1963 Ferrari 250 GT LussoThe 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’