The tragic accident at the 1955 24 Hours of Le Mans that claimed 80 lives had a profound effect on racing. The increasingly potent powertrains of the Le Mans sports cars were identified as a contributor to the disaster, and new regulations were drawn to eliminate what were essentially Grand Prix cars packaged with two-seater bodies.
The FIA’s new Gran Turismo classes prioritized safety and re-established competitively racing a road-based production car. Ferrari was prepared for the challenge, having debuted a new 250 GT at the 1956 Geneva Motor Show. The coupe could be produced in enough quantity to meet homologation requirements, and the underlying chassis would be the basis for Ferrari’s new gran turismo race car. Pininfarina designed a new lightweight body that was built by Scaglietti, using thin-gauge aluminum, Perspex windows and a minimally upholstered cabin. The finished car was known officially as the 250 GT Berlinetta.
Ferrari’s hopes for competitive success were quickly realized with a First in Class at the Giro di Sicilia in April 1956, followed by First in Class at the Mille Miglia later that month. The model’s defining success occurred in September, during the 1956 Tour de France Automobile. The Marquis Alfonso de Portago, a Spanish aristocrat and privateer racer, drove chassis number 0557GT to a dominating victory that sealed the model’s reputation. Enzo Ferrari was so pleased with the outcome that the 250 GT Berlinetta was subsequently referred to as the Tour de France. The moniker proved to be quite fitting, as Gendebien took First Overall at the 1957, 1958, and 1959 installments of the French race, as well as a Third Overall at the 1957 Mille Miglia.
Through its production run, the TdF underwent external body modifications resulting in four different series-produced body styles, plus a handful of Zagato-bodied cars. The alterations in appearance are recognizable in the rear three-quarter panels of the C-pillar that adjoin the roof. Initially produced with no louvers at all, these panels featured 14 louvers in the second-series cars, followed by a series with just three louvers, and ending with a series that featured just one sail-panel louver.
This Tour de France is the very first 14-louver example. It was purchased new by Tony Parravano, a Southern California building magnate, and it then changed hands among a couple of Los Angeles-based owners. Walt Disney Studios bought the car in 1966 for use in “The Love Bug,” a Disney classic about a racing VW Beetle. In October 1997, it passed to its current owner, a Southern California collector.