With the late afternoon light streaming over the trees, Luigi Chinetti takes a two-liter Ferrari 166MM through Tertre Rouge corner not long after the start of the 1949 Le Mans 24 Hours. This “barchetta” (meaning “little boat”) – as this early series of small open Ferrari sports cars was called – had been bodied by the famous Touring firm in Milan which had dressed a number of important Alfa Romeos before the War. Chinetti, who eventually became the Ferrari importer for America, was at this time the Ferrari agent in Paris with a number of wealthy French customers who often went racing.
However, for Le Mans Chinetti had entered the Ferrari with the British nobleman Lord Selsdon (Peter Mitchell-Thomson) as co-driver. Selsdon was a true “gentleman driver” of the period who was entered to share a Ferrari 166 Spyder Corsa with Chinetti at Montlhéry for the 12 Hours of Paris in 1948 which they had won, even though Lord Selsdon did not drive. Unquestionably, Selsdon was a “pay driver” whose funds would support Chinetti’s Le Mans effort. Even so, he did not get to drive this Ferrari very much either – perhaps for less than an hour – with Chinetti doing the rest of the 24 hours. Their efforts were successful, coming in first overall against much more powerful opponents.
This win was Luigi Chinetti’s third overall victory in this classic French endurance race. In 1932 he had shared the win with Raymond Sommer in an Alfa Romeo 8c2300 and finished a very close second with a similar car in 1933. Then he won again in 1934 with another Alfa, this time co-driving with Philippe Étancelin. Until Phil Hill and Olivier Gendebien won Le Mans with Ferraris in 1958, 1961 and 1962, Chinetti had been only the second driver to win the 24 Hours three times since it had begun in 1923. After his 1949 victory, he drove Ferraris at Le Mans again in 1950 through 1953 and began using his North American Racing Team as an entrant to contest the 24 Hours almost annually over the next 29 years, with Masten Gregory and Jochen Rindt winning for him with a Ferrari 250LM in 1965.
Today, the Ferrari 166MM “barchetta” which Chinetti and Selsdon drove in 1949, chassis number 0008M, now lovingly restored to its 1949 Le Mans configuration, is part of a major American collection.
Photo by Louis Klemantaski ©The Klemantaski Collection