In the pantheon of open Ferraris, the 250 California Spyder is head and shoulders above the rest. It has all the elements Ferraristi look for, the desirable Colombo V12, rarity, and a successful competition pedigree. The California Spyder, in contrast to the luxurious 250 cabriolets, was intended for those who wanted a fast, sparsely equipped sports car, an open counterpart to the Tour de France Berlinetta, perfect not only for spirited driving and all-out racing. This Ferrari is the 23rd of the 49 long-wheelbase, LWB Cal Spyders built and has several distinctive features, including a dash modified to accommodate a radio, Superamerica style front fender vents and a competition cold-air box with velocity stacks on the carburetors. Prince Alvise Hercolani bought it new in March, 1959 but sold it after only six months to the racing driver and car dealer, Wolfgang Seidel. It is believed that the hardtop, from a BMW 507, was adapted to this car during Seidel’s ownership. He sold the car in 1961 and after two more owners it was sold in 1966 to Ed Niles, a California attorney and Ferrari broker. It had been repainted once—to turquoise metallic. Niles repainted it metallic cherry red. The car then passed through two other owners before it was acquired in 1968 by 29-year-old Jim Swartout, who paid $3,600. He owned the car for 30 years and after trying to sell it—starting in 1989—finally sold it to Jonas Liden of Sweden in 1999. Liden commissioned a full restoration in Italy. Liden had it painted in the “original metallic Turquoise found under multiple layers of paint when the body was stripped during its restoration.” After participating in the Texas 1000 and New England 1000 rallies, the car was stripped to bare metal and refinished in a deep blue, complemented by its silver hardtop. In addition to being shown at Meadow Brook in 2005, it was at the 2008 Pebble Beach Concours in the non-judged California Spyder class. Most recently, the owner invested $115,000 to bring the car to the Platinum award level of the Ferrari Club of America. Marque specialist and restorer Greg Jones did a complete motor and suspension rebuild. The convertible top and bows were restored, and the entire car was superbly detailed. This exhaustive work has been documented with photographs and, most importantly, was certified by Ferrari Classiche, confirming the car is precisely the way it left the factory. Car 1307 has several other unique features. Most apparent is the switch box placed over the driveshaft tunnel aft of the shift lever. It contains the ignition switch and other controls which normally would be mounted below the dash board. These switches were moved from their usual position so the dash could be expanded to accommodate a radio. Its Weber carburetors breathe through a factory-fitted cold air box, which is a highly desirable performance option.

SCM Analysis


This car, Lot 122, sold for $3,596,040, including buyer’s premium, at RM’s Villa d’Este auction on May 21, 2011. This was a strong price for an open-headlight, steel-body California. The pre-auction estimate was an aggressive $2,400,000 to $2,900,000. So RM and the seller did well. Just as all Picasso etchings are not the same, all LWB California’s are not the same—and achieve different market values

The bodies of all Californias vary in details, such as trim, vents, trunk design and taillights. However, a very important difference in headlights changed the aesthetics of a design that many call one of the most beautiful open, sporting Ferraris. The majority of LWB Cals had covered headlights, faired into the fender and enclosed and beautifully integrated with the body lines with a Plexiglass cover. But Scaglietti also made ten LWBs with regular open headlights, giving the car a look closely allied to the 250 GT PF cabriolet Series II cars that were more luxurious, sedate and aimed at a more conservative market. 1307 is one of the open headlight cars.

Another important change was the engine. Early California Spyders cars used the 128C or 128D, inside plug V12 with 6 port intakes, while eight of the later cars had the more potent 128F or 168 outside plug V12 with 12 port intakes, which gave better gas flow and more power. At about the same time, Dunlop disk brakes replaced the long-venerated drum brakes. These changes improved the drivability greatly, so LWB’s from the second half of production drive much better than the earlier cars. This car has the earlier 128D inside plug engine and drum brakes.

Finally, nine LWBs were “competition” versions with all-alloy bodies. Two of these cars had open headlights, and four of the nine were raced in their time. As with any older Ferrari, competition versions are highly desirable. So the pinnacle of California Spyder LWB value is a closed-headlight, all-alloy car with a hot 168 type engine. One of these, 1603, just set a new record by being the most expensive LWB auctioned, selling for $7,260,000 in August 2010.
In contrast, our subject car is an open-headlight, steel-body model, and it is fitted with the earlier 128D engine and drum brakes. Our car is certainly not at the top of the LWB pecking order. The competition car (alloy, outside plug engine, with open headlights) that Grossman brought into 5th overall at Le Mans sold in 2007 for right under $5 million. Some called this California the most important example.

As an aside, should we assume that open headlights add $2m—or 40%—to the value of a Cal Spyder? Probably not, as the open-headlight sale was in 2007, and the closed-headlight from 2010. The figures are just not comparable, as the value has increased substantially for Enzo Era Ferraris during the last 4 years.

Shall we be open?

However, at Gooding’s 2007 Pebble Beach auction—the same month Grossman’s comp California sold—a beautifully restored steel body, closed-headlight car, 1431, brought another record price of $4.5 million—again showing strong preferences for the closed headlight cars. As the SCM profile said: “For all the virtues of the Grossman car, it was missing the one thing that would stop me from buying it—covered headlights. Against all logic, I’d trade the alloy body and the racing history for covered headlights, and judging from the prices, some other buyers agreed” And I agree, so this sale of 1307 was a good sale at a generous price for an open light, non-comp, steel, inside plug car.

The winding road to $3.6m

How did we get to $3.6 million? There are good lessons of how to sell a collector car from the last 10 years of price history.

First, persistence, detailing, documentation, an elegant color change and picking a rising market all contributed. This car was offered at auction four times since 2002 and failed to sell during the first three auctions.

In 2002 it was a no sale in New York at a high bid of $924,000, a price that SCM said: “considering comparable sales and the particulars of this example, bid should have been enough.”

In 2003 at Amelia Island, it was again a no sale at an $850,000 bid. It was still in the same unattractive turquoise metallic paint that it had in the 2002 auction, and I rated it a condition 3.

In 2009 at Amelia Island, it was no go again at $1,975,000. It now had elegant, more attractive dark blue paint, better panel fit, and a condition rating of 1-.
So with this history, the 2011 Villa d’Este auction was a winner. Why?

Well, the car was competently detailed and many non-original items were corrected. Superamerica fender vents were now on the car. The engine and suspension were rebuilt, and it was now had a Ferrari Classiche designation, so it appears that the dash mods were original.

There were still no results from approved Ferrari club judges. This was strange, as the car was listed as attending the 2011 January Cavallino Classic Meet, but it was not entered in judging. A Platinum award would have added to validation of its correctness, and helped assure bidders.

Going up and down and up…

Learning all the above important lessons is great, but they are not always sufficient.

If we look at the price history from 1989 to 1999, there are lessons about Ferrari markets not only going up but also going down. In 1989 the car was offered at $1,750,000 and the seller turned down three offers of over a million dollars for a car advertised as running but “needs a complete, frame-off restoration.”

SCM’s own Mike Sheehan, who finally sold this car in 1999 for $395,000, said: “good older car, patina, patina, patina. A car that would be great for the Colorado Grand.”

But as the 1999 seller learned after turning down that 1989 offer of $1.3m, and then waiting 10 years to sell at $395,000, it’s not always easy to make money on old Ferraris.

(Introductory description courtesy of RM Auctions.)

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