Grand Trial ‘60s GT Greats Do the Aston, Ferrari and Maserati live up to the hype? PLUS our top GT alternatives for £30k, or less. Aston DB5, Maserati Sebring and Ferrari 250GT Lusso fight to justify their status. They’re revered figureheads of an automotive phenomenon. But half a century later, do they still possess the skillset to justify their eye-watering price tags? Words Ivan Ostroff. Photography Glenn Lindberg.
‘Nobody can style automobiles quite like the Italians. These are the most elegant cars of the period’ They all claim to be grand tourers, but which really does the business? The Big Test Sixties GTs The Ferrari, Aston and Maserati promise the ultimate in Sixties grand touring capability. Do they really deliver? Grand Trial: Sixties GTs Conjoining high performance with luxury and cruising ability, the Ferrari 250GT Lusso, Maserati Sebring and Aston Martin DB5 were the most glamorous cars of the early Sixties. We bring them together for a glorious road test.
The Sixties incarnation of the Maserati Sebring 3500 GTI was possibly the best-looking two-plus-two GT car at that time. Its Vignale bodywork highlighted the fact that nobody can style automobiles quite like the Italians, so I wanted one. Then, in 1963, along came the Ferrari 250GTL. Not only was it drop-dead gorgeous but it had a top speed of 150mph. That was warp speed then. So I wanted one of those too.
Then the Aston Martin DB5 appeared in Goldfinger, instantly becoming every schoolboy’s dream. It might not have been the fastest car in the world but 143mph was not exactly hanging around. Most importantly for me, it was the car for a British hero, and therefore the most desirable of all.
Almost six decades on, I feel like I must have died and gone to heaven. Three of the most fabulous motorcars to grace the highways of the Sixties are at my disposal. The Aston is without doubt the quintessential gentleman’s GT; the Sebring is one of the most underrated designs Vignale penned, and the Lusso? Well, that boasts a grand-touring magnum opus – the Ferrari V12 – in one of the most beautiful automotive bodies ever conceived. But which of them will prove to be the ultimate GT?
1963 Maserati Sebring 3500 GTI
Fewer than 350 examples of the Maserati Sebring Series I were made, so the rare opportunity to drive is one I’ve relished for some time. Initially christened 3500 GTiS – referencing its fuel-injected 3.5-litre straight-six – it was soon renamed in honour of the ’s 1-2 finish at 12 Hours of Sebring in 1957. When this car was new on the market in 1962, many felt that it was one of the most stylish grand tourers ever produced.
The Sebring’s Vignale coachwork – created either by Alfredo Vignale or subcontractor Giovanni Michelotti, depending on who you consult – is good looking from almost every angle. The front end, dominated by a pair of Corvette-style twin headlamps, uses a protruding grille and a snorty vent to strike the perfect balance between elegance and aggression. Looking at the Maserati in profile, every feature of its design appears in perfect balance, right down to the subtle twin vents set into the front wings just aft of the wheelarches. The rear aspect is the least successful, appearing rather more Fifties in style and tainted with blocky vertical rear lamp clusters that look like something of an afterthought; revised units were rotated ninety degrees on the Series II model. But from every other angle, the car remains a magnificent design.
Sliding into the Sebring’s driver’s seat for the first time, I notice that the two-plus-two interior appears as-new. And it’s dripping with Fifties style, adorned with lashing of chrome that lend the car a charming appeal. Instead of the expected leather or wood rim, the Maserati’s slotted aluminium-spoked steering wheel has a Bakelite perimeter, with a trident-emblazoned horn button in the centre of the boss.
This car majors on heritage. The gold on chrome ‘Maserati V Sebring’ script on the dash; the three chrome air vents in the middle of the dashboard; the charming engine-turned design of the chromium ashtray set into in the centre console – this interior is exquisite, and spending hours in it will be no chore.
There are seven knobs below the central part of the panel and in typically Italian fashion none are labelled, so you’re forced to resort to trial-and-error guesswork as to their function. Certainly, little ergonomic thought was at work here. The Sebring’s interior also pre-dates the era when red lights signified a warning and a softer illumination, usually blue or green, was used for tell-tales. Because of this, owner Julian Reddyhough keeps a laminated diagram of the dashboard to hand in the glovebox that he can always refer to. ‘I often get into a momentary panic when I see a red light illuminate on the dashboard until I remember that it is just the tell-tale for the electric fan,’ he says.
