Ermini Produced Less Than 40 Cars In Its Lifetime, But Restored Examples Like This Keep The Marque Alive
Story by Alexander Byles
Photography by Marco Annunziata
With a production history that lasted 12 years (and resulted in an output of just 37 vehicles), you are forgiven for not immediately recognizing an Ermini. However short its history, the potency of the Florentine manufacturer included a category win at the Mille Miglia and in the Italian Championship Sport 1100, raising the hackles of Scuderia Ferrari in the process.
The story began in 1927, at the Tuscan workshop of racing driver Emilio Materassi, where Pasquale “Pasquino” Ermini joined as an apprentice mechanic at the age of 22. After the tragedy of Materassi’s death at the 1928 Italian Grand Prix in Monza (his Talbot-Darracq 700 careering into the crowd, killing 22 and wounding 40 others), Pasquino continued his apprenticeship until the team was disbanded for good in 1932.
Deciding that he had accumulated sufficient experience, and combined with his own enthusiasm to race, Ermini founded his own garage works in the same year. Initiating the first serious steps in his own driving career, he raced in his first Mille Miglia in 1935, although his 2300cc Alfa Romeo was forced to withdraw.
From developmental beginnings providing assistance to local racing drivers, followed by the intervening years of the Second World War, operations at Officine Ermini Firenze (Florence) were moved close to the Piazza della Libertà in the city’s historic center. Car production began in 1946, starting with the Ermini Alfa Romeo 2500 SS, and winning the title of Italian vice-champion in the Sports Maggiore category.
Using a FIAT 1100 base, Ermini designed and built his first twin-cam head and a year later founded Scuderia TESS, standing for ‘hemispherical super sport head,” a company with which he achieved one of his greatest successes: driving to seventh place overall in the Mille Miglia. The same engine also helped an Ermini automobile to an overall Italian 1100cc Championship win thanks to success at the Targa Florio and Tuscan Cup.
Considering the marque’s rapid rise in the Italian motorsport scene, legend has it that Ermini had a fractious yet respectful relationship with Enzo Ferrari, who felt somewhat threatened by Ermini’s craftsmanship. The more famous manufacturer was also jealous of the fact that Ermini used the same source for coachwork: Sergio Scaglietti. With Enzo reportedly threatening to end Ferrari’s relationship with Carozzeria Scaglietti if partnership with Ermini continued, Scaglietti continued to serve both companies by sending his associates to work on the Ermini projects.
As a result of Pasquale Ermini’s deteriorating health however, production was closed in 1958 with the Ermini 357 Sport 1500 being the last product before Ermini’s died later in the same year. Support for Ermini drivers was kept up by a consortium of associates and old friends until the doors finally closed in 1962.
The Ermini we see presented here—a FIAT Ermini 1100, owned by a renowned Florentine collector today—was built just in time for April 29, 1951, to participate in the Mille Miglia; wearing number 246 in the event and competing in the 1100cc and below sport category, it’s participation is confirmed by Brescia’s Mille Miglia Museum Archive. Based on a Rinaldo Tinarelli chassis and powered by a twin-cam 1100cc FIAT-based motor producing 88hp, it was also raced in the 1952 Tour of Sicily and the 1953 edition of the Mille Miglia.
I ask the owner, Giuliano, what drew him to the lesser-known marque, and he replies, “The Ermini are all handcrafted cars, each different to the other in terms of the chassis builder, the body builder, etcetera. For distinct features, you have the engine with its FIAT cast-iron base, or the latter Ermini aluminum ones. The cylinder head is always the famous competition Ermini Bialbero with single or double ignition, battery and distributor or generator. And because Ermini was a Florentine manufacturer of racing cars, as a Florentine myself I am naturally tied to these cars.”
Restoring this example has been far from straightforward, and the project has relied heavily on the mechanics and craftsmen that still operate in Florence and its surroundings. In 1953, when its racing career ended, this FIAT Ermini 1100 headed to Sicily, where it stayed until tracked down and rescued by Giuliano.
“The car was purchased as a wreck,” he says. “There are no spare parts for artisan cars like this Ermini, so whatever was missing had to be rebuilt by skilled artisans: aluminum panel beaters, foundries, reamers, rectifiers, and mechanics specialized in restorations of cars of this era.”
While the bonnet and upholstery were missing and required replacement, the remainder of the car is made up of original parts that have been restored. With the car now looking and operating as it should, what does Giuliano admire most about his unique possession, and what are his plans?
“It’s a 1950s barchetta with torpedo-shaped, motorcycle-style fenders. At the time they didn’t set design goals, it just had to run, be fast, and be light; it weighs less than 500kg. The restoration has only just finished, but I was able to test it at the Circuito Avezzano at the end of June, a nighttime-only event in Abruzzo, central Italy, where barchette and spiders are the only entrants. And perhaps I may take it back next year to the Mille Miglia.”
While the Ermini name is kept alive today by enthusiasts like Giuliano, the marque did make a brief return in 2014. Taken over by Ermini Automobili Italia Srl, the Ermini Seiottosei (686) was presented with an Osella chassis and a 320hp Renault engine, with bodywork by designer Giulio Cappellini. Sadly, since then, no further news has been forthcoming and production seems doubtful. However, nearly all of the Ermini cars currently residing in Italy will be on display in Florence this coming September. Located in the city’s historic center, Palazzo Medici Riccardi is hosting an exhibition in celebration of Pasquino Ermini and his cars. More information can be found here.