In 1957, Ferrari’s leading U.S. dealers, Luigi Chinetti and John von Neumann, impressed upon the factory the need for a simple, dual-purpose 250 GT Spider — a car that could be used to commute during the week and then raced with success on the weekend.
As a result, Ferrari produced the California Spider, a high-performance 250 GT with striking coachwork by Carrozzeria Scaglietti. The California Spider was aimed at a very specific segment of Ferrari’s American clientele: young, well-heeled enthusiasts who wanted a stylish, thoroughbred sports car that was equally at home on road or track.
According to the research of historians Marcel Massini and Jean Sage, 3099GT was one of several new models displayed on Luigi Chinetti’s stand at the 1962 New York International Auto Show. Following its show duties, 3099GT was shipped to the West Coast and delivered to John von Neumann’s Ferrari Representatives of California, located in the heart of Hollywood. While little is known regarding the California Spider’s earliest ownership history, it remained in the Los Angeles area and was eventually acquired by an enthusiast named John Lane. By the late 1960s, it had been repainted in a deep burgundy color and retrimmed with black leather upholstery.
Around 1970, the Ferrari slid into a curb, damaging a wheel, brake rotor, pedal box, left front suspension and exhaust, but leaving no mark on the bodywork, nor did it harm any of the chassis or drivetrain. Ferrari enthusiasts Charles Betz and Fred Peters spotted 3099GT around 1970 at an auto-parts recycler. According to Betz, the California Spider appeared to be in fine, lightly used condition, only noting its damaged wheel and brake rotor upon closer inspection. Betz and Peters politely inquired about the Ferrari each time they visited the recycler. Finally, in October 1972, they caught the yard’s owner in a selling mood.
Once in Betz and Peters’ ownership, 3099GT was promptly repaired and stored among their growing collection of cars, sharing their garage with the prototype 250 Testa Rossa, a Tour de France berlinetta, and an SWB berlinetta. By the early 2000s, Betz and Peters decided the time had finally come to return 3099GT to its original splendor. The decision was made to restore the California Spider to concours standards. In 2007, the California Spider was inspected by the Ferrari Classiche Department and granted full Ferrari Classiche certification in June 2008. In 2010, the Ferrari earned a First in Class award at the Amelia Island Concours d’Elegance and most recently, at the 2020 Cavallino Classic, it won the 250 GT SWB California Cup.
These magnificent 250 GT SWB California Spiders are mechanical objects of exceptional beauty and sophistication. The opportunity to acquire a Ferrari Classiche-certified, covered-headlight example with a fascinating provenance, and brilliant, singular color scheme may well be the chance of a lifetime.
|Vehicle:||1962 Ferrari 250 GT SWB California Spider|
|Tune Up Cost:||$3,500-plus|
|Chassis Number Location:||Left frame member by steering box|
|Engine Number Location:||Stamped on rear right side of engine block|
|Club Info:||Ferrari Club of America|
|Alternatives:||1956–59 Ferrari 250 TdF, 1955 Jaguar D-type, 1961–62 Mercedes-Benz 300SL Roadster|
This car, Lot 164, sold for $18,045,000, including buyer’s premium, at Gooding & Company’s Amelia Island auction on March 4, 2023.
A 250 GT California Spider is a cornerstone of any important Ferrari collection. Designed as an open-top alternative to Ferrari’s dual-purpose 250 GT berlinettas, the California was also intended to be equally at home touring on the Pacific Coast Highway as running hot laps at a racetrack. The Californias came in several configurations, with their variations significantly influencing values.
There are two different 250 GT California models. The original model, now called a long-wheelbase California or LWB, featured a 2,600-mm wheelbase (102.4 inches). The second series, commonly called a short-wheelbase California, featured a 2,400-mm chassis (94.5 inches). The roughly eight-inch-shorter wheelbase improved the handling, although some ride quality and leg room is sacrificed.
The California was improved as it evolved. The original engine featured spark plugs positioned on the inside of the V. Later cars got an updated engine with spark plugs positioned on the outside of the head. Engine accessories varied during production. The drum brakes of the early Californias were replaced with disc brakes on the later examples. Seats were updated, and the dashes were changed from a black crackle paint finish to a leather covering. These updates were applied during production and did not correspond to the change from LWB to SWB.
Special options were available on request. Bodies could be built in alloy. Engines were available in various stages of competition tune. A couple of cars were built with competition-style outside gas-filler caps. The most controversial option was headlights. Covered headlights featured the lenses deeply recessed, with a plastic cover finishing the fender line. The open headlights featured lights mounted at the front of the fender with no covers. Today, covered-headlight versions are generally considered more attractive and tend to bring more money.
A more-recent Ferrari update to the California was its name change. The model was originally called 250 GT California Spyder, differentiating it from the 250 GT Cabriolet, an open-top 250 GT built concurrently. Ferrari has since retroactively adopted the “Spider” spelling it has used since the 1990s, supposedly because Ferrari president Luca di Montezemolo did not like the word spelled with a Y.
The combinations of configuration and options are what make most Californias unique. Buyers may want a particular build, but the rarity of the model and the scarcity of available examples forces buyers to narrow their wish list and focus on price rather than configuration.
Gooding & Company’s Amelia Island sale was its most successful at that venue, with total sales of nearly $72m. It topped the week’s auctions, with the $18m sale of our subject car accounting for a quarter of the gross. The sale of 3099GT was also the high sale of the week, landing the car in the all-time top 25 of cars sold at public auction.
A California making that list is expected, as 3099GT ranks behind two other Californias. In fact, 18 Californias are now on the top 200 sales list, which is close to one in every 10 cars. This is as it should be — these are among the most coveted cars on the planet.
Every serious Ferrari collector wants one. Only 104 of them were built, 50 LWB and 54 SWB examples. When a good one is available, the bidders don’t hold back. When valuing California Spiders, SWB cars tend to carry a significant premium. A high-quality LWB example can bring $8m–$10m, while it will take over $15m to buy a good SWB example.
Our subject car was stunning in its original metallic turquoise livery. It was one of 37 SWB examples built with covered headlights. Since 1974, it has only had two owners, both known for having only top examples of important cars. Only a car with an alloy body or competition history might be more desirable.
Gooding’s California Spider was about as good as they come. With buyer’s premium, it sold right at the $18m low estimate, but this was still an extraordinary number. The seller should only be disappointed that the car will no longer be in their garage. The buyer should be delighted with their new trophy. ♦
(Introductory description courtesy of Gooding & Company.)