Reddyhough’s Sebring is a rather early example, being only the 29th to be built. With no carburettors to prime I twist the key and the 3485cc double-overhead-camshaft straight-six turns over eagerly and fires. I drop the handbrake and select first gear from the five-speed manual ZF ’box and tickle the accelerator as I bring up the clutch, which is lighter than I’d expected. Once into second, I flex my right foot again and sense the tail squat as the Maserati accelerates up the road.
All the dials are placed in front of the driver and are very easy to read. Two main instruments – an 8000rpm rev counter on the left and a 300kph speedometer on the right – bracket the five smaller Veglia gauges for secondary instruments; there is also a clock placed in the centre console. Chrome abounds, but in a dosage only the Italians ever seem capable of meting out without going too far. The footrest allocated tomy left foot when it’s of clutch duty feels particularly well-positioned. That’s just the sort of little detail that you really appreciate when you have been driving continually for several hours on a motorway, a task that would have been high on the Sebring’s design brief, whichever of the two masterful designers was attempting to fulfil it.
They were also obviously keen on clearly communicating the Maserati’s potency, heritage and styling genealogy. On the lip of the bootlid there is a chrome script to inform those left it its wake that they have just been shut down by a Maserati 3500 GTI. On the left side of the rear panel is the Sebring name in chrome script, while on the right is the word Iniezione – Italian for injection – framed by the fearsome Trident. Finally, a Vignale badge decorates the unlikely but felicitous location between the trailing edge of the door and the rear wheelarch.
On a light throttle the Maserati is not particularly noisy but when pressing on the engine has the most delightfully throaty growl, which is most encouraging for a spirited driver. On a short drive this cacophony inspires me to press on, but after half an hour at cruising speeds the aural intrusion starts to become a tad overbearing – not helped by the fact that the exhaust runs beneath the driver’s seat on this left-hand-drive car. However, at these velocities the engine sounds far less busy than it would were it not for the welcome fifth gear ratio.
On fast B-roads the Maserati is predictable when cornering but having a live rear axle and a not-unsubstantial mass, it favours a slow-in, fast-out cornering routine. That said, the steering is not particularly precise and I can feel a certain amount of wander. While attacking one fast open corner, an unnerving wiggle from the rear end tells me that I’ve reached the fringe of the Sebring’s handling capabilities so I take the hint and back of, winding on a bit more lock to make it through the bend cleanly. Eventually my confidence is reinstated as I realise that it was the uncertainty of the recirculating ball steering rack, which was probably accurate enough for the period, that made the situation feel more perilous than it actually was.
On a slower, tighter corner, I lift of and then plant my foot as the car exits the bend. To my delight the rear slides out just a tad and then comes back perfectly as I dial in a lick of countersteer before accelerating away. Slowing before a sharp turn, the all-round disc brakes work well and slow the car adequately. The steering weights up nicely on corner entry and notwithstanding my comments on accuracy, the front end always seems to bite well and I get clear messages on what the front tyres are doing. The pedals are well-placed for heel-and-toe downchanges and I’m always able to find the ratio I need.
Exiting the corner and going up through the gears, the beautiful glass-topped gear lever has something of a long throw and is a tad notchy. But there’s no such lack of eagerness from the straight-six. Later Sebrings had 3.7-litre (245bhp) and 4.0-litre (255bhp) developments but despite being the smallest and least powerful (235bhp) of the injected engines, this 3.5-litre variant certainly isn’t lacking in grunt. Snide comments about the reliability of the humble Lucas 2MDC6/M fuel injection system might have been made in period, but today the twin-plug engine feels turbines-mooth and it is torquey throughout the rev range. At no point do I find myself waiting for it to come up on cam.
As a genuine 2+2 with lavishly upholstered rear seats, the Sebring can realistically accommodate four medium-sized adults – aided by well-judged door apertures – in snug comfort on short runs, although legroom would be a little too tight to cover any serious mileage four-up. Young children would be immune to this shortcoming, so for the average two-plus-two family the Sebring’s attraction would be more than skin-deep.
