Porfirio Rubirosa was an accomplished competition driver, finishing second at Sebring with the Lancia factory team in 1954 and first in class (500 Mondial Spyder) in the Governor’s Cup race in Nassau in 1955. He also scored a class win at Sebring in 1956 with Jim Pauley in his 500 Mondial.

The quintessential playboy as well, Rubi dallied exuberantly and publicly with a number of high-profile women, including Zsa Zsa Gabor, Ava Gardner, Kim Novak and Eva Peron. It was only natural that a man who combined serious racing with other, more hedonistic pleasures would want a car that was both sexy and fast. Hence, Rubi commissioned his own version of the SI PF Cabriolet from Ferrari and Pinin Farina.

And this is that very car. It is fitted with a pair of interchangeable windscreens that can be changed in four hours from a cutdown plexiglass racing screen to the stock full height windshield that accepts a folding soft top to protect the occupants from the elements. Its more luxurious accoutrements balance racing type hood catches and a faired headrest.

Restored in its original colors of red and tan leather, and in its dual-purpose configuration by the late George Frochen in 1984, the “Café Racer” has appeared at the Monterey Historic races and Ferrari events since, but has been otherwise little used. With the exception of the prototypes, it is the most personal and unique of this very attractive and desirable series.

SCM Analysis


RM Auctions sold this car for $671,000, including buyer’s premium, in Phoenix, Arizona, January 19, 2001. It was purchased by an SCM reader whose day job involves the movie industry. This price is 12% over SCM’s Price Guide high of $600,000, which itself is up 31% in the last year. It’s the highest price paid at auction for a Series I Cabriolet since #0849 was sold by Christie’s at their May 1990 Monaco auction for $754,400. (Adjusted for inflation today, that would be $1,029,200.) Rubi’s “Café Racer” was itself sold at the Brooks Quail Lodge auction in 1999 for $530,500.

The high current price may be a reflection of the perceived value of having a car that belonged to one of the great womanizers of history. For those too young to remember Rubirosa’s escapades or too jaded or politically correct to be impressed, the price is also justified by the aesthetics and rarity of this Pinin Farina design. Many feel that the elegant, covered-headlight, early Cabriolet is one of the most beautiful open cars Farina ever built. It was the precursor of the even more valuable California Spyder. As a testimony to their desirability, 39 of the 40 SI PF Cabriolets originally built are still thought to exist. Long-time SCM subscriber John Clinard has owned an SI PF Cabriolet for many years and refused to part with it during the late ’80s boom even when offered near Defense Department sums by then flush and world-conquering Japanese collectors.

Never intended for racing, the Series I Cabriolets were the luxury cars of the 250 Grand Turismos in 1957-62. The Scaglietti-designed California Spyder cost $11,600. The PF Coupe was priced at $12,450, the same price as an alloy-bodied competition Tour de France Berlinetta. The SI Farina Cabriolet cost $14,950. In today’s dollars, this would be $89,000, or $20K more than the California. But it included chrome wires, leather interior, a heater, and driving lights. If you had bought yours from John von Neuman’s Ferrari Representatives of California, you might have had it serviced by a talented young mechanic named Richie Ginther.

The Series I Cabriolets were in production from 1956 to 1959. There were forty built, including four prototypes. The first three prototypes were true “Spyders” lacking roll-up side windows. The second of these Spyders had many features borrowed from competition cars: a metal tonneau over the passenger seat, a short Plexiglas windshield, and an aerodynamic headrest tapering to the rear. This second prototype was probably the inspiration for Rubi’s “Café Racer,” which, with its vestigial windshield, outside gas filler cap, and external racing style hood latches, is arguably the sexiest of all the production SI Cabriolets.

The SIs were followed by the Series II PF Cabriolets, with approximately 200 built through 1962. With far more sober styling, including open headlights and clunky bumpers, they are the cheapest V12 open Ferraris, and struggle to reach the $150,000 level.

The SI Cabriolet shown here was restored in the late ’80s, to a high standard, and the aerodynamic headrest fairing added. Well sorted, it is ready for immediate use. This is a current new high price for a Series I, but is justified by the beauty of the car and its impeccable history. The Ferrari market today, far wiser than it was a decade ago, is continuing to place ever-higher values on the truly special cars from Maranello, and letting the more common serial production cars languish.—John Apen

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