The first examples of Italian performance to reach Cincinnati were supercharged Alfa Romeos in the late 1940s. Ferraris followed in dramatic numbers along with Abarths, Fiats, Stanguellinis and Bandinis. The local interest in Italian cars started strong and remains that way today (Maserati endures as the favorite), along with the rumor that Alfa Romeo will soon be back on the market.

An Alfa Romeo 308, a former Grand Prix car in the care of Walter Moeller and James Ibold, had some decent finishes at Indianapolis, and in 1948, Johnny Mauro squeaked into the field and took eighth place at the "Brickyard." The car was driven in club races into the mid-1950s by local architect Woody Garber.

Some of the most memorable Italian cars were the Ferrari Testa Rossa models driven by local Cincinnati sportsmen to a variety of championships. In total, 41 Testa Rossas were produced between the 500 TR, 500 TRC and 250 TR models.

Seven of those cars made their way to Cincinnati, or about 17 percent of the cars built in three years. (To establish perspective on these numbers, consider that Ford produced 436,000 Falcons in 1960, a single model year). Prior to the 1956 arrival of the Testa Rossa, a variety of Italian machines graced the area. Let's start with the racing cars.

The first Ferraris were built as race cars. Enzo Ferrari's friend and confidant Luigi Chinetti convinced him to start building road cars to finance the racing.

Ferrari had driven and then operated the Alfa Romeo Racing Team Alfa Corse, and Chinetti raced Alfas alongside and for Ferrari. During this period, both men became familiar with the fabulous super-charged Alfas, including the 308. Chinetti became the U.S. distributor for Ferrari and started with the 166 MM Barchetta, which translates to "little boat." The open-top Spiders, primarily bodied by the coachbuilder Touring, sported a 2-litre, V-12 engine with 140 hp on a 1,420-lb. frame with a top speed over 100 mph.

Bringing It Home

The Ferrari furor in the Tristate began when Ebby Lunken purchased a 166 MM Touring Barchetta with a storied racing history in the hands of well-known hot shoes Bill Spear, Phil Walters and John Fitch. Ferrari #0054 was built fairly late in the run of 25 Touring Barchettas produced and immediately went to Argentina for several contests before reaching the U.S. and competing at Watkins Glen, Elkhart Lake Wisc., Sebring, Palm Beach and taking a victory in the Vero Beach six-hour race.

Lunken brought 166 MM #0054 to Cincinnati, painted it black and got down to winning on the public road circuit at Elkhart Lake, Turner Air Force Base and MacDill Air Force Base before taking a victory in the 12 hours of Sebring with Cincinnati area sports car dealer Charles "Chuck" Hassan in 1953.

The winning continued at Chanute, Offutt and Stout Field Air Force bases until the car was sold in August 1953 and a Ferrari 225 S took its place.

Hassan chose a Bandini Silura to try his hand at small engine displacement racing. The chassis was built by Illaria Bandini, and the engines were outsourced to the larger manufacturers. However, the Hassan car had a Crosley power-plant.

An Italian car with an engine sourced locally from the renowned Crosley Corp. made a quick package. Hassan raced the Bandini several years before embracing the larger displacement Ferraris, Austin Healeys and Jaguars.

More than 20 racing Ferraris listed Cincinnati as their hometown, the most recent the 333 SP campaigned by Doran Racing in Lebanon. For more than half a century, area drivers have been wheeling the "prancing horses" to victory at tracks including Sebring, Daytona, Watkins Glen and LeMans.

Today, the Italian car culture is supported by Ferrari and Alfa Romeo owner clubs, Fiat dealers, Maserati of Cincinnati and European Auto Specialists, giving us all the opportunity to go Veloce!


Revival of Lakeside Tradition Wraps Up Season

rapping up the season with some fun racing in a resort town is a favorite road racing custom. The Nassau Bahamas Speedweeks thrived as did the sports car races at Put-In-Bay on South Bass Island in Lake Erie, near Sandusky, Ohio. The Put-In-Bay Road Race Heritage Society has revived the latter and will commemorate the 60th anniversary of the original races Sept.19-21 with vintage sports car races, a rally and driving tour of the original course, a recollections roundtable with original race veterans, and the sharing of laughs and hospitality.

The Put-In-Bay Road Races were traditionally held in October, and that time of year is especially nice on the Lake Erie islands, perfect for enjoying the nimble performance of a sports car. The original races were limited to 100 cars under 2 liters displacement. This was the venue where MG, Triumph, Alfa, Porsche, Morgan and Lotus excelled. The Put-In-Bay races celebrated the joie de vivre of driving small, agile cars with friends and family in the most exemplary locale available.

Now, it can be done again.

A special display of MGs on the road and track is planned throughout the Wednesday-through-Friday event. Wednesday is touring and history day; Thursday will feature the Road Race Revival; Friday spotlights the car show and awards lunch.

Put-In-Bay is home to many collector cars, and a parade of the specialty vehicles registered on the island will roll through town Thursday night.

The combination of the island, sports cars, boats, parade, friendly competition, history, car show, rallye, and the races promises a grand time just beyond the north coast.

More information is available at

See you there.