Ferrari track hero and film star driving the first 275 Nart Spyder the Thomas Crown Affair. First it starred in The Thomas Crown Affair. Now it stars in Drive-My, and this is its story. Being one of ten special Ferrari 275 GTS/4 NARTs is sensational enough. But this one also starred with Steve McQueen in The Thomas Crown Affair. Words Marc Sonnery. Photography Jerry Wyszatycki.
A STAR WAS BORN FERRARI NART SPYDER
It’s universally recognised as one of the most beautiful Ferraris of all time. The 275 NART Spyder was beautiful enough, indeed, to star in a classic film, yet had enough of the North American Racing Team spirit in its make-up to succeed on the track too.
While the 275 GTB and four-cam 275 GTB/4 Berlinettas delivered the wow factor aplenty with an iconic road-shark design by Pininfarina, the subsequent soft-top 275 GTS looked much more staid and left many dissatisfied, not least the Italian-born US importer (and North American Racing Team founder) Luigi Chinetti.
He’d been Enzo’s ally from the start, and yearned to sell his clients a more appealing spyder that would succeed the 250 California. The proverbial drop that tipped the scales was the one-off Nembo spyder, made by Neri & Bonacini in Modena under the supervision of Tom Meade for the diminutive Italian client Sergio Braidi, who had wanted what was, in effect, a ‘250 GTO ’1964 spyder’.
‘The body seemed predestined for a spyder version – the perfect successor to the California Spyder’
The Nembo was incredibly alluring, with its long, sensuous body and very steeply raked 250 LM-sourced windshield. It was also uncannily evocative of an infamous Disney Ferrari evocation, in which the car was driven by a fox eagerly rushing to see his date, and snaked along the road’s curves as if its chassis were articulated. It convinced Chinetti to ask Ferrari for permission to arrange for 25 of the ‘275 NART Spyder’ as it would become known. His idea was simple: just remove the Berlinetta’s top and the result would be all he wanted. Sergio Scaglietti’s carrozzeria, by then very close to the Ferrari empire, would prepare the modified coupés and Chinetti would pay for the series before offering them Stateside.
The result was spectacular: the berlinetta body seemed predestined for a spyder version, an extremely handsome shape and no less than the ultimate self-indulgence on wheels – the perfect successor to the California Spyder. Yet demand proved surprisingly low, and only ten were built. Of those, the car you see here – chassis 09437 – was the very first, and went on to become famous when it co-starred with Steve McQueen and Fay Dunaway in The Thomas Crown Affair. It received an alloy body, as did the second. The rest were steel-bodied.
‘The car’s claim to fame came after Sebring, when Chinetti was approached by a film executive’ ‘On this fine day at Lime Rock, getting behind the wheel feels as surreal as a dance with Dunaway’
After it arrived in the US in early 1967, 09437 was entered in the Sebring 12 Hours by Denise McCluggage, the respected automotive author and journalist, and founder of a publication that evolved to become Autoweek. She would co-drive with Marianne ‘Pinkie’ Rollo, born Wheatley and sometimes referred to by her first husband’s name Windridge. McCluggage mentioned many years later that Enzo Ferrari had teased Chinetti about the car’s pale yellow colour: ‘You make a taxi!’ he’d said.
NART technician Roger Colson, a Frenchman who moved to the US about 60 years ago, tells the tale: ‘The car arrived in the winter of 1966-1967 in Greenwich, Connecticut, at the NART headquarters. At Sebring you had to have a rollbar, so we fitted one along with a proper seatbelt, but I can recall no other modification. We might have changed the gas tank but that is it. We used the trunk floor as a pit board! I was the one holding it. It still says “IN” in chalk on the underside.’
The car took part as the Northern Vermont racing team, as distinct from Chinetti’s North American Racing Team, because a fatal accident there the year before had implicated a NART entry. There was CITGO fuel sponsorship on the car and, in a wonderful quirky period newsletter edited by the oil company after the race, one can see McCluggage showing her then-new book Are You A Woman Driver? to Mario Andretti, who had won the race with Bruce McLaren in a factory Ford GT40 MkIV. Astronauts such as Walter Schirra were among the celebrities seen with the team pre-race, and McCluggage was interviewed for television on the grid with the car ahead of the Le Mans-style running start.
All six other Ferraris in the race broke down one by one and, legend has it, all their crews came to help: ‘It was the only Ferrari that finished the 12 Hours that year,’ says Colson. ‘There was a Matra racing for the same oil company, but I was alone on this car until the big guys started breaking down and everybody came to join me and help me finish the race! The car ran like a charm. There is some legend about a missing wheel during a pit stop but I think we ran on street tyres, not on race tyres.’
