Built for the boss. The glorious 1962 Ferrari 250GT SWB styled by Giorgetto Giugiaro for Nuccio Bertone. The gorgeous 250GT SWB Speciale was Bertone’s riposte to Pininfarina’s Berlinetta, yet this one-off was an unlikely workhorse for a California musician. Words Mick Walsh. Photography Mathieu Heurtault.
BAND ON THE RUN
EXCLUSIVE DRIVE IN THE BERTONE FERRARI SWB
The stories of one-off coachbuilt Italian exotics, particularly Ferraris, can be oddly unexceptional. Too often they are stashed away for years, their owners nervous of driving them or unable to afford to maintain them, before they are saved and restored for concours glory. But the colourful life of the beautiful 1962 Ferrari 250GT SWB Berlinetta Speciale gives this fabulous car an individuality that perfectly complements its striking style.
Built by the legendary proprietor of Carrozzeria Bertone to impress Enzo Ferrari, and designed by a 23-year-old rising star, it was the talk of the motor show circuit in 1962. Five years later it was being driven around California by a drummer, clocking up thousands of memorable miles before it eventually joined the impressive fleet of a super-wealthy collector in Mexico.
‘The smooth, fluid steering, lusty power delivery and balanced chassis combine with the sumptuous finish to give an exotic feel’
Fastidiously restored several times in recent years and now fantastically valuable, the unique shark-nosed 250 SWB Lusso, chassis 3269, has a special aura even sitting silently. It’s easy to picture key moments in this unique Ferrari’s past. As the blue beauty’s smooth, flowing form reflects the early morning sun, it conjures the busy scene in the Bertone works at Corso Canonico Giuseppe Allamano 46, where the coachbuilder’s talented Torinese artisans hammered out steel sheets to fit around the shapely wooden buck. Then thoughts drift to the car’s later life in Los Angeles, and the V12 coupé roaring along Highway 15 in the late afternoon en route to a gig in Las Vegas, its contented musician driver surrounded by his pearlescent-painted drum kit.
The sensational ‘sharknose’ 250GT was born out of Nuccio Bertone’s frustration that his Turin neighbour Pininfarina was the favoured carrozzeria of Ferrari. Business was good, with lucrative contracts for Alfa Romeo, BMW and NSU, while a succession of one-off designs had dramatically promoted the family business around the world. Stylist Franco Scaglione had left Bertone in 1959, and his replacement was the brilliant young talent Giorgetto Giugiaro, who had already made a strong impression from the age of 17 working at Fiat Centro Stile under Dante Giacosa. By his 23rd birthday Giugiaro had already created several motor-show sensations for his new boss, including the Aston Martin DB4 GT Jet and a bespoke Maserati 5000GT for the Shah of Persia. His third assignment at Bertone was a one-off Ferrari 250 for Genoese industrialist Enrico Wax; the two-tone coupé featured a glassy roofline, a flatter shape than Pininfarina’s iconic berlinetta and special cast-alloy Campagnolo wheels.
Luxury was the prevalent impression when the design was revealed at the 1960 Turin Salon, with its tailored luggage and plush trim, but Bertone heard no word of approval from Enzo.
Never one to give up, and with news of a revised lusso version of the 250GT, Bertone decided late in 1961 to try again to attract the interest of Ferrari. A complete SWB chassis, 3269 GT, was acquired from Maranello – some histories claim it was a gift from Il Commendatore – to develop a luxurious design for Nuccio’s own use. Story has it that Enzo spotted Bertone arriving at his factory in the prototype Iso and asked, “Why he doesn’t he drive a proper car?”
Bertone’s response was that he felt it wouldn’t be fair on Pininfarina to produce one. “Who says so?” responded ‘The Drake’. “I’ll give you a chassis.” Naturally, Bertone’s star designer was given the challenge of creating a car to possibly replace the now familiar Pininfarina SWB.
Although Giugiaro clearly had a thing about split-grille front ends at Bertone during the early ’60s, his sketches for the new Ferrari acknowledged the distinctive ‘sharknose’ style of the firm’s then-current racers, headed by the Championship-winning 156 F1 car. Sweeping back from the aggressive twin nostrils flanked by single headlights, the sexy profile featured bold side vents behind both front and rear arches. The window frames of the tall cockpit created a harmonious rhythm, while the neat fastback rear incorporated a large bootlid and clever use of Chevrolet Corvair tail-lights to avoid the hassle of Italian patents for new designs. The voluptuous lines weren’t typical of Giugiaro’s portfolio, and some teased that he’d found one of Scaglione’s old sketches for the Giulietta SS.
