The Tifosi of today, who cheer for Mrs.
Schumacher’s big boy, and who lust after the latest road-going
Ferrari’s should spare a moment for the people who have helped make
Ferrari the icon it is today. These include not only the late
energetic Enzo Ferrari, but also a couple of guys I call Gino and Nino
and a lanky Aussie by the name of Ray Helm and his Ferrari 195.
What has to be remembered, is that without a
history, marques like Ferrari would not be revered as they are today.
Without history, the Ferrari F50 would just be another supercar like
the Pagani Zonda C12S. “What’s a Pagani?” I hear you ask. Thank
you, I rest my case. (For those who really want to know, the Pagani
Zonda is a road going sports coupe with an AMG Benz V12 in the rear
producing about 550 BHP and does 185 MPH.)
Some of the cars that gave Ferrari its mystique
were the 195 Inters, produced between 1950 and 1951. They did not make
many of them and the factory concurrently built 166’s and 212’s.
All used the same basic chassis, the main difference being the engine
capacity (the model number is derived from the swept volume of one
cylinder). The number of “true” 195’s (as opposed to 166’s
that were bored out) is thought to be 27, but even the factory is not
sure. In a letter to a previous owner of Ray’s 195 the factory
admitted, “We are not in a position to know exactly how many cars of
this type were manufactured, but we can assume they were very few.”
Who said the Italians weren’t capable of understatement!
Now Ray’s example has not only a 195 engine, but
a special high performance one, a Ferrari 212 close ratio gearbox and
twin leaf suspension at the rear, prompting the question as to whether
this was the result of earlier restoration, bastardisation or was it
delivered like that?
This is where Gino and Nino come in (with apologies
to all my Italian friends). In those days, the main thrust of the
factory was towards the race cars, so it is not too difficult to
imagine the following conversation in one corner of the workshop.
“Hey Gino, we gotta no gearbox for da 195 for a da Swiss agente.”
“No problemo, Nino, usa da one for da 212 we gotta spare from lasta
week.” “Bene, bene, Gino, you are one smarta bastardo. I bolta in
da twin leaf suspensione too and she fitta bloody lovely now.”
You see, they built a road car with what was
kicking about, and the cars left as rolling chassis to go to the
various body builders in Europe. In Ray Helm’s case, this was to a
company called Ghia-Aigle, who were the Swiss Ferrari agents. This
company made three bodies, two of which followed the
Vignale-Michelotti design, but even they were slightly different.
Chassis number 0195EL is one of that pair, and is the one I have
personally driven. Ray Helm’s masterpiece of restoration - that took
two and a half years.
One of the reasons that restoring an old Ferrari
can be such a time consuming process is that you cannot get a workshop
manual for one of these beasts. Remember that Gino and Nino made the
car up as they went along, and the bodies were totally independent
from the Ferrari factory. So in answer as to where you go to find new
tail light lenses, the answer is that you have to make them yourself
from resin, using the original ones as moulds! That’s just what my
mate Ray had to do.
He did manage to glean a bit of the car’s early
history, it was manufactured in December 1951 and bought by Roberto
Bellorini, a Swiss engineer working in Lausanne. It was originally
delivered in a two-tone grey from the Swiss agents. In 1955 it was
bought by Hans Wirth, later to become the European GT champion, but he
only kept it for a few months and it went to America. It was purchased
by an American collector, Mark Dees in 1971 and at some stage in the
US it had been involved in a fairly extensive accident, and Dees had
stripped it for restoration, but apparently had given up and sold the
remains to Ray Helm in Australia in 1985.
It was with that background that Ray began the
Herculean task. So many traps for young players became evident. When
they put the grille together and then tried fitting it into the
bodyshell, it just didn’t fit. Was the grille wrong, or was it the
aperture? The final answer was that the American panel shop got it
wrong, the grille was OK.
I must admit it was a bit of a buzz being asked to
drive the Ferrari. It was certainly no modern sports car when I got my
bum in it in 1990. Noise levels were high, the thin wood rimmed large
diameter steering wheel felt antiquated, and the twin leaf rear-end
made the car very skittish in the tail on anything other than perfect
surfaces. I take my hat off to the drivers in the early 50’s who
raced these cars in the Mille Miglia, for example.
The non-synchro box took some getting used to as
well. It is all very fine banging the stick through with impunity, but
when the car is not yours and is the concourse winner and valued at
over 1 million Aussie dollars, you tend to be a tad cautious! Suffice
to say, I enjoyed the opportunity of driving another small piece of
history. They don’t often come your way.