There's a kind of golden glow wrapped around the Ferrari 250 GTO. It is the essential Ferrari, the one car that sums up what the company is all about. Its story has acquired a certain romance, even though just 36 of these cars were built in odd lots between 1962 and 1964, an insignificant number over a short period of time. Car enthusiasts everywhere retell the story to themselves over and over again, as if it were some kind of incantation that might make the spirit of Enzo Ferrari walk once again among mortal men.
And yet there's a far more compelling story beneath the romance. If you leave the dirt on the turnip, as the Italians say, you get a deeper appreciation for the way in which the GTO expresses what Ferrari is all about.
As the 1960s began, it was the English sports car manufacturers that forced Enzo Ferrari's hand and led to the creation of the 250 GTO. Although Ferrari is remembered as the leading marque at the 24 Hours of Le Mans during the 1950s, the English teams had won most of the races. Jaguar prevailed with the C-type in 1951 and 1953, and the D-type earned overall honors in 1955, 1956 and 1957. The Aston Martin DBR1 had also outlasted Ferrari's best in 1959, finishing first and second.
So it's no wonder that Enzo Ferrari was more than a little concerned when the Zagato-bodied Aston Martin DB4 GT and the prototype Jaguar XKE were unveiled during the summer of 1960. Earlier that year, the FIA announced that prototype sports cars would no longer be eligible for its World Championship of Manufactur-ers and instead would be replaced by volume-produced sports cars. Ferrari's short-wheelbase (SWB) version of the 250 GT Berlinetta (coupe) had finished fourth, fifth, sixth and seventh at the 1960 24 Hours of Le Mans, but the car's future looked problematic in light of the new, sleekly aerodynamic British cars.
And so Enzo Ferrari quietly commissioned a new car himself. The Old Man's design brief was straightforward. The 250 GT SWB's top speed of 156 mph needed dramatic improvement. Trouble was, there could not be so many revisions that the factory would find itself embroiled in a dispute with the FIA about the car's homologation as a production sports car, which technically required production numbers far in excess of the limited number of competition models that Ferrari planned. And, as usual at Ferrari, there was neither money nor resources to do the job properly. Most of Ferrari's engineering capability was required for the new generation of mid-engine Formula One and sports-prototype cars.
As a result, the last factory-engineered, front-engine racing car from Ferrari began as a 1960-vintage 250 GT SWB recycled from the racing team. It was fitted with the latest, dry-sump, six-carburetor, 290-bhp version of Ferrari's dohc 3.0-liter V12 from the Testa Rossa. Then the whole business was shipped off to Pininfarina, where it was done up in the bodywork of a 400 Superamerica with aerodynamics inspired by Pininfarina's Superfast II from the 1960 Turin auto show. Great things were expected from this car when it appeared at the 1961 24 Hours of Le Mans, but drivers Baghetti and Tavano came back ashen-faced after their first few laps. The car's airfoil-shaped bodywork looked scientific, but it kept trying to become an airplane on the long Mulsanne straight.