Ferrari 250 Le Mans

Le Mans: one of the most evocative names in the history of motor racing, and the one which identifies one of the most charismatic Ferraris ever built, the 250 Le Mans Berlinetta.

The early 1960s were a time of great change and development at Maranello. Well into his second decade as a car manufacturer, Enzo Ferrari had already gained a reputation as the world’s foremost producer of the most sought-after road and racing machinery. The cars that bore his name had achieved unprecedented success on the most famous circuits across the globe and as the ultimate in Grand Touring cars. Ferrari’s competition efforts, always far closer to his heart than road car production (which was still largely seen merely as a means to financing his racing), were paying great dividends in every class which he entered: the 250 SWB Berlinettas, and then the immortal 250 GTOs, had achieved almost total domination in the GT classes, while in the prototype classes the mid-engined two-liter Dinos and the new 250P were proving equally successful. The latter own at Le Mans in 1963, where, as an indication of Ferrari’s nearly invincible status, his cars took the first six places.

By the end of 1963 it had become apparent to Ferrari that a successor to the 250 GTO would be needed in order to counter increasing opposition in the GT class, particularly from the massive onslaught of Carrol Shelby’s Cobras. It was thus that the new Ferrari 250 Le Mans was introduced to the public at the 1963 Paris Motor Show in October of that year. Quite how Enzo Ferrari ever expected the car to be accepted by the FIA into the GT class is one of those unresolved mysteries of Italian logic. The LM was plainly quite unlike any Ferrari GT that had gone before, and it represented a significant development over the preceding 250 GTO. It was clear to see that the new car bore a far greater resemblance to the 250P sports-racer than anything intended as a road car, and it seemed unlikely in the extreme that Ferrari had the capacity or indeed the intention to build anything like the 100 examples of the new model that would be required for homologation into the GT class. The GTO had crept into that category through the back door masquerading as an evolution of the 250 SWB, but Carrol Shelby had cried foul so loudly that the FIA were not going to be seen falling for the same trick a second time.

The specifications of the 250 LM were indeed impressive. As Ferrari’s first mid-engined “GT,” it initially used a development of the three-liter engine seen in the GTO and last Testarossas, but this was immediately enlarged to 3.3 liters after the first LM had been built. The model name was left as “250,” however, rather than “275,” in order to avoid homologation difficulties. In this guise the longitudinally mounted dry sump V12 produced around 360 hp at 7,500 rpm. Driving through a five-speed non-synchromesh gearbox, this gave the LM a top speed ranging from 220 to 300 kmh, depending on the axle ratio used. The chassis was of the conventional multitubular frame type, the side chassis tubes also doubling as water and oil carriers from the radiators in the nose back to the engine. The independent suspension was by double wishbones and coil springs on all four wheels, with anti-roll bars front and rear and Dunlop disc brakes (inboard at the rear) all round. Wheelbase remained, as per the GTO, at 2.4 m, while length, width and height were just 4.27 m, 1.7 m, and 1.11 m, respectively; the entire car weighed in at 830 kg.

LM production gained momentum early in 1964 and in April Ferrari duly applied to the FIA for homologation into the GT class, which was promptly denied. So enraged was Enzo Ferrari that he surrendered his entrant’s license for while, but in the meantime the 250LM was forced to compete in the prototype category, for which it was never intended. This did not stop it from achieving greater success than it could ever had rightfully expected, the first example being outright victory in the Rheims 12 Hours on 5 July, 1964 for the Maranello Concessionaires car driven by Graham Hill and Jo Bonnier. The most memorable result, though, has to be the outright 1-2 finish against all odds at the 24 Hours of Le Mans in 1965, won by the NART entered 250 LM of Masten Gregory and Jochen Rindt, which truly showed that the car had proven itself worthy of its illustrious name.

The example pictured here is chassis number 5899, the 9th of the 32 cars built, which was completed on 3 June, 1964 and briefly carried the works registration “MO 36” for testing purposes. It was then sold to Ferrari’s foremost Swiss client, Scuderia Filipinetti in Geneva, which had been very successful with its other Ferraris in the past and enjoyed a high level of works support.

Indeed, for its first race (the Sierra-Montana Crans hillclimb on 30 August), S/N 5899 was piloted by works driver Lodovico Scarfiotti, who took it to overall victory. After this initial “try out” run the car was sent to Monza for the all-important Coppa Intereuropa a week later, in which it was driven by another works ace, the great Nino Vaccarella. Against a strong field he brought 5899 home first overall.

