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Coachwork by Vignale
Formerly the Property of Robert C. Wilke
Introduced at the Brussels Motor Show in 1951, the Ferrari 212 was the final evolution of the original 166 chassis and the direct replacement for the updated 195.
Sharing roughly the same chassis and suspension features of its forebearers, the 212 featured a 2.6-liter variation of Ferrari’s free-revving V-12. Thanks to the increase in displacement, power increased to 150 bhp in standard road trim, with as much as 170 bhp available when fitted with three Weber carburetors. Not only was the 212 more powerful than the car it replaced, it was more forgiving as well, producing greater torque at lower engine speeds for increased drivability.
All told, 82 examples of the road-going 212 Inter were completed prior to the introduction of the 250 series. As such, the 212 represented the close of an important chapter in Ferrari history.
Upon its completion in 1952, this 212 Inter chassis, 0257 EU, was shipped to Carrozzeria Vignale in Torino, a firm that created coachwork for approximately 150 Ferraris, from the most exclusive road-going models to thoroughbred competition cars.
That Carrozzeria Vignale succeeded in producing winners on the racetrack and at leading European concours is a testament to the vibrant collaboration that existed between company founder Alfredo Vignale and designer Giovanni Michelotti.
Alfredo Vignale likened himself to an artist working in metal. In a period in which coachbuilders relied on skilled craftsmen, panel beaters, and wooden bucks, Vignale approached his craft as if he were a classical sculptor, responding to each new commission with the care and genuine excitement of a true visionary.
This unique approach worked wonders for Michelotti’s incomparable designs, which were always fresh, innovative, and brimming with flamboyant details. Once Michelotti had arrived with a rendering, Vignale’s team went to work translating the drawings into metal. The results of their collective efforts are some of the most memorable custom bodies of the early 1950s.
The coachwork that Vignale fashioned for 0257 EU is the first in a series of six similar bodies built for the 212 Inter chassis.
Dubbed the “Geneva Coupe,” the basic design shared many similarities with the Vignale-bodied 340 Mexico Berlinettas, with their forward-thrusting front fenders, imposing eggcrate grille, low-set headlamps, swept-back roofline, and small, ornamental tail fins. Unlike the competition-oriented 340 Mexico Berlinettas, the road-going 212 Inter Coupes incorporated luxurious interior appointments, marvelously handcrafted details, and a distinctive bumper treatment that accentuated the dynamic character of the design. In keeping with Vignale tradition, each of the six examples was unique and easily distinguished by its individual livery, chassis specifications, and detailing.
Many Vignale-bodied Ferraris were painted in dramatic two-tone color schemes and 0257 EU is certainly no exception, as it was tastefully finished in black with a green top and matching accented fins on the hood and rear fenders. The interior carried over the striking contrast in color, with the black dashboard set off by green leather upholstery and light green carpets.
In spring 1953, 0257 EU was delivered to Sig. Fontanella, Ferrari’s official agent in Torino, who entered the brand-new 212 Inter in the prestigious 1954 San Remo Concours d’Elegance.
Following its public debut at San Remo, Sig. Fontanella returned 0257 EU to the Ferrari factory, where it was prepared for delivery to an important American customer, Robert C. Wilke of Milwaukee, Wisconsin.
A well-known car enthusiast, Mr. Wilke established one of the most successful dynasties in the history of American open-wheel racing. His family’s company, Leader Cards Inc., which converted paper products into envelopes, cards, and packaging, was a leading sponsor of midget and Indy cars throughout the 1950s and 1960s. His red, white, and blue Leader Card Specials were a major force at the Indy 500 for more than a decade, capturing victory at the Brickyard in 1959 and 1962.
Having grown accustomed to the meticulously finished and brilliantly engineered Indy roadsters of the era, Mr. Wilke sought the same qualities in his own road cars and was immediately attracted to the exotic Ferrari marque. During the early 1950s, Mr. Wilke developed a close relationship with North American importer Luigi Chinetti and bought six new Ferraris in a span of just 10 years. At its height, Mr. Wilke’s stable included two Ghia-bodied cars (a 410 Superamerica and a 375 MM) and three Vignale- bodied cars (a 375 America, a 212 Export, and this 212 Inter), as well as a 250 GT Pinin Farina Coupe. In addition to his collection of coachbuilt Ferraris, Mr. Wilke owned a Ghia-customized 300 SL Gullwing that he bought off the show stand at the Frankfurt Auto Show.
