inter was back ‘home’, behind the original factory gates. There it was taken under the wing of Ferrari Classiche experts, who were challenged to ‘resuscitate’ one of the first Prancing Horse cars ever produced.
There wasn’t much original material to work with, but in Maranello they promised a miracle. Whilst technical documentation needed to rebuild – ex-novo – the engine and other mechanical components existed (the bill of materials even listed nuts and bolts), for the interiors and the chromed soft-top frame everything was much harder, as the Stabilimenti Farina had been shuttered in 1953.
The basis for the restoration were pictures from the period, research on somewhat similar Farina cars and documents found around the world. For more than two years the works advanced, with the owners coming every three months to inspect the progress. “And every time, what a surprise!” exclaims Joost. “How wonderful it is to see a team like Ferrari Classiche. Such passion and competence as I have rarely seen in my life”. It took the better part of two years, but at last the miracle was delivered — and the phoenix reborn.