Inside the cockpit, Bertone really went to town with a full lusso theme. Deep, pleated burgundy leather seats and quilted panel trim were stylishly complemented by a distinctive painted-metal dashboard matched to the Blu Notte Metallizzato body. Black-faced Veglia instruments were angled towards the driver, while an expensive radio, electric windows and a bespoke black Bakelite steering-wheel rim all enhanced 3269’s unique style. Final body details included a Ferrari badge and specially cast stallion on the nose, while Bertone shields enhanced by a double flash were fixed to the wing sides. A set of polished Borrani wires completed the spectacular styling and the boss was clearly proud of the project, which was selected for public debut at the Geneva Auto Show in March 1962. The ‘sharknose’ was the toast of the halls, but the Italians had to wait for a special carrozzeria exhibition in the new Biscaretti Museum in Turin to view it.
Amazingly, within months of completing the car Bertone instructed his team to make several revisions to 3269 GT, including a complete change of colour to silver and adjustment to the badging such as the removal of the large brass emblem on the nose. How much Bertone used the Ferrari isn’t known, but it must have hurt that Enzo never officially recognised the design, despite the press accolades. A full wooden body buck had been made, so Bertone was clearly hoping for a series, but across town Pininfarina had already signed off the new-style Lusso that was unveiled at the ’1962 Paris Show.
Despite the promise to Ferrari that he would never part with 3269, the silver show car was sold just 12 months after its Geneva debut to automotive parts specialist Italo Musico. The fabulous one-off stayed in the Milan area with following owner Gerda Anna Speckenheuer before, in December 1966, it was traded in with local Ferrari dealer Gastone Crepaldi. Some reports claim that Grand Prix ace Lorenzo Bandini briefly owned 3269 before his death at Monaco. As with so many exotic secondhand Ferraris it then headed across the Atlantic, shipped out of Genoa to California with a batch of cars to Pete Civati, an Italian car fan who lived in Redondo Beach, Los Angeles County.
Civati never kept cars long, unlike the following owner, Bill Karp, a rock drummer who lived in Hollywood.
The Bertone Ferrari became a familiar sight around Los Angeles, with Karp using it as his daily driver for the ensuing 13 years. “I was a professional musician and the 250GT was my only car,” recalls Karp, who still runs a 550, his fourth Ferrari. “I used to load my kit inside – including my 18in bass drum, which fitted fine on the front seat. We were playing rock ’n’ roll, but nothing in Nick Mason’s league! I took the Ferrari to recording studios, clubs and Vegas lounges, often playing six nights a week; it was a great daily. It was my first Ferrari; I was just a kid, and I bought it not knowing how special it was. Two great guys at Modena Sports Cars in Los Angeles looked after the 250. They said it was the best-running Ferrari in town because I drove it so much. I was a really lucky guy because I’ve never had a real job.”
Even in a car-crazy city such as Los Angeles the ‘sharknose’ always stood out, and Karp used to park it discreetly away from the studios so others didn’t get jealous. “When I first bought the car it had a one-off bronze Prancing Horse on the grille, but I was playing at some not-so-great clubs so I took it off because I didn’t want it to disappear. I still have it, and would really like it to go back to the car.”
The Ferrari continued to attract interest wherever it went, and Karp was asked if he’d allow the coupé to feature in the movie Marlowe, a 1969 thriller starring James Garner and Bruce Lee. In the final cut, 3269’s cameo – still painted silver and wearing black California plates – was brief, but there’s no mistaking the sleek shape. Other requests included the organisers of the first Las Vegas Grand Prix, when Karp’s car joined a parade of Ferraris around the Stardust International Raceway. Strother MacMinn, a stylist and lecturer at the Art Center of Design in Pasadena, was always on the lookout for cars to inspire his students, and asked Karp to bring the ‘sharknose’ up to the college for the day for photography and sketching classes.
Eventually, exhausted by the long hours and continuous travelling in the music business, Karp switched to stunt-driving for movies and commercials. “I was working on the set of Charlie’s Angels, and the director spotted me parking 3269 out of sight from the studio,” he recalls. “I felt embarrassed about driving a Ferrari, but he came running over and said, ‘Wow, what a great car!’ From then on, he always sorted a special place for me to park. He was a real car guy, and when I mentioned that the 250 was originally painted another colour, he pulled up the rubbers and found the blue.”
Although the interior remained original during Karp’s ownership, the body changed twice – first back to blue, and then to maroon. The latter repaint was done by Dean Jeffries, the Hollywood customiser who famously painted the ‘Little Bastard’ script on James Dean’s Porsche and built some of the most famous TV and movie cars including the Monkee-mobile.
Right from first buying the 250GT Speciale, Karp received continued interest from dealers and enthusiasts wanting to buy it: “I’d just done a trade on my house so my wife and I could buy a new home in Los Angeles. I bought the Ferrari not really knowing what it was, and had planned to sell it on to get some more cash.
