Picture Puzzle

What’s the right way to restore a one-off Ferrari that its creator kept changing? It all came down to the photos.

July 20, 2017
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Belgian privateer Jacques Herzet was in a big hurry. He was scheduled to race his new Ferrari in the 1953 Coupes di Spa-Francorchamps on May 17, but, with six weeks to go, he didn’t yet have the car. Given the time frame, Ferrari workshop manager Amos Franchini decided to cut a few corners. He sent Herzet’s chassis (s/n 0300M), equipped with a race-spec 2-liter V12, to Carrozzeria Vignale on April 1, noting on the build report, “Sent to the coachbuilder without testing.”

Vignale wrapped s/n 0300 in an elegant berlinetta skin (one of only two such examples the coachbuilder created for the 166), finishing the job by early May. The Ferrari was then shipped to Jacques Swaters, who had brokered the sale out of his Brussels-based Garage Francorchamps. Herzet, who had originally wanted a barchetta but apparently decided not to quibble, managed to get the car tested and sorted sufficiently to finish the Coupes di Spa in second place, behind Olivier Gendebien in a 166 MM.

Herzet continued to race his berlinetta throughout the 1953 season. Co-driving with Lucien Bianchi, he won his class in July’s Rallye International des Alpes, repeated that feat in the Liege-Rome-Liege rally the following month, then finished second in class in September’s Tour de France Auto. Late in the year, Herzet had the Ferrari shipped to Brazil. There, in December and January, he contested four Grands Prix with co-pilot Octave “Johnny” Claes, their best result being a fifth at Rio de Janiero .

By the time the Ferrari returned by steamer to Belgium, it had significant pedigree—and it showed. So Herzet turned to Martial Oblin, a Belgian coachbuilder known to have produced only three cars: a Talbot-Lago T26 Grand Sport, a Jaguar XK120, and our featured 166.

Oblin removed Vignale’s sculptural bodywork and unceremoniously trashed it to make way for his own vision. The Ferrari’s new body turned out to be a work in progress. Over the course of the ’54 season, Oblin made ongoing changes to the car’s hood scoop, rear deck, and sides. Finally, with the coachbuilder apparently satisfied, s/n 0300 was displayed at the Brussels Motor Show in April 1955.

Herzet raced the car for the rest of the ’55 season, throughout ’56, and into early ’57. His last known race in the Ferrari was the 1957 Cote de Bomeree hillclimb, where he finished fifth in class. After that, he sold the car to fellow Belgian Jan de Dobbeleer.

In the mid 1960s, s/n 0300 came to the United States. It passed through a few hands before landing, in 1977, with Florida dentist Bob Selz, who would end up keeping it for more than three decades. Selz had the car’s bodywork restored by Bob Smith Coachworks, which retained many of Oblin’s unique elements but changed the nose and hood scoop and painted the Ferrari red. In this form, in the late 1990s and early 2000s, Selz displayed s/n 0300 at the Cavallino Classic, the Ferrari Club of America National Meet, and Amelia Island, and, in 2005 and ’09, drove it in the Mille Miglia.

Also from Issue 160

  • Flavio Manzoni on 812 Superfast
  • Novitec Rosso 488 N-Largo
  • 308 GTB QV
  • Strong Ferrari sales at Villa Erba
  • F1: The kid gloves come off!
  • FORZA Tifosi Challenge: F430 suprise
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