Custodians of the Holy Grail. The all-conquering 250GTO is Ferrari’s ultimate GT racer. The cult of the GTO. Never mind the £45million price tag, what really makes the 250GTO so special? The lucky owners reveal all. Few people ever have a chance to own a GTO, so they tend to hang on to them. James Elliott meets members of the world’s most exclusive owners’ club. Photography Tim Andrew/James Mann.
The Ferrari 250 GTO. The pinnacle. There are many who say that there is no more valuable car in the world and, given that outright competition cars tend to be worth less and neither of the pure Bugatti Atlantics is likely to slide onto the market any time soon, that would seem fair. Certainly, this car is the most expensive openly on sale now, or ever. Irritated by all those adverts with POA? Well here you know: £45million, or $56million.
This 1962 car – nowadays the preferred variant by a mile, but for decades previously a million quid less desirable than the 1964 reshape – belongs to American collector Bernie Carl, who has owned chassis 3387GT for 20 years. It has history in spades, having come out of Luigi Chinetti’s US emporium as only the second car built and being the first to hit the track, taking class honours at Sebring with no less a crew than Phil Hill and Olivier Gendebien. During its period racing career it chalked up an impressive 17 podium finishes from 27 starts. Carl is selling because, get this, he feels that the car needs an owner who exercises it more regularly.
‘STEERING, HANDLING AND ROADHOLDING ARE IN A DIFFERENT LEAGUE FOR A ’60s CAR’ LORD LAIDLAW
That is the thing with GTOs: of course they attract enormously wealthy people and can never be entirely isolated from the astronomical sums that they sell for, but the roster of owners reads like a who’s who of classic car collecting, proper enthusiasts whose devotion to the hobby is beyond reproach. While it can never be fully extricated from it, somehow the GTO surpasses such vulgarities as filthy lucre. We know that one GTO recently sold to a new player in China (the first classic car of such value to go to this emerging market), but otherwise the names tend to be familiar and the ownership stints lengthy. The owners even meet up for tours every now and again, and this year they will be forming the world’s most expensive convoy around the car’s Italian birthplace as Maranello celebrates its 70th anniversary and the GTO its 55th.
‘THE SHAPE STANDS ALONE, ITS BEAUTIFUL FLOWING LINES MAKE IT TRULY UNIQUE’ RALPH LAUREN
While people do make vast sums of money out of these Ferraris, none of this most traditional bunch of owners actually set out to profit from their car. They just want a GTO. And these tycoons, so used to having whatever they want whenever they want, find themselves servants to this car, such is its desirability, such is the demand. Lord Laidlaw has owned 3527 since 2005. He recalls flying to Liverpool to negotiate and drinking endless cups of tea (which he hates) during the process. So what drew him to that particular chassis: “It was available. You don’t have any choice at all – it is very rare that more than one is on the market, and very often none.”
But why? A 330LMB is far more rare, but barely commands a fraction of the price. Well it is not all about money, but talk of values does serve as a measure of desirability, to illustrate the demand, the mind-altering frenzy that this ideal concoction of looks and performance generates. Lord Laidlaw, who has racked up thousands of miles but counts his best GTO experience as sharing it in the Goodwood TT with Stirling Moss, says: “For its era, it is without question the best handling car. The driving position may leave something to be desired, and it is too hot, but the steering, handling and roadholding are in a different league to any other 1960s car.”
‘£37 ,500 WAS A MINDBOGGLING AMOUNT OF MONEY TO PAY FOR A SECONDHAND CAR’ NICK MASON
Ralph Lauren is another long-term owner, having bought chassis 3987 in 1985 and a couple of years later reunited it with its original engine. As you would expect, the aesthetics of the car are paramount to the fashion magnate, who has twice displayed his GTO in art museums (in Boston in 2005 and Paris in 2011). “All Ferraris are different,” he tells C&SC, “but this shape stands alone, with its beautiful flowing lines making it truly unique. It’s an authentic purposeful race car designed by pure functionality.
“When I was collecting Ferraris in the 1980s my attention was brought to the iconic GTO. These cars were genuine war horses that competed at the world’s best tracks, they had the greatest race histories and were objects of desire. If you bought one, you would have one of the most coveted of all Ferraris.”
He was drawn to that particular chassis by its authenticity, and it does boast a proud history with the brothers Rodríguez, Augie Pabst, Roger Penske and Richie Ginther. Lauren doesn’t race it himself, but that doesn’t mean he won’t wring the best out of it: “I love driving this car in Colorado and New York, and I continue to use it as a wonderful car to enjoy. The sound is like nothing else. It’s amazing, and to think that this was a car that was capable of racing all day then driving home at the end of the race. Sound, power, agility, lightness, it has it all!”
John Collins of specialist Talacrest has been involved in the sale of eight GTOs over the years and concurs: “I’ve driven them on events and even through central London, but it’s more for the race track than the road. I took one around Scotland – the heater doesn’t work, water gets in everywhere and all that, but when you find some open road and put the hammer down, oh my God what a wonderful feeling.
