By the Fifties, Ferrari’s reputation as a producer of fabulous V12s had been cast in stone. The famous motors created by Gioacchino Colombo included the 1.5-litre V12 first used in the Tipo 125, 159, and then 166 sportscars and had dominated the Formula Two class.
But Enzo Ferrari was well aware of the success others were having in open-wheeled auto racing with eight cylinders chopped off. Four-cylinder motors were able to produce far better low-end torque than big V12s, were far more fuel-efficient and they were much lighter in comparison, meaning a car’s handling would be much sharper and better.
So he brought in Aurelio Lampredi, an automobile and aircraft engine designer, to create an all-new smaller and lightweight engine. Changes to the World Championship regulations meant that high priority was suddenly given to four-cylinder engines and so the pair got to work on a new model with a smaller motor. The result was the achingly beautiful Ferrari 500 Mondial series one.
This incredibly well-balanced fighter jet of a car, built by Pininfarina, debuted in 1953 at the 12 Hours of Casablanca and was driven by Alberto Ascari and Luigi Villoresi and finished in second place with a 375 MM taking the chequered flag, but Ascari secured the World Championship by taking six victories out of seven races. The following year, he won the title again. The 500 was feared by the best of them including Maserati, Mercedes-Benz and Alfa, and for good reason. The first series cars lasted until the following year in 1954 and in all just 20 examples were produced.
The second series cars were far prettier. Just 10 were built by Scaglietti and they had a type 510 tubular steel chassis, were longer and more flowing and outfitted in Spyder configuration and had 16in Borrani wire wheels. But the heart and soul of the 500 Mondial was always the engine. The front longitudinal naturally aspirated 2.0-litre inline-four with double camshaft heads and two Weber carburettors was mated to a five-speed manual that naturally sent all of the power to the rear wheels.
It weighed 720kg and produced 170bhp at 7,000rpm giving it 85bhp-per-litre. Featuring hydraulic drums at the front and back, a worm and wheel steering and Dion tube rear suspension, it handled with aplomb and had a top speed of 250kph, which was more than enough to help it achieve a class victory in 1956 at the 12 Hours of Sebring endurance race driven by Porfirio Rubirosa and Jim Pauley.
The four-cylinder engine had proved its worth and was a rousing success, remaining competitive towards the end of the decade where it entered the 1957 Mille Miglia.
Ferrari then replaced the lovable 500 Mondial with another 2.0-litre car — the 500 Testa Rossa, which was the first car to use the renowned name.