Fashion Sense

In the 1950s, Carrozzeria Vignale and the prolific Giovanni Michelotti provided the same coachwork for two very different automobiles.

Photo: Fashion Sense 1
September 2, 2021

There’s an informal game sometimes played in the couturier world called “Who Wears It Better?” It comes up when the paparazzi spot one celebrity wearing the same high-fashion outfit as another, which prompts the inevitable comparison. Did Kim Kardashian or Winnie Harlow better pull off that Maisie Wilen dress? How about Beyonce or Keke Palmer in that Yousef Aljasmi outfit?

I encountered a similar situation a few years ago at the Greenwich Concours d’Elegance in Greenwich, Connecticut. The comparison in question had nothing to do with fashion, although it did offer intrigue and celebrity. Instead, the comparison in question concerned two distinctly different automobiles which shared virtually identical Giovanni Michelotti-designed bodywork. There on the grassy banks of Greenwich Harbor, my eyes seized first upon a 1950 Ferrari 195 Inter Vignale Coupé (s/n 0097S), our featured automobile, and then, only 50 yards away, its doppelganger: a 1953 Cunningham C3 owned by Jay Leno.

According to Leno, the economy of postwar Europe made such a transference possible. “You may recognize this as the same body on a 212 Ferrari, which it is,” Leno said of his C3 on an episode of Jay Leno’s Garage. “You know, after the war, the Italian body builders would sell bodies to anybody that wanted them.”

During his productive 59-year life, Michelotti designed a wide range of iconic automobiles and trucks for such noted coachbuilders as Farina, Allemano, and Vignale, and for such leading brands as Leyland, Lancia, Triumph, Maserati, and Ferrari. His Ferrari work began with various 166 Inter coupes and convertibles built by Stabilimenti Farina, Ghia, and Vignale. He ultimately enjoyed a long and productive association with Vignale, designing coachwork for numerous Ferrari models, including examples of the—deep breath—166, 212, 225, 250, 340, 342, 375, and 330. Michelotti also penned the 365 GTB/4 NART Spyder and the 275 P Speciale for Luigi Chinetti, Sr.

Photo: Fashion Sense 2

A long line of Cunninghams at the Greenwich Concours d’Elegance.

FORZA readers will be familiar with those Ferraris, but what about the Cunningham C3? Briggs Cunningham was a wealthy sportsman who, with Yale University chums Sam and Miles Collier, founded the Automobile Racing Club of America in the early 1930s. The group was rechristened the Sports Car Club of America after World War II.

During his 36-year racing career, Cunningham decided to build American cars to campaign at Le Mans. In 1950—long before Enzo Ferrari enraged Henry Ford II, igniting a conflagration that ended Enzo’s participation in the race—Cunningham stomped into la République with two Cadillacs, one of which, dubbed “Le Monstre” by the French, wore a smooth, sled-like, aerodynamic body.

Cunningham’s Caddies placed 10th and 11th, but that wasn’t sufficient for Briggs’ dreams. So, upon returning home to California, Cunningham built a car factory where he created his own high-performance machinery. A 331-cubic-inch Chrysler hemi V8 powered both the C2 race cars and the obligatory C3 road cars required to homologate the former for Le Mans’ competition. Instead of building the cars’ bodies himself, Cunningham commissioned Vignale to do so, and the carrozzeria created the steel and aluminum coachwork from a design Michelotti had previously used on various Ferraris. Between 1952 and ’54, Cunningham produced 10 C2s and 25 C3s.

“In a lot of ways, I think this is a lot cooler than the equivalent Ferrari of the time, ’cause that would have been only 2.5 liters or something like that,” opined Leno. “This [C3] is really, really fast. With Italian styling and American horsepower, you can’t get any better than this.”

Photo: Fashion Sense 7

Jay Leno showed off his Cunningham C3, which looks almost identical to our featured Ferrari, during an episode of Jay Leno’s Garage.

Our first bit of intrigue, then, is how did a later Michelotti design end up on an earlier 195? It turns out s/n 0097’s story is just as interesting as the Ferrari-Cunningham connection.

