A rare sight back in the day in Belgium and elsewhere was seeing Princess Lilian de Rethy piloting her custom-ordered Ferrari 330 GTC Speciale chassis 9439 GT.
The immortal 250 GTO may grab all the headlines (see last week’s blog entry and RM-Sotheby’s’ just completed $48.4 million sale of chassis 3413 GT), but there are numerous other Ferraris deserving of attention. Witness 330 GTC Speciale chassis number 9653 GT at Gooding & Co.’s auction that sold for $3.41 million.
While the Speciale is more understated than the GTO, does the drastic variance in price mean it’s worth just a percentage of the 250? Not in the least, for it’s more rare (four made versus 36) and the model’s history literally started with royalty. Princess Lilian de Rethy was the wife of Belgium’s King Loepold III, and both were avid Ferrari owners. His first was 1952’s one-of-two produced 342 America Cabriolet, while his next was a sensational one-off 375 Plus created in 1954; both had Pininfarina coachwork.
Truly One of A Kind
The front end has unusual pop up fog lamps, an idea that came from another Ferrari…
Princess Lilian’s first Ferrari was chassis 0359 GT, a one-off Vignale-bodied 250 Europa GT made in 1954. She ordered her next Ferrari three years later, a sensational and unique Pininfarina-bodied 250 GT (chassis 0751 GT).
At the time, clients desiring one-offs and “Speciales” were a welcome sight at the coachbuilders, for it allowed the artisans to try out new ideas. As Franco Martinengo, a former styling chief at Pininfarina in the 1950s and 60s told me, “Because we would make only one car, it was much easier to experiment with (ideas) than it was on a production car. Owners (of such cars) were understanding, as we only had to please one person and not a large group of customers.”
As the 1960s began, the custom coachwork specials started to wane. Clients preferred sophistication and refinement to uniqueness, and the only way that could be accomplished was larger production numbers. A perfect example of refinement through larger numbers is Ferrari’s 330 GTC that debuted in the second half of 1966. It soon became known as the “best all-around” Ferrari, with a comfortable airy cabin, light steering and brakes, wonderful ride and exemplary 150+ mph performance.
The 330 GTC Speciale has a profile different from any other machine, with lovely proportions, lots of glass and a classically elegant Pininfarina roofline and A-pillars.
A Car of Borrowed Ideas
The decline of custom coachwork throughout the 1960s didn’t deter the Princess from ordering a Speciale. Her car was based on the 330 GTC, and Martinengo and Crew borrowed styling elements from earlier models to create its unique design. The frontal treatment found its inspiration in another special Ferrari, the 365 California, while the unusual rear came from the one-off 166 Dino prototype that was seen at 1965’s Paris Auto Show. The taillight clusters and large flat rear deck also found their origins on the earliest Dino prototypes and the two-made 365 P.
The inspiration for the 330 GTC Speciale’s attractive front end was the 365 California that debuted a year earlier.
The inspiration for the 330 GTC Speciale’s rear glass, buttresses and decklid was this Pininfarina one-off—1966’s Ferrari Dino 206 prototype chassis 00106. (Photo courtesy of Pininfarina.)
Make That A Four Lot...
Princess Lilian visited the Pininfarina works several times as her Speciale was designed and built. During one of my visits with Martinengo, he proudly pulled out photos of Princess Lilian and King Leopold in the studios, gazing at the full-size wooden body buck. Joining them on one foray was friend Dr. Michael De Bakey, as he was also a lover of fast machinery. The famed heart surgeon became so enthralled with the design that he ordered an identical car (chassis 9653 GT that was at Gooding’s auction). Two more Speciales were also made (chassis 10107 and chassis 10241).
Princess Lilian’s 330 Speciale debuted in January 1967 at the Brussels Motor Show. “New designs from Pininfarina require little comment,” Road & Track’s one page review of the model stated. After critiquing the general styling they concluded that, “the car is extremely handsome and will gladden the hearts of all Ferrari enthusiasts.”