The Sebring caters equally well to those whose baggage is of the non-human variety, boasting a pair of bespoke leather straps for securing luggage on the rear bench when not being sat on. The driving position is a little high but, unlike the Ferrari, the seat is adjustable for rake which makes it easier to accommodate drivers of varying in either height or build. My biggest complaint is the odd positioning of the rear-view mirror. But that and the awkward rear end are small blots on the Sebring’s drafting book. Put these idiosyncrasies aside and you have a stylish grand tourer with serious pedigree and probably the least-fulilled financial potential of all its period rivals.
But its dynamic capabilities are of the highest importance. The minor steering wander on long, mainly straight motorway blasts is an affliction of most cars of the era. It soon becomes something you deal with almost subconsciously, although the concentration required when pressing through a prolonged sequence of bends can become a little wearing. I really wish the Sebring had a decent rack-and-pinion system and independent rear suspension, but these omissions don’t tarnish what is otherwise a delightful driving experience – whether you’re reeling in the horizon or unpicking mountain switchbacks.
Owning a Maserati Sebring
Says owner Julian Reddyhough, ‘Today, the Sebring is a bit of an underdog. It cost 25% more than a DB5 when new but now it is around a third of the price, even though this one is probably one of the nicest.
‘The previous owner spent £180,000 having the car rebuilt and so far nothing has ever gone wrong while I’ve owned it, so I’ve not had to spend anything on repairs – the only thing I’ve done is change the oil. I drive it to London and back pretty regularly; that’s about a 200-mile round trip and it has never let me down.
‘Being built primarily for the Italian and American markets, the centre console does not actually run down the centre line of the car, so the driver’s side is actually wider than the passenger side giving the driver slightly more comfort.
Only a few right-hand-drive Sebrings were made and those were not altered, so in those cars the reverse is true – the passenger has more room than the driver!’
TECHNICAL DATA FILE SPECIFICATIONS 1963 Maserati Sebring 3500 GTI
Engine: 3485cc straight six, dohc, twin-plug head, two valves per cylinder, Lucas 2MDC6/M mechanical fuel Injection
Max Power 235bhp @ 5500rpm / DIN
Max Torque 260lb ft @ 3600rpm / DIN
Transmission Five-speed ZF manual
Steering Recirculating ball Suspension Front: double wishbones, coil springs, hydraulic dampers, anti-roll bar. Rear: Salisbury live axle, semi-elliptic leaf springs, hydraulic dampers, anti-roll bar, longitudinal torque arm
Brakes Discs all-round.
Performance Top speed: 137mph; 0-60mph: 8.5sec
Price new £5116
Classic Cars Price Guide £60,000-£200,000
‘Having a live rear axle and a not-unsubstantial mass, the Sebring favours a slow-in, fast-out cornering routine’
‘Chrome abounds, but in a dosage only the Italians ever seem capable of meting out without going too far’
1964 Aston Martin DB5
Look at the eye-watering values commanded by the Aston Martin DB5 in today’s market and you’d be forgiven for assuming that its arrival in 1963 created a mushroom-cloud of wonderment. In reality it was little more than a gentle evolution of its predecessor; the latest in a line of continuously tweaked and improved coupés bearing David Brown’s initials.
Many of the changes that justified the new badge amounted to standardising options from the last series of the DB4, such as the covered headlamps and triple SU HD8 carburettors; the biggest advance was a jump in engine capacity from 3.7- to 4.0-litres. More conducive to the DB5’s latent stardom was the gift of the most valuable automotive film franchise association in history.
Today, however, I’ll judge the DB5 solely on its merits as a British grand tourer bullishly squaring up to a pair of Italian thoroughbreds. And as I walk towards the Aston, carrying out my usual initial reconnaissance, I cannot help but smile.
That grille shape and the faired-in headlamps set into the swooping front wings came to define the Aston look. The aesthetically perfect bonnet scoop – positioned to channel air to feed the triple SUs crowning the double overhead cam straight-six – the chrome-trimmed wing vent, the knock-of chrome wire wheels and those wonderful British Bulldog bumpers, the car’s form is almost hypnotising.
Is there another motor car that looks more patriotically British than this? Well, maybe a Rolls-Royce Silver Cloud.
