In-Motion Classic: 1951 Ferrari 212 by Ghia-Aigle – Just Sit Still, Will Ya?

We’re back to the Peninsular section of the T87 picture collection for some choice Italian stallions, in what I’d like to call “Thoroughbred Week.” Let’s kick this off in style with a prancing horse – an older beast, but a unique one. I’m not using that word in jest, either: this is a one-off body. But then, back in those days, the notion of a “production Ferrari” had yet to take shape.

At most, this could be termed a street Ferrari, though they were not far removed from pure racers in those days. In the immediate postwar era, the majority of chassis bearing the cavallino rampante were earning their keep on racetracks, road rallies and hill-climbs. The first Ferrari destined for regular road use was the 166 Inter (1948-50) with a 90hp 2-litre V12. This was followed by the 2.3 litre 195 Inter in 1950, which was itself superseded by the 212 in 1951. In parallel, Ferrari launched the 340 America in 1950 – those featured a completely different 4.1 litre V12 developed for the F1 racers.

All these early Ferrari models were produced in very small numbers: 38 chassis for the 166, 28 for the 195 and 25 for the 340. Our 212, by contrast, was a real hit with 82 chassis made in 1951-52. But then came the small matter of getting said chassis bodied.

The 212 Inter chassis was no small affair – though it was certainly a lot lighter and more compact than, say, the contemporary Talbot-Lago or Bentley. The 2.6 litre OHC V12, mated to a 5-speed gearbox, produced 150hp in standard single-carb guise, but could be upped to 170hp with a triple-carb setup. The latter was usually paired with a reduction in wheelbase and called 212 Export, and most of those were bodied as barely street-legal Sunday racers.

Here’s a pick’n’mix collage of 212s, both of the Inter and Export-strength sort. All the greats – Ghia, Vignale, Motto, Farina (both Pinin- and Stabilimenti) and Touring – were tasked with dressing the Ferrari 212, but only two chassis were not bodied in Italy. One was given a (quite atrocious) bulbous drop-top by Abbott in England. The other, though penned by Michelotti, was bought in Switzerland and found its way to the curious Ghia-Aigle works, located near Montreux in the canton of Vaud.

The great thing about old Ferraris is that they are all pretty much fully documented – this one is a case in point. The 212 chassis (#0137 EL) reached the Swiss border in June 1951; it was bodied and delivered sometime later to its owner, though it was on the Ghia-Aigle stand at the Geneva Motor Show in March 1952. Initially, it was painted red, lacked any form of bumpers and had a split windshield.

The car changed hands and countries many times over the years. At some point, probably in the UK in the ‘60s, a curved plexiglass windshield replaced the old item, small bumpers were fitted and the vent on the hood was redesigned. The paintwork was redone several times, too.

So what’s the story with Ghia-Aigle? It’s a little murky why Ghia felt the need to sprout a semi-independent Swiss branch in 1948, but the firm soon prospered. Starting in 1950, Giovanni Michelotti was in charge of designs, followed by Pietro Frua circa 1955. Ghia-Aigle worked on an extremely varied assortment of chassis, such as Delahaye, Fiat, Alfa Romeo (L-R top row), Singer, Bristol, Bugatti (L-R middle row), BMW, Jaguar and Panhard (L-R bottom row), among many others.

Not long after the above Corvette coupé was made in 1958, there was a change in direction for the Italo-Swiss operation and they started to abandon one-off creations to focus on ambulances, commercial vans and high-end repair jobs. The company went into liquidation in 1981, long after the original Ghia in Italy had been turned into a Ford trim level.

Back to our little Ferrari. The last owner listed on the web was an exotic car dealer from the UK, but that was back in 2014. Well, it looks like it found a new home in Tokyo in the interim. I’ve seen it a few times, always in traffic and being driven with quite a lot of spirit, for a one-off V12-engined grandma. Period tests gave the 212 high praise for their handling and power, so a well-restored one should still bear these characteristics.

It has visited the famous gingko-lined avenue that serves as the city’s informal weekly classic car meet, but again, never bothered to stop so I could catch the interior and/or the engine. I would also like to ask the owner if he believes it to be an Inter or an Export, as there is a lot of confusion about this specific car in this particular regard.

This is *probably* the only Ferrari 212 I’m ever going to catch on the street. It’s not the prettiest, nor the most original, but it’s certainly unique and, boy, it’s still mighty quick on its Pirellis.