Ferrari’s 365 California was, in so many ways, the culmination of Ferrari’s collaboration between sports car racing and customer road cars. Only 14 examples of the 365 California were built. They are almost invisible among the (relatively) boxcar loads of 275 GTBs and 365 GTB/4 Daytonas that Ferrari, along with Pininfarina and Scaglietti, turned out about the same time.

The 365 California was a hybrid made possible by the extraordinarily flexible combinations of the chassis, engines and drivetrains available at Ferrari. Pininfarina’s design imagination and low-volume coachbuilding skills enabled Ferrari to create niche marvels that sold at breathtaking prices to a small cadre of well-heeled and discriminating clients.

The 365 California established a standard of exclusivity that later Ferraris didn’t even try to meet. It was a low production, futuristically designed and styled visual masterpiece. Ferrari never called it a “Spyder” or a “GT.” It is simply a “365 California”—an elegantly simple name.

Of the 14 365 Californias built, chassis 08347  has the distinction of being the prototype example, the first car built and the one that was displayed on the Pininfarina stand at the 1966  Geneva Motor Show. Chassis 08347 was originally fitted with flat taillights, which were later modified to the standard three round lights, as seen on the other Californias. It also has the ancillary pop-up driving lights next to the standard lights.

Previous owners have enjoyed the car. It has been seen at the Raid Ferrari D’Epoca in Modena, the 1983 Ferrari Days meeting, the 1984 Rallye du Champagne in Reime, the Francorchamps F40 meeting in Brussels, and the Club Ferrari France “Les Cabriolets au Mas du Clos” meeting.

A matching-numbers car with known history from new, it has been Ferrari Certified and is unquestionably one of the finest examples of the few 365 Californias built. Still in pristine condition, this is one of Ferrari’s rarest coachbuilt road cars. It is welcome in all the great Ferrari events around the world and given its rarity and prototype status, is certainly worthy of close consideration.

SCM Analysis


Vehicle:1966 Ferrari 365 California
Number Produced:14
Original List Price:$21,000
SCM Valuation:$750,000-$1,100,000
Tune Up Cost:$3,000
Chassis Number Location:Stamped on the passenger side frame rail next to the engine
Engine Number Location:Stamped on a flange on the rear passenger side of block
Alternatives:1970 Aston Martin DB6 Mk II Vantage Volante, 1958 Dual Ghia Convertible, 1964 Ferrari Superamerica cabriolet, 1971 Mercedes 280SE 3.5 Cabriolet

This car, Lot 193, sold for $1,166,458 against an estimate of $870,000 to $1,075,000 at RM Auctions’ Automobiles of London sale on October 27, 2010.

Ferraris tend to be known by their model designation rather than their year of production. Each model stands on its own, with little regard to its production date.

Few know or care if a 250 Lusso or 250 SWB came first, or that 275 GTB/4s were built until 1968 and 330 GTC production began in 1966. This is noted to help clear the popular misconception that the 365 California was a derivative of the 365 GT 2+2 Queen Mother.

The 365 California and the 365 GT 2+2 sport similar front ends, interiors, 2+2 configurations, and 365 model designation. Open top Ferrari models usually trail the closed versions, so it’s logical to assume the California was a chop top version of the 2+2, but that’s wrong.

Why is this important?

This distinction is important because the California is Ferrari blue blood, sired from a line of royal Ferraris. The 365 GT 2+2 is a Ferrari commoner—if there can be such a thing.

The California was designed for beautiful people to cruise the Rivera, while the 365 GT 2+2 was designed to drive to the office, stop at the store, or drop off the kids at school. Any similarity between the models would be passed from the California to the 2+2, not the other way.

It’s a well-known story that from the earliest days of production Ferraris, an exclusive “top-of-the-line” model was available to Ferrari’s best customers. These cars were low-production luxury touring models with powerful engines, the finest trimmings, and distinctive coachwork.

The models progressed from the America series through the Superamericas (1960s vintage) and on to the Superfasts. It is a lesser-known story that the bloodline ended with the 365 California.

A design exercise lives

The 365 California began as a Pininfarina styling exercise for the 1966 Geneva Salon. American designer Tom Tjaarda was working at Pininfarina at the time, and he was charged with doing an original design for the 500 Superfast’s successor.

Tjaarda tells a story of having to work on the design while on summer vacation because Pininfarina had a tight schedule. He turned in the drawings and left the company soon afterwards. The next summer, he was in Santa Margherita, Italy, and saw “some rich-looking guy” driving one.

“That really surprised me because we had a running joke at Pininfarina—we thought it would be a show car only,” Tjaarda said.  

The design of the car had to contain recognizable Ferrari styling cues yet look fresh and modern. A 500 Superfast-style front end was the starting point, with its familiar egg crate oval grille and deep set covered headlights. A raised center 275 GTB style hood was another recognizable feature. A scoop down the door into the rear fender was borrowed from Pininfarina’s 206 GT show car. On the Dino the scoop was functional, but on the California it was just for show.

Mechanically the California’s engine was basically a bored-out version of the 330 GT’s Colombo V12. It’s true that Ferrari’s 365 P2s used a similar engine, but the California’s 320-horsepower version was certainly not race tuned.

Weakness underneath

The California’s underpinnings were the weak link of the car. The chassis was a carryover from the 500 Superfast and the 330 GT. It featured an independent front suspension with a solid rear axle suspended by leaf springs. The suspension was hardly state of the art, but it was adequate for the period. The frame however, was not. The open top California lacked the rigidity of a closed top body.

When stressed, the chassis would flex. The problem was significant enough that after positioning a California on uneven terrain, a magazine photographer found the door jammed and would not open.

RM’s sale of California 08347 for more than $1,100,000 probably speaks more to the tremendous desirability of vintage open top Ferraris than the California’s appeal. The ungainly proportions and confusing styling of the California has never been a crowd pleaser.

Additionally, the 2+2 seating is not a popular Ferrari configuration, and the California’s performance is not particularly impressive. In its favor, 08347 is one of less than 1,000 pre-1975 open top Ferraris in existence.

Chassis 08347 was the original show car and the prototype for the model. It was also the car featured in Ferrari’s line catalogue. Its history is known from new, and Ferrari’s Classiche certification virtually insures there are no skeletons in the closet. If you want a 365 California or an open Ferrari, 08347 is a good choice.

It takes nearly $500k to get into the open top vintage Ferrari game, and a $1m for an important car is not unreasonable. RM sold another 365 California in 2007 for nearly the same price, and another one is currently on the market at a $1,100,000. Chassis 08347 broke the auction estimate—but not by much.
The seller and buyer met at market price and both should be happy with the transaction.

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