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.
|1956 Ferrari 250 GT LWB TdF
|Original List Price:
|Tune Up Cost:
|Chassis Number Location:
|Left frame member by steering box
|Engine Number Location:
|Right rear motor mount
|Ferrari Club of America
This car, 0585GT, was campaigned in multiple Tour Autos, a Mille Miglia, and a Shell Ferrari Historic Challenge at Le Mans. 0585GT has been displayed at “Freedom of Motion,” an exhibition at the Art Center College of Design. It also won The Great Ferraris class at the 2011 Quail Motorsports Gathering.
In addition to the awards, 0585 GT has also gone under the scrutiny of the Ferrari factory’s Classiche program, receiving the full “Red Book” certification.
This car, Lot 231, sold for $6,710,000, including buyer’s premium, at RM Auctions’ Monterey sale on August 18, 2012.
Whoever thought up the Tour de France Automobile must have been channeling the Marquis de Sade. Starting in 1899 and continuing off and on until 1986, the Tour de France was a multi-stage event held over as many as eight days. Each stage was designed to punish the car, driver, navigator and support crew with an intense regimen of circuit racing, hillclimbs and high-speed rallying.
A typical day might start with a timed hillclimb up a steep French mountain. The roads would be gravel with little — if any — protection from a fatal trip off the edge. Once the hillclimb was completed, the day would continue with a high-speed stage of weaving through traffic on public roads in an attempt to get to a checkpoint in the best time. The next day might be another cross-country, high-speed jaunt, but a session on a closed race course might finish the day. The support crews would have to beat the cars to the next stop to set up for a night of preparing the car for the next day.
One car, many names
Ferrari called most 250 models 250 Granturismos, and while they often had modifier names such as coupe or Berlinetta, it was history rather than Ferrari that assigned the names by which they are popularly known today. A Series I designation was irrelevant unless a second series was built. Similarly, you would not use a long-wheelbase designation if you didn’t also have a short-wheelbase version.
The car popularly called a 250 Tour de France was introduced as a 250 Granturismo Berlinetta. After dominating the Tour de France races for several years, the model acquired the nickname 250 Tour de France. The model is also known as a 250 GT Long Wheelbase Berlinetta, a nickname it acquired after Ferrari introduced another 250 Granturismo Berlinetta that featured a shorter wheelbase chassis. The 250 Tour de France, 250 long wheelbase, and a 250 Granturismo are all the same car.
Wild Ferrari pricing
The end of the Formula 1 season is called the Silly Season for the wild speculation on driver changes for the next year. We are in the silly season of Ferrari pricing. In the past year, we’ve seen good 330 GTCs selling for more than good Daytonas, and more recently, a top-end Dino selling for more than a top-end Daytona. RM wisely did not provide a pre-sale estimate for 0585 GT. Predicting this car would sell for $3m more than they sold one for last year would have taken a very good crystal ball.
RM’s Tour de France was a beautiful example in wonderful condition. It had a well-known provenance and was complete with tools and the requisite Ferrari Classiche certification. The car had participated in oodles of modern-day events and even had a supporting role in a Disney movie. It had everything you could ask for in a TdF, except for one thing — the rich competition history that so many TdFs have. The lack of competition history apparently didn’t matter to RM’s audience, as they gave 0585 GT the leading-man Oscar.
I normally call a sale for the seller or buyer, but this sale is too far out of the box to call. The seller obviously hit a home run, but if this car is worth a couple million dollars more next year, was it well sold? Did the buyer pay a crazy premium or did he just set the new market value? What I can say with great certainty is that the seller had the time of his life with the car, and if the buyer has just a quarter of the fun, he’s a lucky guy. ?
(Introductory description courtesy of RM Auctions.)