This touch done for Princess Lilian is found on the dash, next to the glovebox.
Including this one. I had known of the distinctive model for years but never closely examined one until 9439 ended up being “my” car for the better part of a week. The adventure started when a good collector friend called to say he had purchased it. Amazingly, Princess Lilian owned it up to her death in 2002 so he was the second owner. When he took delivery it was in completely original condition with just 26,000 kilometers (16,000 miles) on the odometer.
Having Some Fun…
Some time later he called and asked if I would like to show it at Pebble Beach (no arm twisting was needed there ). As with the 250 GTO episode in last week’s blog, this offer also happened when cars were still “cars” and not the revered financial instruments of today so the day after Pebble, he handed me the keys and said, “Consider the car yours for the next few days. Have fun.”
That lovely greenhouse gave the 330 GTC Speciale a light and airy driver’s compartment. It’s a wonderful place to spend a number of hours blasting along at a high rate of speed.
Which I did! That this Ferrari was special goes beyond its unique looks. Open the door and stainless steel kick panels immediately catch your eye. You plop down into the comfy seats that offer only a bit of bolstering on the sides and for your legs. The three-spoke wood wheel is fabulous and feels lovely in your hands, thanks in great part to the grooves for your fingers on the back. All instruments are easily legible and visibility in all directions is excellent.
Give the key a turn to the far right then depress it, and the V12 fires after a short interlude of the starter motor’s metallic whir. First gear is the typical back-and-to-the-left dogleg and engages easily. And, in a testament to the car’s mechanical integrity, unlike most of its period-stablemates it easily slips into second when the gearbox is cold. The compliant ride, responsive steering and properly weighted brakes, coupled with good visibility, loads of storage space both in the driver’s compartment and the cavernous trunk, make it perfect for mundane chores. Only heavy steering at a complete rest makes it work when in town.
Powerful & Responsive
A wonderful rear view shot shows the curved rear glass, and intriguing buttresses. Pininfarina’s chief stylist Franco Martinengo said they would typically take elements from other Pininfarina cars, and try them on something else to make a new model.
The refined 3-liter V12 is a joy. Smooth and civilized with linear power delivery, the engine has responsive torque down low and the shove increases as the revs rise. The engine’s superb symphony of valves, chains, cams and pistons is much more intricate, melodic and involving than modern Ferraris, and that soundtrack invigorates you when run hard. Should you have willpower and can keep your foot off the right pedal, its soothing melodic tone could lull you to sleep.
The exhaust tone is just as delicious. Regardless of your speed, those four trumpets add another layer of complexity and involvement to the driving experience, filling the cockpit but never overwhelming it. Should you wish the song to be a bit louder, simply roll down the windows and mash the accelerator.
And floor it you will, for though the Speciale handles everyday tasks easily, it’s much better on open motorways. The ride is luxurious with a proper mix of feel and comfort, and at speed the steering becomes more communicative and considerably lighter. Pitch it into a turn and you will feel body lean and sense a bit of understeer. While it never protests it’s clear Lilian’s Speciale prefers the freeway, elegantly and effortlessly whisking two occupants across the continent.
A lovely mechanical orchestra is found in the engine compartment. The 3967cc SOHC V12 makes 300 horsepower at 7000 rpm, and pulls harder the higher up the revs go.
After five days of living like royalty, the 330 Speciale had majestically swept me off my feet. Its looks are elegant, unique and understated, fitting for the client who originally commissioned the car. Its road manners cosset and reward, making this a custom-coachwork Ferrari one could truly use every day. If I were a collector searching for something useable and different, something you wouldn’t find at every concours or rally, any of the four 330 Speciales would be near the top of my list.
Sophisticated, elegant, incredibly rare and built by hand—the 330 GTC Speciale was indeed the perfect car for a Princess.