Early on in Mr. Wilke’s ownership, the original engine block in 0257 EU was damaged by overtorquing the cylinder head and was subsequently replaced with a correct-type engine sourced through Chinetti Motors. Following this repair, the Vignale-bodied 212 Inter remained a fixture in Mr. Wilke’s collection until January 22, 1963, when it was sold to Pierre-Paul Jalbert, a French-Canadian actor and film editor living in Beverly Hills, California.
Interestingly, Mr. Jalbert acquired the car through his friend Pino Lella, an Italian Olympic skier who moved to Hollywood after WWII and became a regular in the Southern California sports car scene. To supplement his earnings and support his skiing habit, Mr. Lella often arranged to broker exotic cars through his connections with Alberto Ascari and Milanese Ferrari dealer Gastone Crepaldi.
Throughout the 1960s, Mr. Jalbert, who coincidentally was also a former Olympic ski captain, drove the Ferrari regularly and even used the car to commute to the slopes of Mammoth Mountain, a ski resort some 300 miles north of Los Angeles.
In January 1969, Jalbert sold his 212 Inter to Ed Jurist, proprietor of the Vintage Car Store in Nyack, New York. In September 1970, John E. Plantinga of Westport, Connecticut, paid Jurist $4,500 for the 27,000- mile Ferrari.
After eight years of ownership, Mr. Plantinga sold the 212 to Chinetti Motors in Greenwich, Connecticut. Still in excellent shape, the 26-year-old Ferrari was displayed on Chinetti’s stand at the 7th Greater New York Automobile Show held from January 27, 1979, to February 4, 1979.
Following its display in New York, the Ferrari was sold to Tom Parker of Louisiana, and, in October 1979, Ennio Gianaroli of Flémalle, Belgium, purchased it at a Christie’s auction in New York.
Upon its arrival in Europe, the Ferrari was repainted in a variation of its original two-tone color scheme – the lower sections of the car finished in dark green with black accents above. During Mr. Gianaroli’s extended ownership, 0257 EU took part in several marque gatherings including Jacques Swaters’ famous FF40 meeting held in Belgium in September 1992.
By May 2006, 0257 EU returned to the US and was sold to Ferrari enthusiast Stan Makres of Grosse Pointe, Michigan. The following year, the Ferrari passed to Lee Alexander of Potomac, Maryland; however, it remained in his care for only a brief period.
In October 2009, the current owner, a Texas- based collector, acquired the 212 Inter after a long search for an exciting Ferrari project. Soon after finalizing the purchase of 0257 EU, the consignor sourced the original, matching-numbers engine from Ferrari specialist John Hajduk, who had acquired the repaired block from Bob Wallace.
With the original engine secured, the restoration process was begun in earnest with the intent to return 0257 EU to its original, as-delivered appearance. At this time, the consignor enlisted the highly regarded restoration firm Gassman Automotive of Waynesboro, Virginia, to address the body, paint, interior, and final assembly, while John Hajduk’s Motor Kraft in Noblesville, Indiana, was tasked with a rebuild of the engine and driveline.
Before any work was carried out, extensive research was undertaken and leading marque specialists, including Paul Russell & Company and David Carte, were consulted for their expertise. Throughout the process, every effort was made to return the Ferrari to its original splendor, using period photos of 0257 EU and similar cars to properly address the minute, hairline details.
Every feature, from the decorative, etched filigree on the door sills to the proper fittings and finishes in the engine bay, was carefully restored to factory standards and great lengths were taken to ensure an authentic presentation. For example, the correct Arbo Tan hides – as used originally by Vignale in 1952 – were extensive file of documentation carefully organized and divided among four binders. In addition to the wealth of research documentation, archival photos, correspondence, judging sheets, and restoration records, 0257 EU is accompanied by a history report compiled by Marcel Massini, the noted marque historian and author of Ferrari by Vignale.
The next caretaker of this fabulous Ferrari will have in his possession an Italian thoroughbred of the absolute highest order. 0257 EU has many unique distinctions and characteristics. Presented here is a rare, late-production 212 Inter, with spectacular Vignale coachwork, a period concours pedigree, and an important connection to Robert C. Wilke, an early patron of Luigi Chinetti and one of the first American enthusiasts to recognize the special qualities embodied in a bespoke Ferrari.
Arguably the finest surviving example of a rare breed, 0257 EU is an outstanding representative of the last generation of Vignale-bodied Ferraris and a true prize for the discerning collector.