250GT Lusso – Ferrari’s Cinderella. Maranello’s bridesmaid Why is the stunningly beautiful 250 Lusso overlooked by Ferrari fans? “Stop expecting it to be a GTO or SWB and all is right with the world” Ferrari’s 250GT Lusso has for far too long been underappreciated by people who unfairly fault it only for not being what it was never intended to be. So says James Page after driving a beauty. Photography Tony Baker.
One of the great mysteries of the classic car world is how the Ferrari Lusso for so long retained such a relatively low profile, especially in relation to its 250GT brethren. After all, it used many of the best bits from a sensational line of road and racing cars, and clothed them in an astonishingly beautiful shape that hinted at great things to come from Maranello. It had two seats and shared the Tipo 158 engine with the Short Wheelbase and GTO, all of which put it a cut above the 2+2 GT/E. And yet it was a spacious, luxuriously trimmed road car. Obviously it lacked the focus and prestige of its competition-bred siblings, but the Lusso was the last in a dynasty that established Ferrari as a manufacturer, rather than a race-car constructor that allowed the occasional run of road cars to trickle out of the gates. It was warmly received in period, so perhaps later in life it simply confounded people who were seeking to pigeon-hole it, but didn’t know quite what to make of it.
Strictly speaking, the 250 story begins with the 1953 Europa and Export, but they shared the Lampredi V12 engine and Tipo 104 chassis with the 375 America, production of which came to an end when the Europa GT was introduced the following year. This is where the 250 line of road cars really originates, with the Colombo ‘short block’ V12 becoming a permanent fixture and enabling Ferrari to use a shorter 2600mm wheelbase. Even so, until 1957 each variant was still being built in dozens rather than hundreds – and sometimes not even that. It took until that year’s launch of Pininfarina’s understated GT coupé for Maranello to commit to anything approaching series production, with more than 300 being constructed up to 1960.
But inevitably it was the sporting branch of the family that continued to garner all of the attention. The new 250GT Berlinetta won the 1956 Tour de France in the hands of dashing playboy Alfonso de Portago, the event giving the car its nickname. For good measure, it won the enduro for the next three years as well, and came third overall at Le Mans in 1959.
After that came a handful of cars now known as ‘Interim’ 250GT Berlinettas. In essence, they combined the existing wheelbase with fresh Pininfarina styling that would be carried over to Ferrari’s next masterstroke – the 250GT SWB. Launched in Paris in 1959, that used a reduced wheelbase of 2400mm and the latest Tipo 158 variant of Colombo’s powerplant. As the 1960s dawned, the 250 was at the absolute height of its powers – in both ’1960 and ’1961, the Testa Rossa won outright at Le Mans while the SWB swept all before it in the GT class. And in the UK, Stirling Moss took two famous Tourist Trophy wins at Goodwood in Rob Walker’s distinctive blue cars.
Alongside all of these headline-grabbers, Maranello was also churning out – if that’s the right phrase – the 250GT/E. With a production run approaching four figures between 1960 and ’63, this was the first four-seater Ferrari to be built in meaningful numbers. Employing the 2600mm wheelbase and positioning the V12 further forward enabled the firm to free up the necessary space for the 2+2 configuration. While not exactly the poster child of the 250 family, it was nonetheless a vital money-spinner.
Perhaps recognising that the SWB – then the GTO – and the GT/E represented the two extremes of the 250’s reach, Ferrari sought to fill the gap between them. First shown at the 1962 Paris Salon in pretty much production-ready form – it arrived on the marque’s stand at the 11th hour – the Lusso blended a curvaceous front end that is pure SWB with a rear treatment that previewed elements that would appear later in the decade: the sloping deck of the 500 Superfast, the cut-off tail and circular lights of the 275.
Trying to blend it all together could have resulted in an awkward mish-mash of different decades, but somehow Pininfarina made it work beautifully. Well enough for the Lusso to come fifth in a 2009 C&SC poll to find the most beautiful car ever – one place ahead of the SWB.
