250 Ferrari GT Short Wheelbase Berlinetta

The Paris Salon in 1959 saw the introduction of a Ferrari 250GT Short Wheelbase Berlinetta, a direct development of the Long Wheel Base car known as the Tour de France. Built on the 94.5-inch wheel base chassis powered by the classic three-liter V12 engine, the new and exciting Gran Tourismo car was destined for many racing successes.

Perhaps more than any other Ferrari, before or since, here was a car equally at home on a race track or a boulevard. A quick change of plugs, racing tires and a roll bar and the Ferrari 250SWB could contest its class at Le Mans, Daytona or Sebring, win the Tourist Trophy at Goodwood, the Tour de France and 1000 km at Montlhery.

The 250GTs made between 1959 and 1964 were one of Ferrari’s most prolific cars of the period. They had multi-tube chassis frames, independently sprung at the front, but with a live axle on half-elliptic springs at the rear. It was equipped with a variety of bodies, by which Ferrari graduated from being a constructor of cars in small batches of twos and threes into proper series production.

They were still exclusive, still beautifully made, but they were production cars nonetheless and it was possible to discover two examples the same – something unlikely as long as Ferrari remained a strictly bespoke manufacturer. Yet the temptation to make a few specialist new racing cars for competition or highly favored customers was one Ferrari could never resist. So, among the host of production 250GTs there appeared 175 Short Wheelbase Berlinettas, of which around a quarter had lightweight competition bodywork, made by Scaglietti.

These lightweight aluminum cars were intended for competition use and therefore had fewer road car comforts. For example, the dashboards were painted in matte black instead of leather trimmed, and sliding plastic windows instead of wind-up glass. Power of the three-liter was quoted at 280 bhp at 7,000 rpm, and with an on-road full tank weight of 2,110 lbs, provided astonishing performance with top speed over 160 mph.

These were the cars from which the now almost priceless GTO was developed, and the example discussed here was the first of the 1961 lightweight competition Berlinettas and also the first of the faster and more powerful strain designated 1961/Comp., with 16-inch wheels. Chassis 2417GT was made for the Scuderia Ferrari, and later sold to the UK Ferrari importer, Col. Ronnie Hoare.

The Scuderia entered it in a number of races, including the 1961 Spa 500 kms, which it won and set fastest lap in the hands of Wily Mairesse. In the Nurburgring 1000 kms it finished fifth, driven once again by Mairesse and Giancarlo Baghetti. It then came second at Rouen with Mairesse.

After running on “Prova” plates MO36 and MO67976, it was sold on 31 July, 1961 to Hoare, to be raced jointly by Maranello Concessionaires and Equipe Endeavour, respectively Col. Hoare’s importing business and the racing stable of the English sailing, aviation and motoring pioneer family of Tommy Sopwith.

The Maranello/Endeavour equipe raced the car at all the major GT race events in 1961 and 1962, driven by Mike Parkes who was at that time with the Rootes Group as a development engineer. His main successes with this particular car were beating Stirling Moss in a similar vehicle to win at both Snetterton and Goodwood, and coming second to Moss in the Tourist Trophy after a three hour battle. It was Mike Parkes’ driving prowess with this car which finally caught the attention of Ferrari who invited him to join the team. He subsequently went on to record many major long distance victories for the marque, and then to become a Senior Engineer prior to his untimely death.

By the end of the 1962 season the new GTO had superseded the 250 SWB and this car was retired from competition use to become a road car. The present Italian owner had meticulously maintained her original 1961 competition specification and today she represents one of the most perfect and original ex-Scuderia Ferrari works GTs to have ever come onto the market.