THE TALE BEGAN on March 6, 1951, when the Ferrari was sold to AICAR Srl (Agenzia Internazionale Commercio Automobili e Ricambi, or International Agency for Automobile and Spare Parts Trading) of Milan, Italy. That same day it was re-sold to its first private owner, Federico Munz, also of Milan. Munz raced the light blue car with a dark blue roof on April 15 at the Coppa Intereuropa at Monza. S/n 0079 was also raced by its second owner, André Canonica of Geneva, Switzerland.

Here we come to another intrigue. Over the years, various, mostly online sources have proliferated misinformation about s/n 0097’s early life, a state of affairs that seems to have begun with noted Ferrari historian Marcel Massini’s 1992 book, Ferrari by Vignale.

“The early history in my book, unfortunately, is not correct,” Massini told me in a recent online post about the research he conducted in the mid- and late-1980s. “Unfortunately, some websites just copied it with all the errors,” such as references to Franco Cornacchia, Alfred Ducato, and Viviano Corradini.

Photo: Fashion Sense 4

Ferrari Classiche provided s/n 0079’s reproduction engine. In period, the 2,341-cc V12 was rated at 130 hp.

In 1954, s/n 0097 crossed the Atlantic to the legendary Zumbach’s Garage, located in the Hell’s Kitchen section of New York City. Zumbach’s original owner, Charles Zumbach, had died in 1947, so by the time the Ferrari arrived, the shop was owned by Swiss mechanic Werner Maeder. Maeder continued to build on Zumbach’s reputation for motoring excellence, perhaps even adding the word “sportscar” to the American lexicon. The service must have been good: Actor Gary Cooper drove his Lagonda to Zumbach’s from Hollywood every year just for a tune-up!

From Hell’s Kitchen, s/n 0097 went to W. L. Keating in California, who showed it at Pebble Beach and Mount Diablo. Keating then sold the Ferrari to David Lee of Altamont, New York, where it was heavily damaged in a tragic barn fire.

“The fire consumed the body and the original engine, but the rest of the car was intact,” explains Bruce Vanyo, s/n 0097’s current owner. “The remains of the car were sold [in 1979] to a fellow in New York named Gary Schonwald."

ACCORDING TO SCHONWALD, after he purchased s/n 0097 he also acquired a 166 MM (s/n 0024M) from Stan Nowak. Originally a Touring-bodied Barchetta, s/n 0024 was intended to be shown at the 1949 Paris Auto Show. Instead, the Ferrari ended up in the hands of Argentinean dictator Juan Peron, ostensibly as a gift for wife Evita. But after Carlos Menditeguy drove the Ferrari to victory in the 1950 Mar del Plata race, s/n 0024’s temporary tax-free status mysteriously lapsed and the car went right back to Italy.

Photo: Fashion Sense 5

There, the Ferrari continued to be raced until 1953, when it was rebodied by Vignale as a coupe. Then, in 1959, as happened too often in those days, s/n 0024’s engine was yanked out and a Corvette’s 283 V8 was installed.

Here’s where things get interesting for our story. After Schonwald acquired s/n 0024 a few decades later, he reinstalled the original engine and decided to replace the Vignale body with a new Barchetta body. But rather than scrap the beautiful Vignale coachwork, Shonwald sold it, together with s/n 0097’s chassis and gearbox, and a 2.3-liter V12 from another 195 Inter (s/n 0087S), to John H. Baker of Cheltenham, England.

“I sold the body and chassis to Baker not to make any money, but because I wanted s/n 0097 to be brought back to life,” Schonwald explained to Vanyo when the two met recently. “The earliest Ferraris, the first 100 built, are extremely important cars in the history of Ferrari. I always had a drive to save these discarded cars when other people were on the verge of scrapping them. These were the days when you bought and restored these cars for the romance, not because they were worth anything or would [ever] be worth what it cost to restore them.”

Baker never brought the Ferrari back to life, however. By 1992, after passing through several owners’ hands, the various components ended up at stately Brocket Hall in Hertfordshire, England.

Photo: Fashion Sense 6

Lord Charles Brocket commissioned a restoration that, according to Massini, successfully melded s/n 0024’s replacement body, s/n 0087’s engine, s/n 0097’s chassis, and a four-speed gearbox apparently from a 212 or 225 (likely chosen because it would shift more smoothly than the 195 original). The result was good enough to score a class win at the Louis Vuitton Concours and a Best of Show at the Ferrari Owners Club concours at Goodwood in 1993.

