Enzo Ferrari began his career in automobiles as a racer. However, when he would set up his own automotive company he would need a way to fund his passion for racing. He would start with sports cars that could be driven on the street, as well as, on the track. This would allow the man from Modena to move forward with his first single-seater grand prix car. In 1948, this car would make its debut. Then, in 1952 and 1953, the car would again find itself amidst the big stage of the rather new World Championship. The first single-seater model would be called the 166. The model would be updated and changed in order to race according to Formula 2 regulations in 1952 and 53. This model would become simply known as the 166 F2.
The design of the 166 all started around a V12 engine he had Gioachinno Colombo devise. This wasn't so much a special engine for just the grand prix car. It was meant to fit inside the full range of Ferraris chassis. Therefore, the chassis of the 166 would be built around the engine, instead of the engine being designed for the chassis.
The chassis that would be built for the engine featured some of the latest building techniques that allowed for a strong, rigid car, but that was also rather lightweight as well. The frame would use tubular steel to provide the strength and lighter weight. It was then designed in such a way that thin sheet metal panels could be mounted to the outside to provide a more aerodynamic shape.
Initially, the nose of the 166 was rather blunt, with a metal grille protecting the radiator hidden behind it. This profile of the nose would be changed over the years from when it was first introduced in 1948. The 1952 evolution, one of the last until the model number would appear again during the 1960s, would feature a somewhat lower nose, but one that pointed forward instead of slightly backward as the first model had.
A number of grille designs would be used depending on the team, the event and the season. Everything from flat to concave and convex shapes of grilles would be used on the nose of the 166F2, but the large circular design allowed for large amounts of air to be funneled through the radiator.
At the time the 166 was introduced, its suspension was quite good. The front consisted of a double-wishbone arrangement with a lower transverse lead spring for stability and handling. The rear suspension utilizes a solid live rear axle and lower longitudinal lead springs. Both the front and the rear suspension would utilize hydraulic dampers. The rear suspension would also use torsion bars for better stability.
At each corner of the car drum brakes would be used to provide the necessary braking power. Each of the drums would have the fins machined into the housing to provide cooling to the brakes. This would be done by the cooler air passing between the fins extracting the hotter air out through the drum housing.
The solid rear axle would remain on the car into the 1950s and on the F2 evolution of the chassis. Though not the best at the time, it would still provide adequate handling and stability for Ferrari's customers. The car was designed to be fitted with just about any other component a customer may have had a desire to use.
The same kind of flexibility would go into the V12 engine the car would be built around. Underneath the gently flowing lines of the 166 F2's nose sat a V12 engine that was purposely designed 'loose'.
Always looking ahead, the 166 was intended to be used in the brand new Formula One World Championship in 1950. For that reason, the engine was designed specifically to be adaptable to the rules. Initially, the engine was designed at 1.5-liters, which would have allowed the car to run with a Roots supercharger. This was the same arrangement that was used in the supreme Alfa Romeo 158 Alfetta. From this derivative of the chassis and the 1.5-liter supercharged engine would come the model 125 F1.
However, Colombo would design the engine in such a way that it also could have its displacement enlarged. This would come in handy when the Formula One World Championship would switch and run according to Formula 2 regulations, which prohibited blown engines.
Ferrari had developed the 166 specifically for competition in Formula 2. However, to be able to take part in the Formula 2 series the Roots supercharger would have to be abandoned. To help recover some of the lost power the engine displacement would be increased to 2.0-liters. As a result of the changes, the engine was able to produce 155 hp with the help of three Weber carburetors to feed the fuel and air mixture into the 60 degree V12. The induction pipes and carburetors would be fed fresh air via a low-profile scoop designed into the top of the engine cowling.
Being that the engine was a V12, it would generate a lot of heat. This heat would need to be eradicated from out of the bodywork. This necessitated a large number of louvers in the metal bodywork. While a long exhaust pipe running along the lower portion of the car was one of the options that would be used, there would be other times in which the 166 F2 would utilize only short exhaust pipes which protruded just out of the bodywork low on the left side.
Sitting behind the large V12 engine and the single piece windscreen was the driver's cockpit. Dependent upon the team, a number of mirror variations would be used, but no matter what was used they would flank the thin wood-trimmed steering wheel with the prancing horse emblem mounted in the middle.
Steering for the 166 would be accomplished through a worm and sector type of arrangement. And while many other manufacturers would create cars with rather simple arrangements for the driver, Ferrari, as usual, would feature nicely done leather seats. The instrument panel would feature a number of analog gauges and the five speed manual transmission gear lever was located to either the left or right of the steering wheel.
The normally aspirated 166F2 would weigh in with a rather hefty girth. At over 1500 pounds, the 166 F2 would suffer in performance with the 155 hp 2.0-liter engine. In spite of the three carburetors, the top speed of the car didn't touch 150 mph and it would take almost nine seconds to go from zero to 60 mph.
While the F2 car would achieve a good deal of success throughout 1950 and 1951, once the World Championship was switched to Formula 2 regulations like the 166 F2, it would soon be outpaced by many competitors, not least of all Ferrari itself with its Ferrari 500 F2. Undaunted, many privateer entries would continue to race the 166 F2 for a number of years. They would take advantage of its ability to conform with many parts from many different manufacturers.
Throughout its use in the 1952 and 1953 seasons, the model's greatest success would come in non-championship races. Fangio would score a victory with a model variant at the Grand Prix of Rio de Janeiro in 1952. Franco Comotti would score a 3rd place with the 166 F2 at the Grand Prix of Naples also in 1952.
In 1953, the Ferrari 166 F2 was still eligible to take part in the World Championship and non-championship races. There would be some privateer efforts that would use the car. However, the all-conquering Ferrari 500 F2 was also available for sale. As a result, many would drop the 166 F2 in favor of the powerful 500 chassis. This wasn't a surprise, but it brought about the end of the 166 until it was again introduced in the 1960s, also for a Formula 2 car. Sources:
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