The £17-Million Ferrari Full story of the world’s most expensive road car. Along came a Spider… …to a room full of prospective buyers. It became the most expensive road car ever to sell at auction – and all the proceeds went to charity. This is its extraordinary story. Words Robert Coucher. Photography RM auctions. 1967-1968 Ferrari 275GTB/4 Nart Spider it’s the world’s most expensive road car. And this is its story.
Saturday 17 August at the Portola Hotel in Monterey, California. RM Auctions’ Max Girardo opens the bidding at $10 million for the ex-Eddie Smith Sr 1967 Ferrari 275GTB/4 NART Spider, chassis number 10709. Within 12 seconds a bid of $16 million sails across the room. It’s followed by $17 million a minute later, then $20 million is in the air. It takes less than ten minutes to sell this rare Ferrari for $25 million on the hammer, the highest price ever realised for a roadgoing car sold at auction. And the really good news? It’s all going to charity.
Only ten examples of these fabled Ferrari NART Spiders were constructed in 1967 and ‘1968. Nine went to America, with the last one remaining in Europe, reputedly going to Spain. They were extremely exclusive cars, exclusive even for Ferraris. Until recently most people did not really know what a NART was, unlike the actively campaigned 250GT SWB, the legendary GTO and better-known California Spider. The admittedly beautiful NART remained under the radar, bought and owned by collectors who usually kept them, if not hidden, then certainly away from public gaze.
Of course, with RM selling the NART, this elusive Ferrari has now been ‘outed’ as one of the most valuable of the marque. Which is interesting because, when it was first launched, the $14,400 sports car proved rather difficult to shift off the salesroom floor…
Racing driver Luigi Chinetti won Le Mans the first time for Ferrari in 1949 (he had won it twice before) and was a good friend of Enzo. After World War Two he became the sole Ferrari agent in the United States, opening a dealership in Greenwich, Connecticut, and his first sale was to sportsman and racer Briggs Cunningham. Chinetti founded the North American Racing Team, sanctioned by Ferrari, and was successful in endurance racing at Sebring, Daytona and Le Mans. The idea was to sell these exotic Italian cars to well-heeled American enthusiasts. Yet the 1960s 275 Gran Turismo Berlinetta just wouldn’t sell.
‘The 275 was really a bit old-fashioned when it was launched,’ says Luigi ‘Coco’ Chinetti Jr. ‘When you think of the Lamborghini Miura and the beautiful and much less expensive E-type Jaguar, the traditional 275 did not really punch a hole quite big enough!
‘Ferrari should have created a roadgoing version of the mid-engined 250LM. That would have been some car. Much more advanced than the antique GTB, which did not handle terribly well. Denise McCluggage told me after she’d raced a 275GTB/4 NART at Sebring: “You really had to begin turning the thing in a long way before the comer,”‘ he laughs.
Coco Chinetti was a successful racing driver (fifth at Daytona and a multiple Le Mans entrant) so you’d expect him to have forthright views on the roadgoing Ferraris (‘The Daytona, for example, was a truck. A fast, reliable and competitive one, but we had to modify the hell out of it to make it work on the track’).
Chinetti Sr put in an order for 25 NART Spiders to be built by Scaglietti, who bodied the Berlinetta. With a price of $14,400 (the Berlinetta cost $8000), only ten were completed and it seems Chinetti had to struggle to achieve his asking price on each one.
‘These days classic Ferraris are bought by the heart: the whole idea of driving your blood- red Ferrari into the sunset, the Steve McQueen connection, Italy, opera, Formula 1 and so on. It’s a romance. The NART Spider is a truly beautiful-looking sports car and the four-cam engine produces the goods. With classic Ferraris it’s not about absolute performance and you can’t complain as they continue to outperform the stock market,’ says Luigi.
‘The NART you are featuring [chassis number 10709] is a superb example, with a great history. The owner Eddie Smith was one of the nicest human beings and a real gentleman and his family’s philanthropic gesture, giving all the proceeds to charity, is wonderful.’
Eddie Smith Sr, from Lexington, North Carolina, was a proper Ferrari enthusiast. Growing up in a poor but loving family, he was orphaned very young and did a number of menial jobs before starting up the National Wholesale Company in 1952, a mail order hosiery business that became very successful.
In the spring of I960, his son Eddie Jr persuaded him to attend the Sebring 12 Hours. ‘I don’t know what it was but you hear about the Ferrari mystique… at first we didn’t know much about sports cars but we’d see Ferraris and they were winning. I’d heard about Jaguars and others but I always wanted a Ferrari,’ Eddie Sr is quoted as saying.
