Story by Pete Vack
Despite a good working relationship with Enzo Ferrari, Carlo Abarth constructed just one Ferrari-based race car. Serial Number 0262M wore its Abarth bodywork for barely a season before shedding it for a Scaglietti suit. But exactly how the first body came to be is a moot point: Was it or was it not a Scaglione design?
As Abarth and Ferrari succeeded in their respective racing classes, the two men grew to respect each other’s accomplishments. In a 2003 interview with this author, Lorenzo “Renzo” Avidano, who was Carlo Abarth’s director of motor sports and right-hand man for the entire life of the company, says that Enzo Ferrari and Carlo Abarth “enjoyed a very good business relationship, and in fact did meet on several occasions.” In his very personal Una Vita Per L’Automobile, Ferrari describes Carlo Abarth as “a diligent and capable German.”
In March 1953 Carlo Abarth took on a Ferrari project offered to him by Giulio Musitelli of Bergamo. Musitelli had just purchased Ferrari 166 MM s/n 0262M from his friend Franco Cornacchia, a prominent Ferrari dealer in Milan. Musitelli and his brother Ferruccia both raced Ferraris, and Giulio often drove for Cornacchia’s Scuderia Guastalla (named for a small town near Mantua). Cornacchia wanted to have a unique body installed on his latest car, which was to be entered in the Italian Championship, and so obtained a bare chassis from Ferrari. This was not the accepted practice; dealers at the time received Ferraris already bodied by either Vignale or Ghia. Cornacchia was able to procure the newly completed chassis because of his success and good relationship with Enzo Ferrari. He was then able to move forward with his plan for a light weight body. S/n 0262M was completed by the Ferrari factory on February 2, 1953. After receiving the chassis, Cornacchia sold it to Musitelli, who would drive the car under the Scuderia Guastalla banner. In 1983, Ferrari historian Jess Pourret interviewed Musitelli in Italy. According to Musitelli, “It was Cornacchia’s idea to have a super light body, and he wanted me to try Abarth.” Abarth accepted, and the chassis was shipped to Turin.
It has been suggested that Franco Scaglione penned the proposed lightweight bodywork, but according to Lorenzo Avidano who witnessed the creation of the Abarth Ferrari, this was not the case. A panel beater by the name of Giuseppe Manera had been employed by Abarth as part of the Cisitalia takeover, and he was entrusted with fabricating the new lightweight Ferrari body. Cornacchia and Musitelli envisioned a body that would be both lightweight and fully removable, which would make maintenance easier and body repairs less expensive; Manera wanted to have as few panels as possible. To create a lightweight body with removable panels while being faithful to a particular design was no doubt a major challenge, even for the talented Manera. In less than two months, Manera had constructed nine separate panels and a supporting structure on the 166 MM chassis. Avidano watched as Manera created the new body, designing the car as he created it, allowing for the unique shape to conform to the particular means of fastening the body to the sub-structure, which he also created. “Franco Scaglione was not involved at all in the design process,” said Avidano. “Giuseppe Manera, from Piedmont near Turin, was the finest panel beater I have ever met. He worked hard and despite his fantastic abilities did not have a big ego. Manera [also] worked entirely by hand, not using the English wheel to perform his work.”
The late Restoration artist Wayne Sparling, who re-created the current body, also by hand, said that no panels were bigger than 3 x 4 feet. “And if you look very closely at the original photos, you can see welded joints, especially in the front near the driving lights.” Still, he admits that Manera must have been one of the best in a nation of excellent panel beaters. The demands of the customer had been met. The total package weighed in at 540 kg, or 1,190 lbs., compared with 800 kg (1,763 lbs.) for the later 166 MMs and 650 kg (1,433 lbs) for the earlier Touring barchettas. The nine panels were quickly removable via quick-release Dzus fasteners; contemporary reports called the car “beautiful.” Musitelli was eager to race the car, and Abarth finished it just in time for the Targa Florio on May 14, 1953. Contemporary Italian magazines, when describing the need for removable body panels, might have been referring specifically to Musitelli’s car when they wrote, “This is a difficult but proven truth, that a driver rarely completes the race without damaging the body, particularly during hard competitions.” Indeed, Musitelli went off the road and damaged the left front fender before finishing the Targa Florio in 21st position. Musitelli entered as many events as possible that year. He ran the Giro di Toscana on May 31 and the Circuito di Caserta on June 21. In July, Musitelli shared the car with a young Eugenio Castellotti at the Messina 10-hours and placed first in class. At Senigiallia in August, Musitelli took second in class, followed by first in class at the InterEuropa Supercortemaggiore at Monza in September.
During the winter of 1953-’54, Musitelli shipped the car to South America. Although it was competitive, Musitelli told Pourret that the Abarth body shook itself apart and had to be re-welded often. He placed second overall in the Rio Grand Prix before going to Argentina for multiple races at Interlagos. Shipping the car back to Italy, Musitelli had the engine repaired and upgraded to a full three liters. At the same time, he sent the chassis and body to Scaglietti, where the Abarth body was removed (and presumably destroyed) and a typical Scaglietti spyder body replaced Manera’s skillful handiwork. Musitelli sold the car, and it ended up where all old Ferraris went at the time: to the U.S. After a stint with Gary Laughlin and Lorin McMullen, it reached the hands of Paul Hill, who blew the engine and replaced it with a Chevy V8. Wisely, Hill kept the original block, heads and assorted pieces. He found another block from 0179EL and put the heads from 0262M on that engine before selling the entire package, with both engines, to Wayne Sparling in 1979. Sparling not only did the mechanical restoration, bringing the original 0262 engine back together, but recreated the daring and unusual Manera body using the same techniques. Working with .040-inch medium-grade aluminum alloy, a hammer, dolly and planisher, Sparling had little difficulty forming the complex panels in the same manner as the Abarth employee. “Working with medium-grade alloy and knowing how to anneal the metal is a well-known technique,” said Sparling.
After the recreation, one was able to look at the car in full size and in retrospect. We can’t help but think of Franco Scaglione when seeing the car. Shortly after the completion of the car, RM Auctions’ sports car specialist Jack Boxstrom said, “Visually this is the most unique Ferrari racing car I have ever encountered, and as I looked upon the daring and unconventional Abarth-Ferrari, so different from other Ferraris of the era, my first thoughts were of Franco Scaglione.” As Boxstrom notes, Scaglione joined Bertone in 1951, and his first design produced the Abarth 1500 Biposto coupe nominated for “Most Outstanding Car” at the 1952 Turin Motor Show. “When one tallies the visual inventory of that coupe and the Abarth-Ferrari in order to determine a designer for the latter, the conclusion leads us inexorably toward Franco Scaglione,” Boxstom says. “Elements like the startling central headlamp, twin nostrils, prominently scalloped fender wells and bladed rear fender tops provide, in my view, ample evidence for this supposition.” Jess Pourret also thinks that however good Manera may have been, it is unlikely that he had no drawing to follow. And that drawing could well have come from the pen of Franco Scaglione.
To read more about Franco Scaglione, click here