For the next race, the 1,000 km of Paris at Montlhery, Vaccarella was paired with Ferrari team mate Jean Guichet. On this occasion, though, his luck deserted him and a crash put 5899 out of contention.

At the end of the championship season Filipinetti received their new prototypes and 5899 was sold to Werner Biedermann of Basel, a successful and wealthy amateur driver. Along with his friend Pete Ettmuller he entered the LM in a variety of Swiss championship and European races under the Scuderia Basilisk banner. The pair enjoyed considerable success, including 2nd at Vienna-Aspern, 1st at Weerberg (Tyrol) and placings at St. Ursanne-Le Rangiers, Mitholz-Kandersteg, the Grand Prix of Monza and Marchairuz.

Fate stepped in eventually though, and Biedermann rolled the car in heavy rain during the second heat of the Engelberg hill climb late in 1965. It was sold, still unrepaired, to Hans Illert of Felmeilen, Austria. Instead of repairing the original body, he decided to fit one from a Porsche 906, complete with fiberglass panels and gullwing doors. The car, now 200 kg lighter, was raced as an “LM-P” under the name of Scuderia Tartaruga and driven by Herbert Muller, Heini Walter and Illert himself.

In this guise 5899 competed throughout 1966, races including Denmark (4th), St. Ursanne-Les Rangiers, Mitholz-Kandersteg (1st in class), Eigenthal (1st in class), Vienna-Langenbarn (5th after losing engine lid and spare wheel!) and Vienna-Aspern (1st in prototype class, Donau Cup).

1968 saw 5899 sold by Illet to Pierre Sudan in Switzerland. He traded its original engine to David Piper in return for a 330P unit which he duly installed in the car, before selling it the following year to Stefan Sklenar in Vienna. He entered it into the 200 miles race of Nurnberg at the Norisring, placing 11th, and the International Solitude race at Hockenheim, placing 2nd in the prototype class. The car’s last race appears to have been at the Grand Prix of Tirol at Innsbruck, on 5 December, 1969, where it came in 10th.

In January 1970 the LM was sold to a new owner, also in Vienna. We understand that this gentleman was a brothel keeper who fell foul of the law and, following his arrest and seizure of his possessions (including the LM) the car was sold off by the police. It was bought by collector Paul Blancpain of Matran, Switzerland, who sold it in September 1974 to Rene Widmer, also in Switzerland.

The following year Widmer sold the LM, through broker Rob de la Rive Box, to collector Prof. Paul Schouwenburg of Amsterdam. He contacted David Piper and, in return for the 330P engine in the car, got engine number 5899 back. The car was by now in a tatty state, however, and Schouwenburg was persuaded to sell it to Eric Stewart (of 10cc pop band fame) in June 1977. Stewart went with Bob Houghton (then teamed with Vic Norman as Ferrari specialist Rosso Ltd) to bring the car back to England whereupon a complete restoration began.

The Porsche bodywork was removed and, using 250LM chassis number 6107 as a model alongside, the original bodywork was accurately recreated. The chassis framework which by now bore the scars of its many years of hard racing required almost complete renewal, although those sections which were repairable were retained and incorporated in the rebuild.

After four long years the meticulous restoration of 5899 was completed by Rosso and the car was demonstrated at Goodwood by Eric Stewart. The following year he decided to sell, and German enthusiast Peter Groh added the car to his collection. Two years later it passed to Said Marouf (who also owned the Alfa Romeo BAT 7) in California, before it went to another well-known collector, Takeo Kato in Japan, in the late 1980s. It passed to its last owner, also in Japan, in March 1992 at a price of several million US dollars.

The car has new FIA papers, enabling it to participate in all major historic events, and all European taxes paid. Also supplies is a new MoT certificate, enabling the car to be easily road registered if so desired, and there is a comprehensive history file including numerous photographs of the car over the years. Its provenance is well documented (it is also featured in Marcel Massini’s 250LM book, pages 130-136) and it remains in superb condition throughout, as evidenced by a major track test in “Classic Cars” magazine earlier in 1995.

5899 is resplendent in its original Scuderia Filipinetti livery, Rosso Corsa with a white center stripe, and is ready to be driven. With its exquisite lines, screaming exhaust note and undisputed rarity, this important Ferrari will compliment any major collection and is sure to be the center of attention on every one of the numerous occasions the new owner will have to enjoy it.