Eddie’s friendship with Luigi Chinetti began when he bought his first Ferrari, a secondhand 250GT SWB California Spider, which was soon replaced by a 275GTB/4 Berlinetta, collected at Modena and enjoyed over the Alps before being shipped back to the US.
Luigi then called Eddie and said: ‘I’ve talked Enzo into building some Spiders. Do you want one?’ Eddie protested that he’d just bought the Berlinetta but Luigi offered him his money back. Another trip to Maranello followed.
Chinetti had been busy garnering much publicity for his latest Ferrari. The all-female crew of Denise McCluggage and Pinkie Rollo raced the first NART, chassis 9437, at Sebring where they finished a creditable 17th overall. This aluminium 275GTB/4, one of only two, originally painted pale sunburst yellow, was repainted a tasteful burgundy and appeared in the film The Thomas Crown Affair, featuring Mr Cool, Steve Car-Guy McQueen. Stardust for the East Coast Ferrari importer.
McQueen loved it and soon bought his own, chassis number 10453. Unfortunately he was rear-ended while driving it along Wilshire Boulevard and so he called Eddie, whose car was in build, and asked if he could buy it. Eddie’s reply: ‘Steve, I like you but I don’t love ya – you can’t have my car!’
The Smith NART was originally painted azzurro metallizzato (metallic blue) with a factory-fitted front grille guard as standard. ‘Because the car was already in production when my father bought it,’ says Eddie Jr, ‘he had to take it in metallic blue, which he never much liked. Very soon after it arrived in the States he had it repainted maroon. He said to me he was worried that changing the colour might devalue it but I said to him, hell Dad, you’re never going to sell it so paint it whatever colour you like. Then pretty soon after that he painted it Ferrari red, which was what he always wanted.’
Eddie enjoyed taking the Ferrari for fast runs down to the races at Sebring with his son on a number of occasions. He joined the Ferrari Club of America and enjoyed showing the car at various concours meetings as well as at trackdays, and won best of show at the Virginia International Raceway concours.
Eddie continued to drive the NART regularly even as its value began to rise and it became worth millions. ‘It’s a car. It’s a special car but it is still a car,’ he said. He received numerous offers for the Ferrari but no amount of money was going to make him sell.
Eddie Smith Sr passed away in 2007 and the Ferrari was carefully stored in the aircraft hangar of the Grady-White boatbuilding company that Eddie Jr owns and runs. ‘I didn’t have the time or the passion to take the Ferrari to events and shows so the family decided it needed to be somewhere where it could be appreciated. It was hard to let the car go after 45 years but it was imprisoned in the aircraft hangar. My father always taught us to give back so we decided to give all the money it raised to several charities. We know that would have brought a smile to his face.
‘Before the sale I spent a few days driving the Ferrari as intended and at 130mph that four-cam engine sounds magnificent, I can tell you. I began to suffer from a bit of seller’s remorse,’ laughs Eddie Jr. ‘But I must say RM did a tremendous job. I didn’t really want all the publicity that comes with an auction but I wanted to tell dad’s story, the way he came from an orphanage, earned just $9 a week and finally got to own and drive the Ferrari he really loved. RM hit the ball out of the park.
‘Just before the sale Rob Meyers bet me $10,000 that the car would make more than $20 million. He said he would give the money to his staff if he won. I am happy I lost.’
Eddie Smith’s NART Spider, with just 43,000 miles on the clock, now has a new custodian in fashion entrepreneur Lawrence Stroll, and a number of charities will benefit greatly from the Smith family’s largesse.
Lawrence’s car wasn’t available to Octane so soon after the sale, but London-based collector Clive Beecham owns a very similar NART Spider, chassis number 10749, the only one in the UK. Clive purchased his example seven years before the prices went stratospheric. In 1998 John Moores had put it and his other NART Spider up for auction with Christie’s and the proceeds went in aid of the Scripps Institute for medical research: these expensive cars have contributed greatly to charities.
I was hoping Clive would give me some thoughts on the Ferrari but he did much better than that: ‘Come on over and take it for a drive,’ he suggested casually.
I arrive at his London residence as the 275 GTB/4 is being unloaded by Ian Barkaway of Barkaways, the Ferrari specialist. Finished in gleaming metallic silver with burgundy hide interior and twinkling Borrani wires, the NART is almost shockingly good-looking and it’s no surprise it won Best of Show at the Salon Prive concours in 2009.