I remember in the first week I got a call from somebody asking if I had the Bertone Ferrari. I had to put him on hold and run into the garage to check the name on the side. He wanted to buy it, but I enjoyed driving it so much I decided to keep it. A few days later the owner of Ferrari of Beverly Hills invited me over to lunch so he could see the car. His offer was higher than the first guy, so I figured it was something special.”
During the following 13 years of ownership, Karp clocked up nearly 100,000 miles in 3269 until young Ferrari fan Ed Niles made him an offer he couldn’t refuse. Niles, now a hugely respected Maranello authority and a former president of the Ferrari Owners’ Club of America, had purchased the SWB for Italian car collector Lorenzo Zambrano of Monterrey. The Mexican millionaire’s impressive collection included more than 300 cars at one point, and eventually the other Bertone 250GT SWB, 1739 GT, would be parked alongside 3269.
Although Karp had driven the rare coupé extensively throughout his ownership, the car remained very original aside from its repaints. Zambrano decided to put the unique Ferrari back to its first silver colour, and 3269 was dispatched to specialist Steve Tillack’s workshop in Redondo Beach. When completed, the stunning design was a star of the selected events it appeared at, garnering many concours Best of Show gongs. The one-off has featured in several books, including Fantastic Ferraris by Antoine Prunet in 1987, when the respected French historian selected the greatest 30 machines from Maranello for Peter Vann to photograph.
In 1995 the great Ferrari was re-restored by Gainesville, Texas-based specialist Bob Smith Coachworks, who put the body back to its second colour scheme of dark blue. Top awards in later years included Best of Show at the 1997 Louis Vuitton Concours at Bagatelle, Paris, on its first return to Europe for 30 years.
Zambrano, the head of cement giant Cemex, kept 3269 GT until his death in 2014. The following year it was offered as the headline lot at Gooding & Co’s Pebble Beach auction, where it was sold back to Europe for $16.5m, a record auction price for a 250GT at the time. Refreshingly, unlike many former owners of exotics that are now worth a fortune, Karp has no regrets: “It was such a great daily driver and I enjoyed every mile. It makes me sad that the car isn’t driven any longer. I sold it just before the prices went crazy but feel lucky to have owned and driven it when I did.” He might not have his old Bertone SWB any more, but Karp still plays his treasured DW drums, and now gigs with his son: “They don’t fit in the 550, though, so I have to transport them in my Range Rover.”
During our photoshoot in Switzerland, I can’t resist a rare blast in one of my favourite roadgoing Ferraris. Despite its huge value, the trusting owner kindly agrees. In contrast to the other SWBs I’ve driven, this car immediately feels more a luxurious Gran Turismo, its steel body, full glass windows and plush trim adding extra weight. There’s a quality, handmade feel to every stylish detail, and although the performance isn’t as urgent or raucous, the added refinement has a lasting appeal. The smooth, fluid steering, lusty power delivery, wonderful mechanical gearchange and balanced handling are all fantastic, and combine with the sumptuous finish to give this one-off 250 SWB an even more exotic feel. A radio in a classic Ferrari might be heresy to diehard fans, but this gorgeous machine was conceived for fast, refined motoring and the greatest road trips are often enhanced by a choice soundtrack.
On Swiss roads the ride is supple, the smooth surface disguising the dated live rear axle, and out of bends the 3-litre V12’s delivery is sublime, as power swells up to a heady 6000rpm.
The ANSA quad exhausts have muted the engine’s symphonic roar a shade, but somehow you feel the perfomance rush even more. After just a few miles, it’s easy to see why Karp kept 3269 so long. He must have relished every trip in this fabulous car, well tuned by trusted mechanics. As I turn off, it’s easy to imagine the ‘sharknose’ howling back across LA from another late gig on deserted freeways, the engine feeling sharper in the cool night air. With the radio tuned to KLRA, maybe Lesley Gore was singing California Nights over the V12’s baritone. Bill Karp was a very lucky man.
Although it lacks the raw edge of the race-bred factory SWB, the refined Bertone has a unique character of its own. Triple Weber 40 DCZ6 carburettors sit atop Gioacchino Colombo’s all-alloy V12 masterpiece. Above, left-right: distinctive, shark-like nose was inspired by the Championship-winning 156 Grand Prix machine; Bertone crest beneath pronounced side vents. From top: repaint in maroon during Bill Karp’s ownership; painted silver, Ferrari takes part in the Las Vegas GP parade at Stardust International Raceway. Balanced shape has a thrusting nose, flowing back to the neatly styled rump – less aggressive than the more overtly sporting Pininfarina design. It’s hard to believe that Giugiaro was just 23 when he penned the 250 Speciale. Below: wooden body buck in Bertone’s Turin workshop. Luxurious cabin is trimmed in deeply padded leather, with diamond-stitched quilting to the sills and tunnel, and Bakelite steering-wheel rim.