Ferrari’s California Legend: The Starting Point of It All

The embodiment of Ferrari’s early design language and the 250 Spyder California Legend is found in this car, the prototype Cal Spyder, chassis 0769 GT. There was a long-running debate over who was behind its most memorable form: The artisans at Carrozzeria Pinin Farina, or Sergio Scaglietti and his craftsmen.

Ferrari’s California Legend

Certain cars are legendary for a reason, and Ferrari’s 250 Spyder California is definitely one of them. Killer good looks, sparkling road manners, a superb V12, racing victories—oh, and did I mention how it looks—were so memorable that the marque opted to use the “California” name on an all-new model in 2009.

This machine looks like it is doing 100 mph even when standing still. Its perfect proportions and beautiful beltline are the embodiment of postwar “Rolling Sculpture.”

We will examine that decision (and car) at some other time, for this week we are looking at the epicenter of the California legend, the prototype 250 Spyder California, chassis 0769 GT. Whether a Cal Spyder is open headlight or closed, steel or alloy body, long or short wheelbase, outside filler cap or not, every 250 Spyder California looks great. But I feel chassis 0769 GT is the most beautiful of them all.

This machine looks like it is doing 100 mph even when standing still. Its perfect proportions and beautiful beltline are the embodiment of postwar “Rolling Sculpture.”

Perfectly Proportioned…

With a name like “California,” the origins of the model obviously emanated from America. In conversations I had with Girolamo Gardini, Ferrari’s influential sales manager from 1950 to 1961, he said the idea for the Cal Spyder came from Ferrari’s dealer in southern California, Johnny Von Neumann. The concept had the backing of the American importer Luigi Chinetti, and chassis 0769 GT was built in mid-December 1957.

For many years, there was a long-running debate over who designed the Cal Spyder. Some said the creator was Sergio Scaglietti and his talented craftsmen in Modena, while others claimed the artisans at Carrozzeria Pinin Farina in Turin were responsible. Both had good cases, for in the winter of 1957 when chassis 0769 GT was born, Pinin Farina was designing most every production Ferrari and a great number of custom coachwork Speciales, while Scaglietti was creating competition cars such as the 500 TRC, 290, 315 and 335S, and the seriously cool pontoon-fender 250 Testa Rossa. Adding to the intrigue of everything, when I asked Sergio Scaglietti the question, he said it was done by Pininfarina. When I queried Sergio Pininfarina the same, he said Scaglietti. Later Pininfarina told me they both signed a document that said the other did it! Talk about being gentlemen, and mutual respect…

Functional beauty is a great way to describe the trio of dual throat Weber carburetors sitting atop the V12. Mash the throttle, and the noise is brilliant, the engine pulling harder the higher the revs rise.


Again, former sales manager Gardini sheds some light on this unresolved bit of Ferrari history. “The California body was built by Scaglietti,” he noted, “but was designed by (Alberto)Massimino. The shape was then modified by (Francesco) Salamone, a stylist for Pinin Farina…”

Driving a Cal Spyder today is a reminder of how different things were back then. While many of today’s economy cars would run with it to 100 mph, very few (if any) modern machines engage all your senses and talks to you the way a Cal Spyder does.


A True Classic

So if Battista and Sergio Pininfarina’s maestro stylists designed the car, very likely Scaglietti did some minor modifications. He told me more than once that he would put his touch on Ferraris after conferring with Sergio Pininfarina, who was handling the Ferrari account. The prototype Cal Spyder was originally sold to American importer Luigi Chinetti and his business partner, the delightful racer George Arents. Arents found the chassis too flexible for his taste so 0769 GT was soon sold to Puerto Rico, where it won the two races it participated in. By the early 1980s it was back in America and eventually ended up with a friend who has owned a good number of interesting and very prominent Ferraris for the past three decades.

A fantastic helm, chassis 0769 GT was the only Spyder California with this particular dash configuration. All instruments are clearly legible behind the lovely wooden steering wheel.

After acquiring 0769 GT he contacted Ferrari to certify the historic car through their Classiche program, so imagine his surprise when he was told that the car’s chassis might not be original because of the tubes’ configuration differed from typical Cal Spyder specifications. For those who have been fortunate enough to see the incredibly extensive documentation contained in the Classiche Department’s files (something I call “the Fort Knox in Maranello”), that is where the answer lay as to what was correct for this particular Cal Spyder. The Classiche staff pulled 0769’s file and buried in it were the original chassis drawings, which confirmed what at first looked suspect was indeed the real deal. A coveted Red Book was then issued.

 A great place to be entertained, whether sitting at rest or going at a brisk pace. This CalSpyder engages you from the moment you hear that distinctive whirr of the starter motor, to when you park the Ferrari and shut it off sometime later. And how can you not want to just reach out and feel that cue ball of a shift knob fills up your hand?

Embodiment of Automotive Legend

Not long after that I was blessed to spend a day with this stupendous Ferrari and did the weather ever cooperate. There was just the right amount of cloud coverage and sunlight, making for ideal lighting so no matter where one aimed the camera, the results were stupendous. That’s when I really saw 0769 GT’s voluptuous rear “hips,” and how its body lines were that much crisper than what’s found on the production Cal Spyders. Other glorious details included the beautiful beltline, how the headlight covers perfectly melded into the body’s silhouette, and the wonderful interior with its unique instrument binnacle and that great shift lever sprouting from the transmission tunnel.

Beautiful and functional: the door handle opens by pushing the button, which then causes the handle to pop out from its chrome surround. One can also see the leading edge of the rear fender, which is much more chiseled and voluptuous than on the “production” Cal Spyders.

In sum, this Ferrari is the embodiment of automotive legend, and ideally portrays four words that were the hallmark of the marque’s style/design language for many decades: elegance and beauty, harmony and grace.

Another beautiful styling touch is the way the covered headlights perfectly integrate into the car’s form. The louvers behind the Borrani wire wheel are not only lovely to look at but assist in having air escape from the engine compartment.

A truly beautiful design is accentuated by the magnificent rearward sweep of the windscreen. So who is responsible for the Cal Spyder’s timeless form? According to Girolamo Gardini, Ferrari’s influential sales manager at the time the model was born, the initial design was done by Pininfarina stylists Alberto Massimino and Francesco Salamone. No doubt Scaglietti also gave it his touch when 0769 was built.

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