After pulling myself back from a dithering emotional state I slide into the office; the black leather bucket seats are even more comfortable than they look. There is a new feeling of roominess about the cabin compared to the claustrophobic DB4 thanks to a raised roofline, with exterior proportions kept in balance thanks to a five-inch body extension.
Like the Sebring, the DB5 has a 2+2 seating layout. Once again, a couple of adults would be fine in the back for a relatively short drive but because of the sloping fastback roofline and close-coupled seating, the offer of a ride over longer journeys would be regretfully declined by even the most modestly proportioned. But, just like the Maserati, this would make a fine car for the those with young children. If you were to embark on a family tour, you’d need to pack light and get creative with soft baggage – the DB5’s boot is relatively deep but not cavernous.
The DB5’s wood-rim steering wheel feels good in my hands, and is less vertical than that of either the Ferrari or Maserati. I have heard it said that its ‘ban-the-bomb-sign’ configuration of the spokes looks wrong, that their natural layout should be as they are in the Ferrari and the Maserati. More importantly, the Aston’s well-arranged interior is an ergonomic triumph compared to the Italians. The wheel feels perfectly placed so that I can see the instrument binnacle mimicking the traditional Aston Martin radiator grille shape.
The 180mph speedometer on the left and the tachometer reading to 6000rpm on the right are directly in front of my eyes. The ammeter sits in the centre, between these two main dials although the other instruments are sprinkled around a little haphazardly. The first DB5s had a four-speed DB gearbox, but this 1964 car has the benefit of the five-speed ZF ’box that was optional at launch but soon made standard equipment. The gear lever is particularly spindly, but is particularly well placed, exactly where my left hand falls. The original push-button radio is pure Sixties. The best-quality Connolly leather hides covering seats and door trims of the DB5’s interior amplify the sensation of sitting in the smoking lounge of a gentleman’s club. The Aston’s A-pillars seem rather upright, but that’s fine – forward visibility being all the better for it. Even the sun visors are smoked plexiglass so you can see through them, a smart idea.
I twist the key and smile as the double-overhead-camshaft straight-six comes alive with a subdued burble. I dip the heavy clutch and slide the lever forward into first with a click. Releasing the clutch the Aston moves of smoothly, I pull back the short distance towards second and the lever slides home with some reluctance; the German-origin gearbox likes to be approached cautiously and it fights me a little. But that’s only for the first quarter of a mile until its fluids get nice and warm. I watch the needle climb past 3000rpm then continue to work up the gears before settling at a fast cruising speed, putting my left foot on the conveniently placed footrest.
Under acceleration there is a discernible induction noise from the triumvirate of SU carburettors, but the exhaust note is a muled and reined blare. On paper, the DB5 is slower than the Lusso but Tadek Marek’s all-aluminium straight-six provides plenty of urge when required. When you need to overtake a line of traffic, drop down into third gear and surge past with a feeling of absolute authority.
There is power in abundance, humongous torque, and a great sense of immediacy as the needle spools around the Smiths tachometer. The exhaust’s cruising burble changes to an urgent snarl like the roar of a miffed tiger as momentum increases. At anything below 40mph I need to be in fourth gear or lower to maintain progress. It’s not really a complaint, but explains how the ratios are spaced. Fifth gear is an overdrive ratio – at 80mph I’m only nudging 3500rpm with a handy 2500rpm in reserve. Was I to have a long-enough unrestricted section of road at my disposal – as I readily would have had in the pre-speed-limit halcyon days of the Sixties – the DB5’s 1:3.14 final drive and 5500rpm-plus capability in this ratio would see me realistically nudging 140mph.
Even at those heady speeds, I would imagine that wind noise from the rather upright windscreen would be of more concern than obtrusive engine noise. The characteristic ZF gearbox whine is present but never a nuisance.
In a reassuring way, the DB5 is surprisingly alive, but I never feel that it is going to bite me. I can feel everything through the controls; there is no power steering so the rack-and-pinion steering is heavy at parking speeds, but it’s pleasingly sharp and precise on the move. On rough tracks the odd pothole exposes the rigid rear axle, but the parallel trailing links and Watt linkage mean the DB5 stays remarkably sure-footed and maintains good directional stability the rest of the time.
