The Ferrari 196 SP put the cart before the horse. At least, that’s the way Enzo Ferrari saw it. The company had recently been prompted to make rear-engined cars, mostly due to the success of other mid-engined racers like those being built by the Cooper Car Company. Mr. Ferrari, however, was not happy about this whole arrangement. Luckily for everyone, he saw the reasoning behind the design and stuck with it, leading to some of the timeless rear-engine Ferrari designs we all love today.
Okay, so the car’s layout was unorthodox for Ferrari. That’s not all that set this model apart, however. The engine was part of a new experiment for the Italian brand as well. Instead of the usual V12 the public expected of Ferrari by now, there sat a V6. The 6-cylinder design was chosen because it was both more compact and more efficient than the Colombo V12. Designers needed that extra space to fit the 5-speed transmission and shift linkage all in the small area behind the driver.
While Enzo himself may not have been pleased, the drivers surely were. After all, this arrangement created a perfect weight distribution. And the power produced by the V6 wasn’t exactly inadequate, either. With 210bhp total coming from the 2.0-litre powerplant, the 196 SP could hold its own against the racing competition of its day. It could do quite a bit more than that, actually.
It seems that the small and efficient V6 was quite an asset on the track. Together with its 246 SP sibling, the Ferrari 196 SP took home first place finishes at the Targa Florio as well as the 1000 km of Nürburgring.
After producing fewer than 10 models in 2 years, the 196 SP was retired. Its legacy, however, would live on for a long time. Ferrari continued developing its rear-engine technology up through the current era and beyond. Interestingly, the 196 SP was introduced at the same time as the 250 GTO, but the now-famous GTO was largely ignored at the press event.