The smoothly surfaced road snakes through the vineyards, which are just beginning to turn autumn gold. The view across the thin, wood-rimmed Nardi steering wheel, along the bonnet bulge and over the small Perspex bug deflector, is sublime. The expensive smell of mellow leather trim is enriched by the whiff of an exercised V12 engine, accompanied by the staccato bark swirling out of the four slender tail pipes aft.
Piloting a gorgeous ’50s Ferrari through the immaculate wine country of rural Switzerland is one of life’s rare, sensuous experiences. With the rev-counter and speedometer needles flickering around the period Jaeger dials, you spear the willing Ferrari into the corners, aiming at the apices through the tightly curved windscreen whilst allowing the old-tech tires plenty of room for lateral drift as you carve your way through.
As you swing around yet another corner with a good sightline, the road opens up into a long, unfettered hillclimb. Holding the car in second gear and smoothly depressing the accelerator pedal opens the six butterflies in the triple carburetors, allowing the sonorous 3-liter V12 to start to sing. Keep the throttle down and the rev-counter needle sweeps past five thou’. Hold on longer as the note builds, sounding sweeter and more commanding at every increment. Let the needle swing past 6000rpm, lift, depress the surprisingly lightweight clutch pedal, snick the meaty gearshift across the gate into third – careful not to beat the slow synchromesh – and allow the gloriously vocal engine another chance to hit the high note. Just fantastic.
Coming up fast to the next corner, you hit the brakes and realize that the non-servo’d four-wheel drums need an additional and damn firm shove, as they lack the sort of bite we are used to with modern discs. On these good roads the Ferrari’s antiquated suspension, consisting of nothing more complex than a front transverse leaf spring and a live axle with leaf springs at the rear, does what you expect. Initial understeer moves into predictable slide as the rubber runs out of grip. Balance is conspicuous by its presence.
Halting in a lay-by at the top of the mountain pass, you climb out of the lovely cosseting bucket seat, gently shut the lightweight alloy door behind you, light up a toasty Villiger cigar (they are surprisingly affordable in Geneva Airport) and gaze at the beautiful form of this very rare machine, the 1953 Ferrari 250 Mille Miglia, chassis number 0310MM.
As the nomenclature suggests, this Ferrari is built for action. In the early ’50s, the decade-old Ferrari company was constructing racing cars and already had an established reputation as a winner, with Formula One and Le Mans victories of 1948 and ’49 in the bag. Road cars were produced in small numbers and were generally spruced-up racers. A 250S was entered in the 1952 Mille Miglia, driven by Giovanni Bracco who, allegedly, chain-smoked and sipped brandy all the way around the 1000-mile road race. Thereafter the 250S became known as the 250 Mille Miglia.
This particular example has a great provenance and story. It was originally built for Dottore Enrico Wax, serial purchaser of special-bodied Ferraris, and was the first ‘top tier’ racing car for noted post-war privateer Pierre Noblet. One of only 17 of the 31 250MMs built that were bodied as berlinettas by Pinin Farina, chassis number 0310MM established itself and Noblet as forces to be reckoned with in competition.
During the early ’50s, Ferrari had two powerful V12 engines to work with, the original V12 designed by Gioacchino Colombo, and its much larger successor designed for the 4.1-litre Grand Prix formula by Aurelio Lampredi. Whilst the Colombo unit could be stretched to three litres, the larger Lampredi engine was also sleeved and de-stroked down to the same capacity. But it was heavy and proved troublesome, not so much because of the shortcomings of the motor but because the high torque it produced broke transmissions.
The short-wheelbase 250MM with the Colombo V12 soon proved to be the more successful of the 3-litre cars. Ferrari’s records show that it was completed on May 4, 1953, and delivered to Dr Wax, the principal in the Genovese importer Wax & Vitale, whose products included Johnnie Walker whisky, MoΫt et Chandon Champagne and Connolly leather, as supplied to Ferrari. Wax only ever kept his cars for a couple of months before passing them on and taking delivery of a replacement Ferrari.
