Minimalist, fast and beautiful: these are the qualities which best describe the barchettas which appear in the late 1940s. These light racing roadsters had no retractable roof or any additional frills, and were fitted with only a tiny windshield to minimise the impact of the air. These features proved effective in allowing these vehicles to dominate the Mille Miglia, Targa Florio and many other momentous events of these golden years.
Auto e Moto d'Epoca dedicated a beautiful exhibition to Ferrari barchettas in 2019.
The "oldest" among the cars on show in Padua was the 1950 Touring-fitted Ferrari 166 Mille Miglia; it first belonged to Gianni Agnelli, was then sold to an owner in Belgium and was then piloted by Olivier Gendebien in car races. The vehicle subsequently fell into the hands of great Ferrari collector and ex Formula 1 pilot Jacques Swaters, and was exhibited as an Italian designer model at the MoMa in New York and at the Nationalgallerie in Berlin. In 2015, it was one of the stars of the Villa d'Este Elegance Competition.
This particular car is unique, as it is linked to the origin of the nickname barchetta (lit. little boat). It was Agnelli himself who, upon seeing the polished silhouette of the 166MM exhibited at the 1948 Turin Fair exclaimed: "But this is not a car! It's a small boat!". This comment was recorded by sports journalist Giovanni Canestrini (one of the creators of Mille Miglia) and was mentioned again by Bianchi Anderloni (patron of Milan's Carrozzeria Touring) when referring to the 166 MM open model created for the 1949 Mille Miglia.
Since then, the term barchetta has become the word used to refer to an entire category of open race cars and was recently used to refer to models exclusively produced in a limited series.