“The car was later invited to the 50th Ferrari Anniversary celebration, in 1997, and was then shown at the Ferrari Museum,” Vanyo says. “When I saw photographs of the car, I immediately fell in love with the design. It was a car I really wanted to have. I tried for maybe two years to get something going, but the guy just didn’t seem interested in selling it. Eventually, he did decide to sell it—just not to me! Instead, he sold it to an American broker, and I in turn bought it from the broker.

“At that time, it was gray and dark gray,” he adds. “And when I acquired the car, I discovered that it needed a lot of restoration, and there were things about it that were wrong. So I got on a mission to collect original old stock or reproductions of original stock.”

Over the next five years, Vanyo employed the services of a series of highly experienced restoration experts. Finally, in 2017, he turned to Peter Markowski of Restoration and Performance Motorcars of Vergennes, Vermont.

Photo: Fashion Sense 7

“He’s a real expert in early ’50s Ferraris so I sent it to him to complete,” says Vanyo. “It took four years and over $300,000, but now I’m satisfied.”

The restoration’s longest struggle involved replacing s/n 0087’s engine with a reproduction Ferrari Classiche engine, which made s/n 0097 as original and concours-ready as possible. (This also allowed the Ghia-bodied s/n 0087 to be reunited with its original engine.) The 212/225 gearbox, on the other hand, was left in place.

LET’S RETURN to the Greenwich concours. “The Cunningham owners arranged for me to bring my Ferrari over to sit amongst their line of Cunninghams,” says Vanyo of the largest-ever gathering of the marque, with 33 of the 35 examples on hand. “My car was only two cars over from Jay Leno’s C3. Miles Collier came over and said how much he loved my car, and how he wanted to put it next to the Cunninghams in his Revs Institute museum in Naples, Florida.”

My first impression of s/n 0097 was that it looked as if it could have just been delivered to its first owner way back in 1951. Too often, restorations that combine components—especially bodywork and trim—from two or more donor cars betray some evidence of the merger. But Markowski and his predecessors seamlessly sculpted their charge in a way that feels completely holistic and entirely authentic.

Vanyo’s choice of a grey and magenta color scheme complements Michelotti’s design far better than the previous all-grey look. The contrasting colors and lines pull the eye around and around, following first the edges and then crossing down through the various levels of shape and trim. The Ferrari’s size also feels exactly right: compact enough to give the impression of a race car, yet possessing a diminutive elegance that seems appropriate for transporting a well-dressed couple to an evening gala.

Comparing the Ferrari to Leno’s Cunningham, the C3 looks large, perhaps too large for the delicate Michelotti design. Then I realize the Cunningham is an American car, sized and powered to dominate America’s highways, often with a grinning celebrity at the wheel. In that context the C3 makes perfect sense—although, as a fervent tifosi, seeing the Ferrari first tends to spoil the effect.

Interestingly, and coincidentally, Leno’s C3 wears its original livery. When purchased the car was all white, but when Leno’s team began sanding off the paint they discovered the magenta and grey underneath. As on the Ferrari, the C3’s Vignale body is completely handmade, with hand-tooled, leaded-brass, and chrome trim, and body panels that are welded directly to the frame.

Summing up his car, Bruce Vanyo remarks that until March 2021, s/n 0097 had been continually in restoration since acquisition. “I did drive it around Los Angeles a bit and it drives really well—a short wheel base a really potent engine—it’s really fun to drive.”

The arrival of COVID-19 and other logistical and practical concerns kept Vanyo and Leno from their plan to reunite the twin Vignale coupes for an historic side-by-side photo. Until that happens, we’ll just have to imagine the result of “Which Car Wears It Better?”

Also from Issue 193

  • F8 Spider
  • Ferrari F8 vs Lamborghini Huracan Evo
  • Testarossa Buyer's Guide
  • Pro racing vs Ferrari Challenge
  • Ferrari's 120-degree V6 F1 cars
  • F1: Crashes galore
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