That’s not to say that people didn’t tinker with it. The 16th Lusso built was delivered to Luciano Pederzani, owner of racing-car manufacturer Tecno, who had it rebodied by Fantuzzi in the mid-’60s. And chassis 4335GT was twice updated by Pininfarina, gaining an elongated nose with fared-in lights and a more pronounced rear spoiler. Perhaps even better looking than the standard Lusso, it was used by Battista himself.
Our featured example is chassis 5851GT, and was the 329th Lusso built – making it a very late example. Completed in May 1964, it was delivered in June to the German concessionary Auto Becker, which sold it to its first owner in Cologne. Initially registered on Italian tourist plates, it wasn’t officially imported – with the necessary customs duty paid and German numberplates fitted – until 1966.
Throughout the 1960s, it was serviced at Ferrari’s Assistenza Clienti on Viale Trento Trieste in Modena, the German owner no doubt relishing high-speed runs down to Italy. He kept the car until 1971, and in the 1980s it made its way to France. A Mr Lafuge bought it, and in the 1990s it was resprayed silver during a restoration. It didn’t stay that way for long, however: in September 1996, the Lusso was acquired by Mathias Kroeger, who returned it to its original Blu Notte but retained the later Oxblood Red interior. Originally, it had Pelle Nero trim.
As the car’s value rose, it didn’t live any easier a life. After finding a new owner in The Netherlands, it was used on events such as the Tour Rallye, the Ferrari Club Nederland’s 25th Anniversary Rally and the Écurie Francorchamps Anniversary Rally. A tripmeter – evidence of its enthusiastic use – is still fitted.
The interior is a great blend of function and elegant beauty. Behind the front seats is a reasonably generous stowage area swathed in quilted leather and boasting a pair of straps for holding your luggage in place, proof of the Lusso’s continent- crossing intentions. On this left-hooker, the driving position isn’t as Italianate as you might expect. The pedals aren’t too offset and, at least if you’re short, you don’t have to assume an ungentlemanly position with your legs.
The dashboard features a slightly bizarre layout in which the rev counter and speedo are in the centre, deeply cowled and angled towards the driver, while directly ahead are the auxiliary dials. There is a row of seven switches, some of which you pull, some of which you twist. Third from the left is one that primes the fuel system-for-cold-starting, but with the car nicely warmed before we set out, it’s not needed.
Push the key in, turn it to the right, and the V12 bursts crisply into life. All of the pedals are floor-hinged, with the relatively weighty clutch featuring a long travel but a decisive action. The torque pulls the Ferrari away with little throttle input, but it doesn’t take long for you to open it with more purpose. When you do, you are treated to one of motoring’s great soundtracks, as the three Webers fill their lungs and the 12 cylinders move from muscular bass to rich baritone and beyond. If you have an ounce of soul, it’s virtually impossible not to be seduced by it.
Even using little more than 5000rpm, the Lusso sweeps forward on a wave of thrust, and although it lacks the sheer pace of its competition siblings, you never feel short-changed. The gearshift – covered with a leather gaiter rather than open – is a delight, requiring a positive hand but rewarding with a deliciously precise action. Apologetically brush the brakes and not a great deal happens; apply them with purpose and the Ferrari swiftly hauls up.
The ride is forgiving, with plenty of feedback via the slender bucket seats, and that translates into a fair amount of body roll if you enthusiastically pitch the Lusso into a corner. The bias towards comfort and interior space – as in the GT/E, the engine is located well forward – means that this is most definitely a GT rather than a sports car, but that was always its brief. Stop expecting it to behave like a GTO or SWB, relax a little and soak up a view that is full of millimetre-perfect curves as the wings and bonnet fall out of sight, and you are left thinking that all is most definitely right with the world. “They were overlooked for many years,” says James Cottingham from DK Engineering.
