Model history: In the first half of the 20th century sports and racing cars were predominantly equipped with very spartan open bodies. The driver's creature comforts and weather protection were second or third to saving weight and decreasing frontal area. At the end of the 1930s a better understanding of aerodynamics saw the introduction of fixed head racers on the grid, but only very rarely. This all changed in the early 1950s when small two door coupes, often referred to as Grand Tourers, were introduced left and right. Initially intended as road cars for the enthusiast, they quickly made it out to the track. In 1955 a Grand Turismo, or GT class was added to the international racing calendar for two and three litre production cars.
The GT moniker was first introduced to Ferrari line-up in 1954 with the introduction of the 250 GT Europa. It replaced the 250 Europa and was primarily intended as a road car, but as it turned out it formed the basis for a long line of highly successful racers. Unlike its Lampredi big-block powered predecessor, the 250 GT Europa used Colombo's short block V12, derived from the 250 MM racing engine. The Pinin Farina designed and constructed coupe body was also similar to the 250 MM's. The chassis followed Ferrari's familiar pattern of two large tubular members with several cross braces with a wheelbase of 2600 mm. Suspension was by wishbones at the front with a single transverse leaf spring and a live axle at the rear. In good Italian fashion, large finned drum brakes took care of the braking.
With its 2953 cc V12 engine, the 250 GT Europa fitted perfectly in the new three litre class, so it was no surprise a 'Competizione' version was prepared for the 1955 season. The first competition 250 GTs were very similar to the road cars, but of course stripped of all luxuries. After the first batch of four cars was constructed, the chassis was modified with the front transverse leaf springs replaced by coil springs. Breathing through three Webers, the three litre engine produced between 230 and 260 bhp depending on the version and the state of tune. Pinin Farina bodied the first cars, but shortly after the production was allocated to the local specialist Scaglietti, while the Turin based coach-builder continued to supply the designs. With the exception of five chassis, bodied by Zagato, all subsequent 250 GT competition cars featured Scaglietti built bodies.
Internally all 250 GTs built between 1955 and 1964 were known as such, but several nicknames were used to distinguish the various types. The cars built between 1955 and 1959 are now referred to as Long Wheelbase (LWB) to distinguish them from the later 2400 mm Short Wheelbase (SWB) cars and those of 1957 to 1959 vintage also of Tour de France (TdF). This was for a very good reason; from the first time a 250 GT was entered in the gruelling endurance race in 1956, it dominated the event, taking nine consecutive victories. The organizers allowed the (class-)winning manufacturers to use the event's name for the winning model. In 1955 and 1956 the 'standard' competition 250 GTs were constructed with the 250 MM inspired design, but for 1957 the first major modification was carried through.
The design of the 1957 car was first showcased on a 250 GT competition show car, bodied by Pinin Farina and shown at the 1955 Paris Salon. The nose was still similar to the 250 MM design, but the round rear-end was discarded and instead the fenders sported small fins. Over the next three years the basic design remained the same, but there are three distinguishable versions, identifiable by the number of louvres fitted in the sail panel. The first version featured no fewer than fourteen, followed by three and one in the final form. Other more subtle changes to the design of the body included a variety of headlight locations and the use of warm or cold air intake through a bonnet blister. If equipped with a cold air intake, a large dish was fitted around the Carburetors that sealed perfectly to the bonnet with a rubber strip to increase the 'ram-effect'. Late in 1959 the last five long wheelbase cars were equipped with a body with a similar design to the upcoming short wheelbase 'Berlinettas'.
Apart from the changes to the front suspension early on in the 250 GT competition's life, the chassis was barely modified in the following years. The same can be said of the four speed gearbox that was originally derived from the very powerful 342 America. The only alteration was the replacement of the Works designed synchromesh rings by a synchromesh constructed under a Porsche patent. The V12 engine was more heavily modified throughout its duty in the long wheelbase chassis. The first version was dubbed Tipo 112 and was very similar to the 250 MM unit with separate intake ports for every cylinder. This was quickly replaced by the Tipo 128 with one siamesed port for every two cylinders. The 128 engine was frequently updated and B, C and D versions were used in the LWB cars. Colombo's three litre V12 was without a doubt the 250 GT's biggest asset and only very rarely broke down even during very hard driving.
Unlike Ferrari's full blown racing cars the 'production' 250 GT competition cars received odd chassis numbers and were rarely raced by the factory. At the end of the long wheelbase production run in 1959 around 94 examples were produced, but not all of them saw contemporary track action. Those that did were often highly successful and apart from the complete domination in the Tour de France, numerous class and scratch victories were scored on both sides of the Atlantic. With wins in the Mille Miglia, Targa Floria and the 24 Hours of Le Mans, the 250 GT was by far the most successful three litre car of its era, only let down on rare occasions by its outdated drum brakes. Amazingly, it would only get better with the introduction of the disc-brake equipped 250 GT SWB late in 1959 and the 250 GTO in 1962. The results of the 'TdF' were matched and bettered with three World Manufacturer Championships.
Three-louvre TdF Coupe, chassis 0773GT was sold to the United Sates late in 1957 and raced with considerable success in 1958 by George Arents, taking numerous class wins. The car's racing career was short lived as it was retired at the end of the season. Fully restored, it is seen here during the 2005 Tour Auto.
This three-louvre 250 GT TdF was never raced in period. In recent years it has regularly taken to the track in North America. Chassis 0781GT is seen here during a Ferrari Historic Challenge at Moroso Park during the Cavallino Classic event.