Chassis number 0310MM was supplied in right-hand drive, still preferred for sporting cars in Italy and France at the time. Somewhat unusually for the period, records show that it was first liveried in Rosso finitura corse or racing finish when delivered, which implies it might have been ‘borrowed’ by the Scuderia for competition before its delivery to Dr Wax. This was not uncommon for Ferrari at the time, and new cars were frequently employed by the Scuderia for one or more events before being freshened and delivered to their first retail buyers.
Wax owned his 250MM berlinetta for only six months, officially selling it on November 16, 1953, to Pierre Noblet under intriguing circumstances, as have been described by his son Gregory. The Noblet family owned textile mills in Lille, and Pierre numbered among his friends and business colleagues the racing Marzotto brothers, producers of fine Italian woollens. Noblet was introduced to ‘this fellow you must meet who makes superb sports cars in Modena; he’s called Enzo Ferrari’ by one of the Marzottos, and Enzo remarked that he would be happy to sell Noblet a car and had just the thing in mind.
A few months later Noblet heard from Ferrari that he had another car, ‘an even better one for you’, and was invited to the factory, where he was shown Dr Wax’s 250MM berlinetta – freshly changed to French blue from its earlier Italian red.
Noblet proudly arrived in Lille with the bright blue Ferrari, much to the consternation of his father, who promptly banned him from letting the workers see it. In the interests of discretion it was soon repainted this lovely subtle grey, a very ’50s color and a pleasant change from the usual ‘retail red’!
Although Pierre Noblet intended to use his new Ferrari on the road, his friend ‘Johnny’ Pollet, a successful Peugeot racer, suggested he try it in competition. After winning his first, local race, Noblet’s racing career began in earnest and he went through a series of Ferraris. In 1961 he and Jean Guichet won the Le Mans 24 Hours GT category and finished third overall driving a 250GT SWB. A year later they achieved an even more important result, finishing a remarkable second overall and first in the GT class with Noblet’s 250GTO.
Seeing high-speed rallying as a valuable way to build experience, Noblet won the Rallye PanArmoricaine (not to be confused with the Carrera PanAmericana) on December 7, 1954. Further national rallies followed and in the winter of 1955-’56 the 250MM was rebuilt, repainted and modified with a reinforcement behind the center of the windshield (which had proven fragile in competition), vents in the front wings to relieve high air pressure at speed under the bonnet, a reinforced rear package to make room for dual spare wheels and a recessed fuel filler cap under a hinged access flap.
Having proved both his own and his Ferrari 250MM’s abilities, in 1957 Pierre Noblet took delivery of a 250GT Tour de France. His faithful 250MM passed to Paris architect Charles de Gallea and in turn it was acquired in 1967 by Italian enthusiast Giulio Dubbini, in whose hands it remained until 1998, when it was sold at the Gstaad Ferrari auction to its current Swiss owner.
Chassis number 0310MM was then entrusted to Italy’s best-known restorer, Dino Cognolato in Padova, for a comprehensive ‘no expense spared’ rebuild, taking Best of Show at the Louis Vuitton Concours d’Elegance at Bagatelle in 2000, then Europe’s premier concours. The car has subsequently participated in all the most important historic events, including the Mille Miglia, Tour Auto and Targa Florio. It has been maintained by Costantini in Zurich and has proven to be consistently reliable and particularly noted for its distinctive colour.
In today’s world the 250MM looks lean and lithe, more of a whippet compared with later ’60s Ferrari greyhounds. Gleaming quietly in the gentle Swiss sunshine, it is attractively period. With all the scoops, bulges and vents on the taut bodywork and its aggressive stance on those widely spaced Borrani wires shod with large racing rubber, there is no doubting this is a competition car, albeit a low-key one. And the pared down and very original interior is one of the most inviting cockpits for long, fast road trips. Chassis number 0310MM has that special aristocratic mien that only a very few handbuilt sports cars of the ’50s can offer. Best turn it around and see how it goes back down through the vineyards…
Thanks to Simon Kidston, www.kidston.com