If art were made metal… …then this unique Ferrari 330GT Nembo Spyder would epitomise it. So says Malcolm Thorne after sampling a car due to be auctioned to raise money for the East Anglian Air Ambulance. Photography Tony Baker. Sexiest Ferrari ever? One-off Nembo driven. Ferrari 330 Nembo a coachbuilt beauty to rival the best.
Beauty is a particularly subjective matter, and yet you could argue that there are certain givens out there that can be universally acknowledged for the magnificence of their aesthetic. Would anyone really argue that Michelangelo’s masterful depiction of David is anything other than awe-inspiringly beautiful? Or that the cathedral in Florence is anything but spectacular?
Or that a misty sunrise over the hills of Tuscany is anything but sublime? If we are in agreement that such things – however finite in number – can be universally exalted, that nobody could ever turn a creased brow and mutter words to the effect of “well, it’s nothing special”, then I would add another candidate to the list: the Ferrari 330 Nembo Spyder.
1964 Ferrari 330GT Nembo Spyder road test
Before reading any further, just pause a moment, look at the pictures and drink it in. Was there ever a more convincing amalgam of hunched-up muscles and gracefully flowing curves? The basic profile is absolutely spot on, with not a wrong angle anywhere to be seen; it is those rolling Tuscan hills transformed into hand-beaten aluminium. But what is the vista of that landscape without the mist or extraordinary light of early morning, the subtleties that elevate the merely pretty to the truly divine? For the Ferrari to make it onto our list of Unequivocal Beauty requires more than just a well-considered profile, but the Nembo pulls it off. Gloriously.
Observe the detailing, which looks so effortless that I’d wager it must have actually required fastidious effort to achieve. The simple elegance of those round tail-lights, the four broad gills that punctuate the flanks, the delightfully simple hook-and-button doorhandles, the slimline quarter bumpers, the glimmering Borrani wire wheels. Here is a car of such elegance that I defy anyone to suggest that it doesn’t belong up there with the greatest works of the greatest Renaissance masters. It is a truly exceptional thing, as near to perfection as makes no odds. And yet here’s the crunch, it’s actually a bit of a bastard.
The cognoscenti will, of course, recognise the Nembo moniker as a contraction of Neri, Meade and Bonacini, but they will also be able to tell you that no Ferrari was ever supplied with such coachwork from new. Nor any ‘pure’ Nembo. Commissioned by American Tom Meade in the mid-’60s, Modenese metal beaters Giorgio Neri and Luciano Bonacini created four 250-based Nembo Ferraris – a trio of open cars, all subtly different, plus a single fixed-head.
Of that quartet, one was built on the longwheelbase chassis of a 1960 250GT Pininfarina Cabriolet, chassis number 1777GT. Originally painted dark blue and looking not unlike an Intermeccanica, it is rumoured to have influenced the design of the 275GTB NART Spyder.
A second convertible was constructed on a shortwheelbase frame, salvaged from a 250 Berlinetta with chassis number 3771GT. Perhaps better proportioned thanks to the reduced gap between the wheels, it was less mid-Atlantic in its style – but also less well resolved. Spotters will easily differentiate it from 1777GT by its squared-up rear lights (more French weird than Italian sexy) and three vents on each flank rather than four. The third drop-top is rather cloaked in mystery.
It is widely reported to have been shipped to a buyer in the Lebanon before completion, but promptly vanished. Some sources have suggested that it was based on chassis 2707GT, a 250GTE, but others have fiercely refuted that.
The final 250 Nembo was the coupé. Based on a 250GT Pininfarina, from the front 1623GT has overtones of the ’1964 GTO and 250LM but the rear is somehow less Maranello: a bit tippytoe with an unusually narrow rear window. With its short front overhang, seven slimline gills on each wing and rakish profile, it is the least successful Nembo body. Of the four, 1777GT is arguably the prettiest, and has led to at least one clone: a 1963 250GTE (4773GT) that British enthusiast David Barraclough reportedly bought in Paris in 1977 for £250 and which he had converted c1981. And then there is the car in our pictures, 5805GT, which lies somewhere between the two camps.