“Maybe that was because of the Lusso spec, the nose-heavy positioning of the engine and simply the fact that it wasn’t competition-focused. The GTO was all-conquering in period, it’s fabulous to drive and it’s very rare. The SWB is iconic, thanks mostly to its association with Stirling Moss and Rob Walker – it’s so desirable. A gentleman could drive it to the track and race it. “The Lusso was never a competition car. It’s got great visibility, and with more room you can feel yourself stretching your legs as you stretch the car’s! But press on in a Short Wheelbase and you’ll find a whole new level to its character that you won’t with a Lusso. Today, though, people appreciate its quirks. When you look at the styling, it’s a very complicated design that comes together to form a great package, and the Lusso has found a level of its own now that the SWB has gone into the stratosphere. And anyway, the SWB belongs in a separate line with the Tour de France and GTO – the Lusso is really the original in a later series of road cars. They probably used that engine only because it was available, and because the ‘250’ name was established.”
The Lusso certainly had its fans in period, too. Chassis 4891GT was Steve McQueen’s first Ferrari, with the story going that his wife Neile Adams wrapped it in a huge ribbon when it was delivered in mid-’63. With Neile alongside him, plus pal William Claxton and his wife aboard their Porsche 356, McQueen gunned the Ferrari up Highway One before heading to Reno, Lake Tahoe, Death Valley and back to Los Angeles. Claxton’s photos show an off-duty McQueen at his most relaxed – despite having his left wrist in plaster following a motorcycle accident.
The actor grew frustrated with the Lusso’s smoky engine and took it back to Otto Zipper Motors on Wilshire Boulevard, from where it had been bought, but they found no problems during a rebuild. He then took it to Hollywood Sports Cars, where it was again rebuilt. None of that prevented him from using it hard, though – during breaks in a TAG photoshoot at Riverside, he’d head out onto the circuit to put the Ferrari through its paces. Later in his ownership, he had it retrimmed in dark tan and fitted sill covers to hide the jacking-point plugs.
So has the ‘McQueen effect’ of recent years helped to boost the Lusso’s profile? “When McQueen’s Lusso sold for huge money,” says Cottingham, “it made people realise all over again how cool he was, but I think the Lusso played a bigger role in the Steve McQueen revival than McQueen did in the Lusso’s.”
Beautiful, comfortable and charismatic, there’s no question that the model provided a fabulous swansong to the 250 era. While its racebred siblings have always had the higher profile, and no doubt always will, it discreetly and capably pointed the way towards Ferrari’s next generation of grand tourers.
Thanks to DK Engineering, which is offering the Lusso for sale: 01923 287687; www.dkeng.co.uk
Clockwise: shark-like front houses well-forward engine that contributes to nose-heavy nature; ashtray beside shrouded rather than open gate; immaculate air intake; Colombo’s Tipo 158 V12 fed by trio of Webers. Elegance in motion: the Lusso’s lines were drawn by Pininfarina and crafted by Scaglietti. Clear hints of the more aggressive 275GTB to come at rear. The Lusso is all road car, so, even it doesn’t have the thrust of its out-and out competition and dual-purpose stablemates, it can still provide thrills. Clockwise: central main dial set-up with row of seven switches tucked underneath is distracting at first; no redline on 8000rpm rev counter, while speedo goes to 300kph; this car originally trimmed in Pelle Nero.
‘THE LUSSO PLAYED A FAR BIGGER ROLE IN THE MCQUEEN REVIVAL THAN VICE VERSA’
TECHNICAL DATA FILE FERRARI 250GT LUSSO
Sold/number built 1963-’1964/350
Construction tubular steel chassis, steel body with aluminium doors, boot and bonnet
Engine all-alloy, single-overhead-cam-perbank 2953cc V12, triple Weber 36DCS twin-choke carburettors
Max power 250bhp @ 7500rpm
Max torque 192lb ft @ 6000rpm
Transmission four-speed all-synchromesh manual, driving rear wheels
Suspension: front independent by double wishbones, coil springs rear live axle, semielliptic leaf springs, trailing arms, Watt linkage; tubular dampers f/r
Steering worm and wheel
Brakes discs, with servo
Length 14ft 5 ½ in (4410mm)
Width 5ft 5in (1652mm)
Height 4ft 3in (1290mm)
Weight 2820lb (1279kg)
0-60mph 7 secs
Top speed 150mph
Price new £5606 16s 3d
Price now £1 million-plus