Restoring The World's Oldest Ferrari

Ferrari enthusiast Jim Glickenhaus has a new project: A full restoration of the world's oldest Ferrari, a 1947 166 Spyder Corsa that was the first vehicle Enzo Ferrari sold bearing his name. Why? So he can keep driving it.

Here's what Enzo Ferrari heard when he started the '47 Spyder:

The early days of the Scuderia Ferrari came about through hand-to-mouth survival. Post World War II Italy wasn't exactly pining for Grand Prix race cars, and Enzo Ferrari lacked the resources of former employer Alfa Romeo. Racing to win was Ferrari's first goal; selling cars to customers only paid the bills of the racing shop.

The basic, agreed-to facts of Ferrari's beginnings say Enzo built three chassis for racing, using a 1.5-liter, 12-cylinder supercharged engine dubbed the 125 for the displacement in a single cylinder, tied to a then-unusual five-speed gearbox. After their debut in March 1947, Enzo bored out the engines, first to 159, then to 166, the version that won the 1947 Turin Grand Prix.

From here, heads start exploding. Enzo's first sale was the car that won at Turin, numbered as car #002 in December 1947 and known as the 166 Spyder Corsa. That car was the third chassis assembled by Ferrari; the first, dubbed 01C, crashed during practice in 1947. Yet one of the models sold soon after 002, known as 001C, may have been made from some portion of 01C. The second car, after a number of race crashes, was also re-numbered and sold.

Glickenhaus, who bought the #002 in 2004 for $777,500, maintains his is the oldest surviving Ferrari, sporting its original frame, engine (still stamped "159") and gearbox among several other pieces. The 001C appeared in public for the first time in decades in 2006, with its owner claiming it as the "world's oldest Ferrari." But that 166 lacks its original engine, and uses a Ford rear differential. Despite theological levels of scrutiny and debate among Ferrari owners and historians - which Glickenhaus has spurred - no detailed exam of the 001C has emerged to show how much of Enzo's original handiwork remains.

The 166 Spyder Corsa has passed through about a dozen owners in the years since, with a few restorations; at one point its 1950s bodywork was sold for $300. Many owners of cars with half the value and none of the history of the Spyder Corsa only roll them on and off trailers. But Glickenhaus doesn't believe in trailer queens; as his Ferrari forum tag line says, "not putting miles on your Ferrari is like not having sex with your girlfriend so she'll be more desirable to her next boyfriend."

Restoring The World's Oldest Ferrari

Keeping a 63-year-old V12 in running and historically correct condition takes a level of meticulousness that few possess or afford. Glickenhaus does, and his ability to care for Ferraris goes well beyond building the P4/5 Competizione for Le Mans. During its last removal, Glickenhaus' personal Ferrai mechanic set the timing on the engine with the little dot of yellow paint - the exact same paint used by the workers who built the engine in the Ferrari scuderia

The new project goes beyond daily care to a every-bolt restoration of the 166, to its appearance when crossing the finish line in Turin in 1947. Glickenhaus explains:

Even with our restoration the years had taken a toll on her. Her chassis was sagging which was distorting her body. Her engine was on the edge and if something went wrong we didn't want to grenade the oldest existing Ferrari engine. The same with her gearbox. Basically on the day these cars were built to last a race.

Restoring The World's Oldest Ferrari

The valves in those 12 cylinders of history are closed by mousetrap springs, which Glickenhaus says can't be re-created to match their current state. The restoration will use coil springs and modern bearings for engine and gearbox which he says will "give them a chance to survive my driving and using this car."

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The restoration has been underway in Modena, with Brandoli handling the body and SportAuto the mechanicals. Glickenhaus plans to parade the restored 166 when the P4/5 race at the 24 Hours of Nürburgring in June, following Le Mans. There's no better place for history to run again.

Restoration Photo Credit: Tad Orlowski