Image credits: Wouter Melissen / Rob Clements / Roy Andreas
Model history: Form and function can be combined very well in automotive design, the Ferrari 250 GT SWB underlines this like few others do. Considered by many as Ferrari's and Pininfarina's best looking car, the SWB took the first four places in its class at the 1960 Le Mans 24 hours race, completely blowing competition from Aston Martin and Chevrolet away.
Introduced at the 1959 Paris Motorshow, the SWB used a body very similar to those of the 250 GT LWB Interim Berlinetta campaigned throughout the 1960 season. The largest visual difference between the two is the lack of the Interim's fixed rear quarter windows on the SWB. The new chassis was similar in design to the 250 GTs raced in the 1950s but the wheelbase was shortened by 20 mm to 2400 mm, hence Short Wheelbase (SWB). A wheelbase of 2400 mm is considered as the ideal length, to allow for good cornering characteristics (the shorter, the better) and straight-line stability (the longer, the better). It is not a coincidence that the most successful racer ever, the Bugatti Type 35, has a 2400 mm wheelbase. Another major improvement was the replacement of drum brakes by discs, all around. This was the first time the factory equipped discs appeared on a 250 GT.
Under the bonnet a revised V12 engine (Type 168) was installed. Although its displacement and bore and stroke were exactly the same as the first of the 250 GT engines, it was a completely different engine, a result of 6 years of development. The Type 168 engine was closely related to the Type 128DF engines used in the Interim Berlinettas of 1959. The sump, oil pump, timing chain casings and oil filters were updated or replaced by new parts compared to the 128DF engine. Larger Weber Carburetors were also fitted, breathing was further assisted by the installation of 250 TR derived intake and exhaust ports. Competition engines were good for around 260 - 275 bhp (referred to as the 280bhp engine) and the street engines good for 220 - 240 bhp (240 bhp engine).
Ferrari's stronghold on international GT racing continued in 1960; the new SWB Berlinettas being nearly unbeatable. The Tour de France was a complete whitewash, with SWBs filling the first three places at the end of the 5500 km marathon. At Le Mans the domination was even more complete; four SWBs were on the top of the GT-class leaderboard. Overall or class victories were further scored at Monza, Spa, the Nürburgring, Monthlery and in the Tourist Trophy. Determined to continue the dominance, Ferrari refined the SWB for the 1961 season.
Cars produced after 1960 can be easily identified by the removal of the 'kink' in the top edge of the side windows. Other modifications mainly seen from late 1960 cars onward are the relocated fuel filler cap, fatter wheel arches and the ventilation vent in the roof instead of the rear window. Some competition cars used a lighter tubing for the chassis and were equipped with a very powerful engine. These cars are commonly referred to as 'Comp/61' or 'SEFAC Hot Rod'. Fitted with larger valves and rather oversized Carburetors, the Comp/61 engine produces well up to 300 bhp.
Ferrari's dominance in GT-racing was complete in 1961, with GT-class victories all over the world and a clean sweep of the first four places at the Tour de France. Although extremely successful, there was a big drawback of the SWB's design; it shared its aerodynamic characteristics with a rock. After just two years of racing, the SWB was already up for replacement. After a winter's worth of testing the result was the 250 GTO. It was equipped with a more aerodynamic body and a full blown 250 TR engine.
The introduction of the GTO was a carefully planned affair, which saw each modification homologated on the 250 GT SWB first. One of the first signs of things to come was a set of two highly modified SWBs, which were constructed in 1961. They were part of a run of five SWBs bodied by Pininfarina with a style similar to the aerodynamic 400 SuperAmerica. Two of these 'Sperimentales' also received a large number of technical modifications and were lightened throughout. Both featured covered headlights and clearly showcased Ferrari's desire for higher top speeds.
The first one (2429 GT) received a slightly uprated Comp/61 engine, but was never raced despite being extremely fast. Ferrari went one step further with the second car, the featured 2643 GT, and equipped it with a dry-sump six Carburetor version of the 3 litre V12. This engine was very similar to the upcoming 250 GTO engine. In later years this 'interim' car would be referred to as the 250 GTO prototype. It was used throughout the year as a testbed, but made a brief and unsuccessful appearance at Le Mans, where it was entered in the experimental class.
Early in 1962 Ferrari sold the unique racer to Luigi Chinetti who entered it for Stirling Moss in the Daytona 3 hour event. In his last race in a Ferrari Moss finished fourth overall and first in class. Later that year it was driven to a fourth in the GT class at Le Mans by Ed Hugus and George Reed behind two victorious 250 GTOs and a Lightweight E-Type Jaguar, which took third. After exchanging hands many times this unique SWB found its way to its current owner, who restored it to its original blue 1961 Le Mans livery.
Fortunately the current owner is an avid racer as can be seen in the image gallery above. 2643 GT is pictured campaigning in the 2005 Monterey Historic Automobile Races.