In 1949, Ferrari burst onto the world motorsport stage by winning the 24 Hours of Le Mans. A few years later, the fledgling company won the Grand Prix World Championship. It was the beginning of three-quarters of a century of multi-disciplinary racing success, as well as the start of a legend that continues to this day.
Back then, racing was an extremely expensive sport, but today’s sponsorship deals were still decades in the future. To fund his motorsport addiction, Enzo Ferrari reluctantly began to build road cars. Rudimentary dual-purpose sports cars like the 125 S, 159 S, and 166 S and MM came first, then were joined, beginning in 1949, by GTs. The 166 Inter was first, and it was followed by the 195 and 212 Inters before the arrival, in 1954, of the first 250 GTs.
Due to their tiny production numbers, as well as the huge success and enduring legacy of the later 250 GT series, most of these earlier models aren’t that well-known, and are therefore rather underappreciated in the company’s genealogy. Consider, for example, the 195 Inter. Just 27 examples were built between early 1950 and mid-1951. As was usual at the time, Ferrari outsourced the cars’ bodywork to nearby coachbuilders, or carrozzerie. Vignale took 12 of the 195s, completing 11 as coupes and the final car as a berlinetta. In spring 1951, our featured car (s/n 0103S), the sixth such 195 built, was delivered to its first owner, in Portugal. The Ferrari has spent its entire life in Europe’s western-most country, and not only is it Portugal’s oldest Ferrari, it may be the world’s longest-serving Ferrari museum exhibit: It’s been on display since 1968!
The road to the Meseu do Caramulo is one of those serpentine strips of tarmac that cries out for a special car. The higher I follow the twists and turns out of the central valley, the better the views of the northern Portuguese landscape become, until I arrive at the hilltop town of Caramulo. The museum’s classical columns combine with the curious streaks of rubber that all start at the same spot on the road outside to create a sort of Back to the Future feel about the setting. And it really is a flashback to the past when I was directed to a shady maple grove on the museum grounds where the immaculate Ferrari had been wheeled outside just for me.
S/n 0103 is, by more than 30 years, the oldest Ferrari I’ve have the pleasure to thoroughly peruse—and at first glance, the understated curves are less of what I think a Ferrari should look like and more like an Aston Martin DB2 or perhaps a Maserati 2000 Zagato (both contemporaries of the 195). Put another way, unlike the models of the 1970s and ’80s I grew up with, Vignale’s certainly wasn’t a ground-breaking design. That said, it’s quietly stately in its own way and has a few handsome elements, such as the way the bodywork tapers in just above the grille to direct air into the engine compartment. Vignale’s front-end treatment is certainly much better looking than the overbearing whale-mouth grille of Ghia’s version of the 195.
Joao Maria Lacerda is the automotive curator, a mantle he inherited when his grandfather passed away in 2003. His great-grandfather, Jerónimo Lacerda, created the town in the 1920s as sanatorium for tuberculosis patients. In the 1950s, Jerónimo’s sons, Abel and Joao, planned the museum, which, unusually, is split between art (Abel’s passion) and cars (Joao’s). The museum currently holds a total of 100 cars, and the younger Joao gives me a quick history of the 195 so I know exactly what I’m looking at.
S/n 0103 was delivered on the April 17, 1951 to its proud first owner in Lisbon—but instead of being treated like a treasured possession, the Ferrari spent the first few years of its life being passed around different owners like a hot cake. Less than two years later, its second owner raced the car in an event around the streets of Lisbon, where it finished fourth behind three other Ferraris (a pair of 225s and a 166 MM). This was the only time it was ever used in a competition, aside from the time one owner decided to take part in an impromptu street race in the middle of winter. He didn’t pre-heat the engine, though, which caused it to break. Unimpressed, he sold the car on without repairing it.