Windscreen and door apertures are mocked up on chassis. Trial-fitting the hood frame and aluminium fascia panel. The Nembo body was hand-crafted in Italy by Giorgio Neri. Clockwise: Nembo Spyder corners flat and inspires confidence; lights shared with 275GTB; 3967cc V12 is mounted well back for ideal weight distribution. Clockwise: beautifully trimmed cockpit is dominated by vast wheel; tail apes NART Spyder; auxiliary dials; gills aid air-flow from engine bay.
Just as the extraordinarily gifted Raphael was a latecomer to the High Renaissance, this car’s birth was not entirely contemporaneous to those of its peers. And if it would be stretching things to suggest that Raphael achieved the same artistic advances as his peers Michelangelo and Leonardo, his work did represent the zenith of his era. The same is true of this car, which took the Nembo theme and honed it into the masterpiece that it had always had the potential to become; this is surely the prettiest of them all.
The car is believed to owe its existence to a British Ferrari enthusiast called Martin Hilton who, having owned a 330GTO as well as a replica of the Drogo-bodied Ulf Norinder 250GTO, clearly had good taste. The latter car appeared in these pages back in 1991, and the feature closed with an intriguing revelation: the Drogo was due to be sold because its owner was lusting after a Nembo and planned to have one built for him on a 4-litre chassis.
Neri and Bonacini had originally started out fettling Ferraris and Maseratis during the 1950s, and their business flourished when the Maserati competition department closed in 1957. The partnership had done well, attracting the attention of supercar new-boy, Ferruccio Lamborghini, and becoming involved in the creation of the tractor magnate’s first anti- Ferrari, the 1963 350GTV, as well as building the aforementioned Spyders and coupé.
By the early 1990s, Neri and Bonacini had long-since parted company, but the former was still an active figure in the Italian supercar industry, not least in working as a subcontractor for Ferrari, for whom he was busy fabricating the Testa rossa’s signature side strakes.
When Neri was approached with a view to creating a fifth Nembo Spyder, he was happy to oblige. A deal was struck whereby a 330GT would be sent to Italy where it would be stripped, shortened and rebuilt with a new aluminium body, much as had been done with the first four cars during the ’60s. Today it’s easy to lament the ethics of sacrificing an original body to create what some might view as a special, but let’s not forget that at the time, restoring a down-at-heel example of an underrated model – with its potentially rust-prone steel shell – would hardly have been an economically viable proposition.
The donor, a right-hand-drive 330GT 2+2 that had been supplied by Maranello Concessionaires to its first keeper (a Mr Knott, who collected if from the factory on 9 April 1964) was despatched to Modena and the transformation duly began. Unfortunately for those involved, the project’s instigator experienced an unexpected cash-flow crisis and the neo-Nembo was not completed, work grinding to a halt by 1992.
The unfinished Spyder lay forlorn in Neri’s workshop until Ferrari Owners’ Club director Richard Allen learnt of its existence and travelled to Italy to inspect it. By all accounts, he was impressed by what he saw – besides the unfinished 330, the workshop was apparently home to a 250LM plus a scrapped Drogo shell.
The Spyder – which was at that stage largely complete but unpainted, untrimmed and missing a number of details – was acquired by Allen’s Ford dealership (along with the wooden buck for the body) as payment for a bad debt. It was promptly shipped to the UK, Allen then buying the car from the business. In 1997, he commissioned Ferrari specialist Neil Corns to set about completing the car’s build.
With a brief to create a practical vehicle that March 2017 Classic & Sports Car 151 would stand up to the rigours of proper use, Corns set to work. The Ferrari was dismantled, painted by Allen’s bodyshop, then reassembled, trimmed and fettled for the road. In total, Corns spent nine months on the project, and the fact that the car won its class on its debut Ferrari Owners’ Club concours outing in 1998 is testament to the integrity of the build and quality of the finish. It’s easy to imagine the impact it must have had at that event, because the Nembo has incredible presence, heightened by the subtlety of the paintwork. Finished in a deep metallic blue reminiscent of the first shade to grace 1777GT, the result is spot on. To have sprayed this magnificent individual car rosso corsa would have been to miss the point completely.
