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The elegance of the legend

11 marzo 2021

Ben Pulman

Today, on the 100th anniversary of the birth of Gianni Agnelli, a unique exhibition opens at the Museo Enzo Ferrari. This specially curated display brings together the one-off cars built by Ferrari for Gianni Agnelli and meticulously customised in close collaboration with him – including two very special ‘barchettas’…

A legendary figure in Italy, Gianni Agnelli was an industrialist raised to take charge of Fiat, his grandfather having founded the company. He would become its CEO in 1963, and Chairman three years later – but he was a Ferrari enthusiast and customer long before.

Agnelli’s proposals for highly customised special versions of Ferrari models were consistently courteous and respectful of the company, and his close relationship with Enzo Ferrari produced a collection of peerlessly beautiful and seductive cars.

Gianni Agnelli’s first vehicle from the Prancing Horse came in the form of the elegant 166 MM Touring Superleggera. Agnelli was so captivated by it at the 1948 Turin Motor Show that he coined a new term to describe its sleek lines – and the word ‘barchetta’ (meaning ‘little boat’) has been used ever since to describe open-top racing cars. 

The 166 MM made in 1950 for the Avvocato – or the Lawyer, as Agnelli was affectionately known – was a one-off, meticulously customised in striking green and blue two-tone paintwork, together with a bespoke cabin. 

Stewardship of the car subsequently passed to Belgian Viscount Gery d’Hendecourt, who competed in the car. Later, it was owned by Ferrari distributor and founder of the Ecurie Francorchamps racing team, Jacques Swaters, who after buying and selling it multiple times, finally decided to keep it for himself. He ultimately commission a full restoration, that led to this special car being displayed at the New York Museum of Modern Art in 1993. Most recently it was the Coppa d’Ora, the ‘Best of Show’ voted for by the public, at the 2015 edition of the Concorso d’Eleganza Villa d’Este.

This was the first close collaboration between Enzo Ferrari and Gianni Agnelli, but it was far from the last. The unique exhibition, entitled ‘Gianni Agnelli and Ferrari. The elegance of the legend’, is a testament to the symbiotic relationship that developed between two of the most charismatic and authoritative figures of the 20th century, and one which endured for over 50 years.  

Agnelli continued to expand his collection of Ferraris throughout the rest of his life, all of them tailored to the personality of this very special client. The cars on display range from a three-seat prototype with a central driving position, to one-off Testarossa and F40s models. Fittingly though, given his relationship with Ferrari started with a barchetta, his last commission was just such a car too. 

This time the basis was the 360 Spider, which Agnelli had turned into a one-of-a-kind 360 Barchetta. The windscreen and folding fabric roof were removed, to be replaced with a discreet aero screen and subtle buttresses behind the headrests. The mid-mounted 3.6-litre V8 remained on display behind the engine cover, but new rear bodywork was produced to create this extreme one-off open-top. 

Like many of the bespoke Ferrari models commissioned by Agnelli, the 360 Barchetta was finished in a silver-grey livery, while the interior – which featured the F1 paddle shift gearbox – was finished in elegant blues. This car was not for Agnelli though. Rather, it was presented as a gift to then Ferrari Chairman Luca di Montezemolo on the occasion of his wedding on 7 July 2000.

The exhibition is officially open from today, 12 March, but until government regulations allow the Museo Enzo Ferrari’s exhibition halls to open to the public, Ferrari will be organising two free virtual live tours each day until 1 April. These can be booked at the Museums’ website