The Legend of Ferrari Starts at 125
Quantity is objective, of course. Take the number 125, for example. One hundred and twenty-five dollars isn’t a terribly large amount of money anymore, until you consider a $125 sandwich. The amount of 125 horsepower, too, isn’t an overwhelming figure in 2013, unless of course it’s in the context of a super-lightweight, road-borne go-kart like a Caterham or one of its dozens of imitators. I have a 125 CC Suzuki dirtbike from the seventies that’s so slow my grandma could clutch pop it in first gear at 8,000 revs with the same familiar ease she demonstrates in the cookie-baking arena—delicious wheelie, Nana! Multiply that figure by 12 and you’re still only left with 1,500 CC, slightly less than the amount of Mountain Dew Xtreme Insane Epic Lemon-lime Skrillex Limited-edition in your Big Gulp, bro, but exactly the size of Ferrari’s first-ever V12.
Though technically not the first car Enzo built as an independent entity after his separation from Alfa Romeo, a distinction that belongs to 1939’s Auto Avio Contruzioni 815, the 125 S was the first branded as a Ferrari. A fresh-sheet design, the 125 differed from the 815 in that it utilized a V12 instead of a straight eight loosely based on existing Fiat four cylinders. Designed by the legendary Gioacchino Colombo, the Tipo 125’s twelve was a 60-degree design featuring a single overhead cam per bank, two valves per cylinder, three double-choke downdraft Weber carbs, and an 8.5:1 compression ratio. This configuration was good for approximately 118 HP at 7,000 RPM and a sound like two Godzillas ripping a mile-long sheet of inch-thick canvas in half—which is to say quite good.
The 125 S made up for its relatively modest power reserves with very lightweight construction—exact weight figures are hard to come by, but an average of various sources seems to suggest one would tip the scales at roughly 1,600 lbs. Both road-going sport and pure race versions were built, and although bodywork varied, both versions shared essentially identical underpinnings and drivetrains—the impossibly romantic era of street-driven racing cars was still alive and well during the days immediately following the end of WWII.
On May 11th, 1947, the 125 S made its competition debut at the Circuito di Piacenza. Driven by Franco Cortese, the car failed to finish, despite a favorable showing against Maserati’s 6CS 1500—a performance Enzo would late call “a promising failure.” Exactly two weeks later, the same little car would score Ferrari’s historic first-ever victory at the Grand Prix of Rome, again driven by Cortese. Ultimately, the 125 S scored first place finishes at six of the 14 races it was entered in that year, with an unfortunate DNF at the Mille Miglia.
Next year, though 100 CC larger, Ferrari will once again race a car powered by a similarly diminutive powerplant, this time in the form of a 1.6 liter, turbocharged V6 as specified by 2014’s new F1 engine regulations. When we eventually hear this new beast churning out an ungodly amount of power, its strained, shrill voice indicative of the incredible strain induced on internal mechanisms rotating at nearly 300 times per second under the added stress of several pounds of forced induction, pushing a blood red, knee-high, ground-skimming rocket through corners at several times nominal gravity, it will be a moment inextricably linked by history and automotive DNA to Ferrari genesis—the 1.5 liter V12 125 S.