Just like the Maserati Sebring, spirited cornering is best carried out slow in, fast out. As long as you’re sensible, you can control the car on the throttle without having to worry about nasty surprises. On the approach to into fast bends the steering loads up to tell you what the 205-section tyres are up to. It is all very gradual – trailing into the bend, I apply some throttle through the apex and the weight settles nicely towards the rear, defaulting into a nice neutral, typically Aston stance. Braking down for a particularly sharp corner, I double declutch into second, haul the steering wheel around and as the tail breaks away, I dial in a quick lick of opposite lock and accelerate through. I cannot believe how responsive the car is on the throttle and how easy it is to control through quick tight corners.
The DB5 has the appearance of a heavy car but, because of its lightweight Superleggera body construction of aluminium panels over a tubular steel framework, it weighs less than 1500kg. So the servo-assisted brakes are more than adequate for modern traffic, even if they still do require a bit of a push. The pedals are placed perfectly, with a long floor-hinged accelerator making an excellent tool for heel-and-toe downchanges.
It might not have the superlative handling of the Lusso, but the DB5’s softer rubber suspension bushing forms the ideal compromise for a good all-round grand touring car. Furthermore, the advantage of being fitted with the optional Armstrong Selectaride dampers means that you can choose one of four settings depending on the type of road surface and how eagerly you want to attack it.
If that sounds like a technology before its time, that’s because it was. Though Armstrong’s breakthrough system made a marked improvement when it worked, it often didn’t – and with a tendency for one side of a Selectaride-equipped car to become unsynchronized with the other, it could easily do more harm to the handling than good. The owners of many Selectaride-equipped cars ditched the technology in favour of more rudimentary but reliable standard dampers. Today there are specialists that can recondition and apply modifications to help them perform more reliably, and this car is all the better for sticking with them.
The second-softest setting is ideal for the DB5’s high-speed cruising gait, with the softest soaking up the more pock-ridden UK roads of today, and the harder two allowing the driver to set the car confidently into the smoother, more sinuous roads you might find on the Continent.
The Aston Martin DB5 is such a remarkably easy car to become familiar with, and it is so easy to drive. After the first five minutes behind the wheel you feel like you know it intimately – yet after several hours at the controls you feel like you have just got into it, thanks to the comfortable seats, high-speed refinement and inherent predictability.
The chassis has no nasty tendencies at all, the brakes ill you with confidence and the steering is precise. As for the Aston’s classic straight six engine, it’s so responsive, smooth and utterly flexible. Changing up at 4500rpm when it makes maximum torque is the sweet spot, but even if you happen to be in the wrong gear, the DB5 pulls without complaint until it gets back up on cams, at which point its grunt changes to a full-on charge.
I expected the DB5 to be the least exciting of these three GTs; I would never have thought this car would be such a satisfying drive, and I’m delighted to be proved so wrong.
Owning an Aston Martin DB5
Julian Reddyhough, who also owns the Maserati Sebring, has had this DB5 for 15 years. ‘I had been rallying a DB6 and when I saw this DB5 for sale I thought it would make a rather nice road Aston,’ he says. ‘It still had the original cream leather interior but it had been badly restored so I had it re-trimmed in black by the late Joe Dorill, who worked at Aston in period.
‘I have driven 35,000 miles in the car and it has never ever let me down, it is like a faithful old friend. The worst thing that has ever happened was I had to change a ballast resistor, but I had a spare on board and it took me minutes. I once drove it the 950 miles back to London from the South of France in one day, and still felt fresh when I got out. I did have the engine rebuilt last year because it was down on compression on two cylinders – the previous owner’s rebuilder had left one piston with just the top rings fitted and another piston just the bottom rings! Normally, average annual maintenance costs work out at around £4000.’
TECHNICAL DATA FILE SPECIFICATIONS 1964 Aston Martin DB5
Engine 3996cc straight-six, dohc, three SU HD8 carburettors.
