Los Angeles’ Petersen Automotive Museum has an extensive collection but they count on a long list of friends and associates for the loan of many cars for special exhibits. Since their “The World’s Greatest Sports Coupe” exhibit opened, two of the cars that were displayed the first day had to find substitutes. One was the burgundy Ferrari 250GT Lusso (above), which was absent for a few days until they found a blue car to take its place (below).
Form and Function
I once read the opinion that there have been few really beautiful Ferraris. That could be argued either way, but it is true that their reputation tends to get in the way of an objective assessment. Founder Enzo Ferrari always admitted that he only sold road-going Ferraris so that he could race, and a racing car is as a racing car does, so styling is not a high design priority. That being said, the customer cars had to please the client, and anyway, Italians seem genetically incapable of making anything actually ugly, so even the racing cars were at least attractive.
With its overhead-cam 2.0-liter Giacchino Colombo-designed V12, Ferrari’s 166 MM Barchetta was outrageously exotic in 1948. Its Superleggera styling by Carrozzeria Touring was certainly influential (See AC’s Ace and by extension Shelby’s Cobra), a bit brutal perhaps, but calling it pretty seems to me to be a stretch.
As a youngster my knowledge of Ferrari style was limited to what I saw on the pages of Road & Track. I thought the Testa Rossa looked cool, but I’d be embarrassed to recall what my undeveloped sense of automotive aesthetics would have called “beautiful” then. Some of the road-going Ferraris of the late fifties and early sixties were handsome, but by then I knew what they cost, and that probably interfered with an unbiased assessment.
Seeing one at rare car events in Illinois did not change that, and it was not until the seventies that I saw one that I would have said was beautiful, a 275 GTB owned by a neighbor of my folks on Lido Island in Newport Beach, California.
Then I went to Monterey in 2003. On a glorious California day in August I found myself standing between rows of old Monterey pines halfway up the fairway on a par five hole at Black Horse Bayonet Golf Links in Seaside. There were Ferraris staged nose to tail all the way up either side. Down the middle was another row arrayed side-by-side – and that was only a fraction of the entire show. As a car nut, on my first visit to Concorso Italiano, I had achieved Nirvana. I stood there in a sea of Prancing Horses, and I did not have to do anything. Just being there was deep down soul-satisfying.
No matter how much you may think you appreciate cars, nothing can prepare you for your first experience of Monterey’s Concorso Italiano in August, where you will see more Italian automotive art than any other place on earth. This year they’ve returned to the setting where I first saw them.
That’s where I saw my first Ferrari 250 GT Lusso.
My co-conspirator (and now credentialed photographer) Ephraim Levy and me at Concorso Italiano, on Black Horse Bayonet Golf Links in Seaside, California, August, 2003. That was my first experience of the Ferrari 250GT Lusso, and memorable enough that we coerced another spectator into snapping this picture.
Something about this car’s proportions, the airy interior with its slender roof pillars. the fastback roofline and Kammback tail, the long low nose, the subtle rise of the fenders over the rear wheels – details like the polished aluminum-rim Borrani chromed wire wheels, bumperettes, driving lamps – all comes together in perfect harmony. The interior, with its diamond-pattern italian leather, especially in the color the British call “biscuit” is luscious. I fell helplessly in love.
When Nissan introduced the Datsunj 240Z in 1969, the interior featured diamond-pattern quilted vinyl on the luggage deck. Not quite the Lusso’s butter-soft Italian leather, but you know what they say about imitation. Roomier than the typical Ferrari sports coupe, one might expect fitted luggage, but no. To be honest, the Jaguar E-Type’s side-opening hatch was way more convenient on that score.
Lineage – Italian Sports Car Luxury
Ferrari’s 250 GT line was very successful, but it was drawing to its close. They needed a car to follow the 25o GT SWB – something with more than the shell bucket seats and bare aluminum panels of the racing cars to attract the kind of buyer who would shell out $13,000 for a two-seater when the average American car cost under $2,500, while they developed the 275 GTB. Elegance was the word, and the 250GT Berlinetta Lusso (Italian for “luxury) was the answer.
Masterfully designed by Pininfarina (whose escutcheon is unaccountably absent from the fender of some examples) and executed in steel by Carrozzeria Scaglietti on a modified GTO chassis, it was roomier than the SWB, and yet relatively light for a luxury GT, weighing 2,249 pounds. (The SWB weighed 2,420.) It was a short-lived model, with only 351 produced from 1963 to 1964, with a list price of $13,375.
The short production run is what invites speculation that it was a stop-gap measure, to fill in while the 275 with its sophisticated transaxle and independent rear suspension, was developed. The Lusso was burdened with the previous model’s antedeluvian live axle and leaf springs, at a time when E-type Jaguars and even Sting Ray Corvettes had adopted IRS. At least they’d gone to four-wheel disc brakes by then.
Of course the 250GT’s 60° three-liter single-overhead-cam 24-valve Columbo V12 continued as the power plant. In this form it produced 250 horsepower, redlined at an ear-pleasing 8,000 rpm. Contemporary road tests put the zero-62.5 mph (100 kph) time at between six and seven seconds. An E-Type might outrun it at the top end, but the Ferrari sounded better doing it!
Is there a more elegant profile? Never mind that the restorer left the front marker light drooping.
I can dream, can’t I? Three years after a similar car failed to sell for a high bid of $400,000, Ephraim catches your correspondent in this Lusso (in the proper red/biscuit colors), which was gaveled at $550,000 at Gooding & Co. at Pebble Beach in 2010. This year they have two, one (Chassis 5791 – Number 324 out of 351) with a pre-auction estimate of $1,750,000 – $2,500,00, and the other (5249GT, unrestored, original, 20,350 miles) is what the Tour de France Cyclists might call “hors categorie” – beyond category. In other words, if you have to ask, you won’t be bidding.
Provenance is the Thing
The automotively aware responded favorably to the new design, and well-known owners included Formula One racing team owner and distillery scion Rob Walker, Eric Clapton, and Steve McQueen.
Matt Stone devotes more than six pages to McQueen’s Marrone (the color of the chocolate on your ice cream sundae) 250GT Lusso in his McQueen’s Machines. Most of it is complimentary, with references to long fast road trips and cruising around Los Angeles, with one photo that would not have been out of place in The Thomas Crown Affair for Cosmopolitan in 1964. Although he kept the car for about four years, eventually soft valve guides that led to persistent oil burning and expensive repairs (Is there another kind on a Ferrari?) had him selling the car in 1967, according to Stone.
In late 2000, Nethercutt Collection President Mike Regalia, who bought the car in 1997, began a painstaking restoration. As often happens, the work dragged on, finishing up just in time for the car to appear by invitation to the Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance, where I saw it in 2005.
Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance, 2005. Fresh from a comprehensive restoration by Nethercutt president Mike Regalia, former Steve McQueen chocolate/caramel Ferrari 250GT Lusso receives admiring gazes. Any car that looks that good in brown deserves a place among the greats.