|Ferrari 250 GTO/64 Pininfarina Coupe|
Arguably the most desirable and valuable car in the world, the Ferrari 250 GTO is surrounded with intrigue and myth. All of the 36 cars produced from 1962 to 1964 have survived and are accounted for, and most remarkably the history of every example is well documented. Up until the early 1970s, the GTO was regarded as an obsolete racing car. Since then prices have steeply risen to 10 digits in Pounds, Dollars and Euros. With today's value it's hard to imagine one was once used by a student driver and another used for auto mechanics practice at Victoria High School in Texas. Fortunately many owners still take their GTOs out with serious passion to participate in historic events around the world; for them and the spectators to enjoy. Museum displays don't do many cars justice, and it would be especially unfortunate to see Ferrari's definitive racer sit silently under artificial light.
Launched in 1954, the 250 GT Europa spawned a line of exceptional Ferrari GT racers that could be driven to, and then excel, on the track. Power came from a 3 litre version of the Gioacchino Colombo short-block designed V12. Continuously developed from then on, this engine would power many different racers and road cars, ranging from the most luxurious convertibles to the full blown Testa Rossa racers. The engine was fitted in a simple but strong steel tubular ladder-frame that was suspended by wishbones with a single leaf spring at the front and a live axle at the rear. Not at all sophisticated, the GT car was designed to survive and win gruelling marathons on road and track. After the first series of cars were built in 1955, the Europa name was dropped and from then on the car was simply known as the 250 GT. After a victory in the Tour de France rally in 1956, the name Tour de France (TdF) was unofficially adopted for all long wheelbase (LWB) cars built after the Europa GT. A very well deserved nickname, as the 250 GT went on to win the French race another eight years in a row.
Shorter and more nimble
The 250 GT chassis began with a 2600 mm wheelbase, but Ferrari felt that handling and weight would benefit from a shorter chassis. In 1959 the first of these short wheelbase (SWB) cars was unveiled. As an interim series, the last seven LWB chassis were bodied with the upcoming SWB design. These LWB bodies included rear quarter windows, which were no longer necessary once the shorter chassis was complete. Both the engine and chassis were a development of the successful 250 GT, although the drum brakes were replaced by new discs to improve braking capabilities. Unlike the LWB 250 GT, the SWB was available as an aluminium bodied competition car or as a steel bodied 'Lusso' road car. The road car was built to comply with the latest FIA regulations which required a minimum number of cars be produced to secure homologation. Between 1960 and 1961 the 250 GT SWB was Ferrari's racing weapon of choice. Its dominance was complete, with consistent victories in the Tour de France and GT class victories in many endurance races, including the 24 Hours of Le Mans. Within the homologated specification, Ferrari continued development of the racer resulting in the 'Comp/61' version for the 1961 season. Compared to the previous series, it featured a more powerful engine, lighter and stronger chassis, and a slightly revised body.
Ferrari 250 GT SWB Comp/62
Although the 250 GT's performance was impressive, a number of problems urged the factory competition department, the Gestione Sportiva, to develop a new version for 1962. Motivation also resulted from the FIA decision to run the 1962 World Championship for GT cars, rather than sports cars. That change added to the overall importance of the 250 GT program. The only noticeable flaw with the 1960/61 SWB was the poor aerodynamics at high speeds, which were often described as 'brick-like'. Development of the Comp/62 started quite early in 1961. The first sign of things to come was a 250 GT SWB fitted with a Pininfarina designed SuperAmerica body and a dry-sump 250 TR engine. Not yet homologated, this 'Sperimentale' made its debut in the 1961 Le Mans race, where it proved quite quick, but failed to finish. Throughout the year various minor modifications were approved and added to the homologation of the 250 GT. These included the adoption of the TR engine, which was similar to the Comp/61, but used dry sump lubrication and six Weber Carburetors instead of three.
A hot subject for debate still remains within the design of the car, but it is safe to say that not one singular person or company is completely responsible. In charge of the Comp/62 program was Gestione Sportiva's Giotto Bizzarrini. When the first test mule arrived at the track, the nose already resembled the final product, but the rear still shared styling with the 1960/61 250 GT. Designed as a race car, the body was draped as tightly over the chassis as possible. Purpose took priority over aesthetics, but fortunately beauty prevailed. Throughout the winter, the rough body was developed into its eventual shape. It was then shipped to Scaglietti, who refined the design and made it production ready. The car was first shown to the press in February 1962, but this again was not yet the final shape. During high speed testing the rear end proved to be unstable; a similar problem that dogged the Sperimentale model at Le Mans. A small lip was bolted on the 'Kamm' shaped tail, greatly improving the high speed characteristics. This device was pioneered the previous season on a V6 engined prototype by American engineer-turned-racing-driver Richie Ginther. The first 18 cars built were fitted with a separately bolted on lip, but was designed directly into the body of the remaining cars. With exception to several minute design improvements that followed, the final Comp/62 was complete.
