1958 Ferrari 250 GT Cabriolet Series 1 by Pinin Farina
Darin Schnabel ©2017, courtesy of RM Sotheby’s
The 14th of 40 Series I 250 GT cabriolets built, chassis 0791GT was delivered new in a very attractive colour combination of Bianco over Blu Connolly leather. Its color scheme perfectly suited the car’s personality as a fashionable open-top Ferrari. First owner John R. Fulp Jr. of Greenville, SC, was a gentleman racer with respectable showings at both Sebring and Le Mans. Fulp kept the car until the fall of 1959, when it was traded back to Luigi Chinetti for a 410 Superamerica. Chinetti sold the cabriolet to James Harrison, who had it refinished in silver over red with the dashboard revised similarly to that of a 400 Superamerica. When issues with the engine arose, a newer, outside-plug replacement engine was sourced through Chinetti. Harrison sold the car to Robert Donner Jr., also a noted gentleman racer. Donner owned several significant Ferraris, including a 250 GTO. Donner refinished the car in red over red. Donner drove this car in the Colorado Grand no less than a dozen times. Following Donner’s passing, the car was purchased by enthusiasts who painted it blue. Its fifth owner took it to Europe, where it was returned to its as-delivered specification of Bianco over Blu, and fitted with a correct Type 128 C engine, sourced from Ferrari Classiche. With fascinating ownership history, chassis 0791GT is a wonderful grand touring Ferrari in all regards, and would be an astute addition to any collection.

SCM Analysis


Vehicle:1958 Ferrari 250 GT Cabriolet Series 1 by Pinin Farina
Years Produced:1957–59
Number Produced:40
Original List Price:$14,950
SCM Valuation:$6,270,000
Tune Up Cost:$3,000
Distributor Caps:$200 for a reproduction cap. Two are required
Chassis Number Location:Stamped on the passenger’s side frame rail next to the engine
Engine Number Location:Stamped on a flange on the rear passenger’s side of block
Club Info:Ferrari Club of America
Alternatives:1957–61 Mercedes Benz 300SL Roadster, 1956–59 BMW 507 convertible, 1955–58 Bentley SI Continental DHC, 1949–53 Alfa Romeo 6C 2500 Villa d’Este
Investment Grade:A

This car, Lot 131, sold for $5,691,114, including buyer’s premium, at RM Sotheby’s Maranello, Italy, “Leggenda e Passione” Auction on September 9, 2017.

Porfirio Rubirosa was the ultimate International playboy. He played polo, raced cars, spoke several languages and was a world-class collector of women — or rather, they collected him. His first wife was the daughter of the Dominican Republic’s dictator, and later wives included heiresses Doris Duke and Barbara Hutton.

He was the world’s Most Interesting Man well before a beer company dreamed up the title. What does the World’s Most Interesting Man drive? A Ferrari 250 GT Pinin Farina cabriolet, which was a gift from Ms. Hutton.

Such is the legacy of the Series 1 cabriolet. The car may be the classiest Ferrari of all time. They were bought new by the rich and powerful, and they are still kept in the most-important Ferrari stables.

Rare enough to fly under the radar

The 250 GT chassis and driveline need no accolades, but Pinin Farina’s Series 1 cabriolet needs some explanation. There were only 40 examples built, so sighting one is not an everyday occurrence.

At a show, you might pass one for a more well-known model, but that would be a mistake. The exceptional proportions and exquisite detailing take time to appreciate but leave no doubt it was one of Pinin Farina’s greatest triumphs.

Notably, it was Ferrari’s contribution to the Series 1 cabriolet that let it down. The car was designed in a transition era right before Ferrari migrated to disc brakes and Ferrari’s more-powerful, outside-spark-plug engines.

A couple of Series 1 cabriolets were later updated to disc brakes and outside-plug engines, and our subject 0791 was one of them.

Ferrari installed disc brakes and different wheels a couple years after the car was originally built. The Ferrari replacement outside-plug engine was installed much later by Luigi Chinetti and was stamped with the car’s chassis number.

In between the brake modification and the engine replacement, 0791’s dash was modified, a new interior was installed and the outside color was changed to silver, the second of the four colors it would eventually wear.

A frequent flier on the auction circuit

A trip through SCM’s Platinum Auction Database shows a lot of this car’s auction history.

After being purchased from Donner’s estate in 2012, the car was cosmetically updated and color changed from red to blue. The owner then sent it to Gooding & Company’s Scottsdale auction in January 2014, where it sold for a surprising $6,100,000 (SCM# 232110).

The purchaser returned 0791 to its original white color and replaced the outside-plug engine with a Ferrari Classiche inside-plug unit. Twenty-three months later, the spiffed-up 0791 was on the block again. The car crossed the block at RM Sotheby’s New York Auction on December 10, 2015, under a most-fitting narrative: La Dolce Vita. But bidders weren’t feeling the good life — and neither was the seller.

The car sold for $5,720,000, with commission (SCM# 270246). Subtracting auction commission and refurbishment, the loss to the seller had to be in the million-dollar range.

“Leggenda e Passione”

A high-profile part of Ferrari’s 70th Anniversary celebration, RM Sotheby’s “Leggenda e Passione” auction was held on Ferrari’s Fiorano test track across the street from the Maranello factory.

Just a few steps past the auction stage was a concours of the most important Ferraris on the planet.

Accompanying the important Ferraris were their wealthy owners, many of them still adding cars to their collection. If ever there was a perfect spot to get top dollar out of the cabriolet, this was it.

When the dust settled, 0791 sold for $5,691,114 — $29,000 under the December 2015 sale price.

What happened?

The Ferrari market is softer than during the car’s 2014 high-water sale, but other factors may be at play. Three previous owners have painted the car a color other than the original white.

Maybe white’s not the best color for the car.

More importantly, the 2014 engine, while not the original inside-plug unit, was an authentic, Ferrari-built replacement engine of a higher horsepower and better design than the original engine.

The current block was procured from Ferrari Classiche. However, it was most likely cast and machined at an outside specialist. There’s no indication where the ancillaries were sourced, but with heads, pistons, valves and crankshafts produced by outside suppliers, it’s probable the Classiche engine has little chronological connection with the rest of the car.

Ferrari buyers are skittish when it comes to replacement engines, and they may not have liked the swap.

Additionally, the December 2015 auction catalog noted that an application for certification has been submitted to Classiche. The 2017 catalog notes that certification is still pending. Classiche certification has proven to enhance the value of a classic Ferrari. Likewise, if there’s a problem with certification, valuation can be diminished. A 21-month delay is cause for concern.

This sale was close to par

The last two owners have taken big hits on chassis 0791, but the actual selling prices varied less than 7%. $5,700,000 is a huge number, and it is well in line with the value range when considering all factors.

Few Series 1 cabriolets are ever on the market, and those that have sold haven’t strayed much from $6,000,000. Despite the loss, the seller shouldn’t have expected much more.

The buyer, on the other hand, got one of the most desirable Ferraris ever produced at a price that may later be considered a bargain. ♦

(Introductory description courtesy of RM Sotheby’s.)

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