There’s a first time for everything, be it your first day at school or the day you started your first job. These events live on inside you as memories. This is the case for Ferrari and its first victory which came in 1947 courtesy of the 125 S. That win would be the first milestone in the genuinely unparalleled sporting career of a team that has clocked up more Formula 1 victories than any other.
That first win had its roots in mid-1945 when Enzo Ferrari commissioned Gioachino Colombo to design a completely innovative car for him. Ferrari’s ambition was, of course, to beat the Alfa Romeos which he knew intimately as he had spent so much time with the Milan team, first as a driver, then as sporting director, racking up triumph after triumph in the pre-War years.
As far as Enzo Ferrari was concerned the engine was the heart of any car. Hence his incredible focus on the power unit from that first design onwards. The choice fell on a 12-cylinder architecture, which would have the power to deliver the kind of performance required. The engine moniker, 125, referenced its unit displacement: 125 multiplied by 12 gives the overall displacement of the engine, a mere 1,500cc.
The months flew by as work ploughed ahead on building the engine with Gioachino Colombo handing over the design reins to Giuseppe Busso. Luigi Bazzi assisted in the fine tuning and the unit’s power output burgeoned on the test-bench, eventually rising to just under 120 bhp at 6,800 rpm. In the meantime, Gilco of Milan, a company that specialised in high-strength steel tubing for the aeronautical industry, was busy making the tubular chassis. It was stiff but light, just as Ferrari had requested, with two longitudinal side members and a central X-shaped cross-member in oval-section tubes. On March 12 1947, an engine roared across the countryside between Maranello and nearby Formigine. The as-yet-unbodied 125 had sprung to life and the great Ferrari adventure had begun.
Two months later, on May 11 1947, the 125 S made its racing debut at the Piacenza Circuit. The S in its name stood for Sport, referring to its open sports car body style. At its wheel was Franco Cortese. Two cars were actually entered in the race – the second was a 125 C which, although identical in terms of its running gear had a narrow single-seater body (hence the C for ‘competition’). Nino Farina was selected to drive it. Unfortunately, the Turin-born driver was unhappy with the car he’d been allotted and demanded his team-mate’s vehicle. Ferrari refused and Farina failed to show at the start. Cortese’s 125 S was leading the race when it had to retire with a fuel pump failure. Enzo Ferrari later dubbed the maiden race “a promising failure”. Happily, it was a failure that lasted a mere nine days as, on May 20 1947, Franco Cortese drove the 125 S to victory in the Rome Grand Prix. He completed 40 laps of the Terme di Caracalla circuit laid out on the tree-lined boulevards around the ancient Roman baths, for a total of 137.6 kilometres, at an average speed of 88.5 km/h. This was the first of six victories the car went on to deliver in 1947, one of the most notable of which was at Parma with Tazio Nuvolari at its wheel.