1952 Ferrari 212 Inter Vignale Coupe "Bumblebee"
Coachwork by Vignale
Chassis no. 0197EL
Engine no. 0197EL
Of the 153-odd Vignale bodied Ferraris built between 1950 and 1954, all were art but not all were beautiful. It has to be said that some were extraordinarily frightful, wrote Ferrari Vignale expert Marcel Massini. Yet the best of the lot - and there were many - were so well proportioned, elegant yet aggressive, idiosyncratic but charming or simply sexy, that one stands in wonderment over what arm and hammer have created. For a few precious years, when Vignale said Ferrari, the world listened.
In 1952, the New World took notice when a team of Ferrari 340 Vignale coupes lined up in the streets of Tuxtla Gutiérrez for the start of the Carrera Panamericana Road Race. The three racing coupes were dramatically styled with bold, thrusting lines; the egg crate oval grille, already a Ferrari trademark, was flanked by fenders whose leading edge protruded just past the grille itself. The headlights were mounted inboard of the fenders. At the rear, short fins isolated a gently rounded trunk area with a huge rear window. The Ferrari Mexicos, as they would be called, were as fast and brutal as they were beautiful and glamorous.
But as famous as the big Mexicos were, there were a few small-block Vignale Ferraris with the same styling that were both more attractive and much more pleasant to drive. And of these, perhaps the most beautiful of all was a little 212 Export Lungo, S/N 0197 EL to be exact, painted in black and yellow, a two tone effect which would also adorn the 340s. Often known as the Bumblebee for obvious reasons, it was one of at least three sister Vignales with perfectly proportioned lines, vestigial fins at the rear, and the eggcrate grille nestled between the exuberant fenders. It is likely that these three cars were built before the 340 Mexicos and thus led to their design.
Vignale wasnt the first to adopt the unusual front end design - in 1951, working for Ghia-Aigle, Giovanni Michelotti had sketched a very similar car for the Swiss coachbuilder. Michelottis art was brought to life in rather poor fashion, however, as if the coachbuilder and designer did not see eye to eye. Its failure illustrated just how vitally important - and successful - was the relationship between Alfredo Vignale and Michelotti. In 1955, a reporter visited the factory and noted the methods and procedures used by the team: Vignale and Michelotti discussed the design; Michelotti then rendered a water color painting of the car, and had it approved by Alfredo. Michelotti then turned out a one to one drawing of the car and Vignales workers hammered out the panels using only the drawings for reference, eliminating the expensive and time consuming practice of creating a full size wooden buck over which the body would normally take shape. Vignale, being his own best PR person, emphasized that unavoidable inconsistencies in the coachwork were the result of hand craftsmanship. He once told a reporter that no one could see both sides of a car at the same time anyway. It was a story he loved to tell.
As sometimes is the case when the masters coachbuilders are on a roll, the brilliance of the carrozzeria adorning S/N 0197 EL almost overshadows the chassis itself. The 212 was a natural development of the 166 chassis and engine. Most 212 chassis were a 260cm wheelbase, and still had leaf springs front and rear, and aside from a two piece driveshaft, differed only slightly from the 166/195. The V12 engine was a step away from the famous 250, the 212 displacing a total of 2562cc. With the optional three dual throat carbs it could produce about 150hp at 7000rpm.
As early Ferraris go, 0197 EL had a somewhat charmed life. Completed on June 15th 1952, it was delivered to a D. Signoret of Dignes, France. From there it found its way to the U.S. via Chinetti, and eventually to a James Floria in Connecticut. Floria put an ad in Road & Track in 1963, asking $3800 for the car, then painted in red. Its saviour was Ferrari historian Stan Nowak, who was the next owner and realized significance of early Ferraris. Still in remarkably original condition, the car passed to Anthony Bamford who removed the engine, and sold the car minus engine to Don Nelson, also from the U.K. in 1976.
Nelsons family owned a lucrative Volkswagen dealership, and his love for Ferraris began at an early age. He took in 0197 EL, had it completely restored, and installed a 250GT engine in place of the missing 212. In the 1990s, Nelson moved to Florida and later sold 0197 EL back to Bamford, who undertook a major restoration which was finished in time for the 2001 Concours d Elegance of Bagatelle in Paris before moving once again back to the U.S. and its current owner.
Attention to detail combined with artistic touches define all good Vignales and 0197 EL is one of the best examples of this tradition.
At the rear, the leading edge of the elegant fins are embedded with bumperettes; two trunk levers on either side of the license bracket echo the inset tubular signal lights in the fenders. Up front, large headlights are placed in the grille while driving lights are outside of the oval shaped opening. The interior is very nicely appointed, with tortoiseshell switches and window crank bezels, the huge dual instruments and the yellow-piped black leather bucket seats. There is a radio, if you care, a wonderfully preserved Condor unit with Italian cities printed on the tuning scale.
This was a car for the discerning owner; one of the other Vignales 212s with similar coachwork was built for Gianni Agnelli. But there is only one Vignale 212 EL like the Bumblebee, and to own it is to own not only an important piece of history but a work of art with a sound and significant pedigree and provenance.