Ferrari celebrates 55th anniversary of the 250 GTO with a parade. Here's why it's glorious
The Ferrari 250 GTO celebrates its 55th anniversary in 2017, and Ferrari assembled 20 of 36 GTOs built for an Italian tour. Here, TG’s Jason Barlow gives you the full debrief on the 250…
The GTO marks the end of the celebrated 250 GT blood-line, and unusually for such a glamorous and famous car, reliability was one of its top attributes.
It was also old. Neither of these things have stopped it from becoming the most desired Ferrari of them all. Giacchino Colombo’s legendary engine was now a veteran campaigner: a 60° V12, twin overhead camshaft, 2,953cc masterpiece, producing 300bhp. Six twin-choke Weber carburettors sat in the centre of the engine’s V, mounted on magnesium-alloy inlet manifolds; the cylinder block was cast in a brand of aluminium called Siluminum, with cast-iron wet cylinder liners, and there’s dry sump lubrication. The crank was machined from a single steel billet, as were the con rods. It did also gain a new five-speed, all-synchromesh gearbox.
The chassis, though, was similar to the long-serving 250 GT’s, and consisted of a tubular steel frame. Pick-up points were added to lower key components like the gearbox, radiator, and fuel and oil tanks in the chassis, improving the centre of gravity. Most GTOs had two cooling air intakes in the front wings; some had three. Various bracing bars helped stiffen the chassis and sill members, and there was a roll hoop. Enzo Ferrari had finally and belatedly accepted that disc brakes were a good thing after all, and an aluminium shield protected its floor. Borrani wheels with alloy rims and steel spokes were wrapped in Dunlop rubber. The GTO also features recirculating ball steering, rather than rack and pinion.
But it was the body design that needed overhauling to keep pace with its more advanced rivals, including Jaguar’s magnificent new E-Type. Tentative aerodynamic experiments began, primarily to reduce lift at the front and improve downforce at the rear. The project was initially overseen by Giotto Bizzarrini, who would soon leave the factory during the notorious ‘palace revolution’ in late 1961 that saw Ferrari lose a host of key technical people (the story goes that his lieutenants had grown weary of his wife Laura’s increasing meddling). Enzo’s old friend Sergio Scaglietti was subsequently tasked by Enzo Ferrari to finish work on the car. There were several further winter tests, before the finished 250 GTO was shown to the media during Ferrari’s annual press day on 24th February 1962. Known internally as Comp.62, it was English journalists who first referred to the car as the GTO, and though unofficial the name stuck. This very early car wore the livery of Count Volpi’s Scuderia Serenissima, and its distinctive proboscis saw the Italian media dubbed it ‘il formichiere’ – the ant-eater. The famous Kamm tail had yet to be introduced.
With a new regime emerging, Mauro Forghieri was now in charge of development. Giancarlo Baghetti tested the GTO extensively at Monza, where it proved to be impressively fast.
Typically, none of the 36 GTOs made in the first 1962-’64 production run were identical. Although the bodies were all hand-beaten in aluminium over wooden bucks by Scaglietti’s artisans, there were many differences, some cosmetic, others more empirical and engineering-focused. Indeed, as with many historic Ferrari models, you need to be a mix of Indiana Jones and Hercule Poirot to figure out what was really what. The first 18 cars were supplied with the rear spoiler as a separate item, which then had to be bolted to the body. One of the 36-strong production run had a completely different body design, mirroring the 330 LMB. Variations included the rear wing, the size of the radiators, the number of ducts, and various other amendments.
There were three prototypes powered by a 4.0-litre V12; although there were only three Series 2 GTOs (built in 1964), with completely different bodywork, four of the first run of 36 were subsequently re-bodied to include the updated body and mechanical improvements.
Although rarely a works car, the GTO was still only made available to Enzo Ferrari’s favoured privateers and drivers. The Super America mulotipo, chassis no 2643, actually ran at Le Mans in 1961, and no less a figure than Stirling Moss raced it to a fourth place finish at Daytona in 1962. The car shown to the press in February that year made its race debut in the Bridgehampton Double 400 seven months later, with Ed Hugus and Charlie Hayes driving. The first full production car, chassis no 3413GT, was sold in April 1962 to Edoardo Lualdi, who was an accomplished hill-climber. (It was subsequently fitted with the Series 2 bodywork.) Olivier Gendebien and Phil Hill won the GT class and finished second overall (behind a 250 Testa Rossa) in chassis 3387GT in the Sebring 12 Hours on March 24th 1962. There were also victories at Goodwood and Silverstone.
One of the best-known GTOs was a right-hand drive car, painted a distinctive pale green, and campaigned by the UDT-Laystall team, which was run by Stirling Moss’s father Alfred and his manager Ken Gregory. (The provenance of this car is exceptional: it was raced by ‘wild’ Willy Mairesse, Masten Gregory, and Innes Ireland, amongst others.) The 250 GTO would go on to rack up more than 500 competitive appearances, cementing its status in the Ferrari annals. In 1963 and ’64, it won the Tour de France; it took class wins in the Targa Florio in 1962, ’63, and ’64; and there were class wins at Le Mans in 1962 (where GTOs finished second and third overall) and ’64.
“If you take the body off the 250 GTO,” London-based historic car broker and racing driver Gregor Fisken says, “you definitely have under the skin something that was as good as anyone else was producing in the world at the time. A lot of the timeless appeal lies in the aesthetics, and for that you have to look at what was coming out of those panel shops in Italy. Something special happened, and it wasn’t scripted. In many ways, we hit a sweet spot in 1962 and ’63 [in terms of front-engined racing cars].”
And the Ferrari 250 GTO hit the sweetest spot of all.