Pinkie Rollo was not as familiar to most as Denise McCluggage, whose writing had raised her profile: ‘I had a very good impression of Pinkie, especially her shifting as she passed by the pits; I recall her accuracy. She was very fast, not there for publicity as was the case with some.’ The ladies would string together 185 laps and finish 17th overall, second in the GT 5.0-litre class, right behind the Shelby GT 350 of the Los Caballos racing team, on the same lap. They beat several other lady driver teams for a special trophy, including Liane Engermann and Janet Guthrie, who went on to become the first woman to race in the Indy 500.
Then – suddenly – the car’s popular claim to fame materialised: in the weeks after Sebring, Luigi Chinetti was approached by a film executive who had spotted the car and decided it would be a good prop for a major romance thriller to be filmed in Boston that spring. The Thomas Crown Affair was to be directed by Norman Jewison and would star the 37-year-old Steve McQueen and silver screen goddess Faye Dunaway, who had recently been anointed following her role in the hugely successful Bonnie and Clyde with Warren Beatty. McQueen cited her as the best actress he ever worked with; Dunaway herself mentioned that this was her first time working with an out-and-out movie star.
Colson continues his tale: ‘After Sebring the car came back up to Chinetti’s and the film company for The Thomas Crown Affair asked Mr Chinetti that we repaint the car in a specific colour: burgundy. That’s the colour that the car was in for the film. I drove it up there to Boston to deliver it to the front desk of a hotel for the film production. I saw McQueen talking with people in a meeting in the lobby.’
Though it was this role that made the car so wellknown, in fact it wasn’t actually driven in the movie. Instead it was used as a prop, as the ride of Vicki Anderson – the detective played by the glamorous blonde Dunaway, eager to catch her suspect after a bank robbery, one Thomas Crown. The latter was a suave banker, portrayed by McQueen, whose simple background meant he relished playing a sophisticated Bostonian gent. Having organised a fiendishly clever heist just so he could enjoy the thrill, Crown is baited by Anderson, who is certain of his guilt. The car is first seen at a polo match, where she films him with an 8mm camera while sitting on its soft-top’s tonneau cover, succeeding in attracting Crown’s attention. Soon after, we see it parked outside an auction company in central Boston, where Crown recognises it before courting her inside. And that’s it! Just enough to leave one to dream of long-lost deleted driving scenes left languishing in an archive.
The plot hinges on the romantic interplay between Crown and Anderson: the seducer used to getting what he wants and the not-so-innocent beauty. What made the film even more unforgettable was one of the greatest ever scores, written by the incomparable Michel Legrand, famous for his divine soundtracks in the musicals Les Demoiselles de Rochefort and Parapluies de Cherbourg with Catherine Deneuve. Legrand, who died recently, cowrote Windmills of Your Mind with Alan Bergman, and that mesmerisingly uplifting theme helped sear The Thomas Crown Affair into collective memory as a cult movie for a generation. This was Legrand’s first foray in Hollywood and he won the Oscar for best soundtrack. The film also stood out by making use of an innovative split-screen method, showing different angles or scenes simultaneously, and was infamous for the longest kiss in movie history following a seductive chess match. It took several days to shoot. Tough job, Steve.
Chad McQueen, son of Steve and actress Neile Adams, was seven years old at the time: ‘Mom and I always came along to film locations. During filming for the glider scene in The Thomas Crown Affair, dad took me for a ride on a Rickman Metisse motorcycle.’
Although Chad doesn’t recall seeing the NART Spyder on set, his father obviously drove the car and liked it as he bought one of his own from Chinetti by way of California agent Hollywood Sportscars, chassis 10453 in Blu Sera with black trim. ‘Dad’s car was gorgeous, and at that age you remember odd details: he had the antenna top painted blue so that it wouldn’t show when lowered. But he didn’t have it long. One day he was driving to actor Stuart Whitman’s place in Malibu and two sailors were distracted by a girl in a miniskirt. They rear-ended him, pushing him into the car in front. I never saw the car again.’
Neile Adams McQueen responded rather candidly: ‘To me a car is a car is a car, we had so many and quite a few Ferraris over the years. In fact I bought him one for his 34th birthday. But I’m afraid I can’t tell the difference between one and another.’