From 250 GT Comp/62 to 250 GTO
The newly unveiled Comp/62 was quickly met with criticism from competitors and journalists around the world. They couldn't believe that the new racer derived from the 1961 model, but instead were convinced it was a new car. Some called it a 'Testa Rossa with a roof'. Ferrari however, were confident with the legality of the new car. Every change was approved of separately, which should make homologation a small formality. Both parties were somewhat right; the Comp/62 was so different from the previous design that it could easily be considered a new car, but Ferrari's careful planning paid off with the awarded homologation. In a similar situation both the Jaguar E-Type Lightweight and Aston Martin DB4 GT Zagato were homologated, despite the rather large departure from their original road car designs. The 250's eventual name was also consequent to this much written about process of homologation. In all official paperwork it was referred to as 250 GT Comp/62, but possibly due to a mix-up, it was generally referred to as 250 GTO; the O being short for 'Omologato' (Italian for homologation). Interestingly this name was first used in English publications, long before it reached Italy. The name stuck and by 1966 it was so synonymous with performance that GM's Pontiac division used it for their latest muscle car. Ferrari also revived the name two decades later, when they launched the competition oriented 288 GTO.
All GTOs have contemporary racing history and would require numerous paragraphs to describe each career in detail. Resulting from the walk-out in 1961 by many key personnel including Bizzarinni, the development of the GTO slowed considerably. Under the leadership of Mauro Forghieri, development continued but the new car was short of being ready for the season opening race. An 'old' 250 GT SWB defended Ferrari's honour in its place. Sebring was home to the second round of the championship where the GTO made its debut and easily won the GT-class in the hands of Phil Hill and Olivier Gendebien. It continued to win its class in every round of the world championship, including a clean sweep of the class podium at Le Mans. Ferrari won the season championship with a maximum score of 45 points, followed by Jaguar and Chevrolet. In 1963 the competition was stronger, with the introduction of the Ford-powered AC Cobras, but the GTO's success continued. Another class win at Le Mans, an outright victory in the Tour de France and the World Championship highlighted the long list of successes for the 250 GTOs that were raced by the works team and the numerous privateers.
In 1962 and 1963, the factory completed 33 cars, of which 32 featured the basic Comp/62 design. In the 1963 24 Hours of Le Mans race, Luigi Chinetti's North American Racing Team (NART) entered a 250 GTO fitted with a special body. It was similar in design to the 330 LMB GT/Prototype racers and is commonly referred to as the 250 GTO LMB. For the 1964 season a completely new car was developed to race in the GT class, resulting from the 1963 Le Mans winning 250 P. Being mid-engined, this new 250 LM shared no road going counterpart and therefore its homologation was refused by the FIA. Ferrari hastily assembled three new 'Series 2' GTOs, fitted with a Pininfarina styled body with clear 250 LM touches. This brings the total production of the 250 GTO to 36. Another three cars featured GTO style bodies, but used a different chassis and a 4 litre engine. These are known as the 330 GTOs. To add to the confusion, four customers returned their GTOs to the factory to have a 1964 style body fitted. So today there are 28 chassis fitted with the Comp/62 body, one GTO LMB, four re-bodied with a 1964 design and three chassis originally equipped with a 1964 body.
Ferrari's stop gap measure partially paid off, with them winning the world championship for the third year running. At Le Mans the first real crack in the armour was visible when the aerodynamically superior AC Cobra Daytona took the class victory after the five year Ferrari dominance. In a final attempt to retain their stronghold, Ferrari constructed a racing version of the new 275 GTB model, but was too extreme in the eyes of the FIA and homologation was again refused. Disappointed, Ferrari withdrew from GT racing and concentrated on sports cars and Formula 1. The end of an era.
A combination of racing history, beauty, rarity and perhaps hype has made the 250 GTO one of the most valuable cars in the world. In recent years several examples are believed to have been sold for astronomical sums of between $25 and $35 million, and there are no signs of the prices dropping yet. Compared to other highly successful, beautiful and much rarer Ferraris, the GTO's outrageous value seems hard to justify. None of these, however, are so universally admired as the 250 GTO. Many of today's fortunate owners of the 36 cars appreciate this and regularly exercise their prized possessions in the big historic events and races. In a comment about racing such a valuable machine, one owner pointed out that due the value, it is today impossible to write off a 250 GTO.
Article by Wouter Melissen, last updated on August 03, 2012
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