Max Power 282bhp @ 5500rpm / DIN
Max Torque 280lb ft @ 4500rpm / DIN
Transmission Five-speed ZF manual
Steering Rack and pinion
Suspension Front: Double wishbone, coilover Koni dampers, anti-roll bar. Rear: live axle, coil springs and lever-arm Armstrong Selectaride dampers
Brakes Discs all round
Performance Top speed: 143mph; 0-60mph: 8.0sec
Price new £3465
Classic Cars Price Guide £285,000-£650,000
‘After the first five minutes you feel you know it intimately – yet after several hours you feel like you have just got into it’
‘When you need to overtake a line of traffic after dropping down into third, you can do so with a feeling of authority’
1963 Ferrari 250 GT Lusso
The Ferrari 250GTL was first shown to the public at the 1962 Paris Salon. The L in the title stood for Lusso – Italian for luxury – and although the car was not officially named the 250 Lusso, that label soon attached itself to the car and stuck. Apart from being known as the fastest road car of its day, the Lusso was also considered by many as one of the prettiest Ferraris ever built.
Even though it has a fabulously opulent full-leather- upholstered interior and 12 cylinders under the bonnet the car tips the scales at just 1312kg. So even though the Colombo V12 is of a lesser specification than in the 250GT SWB, its 250bhp delivers a top speed of 150mph. The Lusso was not produced with any serious competition in mind. Nevertheless, a few race-prepared cars were entered into the Tour de France and Targa Florio, with one finishing 13th overall on the 1964 Targa.
From the pair of vertical front bumperettes back to the abrupt Kamm-tail, via a swooping roofline and pure, undecorated flanks, the Pininfarina-penned Lusso was the ultimate distillation of the Colombo-engined Ferrari grand tourer, or gran turismo. Walking towards it, admiring its organic shape, it is easy to see that it was in essence a civilised road version of the great 250GTO. It put long-distance luxury and effortless style at the top of its hitlist.
I notice the lack of a door strap and take care not to open the driver’s door too far. Sinking down into the black leather seat I note that it proves to be just a comfortable as it appears. Initially the driving position feels strange – I seem to be looking through the steering wheel instead of over it. But, once settled in the car, I get that relaxed feeling I get when everything feels just right. The rake of the seats is not adjustable but the pedals can be moved a couple of inches if required. I could sit here all day long, but that’s because the Lusso was built primarily for Italians, and I am not particularly tall. Without any seat rake adjustment, a bigger chap with long arms and legs might not be so comfortable, particularly after several hours hustling the Lusso over an alpine pass.
Thanking my genes I admire the two main Veglia dials to my right, sunk into their own binnacles in the middle of the dashboard and angled towards me; the tachometer reads to 8000rpm and the speedometer to 300kp/h – an ambitious 186mph. A very full complement of minor gauges is dead ahead in the main binnacle. There’s no radio. After turning the key to the first position and prompting the fuel pump to prime the triple Webers, I savour the moment before depressing the key and twisting further.
The engine churns with the Colombo V12’s trademark metallic rasp, fires and settles at a steady tick-over. If you want them to last and maintain reliability, cars of this era need to be allowed to reach their working temperature before they’re driven. In consideration, I stay patient and while the engine and gearbox warm, I take the opportunity to review the minor instrumentation and familiarise myself with their positioning, monitoring the various pressures and temperatures. This soundtracked ritual heightens anticipation, allowing me to gather my thoughts before the event. After a few minutes, everything is warm and we’re good to go.
After moving the skinny gear lever into the second slot, I slip it smoothly forward and in it slides with glorious ease. That always seems to work better than going straight into first on old cars that have a reputation for weak synchromesh as this car does. I drop the handbrake, release the clutch, accelerate gently up to 2000rpm then pop it into second.
The dominant aspect of the Lusso driving experience is the mechanical music from the engine; it’s metallic without ever being tinny. The intake roar from the three Weber 36DCS carburettors is damped by the large air cleaner perched above the sculptural Ferrari V12, but the bark of the exhaust and the mechanical cacophony as the engine spools around the rev counter is heavenly. This version of the 2953cc 60-degree Colombo V12 is different from that powering the 250GT SWB – the valves and crankshaft are the same but the pistons and the cylinder block come from the 2+2 250GTE. In the Lusso it has just one overhead camshaft per cylinder bank, operating two valves per cylinder. This might not be the fiery 280bhp Columbo V12 that Enzo’s henchmen dropped into the SWB cars, but it is a highly accomplished unit to drive behind. The throaty rasp that pours from the classic Ansa quad tailpipes is intoxicating.