Hook your index finger under the minimalist curl of chrome that takes the place of a regular doorhandle, then thumb the button above it. To climb down into the Nembo is to indulge in the sort of hedonistic experience that any selfrespecting petrolhead would dream of. The broad cabin is simple in its architecture and devoid of unnecessary frippery, but the warm colours and classy materials skilfully lift it from stark to sublime. It is a wonderfully evocative place to be and, unlike its predecessors, it works well, too. The revised windscreen design, for example, places the pillars and quarterlights a sensible distance from your temple (a flaw of 1777GT). And, unlike in that car, you don’t need to open the door to wind down the window.
As you admire your surroundings, the broad wood-rimmed wheel dominates the cabin, your gaze inextricably drawn to the black-on-yellow cavallino rampante at its centre. The slender rim is delicate to the touch, a tactile delight. Behind it, the heavily cowled main instruments – an 8000rpm Veglia tacho to the left, redlined at a whisker over 6500rpm, a 180mph speedo to the right – flank secondary dials relaying the pressure and temperature of the oil. Over to your left, a further set of gauges informs you whether your amps are ample and your water is warm, a fuel gauge and clock completing the comprehensive line-up. Below those lies a row of mysteriously unidentified rocker switches, the various functions of which remain a mystery.
Turn then press the key to fire up the 3967cc Colombo V12, blipping the throttle until it settles into a gruff idle and the warming oil begins to dissipate the chill of a winter morning. There’s no indication of where reverse might be hiding, but once we find it the Ferrari trickles out of its garage with all the docility of a massmarket saloon. Even better, there’s no sign of that recalcitrant second gear that enjoys such notoriety among pub bores; the Nembo slots cleanly through the ratios with an unexpected ease. The last Ferrari that I drove was a quarter of a century younger than this one, but the Nembo has a far superior shift.
The soundtrack is none too shabby, either. Subtle layers of sound – valvegear, transmission, fat Webers, exhaust – overlap to form a whole that fully justifies the endless column inches that Maranello’s V12s have generated over the decades. The steering is beautifully communicative, the chassis benign and, as your speed builds, you itch for an unrestricted, traffic-free road on which to stretch this thoroughbred mongrel’s very long legs. Even within the realm of the legal limit it is a willing, beguiling and very enticing partner, a sophisticate goading you into acting like a hooligan.
Richard Allen was a keen racer and hillclimber in Ferrari circles and it’s easy to see how this magnificent car would have appealed to such a man. Alas, he fell victim to cancer and sadly passed away late in 2016, but not before resolving that he should leave a lasting legacy. Having seen first hand the invaluable work performed by medical crews at motorsport events all over the country, Allen decreed that his Nembo Ferrari should be sold and the proceeds be donated to the East Anglia Air Ambulance.
Such a car is extremely difficult to value: a 275GTS/4 NART Spyder – the model to which the Nembo is closest in spirit and style – would likely set you back £15-20m. At the other end of the scale, by the standards of V12 Ferraris a standard 330GT 2+2 is something of a bargain, with values hovering around between £150,000 and £250k. Where does that leave this car? The answer will be revealed when it goes under the hammer at H&H Auctions’ sale on 29 March, but whatever the Ferrari makes, one thing is certain – besides contributing to a particularly worthy cause, the new owner will be acquiring a very special car.
Thanks to H&H Auctions (www.handh.co.uk); Chateau Impney; Tony Willis at the Maranello Concessionaires Archive; Neil Corns; John Collins at Talacrest (talacrest.com)
‘EVEN WITHIN THE LEGAL LIMIT, IT IS WILLING AND BEGUILING, A SOPHISTICATE GOADING YOU INTO ACTING LIKE A HOOLIGAN’