A shape that won championships is a succinct summation of Ferrari’s 250 GTO, and a good explanation of why they are so coveted today.
Is The GTO Experience Worth It?
What makes a car worth “$45 million to $60 million”? Or how about $79 million? The former spread of numbers is RM-Sotheby’s pre-auction estimate for Ferrari 250 GTO Series II chassis number 3413 GT that will be going across the block on August 25, while the latter figure is what my grapevine says was the private transaction price on Series I GTO chassis 4153 GT in May.
So what exactly makes a GTO a “G-T-O,” a machine worth mid-to high eight-figure sums and not something with the name “Pontiac” attached, as much as I do like the American version? Ferrari’s mystique certainly counts for a lot these days, as does rarity. But with 36 250 GTOs made, there are other considerably more rare Ferrari models that don’t come close to approaching such heady values.
Curves in all the Right Places
Italy and the automotive world was still experimenting with the berlinetta (fastback) shape in the early 1960s, and the 250 GTO’s is one of the best.
The car’s sensational berlinetta shape is another huge plus. Its classic Sixties appearance has the right curves, proportions and balance so it is sensual, purposeful, yet approachable—it looks as though you or I could drive it to a major race, score another victory to contribute to its three world championships, then stop off at the grocery store on the way home. Try imagining doing that in any of the Le Mans winners over the past decade or two…
Provenance—the car’s life story—is another factor, and both GTOs mentioned above have it. Chassis 4153 GT was fourth overall and second in class at Le Man in 1963, and has a good sprinkling of other top five finishes and first in class placings. The history of 3413 GT that will soon cross the block is just as impressive. From 1962 through 1965 it had 16 first overall or first in class results; this includes first in class and top five finishes at the Targa Florio in 1963 and ’64.
Both also have their original engines, their original coachwork and most likely a current Red Book (the factory’s blessing that states the car is the real thing, and is as it was when it originally left Ferrari). But there is another key element that, for better or worse, rarely gets mentioned in today’s investor-driven/what’s-it-worth marketplace mindset—and that’s how one drives.
Lovely details abound on the GTO, and those luscious Borrani wire wheels certainly add to the car’s visual aura.
One of the Best
When 250 GTOs were sub-$10 million vehicles, I was blessed to spend three days with 4219 GT—of which a good portion was behind the wheel. This Ferrari also ticks the “one of the best GTOs” boxes with an overall victory at Daytona in 1963, and notable finishes elsewhere. It retains its original body, untouched chassis and drivetrain, and has only had four owners total.
At the time “our” paths crossed, the automotive world and thus its mentality were entirely different. Back then Ferraris (including GTOs and everything else) were still “just cars,” and I remember thinking, how can anything be worth so much, other than to let everyone know you are a member of a rarified club with a big initiation fee? After all, you could have a very tasty collection for the GTO’s $7-8 million value.
Chassis 4219 GT began chipping away at such skepticism the instant the driving experience commenced. Compared to production Ferraris past and present, everything on a GTO is feather light. Effort to open the door is minimal, a slight tug on the simple catch, all that is necessary. Squirm into the tight bucket seat, and a slight pull swings it closed.
That tachometer dominates the dash for a good reason—this car loves to rev. And the higher the “r’s” are, the better…
Obviously, the GTO’s fathers (the talented engineers Giotto Bizzarrini and Mauro Forghieri, and coachbuilder extraordinaire Sergio Scaglietti and Company) didn’t have 6 foot-plus piloti Americani in mind when they created the cabin. The large steering wheel sits close to your chest, and the thinly padded seat is non-adjustable, causing my legs to splay apart. And while the GTO’s expansive greenhouse has an airy feel, taller drivers will find rearward vision somewhat restricted.
But who needs a rearview mirror when the view straight ahead is that sensuous? Hood and fender curves are voluptuous yet taut, with not a stray millimeter of metal anywhere. The controls feel as light and precise as the door, and everything is placed exactly where it should be. That fabulous metallic shift knob is ideally sized, and perfectly located and angled toward the driver.
Having previously driven a lot of historic and new Ferraris, plus a bunch of other stuff, before getting into the GTO I thought I had experienced everything an engine had to offer. Yet, the way this 2953cc SOHC V12 went about its business may be even more memorable than the sheetmetal’s mesmerizing shape. The glorious powerplant is topped by six twin-choke Weber carburetors, and should you fully open them up below 2000 rpm, the engine stutters as if it’s running on five cylinders.
Back in the day a stack of carburetors like this meant business…
You Can Feel the Power
Keep the pedal on the lightweight metal though, and what happens the instant the V12 crosses 3000 rpm is utterly stupefying as it starts breathing correctly, and pulling with ever-increasing alacrity. Only the automotive gods know how many other cars (including Ferraris) are quicker, but they all lack the GTO’s absolute synchronization of mechanical components, and the accompanying symphonic metallic wail of thrashing chains, cams and valves that literally raises the hair on the back of your neck.
Hit 5000 rpm and the GTO enters another dimension, one that’s like shooting down a steep water slide in which you utterly relish the effortlessness and total fluidity of motion. Then, as you quickly gather more and more speed and are convinced it can’t get any better or faster, at 7000 rpm the V12 completely changes character once again. You have suddenly jumped to another chute on the slide, one that causes the rushing sensation to instantly double.
Driving a GTO is like wearing a ballerina slipper, it’s that light and supple and instantaneously responsive to your every input.
That magical high-rpm sweet spot is so intoxicating, so utterly invigorating, that if it was bottled and sold on the street we would all be addicts. To get another fix, you upshift as quickly as possible, delirious with the insatiable urge to have all your senses overload again as the tachometer spins above 8000. (Right now, as I’m typing this out I’m getting goose pimples, remembering it from so many years ago…)
The fully independent front- and leaf spring rear suspension are lithe, and up to the task of handling that needle of an engine. Much like a prima donna ballerina, the GTO’s sense of balance gives you great confidence as you carve up massive amounts of road in a short time, the Ferrari delicately dancing as it glides across the tarmac. Light as the ballerina’s slipper and with coachwork just as thin, the underpinnings transmit every inch of asphalt through the steering wheel and seat of your pants. Lift off the throttle through a series of turns and the back twitches ever so slightly, but stays in place.
The 250 GTO’s shape is beautifully proportioned, and has that wonderful shoulder over the rear wheels.
Just Getting Warmed Up
When I mention to the owner that the brakes seem to be the car’s one weak link, a strong push on the pedal delivering minimal bite, “That’s not correct,” he replies. “The key is to get them warm, which you can do on a race track. I use modern pads, and they never fade. In fact, they are so good when heated up that it feels like the car will stand on end!” Another 30 minutes of barreling along the countryside’s sinuous empty roads at a rapid clip prove more than once he is right.
With prices where they are today, it’s ironic to recall in the weeks leading up to that encounter, I thought paying several million for one car was lunacy—it was so easy to come up with multiple car collections that made a GTO seem irrelevant.
My Closing Thoughts Reflect That…
A most memorable moment from three unforgettable days: How often does one get to spend that much time with two 250 GTOs, let alone just one example?
No matter how hard I tried to deny it when those three days were said and done, such resistance was history. My notes point out that after my riding and driving this Daytona-winning GTO had ended, my body was still humming with excitement, my nerves were still on end, and my ears were ringing with that unforgettable, multi-layered V12 melody.
Which is why I can completely understand how a friend back then
could write a seven-figure check without hesitating to acquire chassis 4219 GT, and why someone will pay seven to ten times that amount today.
For yes, 250 GTOs are indeed that otherworldly…