The Lusso revels in the benefits of Ferrari 250 kudos and pedigree, but its lack of any serious competition ambitions meant it was able to shed the hard edge of the SWBs and GTOs. For realistic usability, particularly as a gran turismo, its all the better for it. At constant speeds in excess of 130mph, the GTL is rocksteady and completely stable, and the ride gets better as the speed increases. However, as exciting as the engine sounds initially, after a couple of hours it does begin to feel too intrusive for its intended role as a luxurious tourer. All it needs is a higher final drive, an overdrive or, as employed by the Sebring and DB5, a fifth gear. The lower engine revolutions at high speeds would considerably reduce engine noise, adding a welcome layer of high-speed refinement. On the plus side, flexibility in top gear is excellent.
At more modest speeds, the Lusso does place some demands on its driver – the gearbox doesn’t like to be rushed, and the drivetrain’s highly strung nature means it prefers to rev out than dig deep. But combine that information with the knowledge that you need to keep this engine on the boil to get the best out of it and everything works in harmony. The needle lies around the rev counter and the car feels so balanced and composed, I just know that it is going to handle when I start pushing on.
The gearbox has a clean, positive change; it’s the same unit fitted into the street version of the 250GT SWB. It also shares a similar-looking tubular chassis, though it’s derived from a shortened version of the 250GTE frame, with its more forward-positioned engine for more passenger room. Suspension is by double wishbones, coil springs and an anti-roll bar at the front while at the rear a live axle with coil-over dampers has the beneit of a Watt linkage, like the 250GTO. In that respect, the Lusso has a dynamic advantage over the 250GT SWB in having better axle location. Because the chassis is heavier it doesn’t have the performance of a 250SWB, but it makes up for it by running a low final drive ratio of 4:1. Although my early impressions are of a busy low-geared motor car, I find myself adapting to it quite happily.
On the move, the steering is very responsive with intimate feel through the three-spoke Nardi wood rim. It’s not rack and pinion but worm and peg, yet it tells me all I need to know. It’s light and I can feel every camber change and every rut in the road. Through tight slow corners you can simply lick the wheel and the nose responds instantly. I just love the way I can sense this car’s every movement through the seat of my pants. I can turn in a tad late, lift of to allow the front end to tuck in, then press on with the right foot and power out with a delightful slide.
Back when the Lusso was new, if you were to really push on braking might have been a problem, despite discs at each corner. Even just a couple of decades ago, it was not that unusual for brake fluid to boil and for the brakes to fade alarmingly. But today, with modern brake fluid and better pad material, these cars much improved. Today, the Lusso’s brakes warm up quickly and continue to bite well. Although the driving position still feels a little odd, I am warming to this car.
Although it still feels reassuringly planted when cornering at high speed, at the limit the Lusso does have a tendency towards understeer, again somewhat like an SWB. So, as long as you don’t get into a severe understeering predicament, the handling is ideal for a fast road tourer. With bronze-bushed front suspension, there is no rubber between the tyre in contact with the road surface and the wheel in my hands, so like so many Ferraris it feels very honest in its handling and yet, the ride is also very good – crucial for its intended purpose.
The coachwork is just as well-judged. Although styled by Pininfarina, Lussos were built in Carrozzeria Scaglietti’s workshops alongside Ferrari’s sports racers – the GTL’s design took much inspiration from those from the waist down, but above the beltline it was a different story. A large rear quarter-light stretches back towards the rear wheel, affording the driver a quick over-the- shoulder glance before pulling out to storm past a line of dawdling traffic on the highway. With so much glass and such thin roof pillars, there’s a reassuring feeling of calm. Unlike a modern car, it’s so easy to place on the road, so easy to see all round when you are having to park in a tight space. Being so aware of your surroundings subconsciously instils confidence.
Although longer than its 250GT SWB sibling, the Lusso was never offered in 2+2 form. There was the 250GTE to cater to that market, so the Lusso was dedicated to selfish journeys for two, or one. The absence of the rear seats was probably for the best – when touring driver and passenger would need to make full use of the luggage space behind the front seats, because a spare 185 x 15-shod chrome Borrani is bolted down in the middle of the boot.
Today, the Lusso is held in such high regard because of its style, pedigree and image, and values indirectly dictate a largely cossetted existence so realities such a long-distance refinement and real-world practicality are less important. And the Lusso’s most obvious shortcoming – the low gearing that the vocal V12 is paired with – could be addressed in period with the factory addition of a five-speed gearbox or a bespoke rear axle ratio, if it bothered you enough to stump up the extra Lira.