“I don’t think that the current values have had as negative an effect as people suggest. Sure, the owners don’t drive them as much as they used to 20 years ago, but there are still plenty of people such as Nick Mason who just get it.”
So what is there to get? Plenty. Created to contest the 1962 World Sports Car Championship and with just 36 built (39 if you count the 330s), the Omologata had two series after the tardy appearance of the LM forced a rethink and a facelift in 1964. Both Scaglietti (via Pininfarina) body styles have their fans but mechanically the cars were near-identical. Six Weber 38DCNs feed the sensational 2953cc all-alloy single-camper- bank V12 sitting in a 2400mm wheelbase tubular spaceframe chassis and driving through a five-speed ’box. A serious lightweight at 880kg (dry), it boasts disc brakes all around, has independent front suspension (by wishbones) and a live rear axle located by a Watt linkage and with leaf springs, plus ZF recirculating-ball steering of immense feel and charm. It also, of course, has supercar performance melded to everyday tractability thanks to its output of 300bhp-plus and 250lb ft of torque. That propels the GTO to 60mph in a mere 5.8 secs and it rockets on to a top speed in excess of 170mph.
Yet, to backtrack a bit, how in particular does Nick Mason ‘get’ it? He explains: “There was always something special about them. I went to Goodwood with my father in 1962 and took pictures of them. Many years later it was one of those very cars that came up when it was my time to buy. Owning one had become something of an obsession: I had bought a D-type solely because I had been advised that it would be a good car to trade in against a GTO (and that was how you would be expected to do such a deal) and I also bought a 275GTB/4 because it was the closest thing you could get to a GTO.”
Whenever Mason’s purchase of 3757 is mentioned, it is obligatory to point out that he paid ‘just’ £37,500 and to overlook the fact that it was a hell of a lot of cash in the late 1970s. “A lot of people don’t appreciate that it was a mindboggling amount of money for a secondhand car in an age when values only went downwards,” he adds. “I always say that any GTO buyer, however wealthy, has had to take a very deep breath.
“Ownership then was a lot less pressurised, but people exaggerate how casual it was. I knew a builder with a four-cam who used to street park it – with materials piled up on the roof – but he knew exactly what it was and how much it was worth. You didn’t do the same with a GTO, not routinely. People were always aware of its importance and, besides, it doesn’t have any locks.”
Having covered 40,000 miles in his car – split evenly between road and competition – what elevates the car above all others is balance: “The power, braking and roadholding all blend to make it perfect for the amateur driver – you never have too much of one and not enough of the others. You can show off safely on track yet it’s comfortable for long distances (unless you are tall) and you can even squeeze in a bag or two!”
Sadly, after 3757’s distinguished career in historics, Mason is considering its retirement. He explains: “When we started doing the TTs at Goodwood, it was at the front and now it is slipping back every year. The problem is that for me the car is too important to do the modifications to keep it competitive. There is also the sense that if it all goes wrong you have rather more at stake than some of the other people on the grid. And it doesn’t help psychologically when people keep bandying around figures like £50million.”
Again, the money side is sadly inescapable and there is no better window on that than Collins: “In 1994, I was the first dealer who bought one for stock. Chassis 3909 [now with John Mozart in California] came from Japan and had sold for $13.9million a few years earlier. I bought it for $2.7million, turned down an offer from Rob Walton and then the dollar went weird and I had a lot of sleepless nights. It was a hell of a gamble.” He then bought 3505, a right-hooker in that vivid UDT-Laystall green that seemed to put off buyers. “I like a GTO in any colour except red,” he says. “Buy one in red and you can pull up in your £45million car next to an excellent replica that looks identical for half a million quid.”
More recently he was involved in the deal for 4675 that Chris Evans bought and sold, and which is said to have recently been moved on to China for $43million. Getting sidetracked by prices is the antithesis of what C&SC is about, but they are important because of the truth they lay before you. The fact that these cars are so valuable yet so well used – “you crash it, so what, it’s only going to cost £100,000 to repair,” says Collins – and have such distinguished and passionate owners is perhaps the most succinct testament to their greatness.
And Nick Mason exemplifies them: “3757 is just part of my family and both my daughters have been taken to their weddings in it, but the most thrilling driving experience was the first Le Mans Classic when I shared it with Mark Hales. It was just so well suited to that, indeed built for it, it felt as if it was actually impressed to be there. “Would I ever sell it? Well you never know if someone’s life is going to depend on it, but there isn’t anything else I’d rather do with the money.” If ever something were truly magical – utterly awe-inspiring yet beyond rational explanation – then perhaps the Ferrari 250GTO is it.
If you would like to join the exclusive ranks of GTO ownership, you can contact Talacrest, where this car is for sale. Call 01344 308178