‘Ian has just had it tuned-up and he recently gave it a full bare-metal respray because – as I use it – I dinged the front a while ago and the paint match was never quite right. Now it is perfect. You two go for a drive and let me know what you think.’
Clive really enjoys driving his Ferraris, which include the 250GT SWB Competition Ferrari as raced by Stirling Moss, as well as a special 166 Barchetta. Letting a motoring hack out in London in quite such a valuable NART Spider shows a level of some munificence.
The bucket seat is tight with no rake adjustment and the big Nardi wood-rimmed steering wheel is placed high, with the long chromed gearlever sprouting up from the exposed gate located by your right knee. The 3.3-litre V12 starts with that typical Ferrari whirr. With four overhead camshafts spinning and the six twin-choke Weber carbs sucking, the engine sounds busy but smooth. The gearlever snicks into the dogleg first and the 330bhp NART eases away gently thanks to the 2401b ft of torque.
The long nose drops away and the turning circle is huge so you have to be careful on London’s convoluted roads. Weber carbs are not entirely relaxed at low rpm as they prefer a bit of flow through the jets and choke tubes; a section of fast road allows a dose of proper throttle and the engine note hardens as they clear. The gearing is long, but let the V12 rev and it starts to come alive. At 5500rpm the cams come on and the magnificent engine spins smoothly up towards the 8000rpm red line.
The worm-and-roller steering is accurate if a bit numb, the disc brakes are strong and the fully independent suspension is firm but compliant. And, of course, the NART has that unique Ferrari characteristic: it tingles with mechanical precision. Every control is tight and precise. There’s no slop anywhere so you feel absolutely connected to the car. The convertible bodywork is taut and, with the roof down, the V12’s magnificent sound emanating from the quad Ansa exhaust snaps is incredibly special. It’s the epitome of a gentleman’s sports car.
‘Yes, and that might be its problem,’ says Clive when we return from the drive. ‘Dare I say it, the NART is almost too refined. I am fortunate because I have the SWB and the Barchetta to drive when I feel like a blast and they are a bit more red-blooded. But I have enjoyed trips down to Cornwall in the rain in the NART as well as rallying in both Provence and Italy.’
It’s rude to talk about money but the car’s stratospheric value cannot be ignored. ‘Living in central London, I do sometimes feel a bit imprisoned by the car. I can’t just jump into it and take it for a drive quite as easily as I can with some of my other cars. But it is very special and is now in a league of its own. The value can be a bit of a worry, but it’s a car and I will continue to enjoy driving it.’
The beautiful NART Spider was only ever intended as a sports car. It is not a racing car, its Sebring excursion aside. With its refined nature it is actually a very effective GT and a convertible one at that. Yes, the values have gone sky-high but they only made ten and the waiting list is much longer than that.
Eddie Smith Sr enjoyed driving his example for 45 years on road and track. Interestingly, six NART owners also possess a 250GTO. That underlines their enthusiasm pretty emphatically.
THANKS TO Eddie Smith Jr, Luigi Chinetti, Clive Beecham, Ian Barkaway (www.barkaways.com) and RM Auctions (www.rmauctions.com).
INSTEAD OF THE NART…
With only ten NART cars in captivity and demand massively outstripping supply, what are your 1960s Ferrari Spider options?
Ferrari 250GT California Spider 1958-1962 / 100 built
Built at the behest of John von Neumann of Hollywood, backed by Luigi Chinetti, designed and built by Scaglietti with optional race engines. Later SWB, in effect a soft-top 250GTSWB, is the uber-desirable one.
Ferrari 275GTS 1964-1966 / 200 built
Luigi ‘Coco’ Chinetti Jr rates this as a great Ferrari to drive. Not as aggressive as the GTB and with softer-looking Pininfarina bodywork. The two-cam GTS is valued at less than the closed Berlinetta so might be a bit of a bargain.
Ferrari 330/365GTS 1966-1970 / 120 built
The 330 Spider was simply a GTC with the roof sliced off, yet it’s far more desirable than the slightly clunky coupe; only 100 built. 365GTS of 1968 brought a 4.4-litre V12 with even more poke.
Ferrari 365 California 1966-1967 / 14 built
Based on the 500 Superfast chassis, this was the fat-cat Ferrari for the ultra-wealthy. Pininfarina styling does not really disguise its girth: this is a boulevardier rather than a sports car.
