If you could justify paying too much money for a car, this was the one

Luigi Chinetti loved the 250 GT TdF coupes and saw a market for an open top version. Many Americans lived in warm climates like Florida, Arizona, and particularly California, and so preferred the good looks and the cooler nature of open cars. Chinetti persuaded Ferrari to commission Pininfarina to build an open car based on the TdF. Dubbed the Spyder California, the new design was a masterpiece, and the Spyder California has become an icon among Ferraris.

This Ferrari Spyder California was ordered through Luigi Chinetti and delivered to Bob Grossman in June 1959. Grossman, an aspiring singer, started selling cars to finance voice lessons. By the mid-1950s, he had franchises for Jaguar, Alfa Romeo, and Volkswagen. Grossman raced another long-wheelbase Spyder California, but was having trouble beating the Corvettes. He complained to Chinetti, who promised to come up with "something special," and s/n 1451GT was the result.

One of 51 long-wheelbase Spyder Californias, only nine of which were alloy-bodied, s/n 1451GT was completed on June 14, 1959, and, according to Grossman, immediately driven to Le Mans. It was the first Spyder California with the new "outside plug" engine, and Grossman, co-driving with Fernand Tavano, finished fifth overall, placing third in the GT class. Having been hastily assembled, the 1959 Ferrari 250 GT LWB Competizione was returned to Ferrari after the race, at which time the interior was finished and a final paint job administered in metallic silver.

This car placed First in Class at Pebble Beach in 1983, then won Best in Show at the 1984 Ferrari Club of America National Meet. Six more first place awards followed, including Santa Barbara, Le Circle Invitational, Long Beach Grand Prix, Meadow Brook Hall, and a repeat at Pebble Beach in 1994-ten years after the first.

Other notable achievements include a Judge's Award at the Classiques Concours d'Elegance at Parc de Bagatelle in Paris, Best in Show at the Newporter Invitational, the Chicago Historic Races, and Palm Springs Concours. Number 1451GT has also participated in the Colorado Grand, the Shell/Ferrari Challenge, and the Laguna Seca Historic Races.

It is perhaps the most important of all the surviving LWB Spyder Californias, and for that reason it has remained with the vendor for nearly 30 years. Remarkably offered for sale for the first time in a generation, it may well represent an unrepeatable opportunity to own one of the rarest and most beautiful racing Ferraris ever built.

SCM Analysis


Vehicle:1959 Ferrari 250 GT LWB California Competizione
Number Produced:51 LWB, 54 SWB
Original List Price:$12,000
Distributor Caps:$450
Chassis Number Location:Left frame member by steering box
Engine Number Location:Right rear motor mount
Club Info:Ferrari Club of America PO Box 720597, Atlanta, GA 30358
Investment Grade:A

This 1959 Ferrari 250 GT LWB California Spyder Competizione sold for $4,950,000 at RM’s Monterey Sports and Classic Car Auction on August 18, 2007.

A Ferrari of Particular Distinction subtitles George Carrick’s book, The Spyder California. The phrase perfectly describes the distinguished place Californias hold in Ferrari history. Carrick, a Canadian, was so swept away by the model that he lived in Europe for a year to meet the requirements to import his California into his home country.

Appearances in every important periodical

Carrick was hardly alone in his passion. Ferrari historian Stan Nowak, with Ed Gilbertson’s and George Carrick’s help, wrote another book on Californias, and every important Ferrari periodical has had at least one feature article on the car. Credible racing history, admirable performance, and an excellent design make the California a top choice as a collector car.

“Stunning,” “Goofy,” and “I’m surprised it didn’t bring a little more,” are the responses I got from three different 250 California Spyder experts when asked about the nearly $5,000,000 sale price of the ex-Grossman California.

“Stunning” was the word from a former California owner. And having owned one, he appreciated the car’s charisma and was not necessarily surprised by the huge price. “Goofy” was the description from a California Spyder historian. His was a comment on the market rather than the buyer. “I’m surprised it didn’t bring a little more” came from our own Mike Sheehan.

Sheehan’s take was that this 1959 250 GT LWB Competizione could not be duplicated. With an exceptional provenance, proven racing history, excellent restoration, its very rare alloy body, and eligibility for just about every auto event on the planet, this really was the proverbial collector’s dream. Whatever the buyer paid, it’s pretty well guaranteed the next buyer will pay more.

No racing history, but an aesthetic edge

Out at Pebble Beach, another California Spyder waited in the wings to be sold, and the contrast was noteworthy. Gooding & Company had snagged s/n 1431GT, another long-wheelbase version but with a steel body and no competition history. Fastidiously restored in the late 1990s under the direction of then-owner David Smith, 1431GT won its class at Pebble Beach in 1998 and garnered awards from everywhere else it was shown. It was a breathtaking car, finished in glistening black with black leather and black top.

Number 1431GT had two tricks to help level the field. It was a covered-headlight version, while the Grossman car was an open-headlight model, and it was being auctioned by David Gooding. I’m told that as part of his consignment agreement, David negotiated drive time in the California. Like a professional athlete’s visualization technique, spending time with the car allowed him to absorb its nuances and helped build a case as to why someone should buy that particular California Spyder.

Imagine the scene at the owner’s garage when Gooding arrived. Number 1431GT was bracketed by a Pebble Beach award-winning Ferrari TR59 that would be in the running for the most valuable Ferrari in the world and the 1998 Pebble Beach Best of Show-winning Bugatti Type 57SC. For Mr. Gooding, convincing himself he was selling automotive royalty had just become easier.

The Grossman California sale came first, and it really was a bell ringer. After adding commissions, it missed $5,000,000 by just $50,000. It sold well above any known California sale and probably earned a spot on the Top 20 list of most expensive cars sold at auction. This car was well sold but also well bought. If you could ever justify paying too much money for a car, this was the car.

The buzz on the Gooding car kept intensifying all Pebble Beach week. As the serious players came to town, the estimate on the street kept going up. When the hammer hit, the money was $4,455,000, just 10% shy of the Grossman car.

These sales shouldn’t have even been close. An inside-plug-engined, steel-bodied, garden-variety California versus a celebrity-owned, alloy-bodied, outside-plug-engined, Le Mans contender?

Gooding’s attention to detail put the California Spyder in front of the right buyers and connected them with the car, but it I think it was Pininfarina who sealed the deal. For all the virtues of the Grossman car, it was missing the one thing that would flat 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.

But in the end, both sales demonstrated the tremendous strength in the California Spyder market, where clearly it now takes at least $4.5m just to be in the hunt.

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