As for this one, star of The Thomas Crown Affair, Roger Colson says: ‘At least six or seven weeks later, when the film was finished, I picked it up from Boston. It kept that burgundy livery and I had to take it to Lime Rock in the September, right here where we are today, where I met the engineer of Road & Track who did the testing for the magazine, and there were also two journalists from the New York Times. I took them around once each and then they took care of testing. We were right here 51 years ago.’
Our esteemed colleagues at Road & Track rightly called it the most satisfying car in the world. After that, the car was sold to Ferrari collector and connoisseur Norm Silver, of High Point, North Carolina, a noted owner of fine Maranello products including a 250 LM, 400 SA, a Daytona Spyder and more. Silver enjoyed it for 18 years, generously sharing his enjoyment with any enthusiasts who crossed his path. Respected specialist Andy Greene was taking care of it at the time.
In 1985 it was acquired by Dano Davis of Fort Lauderdale, Florida, and underwent its first full restoration. The work was overseen by Al Roberts, who worked for decades at Shelton Ferrari in Fort Lauderdale. He is equally known for taking care of the ultimate competition 275, chassis 6885, one of three 275 GTBC/ LMs made (which were really GTO ’1965s), in this case owned by the late Preston Henn. At that point, 09437 was returned to its original paint colour of Giallo Solare. Then began the usual succession of USA concours through the decades.
In 1989, after a change of hands, it suffered the indignity of being subjected to a repossession. It changed hands again in 1993, then Bruce Lustman bought it in 1996. A year later, during a car club visit in Colorado, 09437 was spotted in the back of the MPH workshop of Mike Dopudja, who was taking care of it temporarily. One young enthusiast, excited about seeing a true icon, began an impromptu presentation of the car to the group, then went to open the trunk to show the chalk-marked ‘pit board’ trunk floorboard, forgetting that he had no permission to do so, at which the workshop owner’s wife gently but sharply pointed out: ‘We’ll leave that in place now.’ Yours truly had been suitably told…
Lustman took the car on the 1998 Colorado Grand, then sold it by auction with Gooding and Company at Pebble Beach in 2005. There it was acquired by its current owner, a major East Coast collector with a particularly fine focus on Italian heritage. In 2007, it was taken back to Maranello for for Ferrari’s 60th anniversary: its first visit home.
On this fine day at Lime Rock, Connecticut, getting behind the wheel feels as surreal as a dance with Dunaway. Like in an open E-type, you sit high and feel somewhat exposed, and the simple flat-floored cockpit and minimalist dashboard goad you into action as much as the beautiful body. So you oblige. The usual gated gearshift keeps your movements precise and deliberate, while the deliciously silken engine feels to have a more even power delivery than that of other four-cams I have driven.
Light pedal actions and steering, and a body that is not excessive in size by today’s standards, together make the NART Spyder easy to command: you feel you could drive it all day, gently gliding through pretty New England college towns, past kids confused as to how so stunning a shape could have been born decades before them.
Then the road clears into pastures and woods and it’s time to call upon the cavalleria to propel you towards the horizon while enjoying that beastly roar – a soundtrack even Michel Legrand couldn’t beat. It does not get any better than this. The aura surrounding the NART Spyder is more than fully justified, which is a wonderful realisation after dreaming about the car since first seeing Dunaway regally sitting on hers more than 50 years ago.
Few cars have played such an iconic role. This one served not merely as a prop in sealing the kiss between Mr Cool and the icy glamour goddess, but also to strengthen the relationship between cinema and the car as an artform in itself. ‘Come on Vicki, I’ll drive, the beach house is waiting for us.’
Meanwhile, Denise and Pinkie will be remembered for racing the sunshine yellow Spyder at Sebring – on the other side of the split screen, of course.
TECHNICAL DATA FILE SPECIFICATIONS 1967 Ferrari 275 GTS/4 NART
Engine 3286cc V12, DOHC per bank, six Weber 40 DCN carburettors
Max Power 300bhp @ 8000rpm
Max Torque 255lb ft @ 5000rpm
Transmission Five-speed manual, rear-wheel drive
Steering Worm and roller
Suspension Front and rear: double wishbones, coil springs, telescopic dampers, anti-roll bar
Top speed 150mph
Right, below and facing page Pininfarina 275 Berlinetta styling suits Scaglietti’s transformation to a spyder; simple yet stylish interior was unchanged by the process; four-cam V12 looks as beautiful as it sounds. Top and above It’s been resplendent again in its original Giallo Solare since the mid-1980s, following its colour-change to burgundy for The Thomas Crown Affair; tested today for Drive-My EN/UK by Marc Sonnery at Lime Rock.