Taken as it is, the Lusso is a true Italian diva. Its handling and press-on prowess encourage you to take the long, winding route rather tickle the V12’s top end. You might arrive at your destination later, but when you do it’ll certainly be in some style.
Owning a Ferrari 250 GT Lusso
Lusso owner Cengiz Artam has a museum with around 100 cars in Istanbul. After buying the Lusso in Switzerland, it was for the most part little used for many years. That was until about two years ago, when he sent it to DK Engineering to be refurbished.
Says Cengiz, ‘After standing for some time, the brakes on this Lusso required a complete overhaul. Also, in order to keep the engine running sweetly on all twelve cylinders, the distributors need to be serviced regularly to make sure that the four sets of ignition points are adjusted properly.
‘These cars have the reputation of being pretty reliable in use and not that expensive to maintain. An annual service costs around £2000 but after some time the exhaust system can rot out which will cost £3000 to replace. Now that DK Engineering has gone through the car thoroughly it will remain in Europe, where there are numerous opportunities to enjoy driving it on various classic rally events.’
TECHNICAL DATA FILE SPECIFICATIONS Ferrari 250 GT Lusso
Engine: 2953cc Colombo V12, sohc per cylinder bank, two valves per cylinder, triple Weber 36DCS carburettors
Max Power 250bhp @ 7000rpm / DIN
Max Torque 188lb ft @ 5500rpm / DIN
Transmission Four-speed manual
Suspension Front: double wishbones, coil springs, Koni dampers, anti-roll bar. Rear: live axle, semi-elliptic leaf springs, coil springs, Koni dampers, radius rods, Watt linkage.
Brakes Discs all round
Steering Worm and peg
Performance Top speed: 150mph; 0-60mph: 7.9sec
Price new £5607
Classic Cars Price
‘With so much glass and such thin body pillars, there’s a feeling of calm that instils confidence subconsciously’
‘As exciting as the engine noise is initially, after a couple of hours in the car it does begin to feel somewhat intrusive’
There’s no question that each of these golden-era grand tourers has immense desirability. Between them they represent long-distance motoring at its finest, combining style and presence with power and comfort. But which possesses the best balance of the numerous attributes required of a GT?
The least recognisable of the three, the Maserati Sebring, clearly offers the best value for money. Several times cheaper than the Aston and the Ferrari, it has a similar competition bloodline, the appearance of a Triumph Italia on steroids, and a respectable dynamic repertoire. Its on-limit handling is somewhere between the Aston and the Ferrari it feels light and more precise than the former, but has a higher roll centre and more rubber in the suspension than the latter. For long-distance motoring it’s the most accomplished here, but the early fuel injection system robs the driver of the experiential delights of a properly set up carburettor car.
There is something very special in the way you feel so at home in the cockpit of the Aston. The way everything its you makes it a car that you can drive all day long. Its steering is precise enough, the suspension is softer than the Lusso, and although it can be somewhat tail happy, the general handling balance is good. It might not be able to match the Lusso in the twisty bits, but it certainly has the best brakes and absorbs the bumps better. On a run the DB5 devours the miles in comfort.
There is something quite exquisite about just sitting in a 250GT Lusso, let alone driving one. When you eventually do, everything feels effortless by virtue of its precise steering, determined roadholding and rev-hungry engine. But sweet-changing as it is, it’s the underendowed gearbox that leaves the Colombo singing a little too loudly on a long run, tainting the high-speed refinement.
Were I about to embark on a continental jaunt, taking in long stretches of fast autoroutes interspersed with scenic detours and alpine climbs, then which of these iconic Sixties GTs would I choose? It’s a tough choice between these thoroughbreds, and a photo finish between the Ferrari and the Aston. The Ferrari 250 Lusso will remain for all time one of the most beautiful cars ever conceived, and when you put the hammer down, the sound of that Colombo V12 is utterly intoxicating.
But on the motorways the Aston is more reined, the cabin is just as comfy and since we are looking for the best all-round grand tourer, not the best racer, the Aston DB5 wins by an overrider.
Thanks to DK Engineering (dkeng.co.uk) and Desmond Smail (djsmail.co.uk)