Tech and photos
1967/68 Ferrari 275GTB/4 Nart Spider
ENGINE 3286CC V12, DOHC per bank, six Weber 40DN9 twin-choke carburettors
POWER 300bhp @ 8000rpm / DIN
TORQUE 240lb ft @ 6000rpm / DIN
TRANSMISSION Five-speed manual transaxle, rear-wheel drive
STEERING Worm and roller
SUSPENSION Front and rear: unequal-length double wishbones, coil springs, tubular dampers, anti-roll bar
PERFORMANCE 0-60mph 6.7 sec. Top speed 155mph
‘AT 5500RPM THE GAMS GOME ON AND THE MAGNIFICENT ENGINE SPINS SMOOTHLY UP TO THE 8000RPM RED LINE’
‘THEY WERE EXTREMELY EXCLUSIVE CARS, EVEN FOR FERRARIS. UNTIL RECENTLY MOST PEOPLE DID NOT REALLY KNOW WHAT A NART WAS’
Below and right Don’t be misled by the ‘North American Racing Team’ nomenclature: this is very much a luxury GT, though it features a 300bhp four-cam V12. Only ten NART Spiders were built, and this one was in family ownership from new.
OSCAR SCAGLIETTI AND THE NART SPIDER
The son of Sergio Scaglietti recalls his memories of building the NART Spiders, to Massimo Delbo
I remember very well Luigi Chinetti coming to visit us in the shop. He was looking for something special, something closer in quality and finish to American taste. He was seeking something exclusive, because American customers wanted to be different.
The choice was based on the 275GTB simply because that was the model we were manufacturing at the time. We spent a few hours trying to imagine how the ‘new’ car should look; a normal 275 Berlinetta, almost ready to be finished, was used as our basis, trying to imagine the general shape. By today’s standard it seems incredible but very few, if any, drawings were made; everything was decided live, in the moment. Chinetti would ask for something and explain his idea. The rest was left to us, to our style and sensibility.
‘IT SEEMS INCREDIBLE TODAY, BUT VERY FEW DRAWINGS WERE MADE; EVERYTHING WAS DECIDED IN THE MOMENT’
After two months Chinetti was back to see what we’d done. He liked it and immediately said that he’d order ten, because he was sure he could sell them. If more were needed it wouldn’t have been a problem, because so much was shared with the standard car. After seeing us, Mr Chinetti went to lunch with Enzo Ferrari, another tradition when visiting Italy, and expressed his wishes and needs. Ferrari agreed to this series of car – after all, it was a new opportunity for sales. He offered the more powerful engine, the type 226 dry-sump four- cam – the first for road-going Ferraris – that had just been introduced for the Berlinetta, launched at the Paris Salon in October 1966.
Chinetti then made another request. He insisted that the NART Spider would be tuned better than any other Ferrari, and Enzo himself agreed on an extra half-hour on the test bench for every engine used in the Spider version. So, before the end of the lunch, the general agreement was signed: no lawyers involved. A handshake or the sound of the Lambrusco glasses hitting each other was more than enough. But there was a piece of paper with the agreed cost of every request: a certain amount to strengthen the chassis, another to model the hood and so on. Chinetti, Ferrari and my father were very wise businessmen.
We started our work of creating a wholly new car, like the GTB as far as the door and totally new behind it, trying to keep as much as possible to save on costs. To make up for the missing roof, the chassis – basically the type 596 of the GTB – was reinforced. We added some transverse members to the longitudinal rails, plus other minor details, and then we were ready to fit the new rear side panels and roof to the body. Enzo Ferrari visited us almost every day to express his opinions.
For the soft-top, we used the hardware of the 250 California Spider, making some pieces a little longer. Chinetti asked for a more luxurious interior so a new carpet was agreed and we promised straighter stitching of the leather. As for painting, we had to be more careful about the preparation and finishing.
Beating the panels of the Spider was more time-consuming than for the Berlinetta, because of their higher strength. Instead of stopping production, or taking up warehouse space with a chassis waiting for a body, we simply decided to make a Spider when panels were ready to clothe it. Generally speaking, for every three or four GTBs there was one Spider.
I can confirm that the chrome tube above the grille on chassis 10709 is original and probably down to me. One of the main complaints we had was that even a slight bump on the front of a Spider caused a lot of damage not only to the body but also to the grille and to the front chassis mounting. The tube was the idea we had at my department to prevent it, and was very effective and didn’t impact too much on the design. It worked so well that, a few years later, it was widely used for the Dino.
Left The 68-year-old Oscar Scaglietti, son of founder Sergio, worked for the carrozzeria from 1959 to 1997. He remembers US Ferrari importer NART’s Luigi Chinetti well.