Bertone’s 250 SWB & A Lesson In Enchantment
Ferrari’s recently debuted SP38 is a polarizing machine, based on recent comments on my social media platforms. That strong reaction had me reflecting on it, custom coachwork Ferraris in general, some examples with great execution, refinement and beauty—and pondering if those elements are lacking today.
In the near future we will examine a number of the landmark Ferraris to really delve into that question, but when reviewing “Speciales” of all generations for that entry, one in particular jumped to mind, 250 SWB s/n 3269 GT. A star in 1962, this one-off has a spectacular (and meaningful) design, and an interesting but unresolved backstory. We’ll now take a look at it, that history, and SP38 to see what we can conclude, if anything.
In Giorgio Nada Editore’s fantastic book “Bertone” (it’s basically the great coachbuilder’s memoirs, effectively told by author Luciano Greggio), Nuccio Bertone relates in 1961 he traveled to the Ferrari works in one of his most recent creations, the well-received Iso Rivolta GT. That the coachbuilder was in Maranello during that period was logical, for he was working with Enzo on the diminutive ASA 1000 GT prototype that featured a Ferrari-designed and built four-cylinder engine.
According to Bertone, Ferrari accompanied him into the factory courtyard and, upon seeing the Iso, said, “Wouldn’t it be good if one day you got yourself a (real) car?”
To which Bertone replied, “I’ve always wanted a Ferrari, but that’s impossible,” referencing Ferrari’s close ties with rival coachbuilder Pininfarina.
“What do you mean impossible?” “Ferrari said. “Do you want a chassis?”
And just like that, Bertone would soon receive 250 SWB chassis 3269 GT.
A Tale of Two
No question it’s a lovely tale of two historic figures interacting, but there are two problems with it. First, in 1960 Nuccio had already exhibited his wares on a Ferrari, as favored Maranello client Enrico Wax had the coachbuilder create a one-off 250 SWB. While one could argue it was Wax rather than Bertone who received the chassis (Wax was Maranello’s most prolific custom coachwork client in the 1950s), a bigger issue lies in the Iso connection.
Photographs given to me by Iso’s chief technician Pierluigi Raggi of the naked prototype Iso Rivolta chassis were dated February 25, 1962, which was at least seven weeks after the Bertone-Ferrari conversation, had it happened on December 31. The completed prototype Iso then had its public unveiling on June 22, more than two months after chassis 3269 GT debuted on Bertone’s stand at the Geneva Auto Show.
So what had Nuccio driven to Maranello? Might it have been a Gordon GT, the Bertone-bodied British 2+2 that broke cover in 1960? After all, the Gordon was also powered by a Corvette engine, and served as the inspiration for the Iso. Or was it Bertone’s one-off Maserati 5000 GT that debuted at the same Turin Show as the ASA prototype, and Enzo was giving him
a friendly jab for working with a crosstown rival?
A Bold Vision
Regardless of the car, Bertone’s 250 SWB was nothing short of spectacular, a bold vision that was a complete break from the work of Ferrari’s anointed coachbuilder, Pininfarina. The most distinctive feature was the car’s “spilt nostril” front end that was based on 1961’s championship-winning 156 F1, and the rear-engine endurance racer 246 SP. The rest of 3269’s form seemed to be shrunk-wrapped over the mechanicals, and in a way it was—the suspension/shock towers were cut down so the body could sit lower on the chassis.
As noted above, Nuccio’s SWB debuted at 1962’s Geneva Auto Show to great fanfare, Road & Track’s Henry Manney declaring, “It was at Bertone, who seems to be making the biggest splash these days, that we found the Show Drool. He has managed to make a Ferrari coupe look almost as small as the (ASA 1000 GT), and a lot better proportioned.”
Chassis 3269 GT was also shown at Turin later that year. In between the shows, and after, Bertone used it as his personal transport. It then went through a handful of Italian owners before making its way to the U.S. in the second half of the 1960s. The unique Ferrari remained in California for the better part of two decades before being purchased by noted collector Lorenzo Zambrano who had it restored twice—first in silver then in the blue, the two colors it was shown in.
A True Sweetheart
I was blessed to drive 3269 GT several times, and to say this Ferrari is a sweetheart is an understatement. But driving impressions is a subject for another time, for as stated at the beginning of this post, we are here to talk about design…
That Ferrari is once again indulging in one-offs and “Speciales” is fantastic, for Maranello’s history with custom coachwork is probably longer and deeper than any other marque even though there were a number of decades where they were few and far between (1975-2005). So this resurgence is most welcome, and gives Ferrari’s in-house design team a chance to stretch their talents, all while having a good number of clients wanting to commission something different. But it also makes me sad, for in many ways these current Speciales seem like a missed opportunity.
For instance, with 3269 GT there is a magnificent integration of the overall design and details, where everything is done in a way that makes the “whole” better than any single element. Nothing is simply “tacked on” or “placed there” to make it “different” or more “wild” or “extreme” than the standard SWB, let alone another car.
Plus there is daring thought and meaning to the design, for Bertone and his chief stylist Giorgetto Giugiaro took a very distinctive element from Ferrari’s competition cars and created an entirely different “visual” from Pininfarina’s production SWB. Yet Nuccio’s SWB is equally well resolved so in both versions there is real refinement and grace, where everything seamlessly melds into a beautiful, complete, and well executed shape.
That type of thought and “completeness” is what seems to be lacking on SP38 and most every one of the specials since Ferrari took design in-house a decade ago. Just imagine if SP38 used recent Formula 1 or endurance racing design cues, like 3269 GT did—and with the same effectiveness. Or if they tapped into their history, and brought the spirit of a landmark model forward as beautifully as a 330 P4 and P4/5 of a decade ago?
In general, it seems Maranello’s current specials haven’t had that same cohesive “wholeness,” where the proportions, lines, surface treatments, details and more effortlessly flow in relation to everything else on the overall form. Which ironically, are characteristics found in the production 488, 458, LaFerrari, and more.
So here’s to hoping Ferrari’s clients keep stepping up for these machines, and that in the near future Maranello will truly flex some design muscle, and unveil one-offs that bedazzle and mesmerize us all. Just like Bertone, Giugiaro and 3269 GT did 50-plus years ago—and still do today.