How to buy a Ferrari 250 GTO There’s one for sale right now…
P[/dropcap]lanning on buying a car this spring? Probably not like this one you aren’t, unless your butler is reading this article to you on your private yacht as you lounge in your gold-plated Jacuzzi. John Collins at Ferrari specialist Talacrest has on his website an advert for one of 39 examples of arguably the world’s most expensive and desirable car: a Ferrari 250 GTO or Gran Turismo Omologato. If you want it, the trade reckons you’ll need to hand over at least $50 million (US) – as he points out, it’s cheaper than a Picasso.
Designed by a team that included Giotto Bizzarrini, the 250 GTO was launched in 1962 with a powerful 3.0-litre V12 and immaculately honed aerodynamics to go World Sportscar Championship racing against Jaguar, Aston Martin and Shelby. All 33 series I, three series II and three 330 GTO specials were built between 1962 and 1964. Creative use of non-consecutive chassis numbers and deft vehicle movements meant Ferrari got the GTO accepted for Group 3 homologation despite the FIA’s ostensible requirement that 100 should be built.
Based on the chassis and a hepped-up version of the 250 SWB driveline, the GTO was a huge success. One of the last front-engined GTs, the GTO won its class in the FIA GT Championship for three years running as well as countless endurance races and hillclimbs. As an investment piece of industrial design, it’s been more than superlative, however.
Enzo Ferrari tended to charge private customers what he thought they could afford, but in the 250 GTO’s pomp of the early 1960s they sold for about $18,200 (£6500 – or £125,094 in today’s values). In the early 1970s, when their competitiveness had long disappeared, values fell below $10,000 (£4000, or £51,000 today) and one distinguished motor sport historian tells of one offered at £2000 with a Dino 196SP thrown in as a sweetener.
Then the investment ramp-up started… By the mid-1970s, Nick Mason was reputed to have paid $86,000 (£43,000, or £222,526 in today’s values). In 1987, Robert Brooks was working for Christie’s when he dropped the hammer on what remained for years the world’s most expensive car, a Bugatti Royale, for $9.7 million US (£5.5 million). A few months earlier the first GTO to be auctioned had just broken the £1 million barrier – one fifth of what the Bugatti made. The classic car boom saw another GTO sold privately in 1990 for £10 million, before the market collapsed and the same GTO was resold three years later for £2 million.
Since then they’ve recovered spectacularly, culminating openly in August 2014, when Bonhams sold the ex-Fabrizio Violati 250 GTO chassis number 3851 for $38,115,000 (£22,843,633) at its Quail Lodge auction in Carmel, California. This was less than experts had predicted, but Violati’s collection was being sold quickly for profit and this was the only 250 GTO in which its driver was killed; French skiing champion Henri Oreillera died when he crashed into a marshal’s hut in October 1962 at the Montlhéry autodrome.
John Collins, like fellow Scot Tom Hartley, is a breed of granite-hard Granite City used car dealers specialising at the apogee of the market. Based in a fortified headquarters in the Thames Valley, he’s gruff, to the point and doesn’t suffer fools gladly. I get the feeling he was a pretty fearless journalist when he worked for The Daily Express. Most of Collins’s history and his company, Talacrest, is written by folk employed by Collins, some of them good writers, some not so – this Octane commission was not for the faint-hearted.
Collins, though, is also widely respected, liked and trusted by those who knock around in this weird über-investment car world, and when you hear him talking about what it is to drive a GTO with his faithful German Shepherd at his side, you can forgive the brusqueness. Touchingly he’s still looking to repurchase his first-ever car, a 1969 Triumph GT6.
‘I got involved in this business because a car dealer ripped me off in the 1980s,’ he growls. ‘I bought my first Ferrari in 1976. I was a highly paid photojournalist [and] if that car dealer hadn’t ripped me off, I would still be one. I figured that if he could do it, I could do it – selling, not ripping people off.’
And so Talacrest was formed in 1987. Story goes, Collins begged and borrowed a lot of money from friends to put down deposits on some £3-million worth of cars from various dealers. He then advertised those cars and sold them for more than the dealers were asking.
Needless to say, they went ballistic, but a commitment is a commitment and Collins was in the business. Setting up as a used Ferrari dealer next door to Maranello Concessionaires in Egham, Surrey, describes Collins’s chutzpah; you need to get up early in the morning to out-manoeuvre John.
This car will be the ninth GTO he has sold… In this case it’s chassis number 3387 GT, the second GTO to be built. Originally used for testing at Monza with Lorenzo Bandini at the wheel, it was sold to egregious New York dealer and Ferrari’s North American distributer Luigi Chinetti in March 1962 and raced in the Sebring 12 Hours later that month by Phil Hill and Oliver Gendebien. It then sold to Bob Grossman, who raced it at Le Mans in ’1962.
Grossman sold in ’1963 and it was raced in various American and Bahamas Speed Week events for the next decade. It changed hands a few times, was crashed, rebuilt in America, allegedly had a replacement engine and, in 1987, was sold by plastic surgeon Dr Ron Finger to wealthy lawyer Bernard Carl, whom Collins confirms as the vendor.
What he’s not saying is what the arrangement is between him and ‘Bernie’ Carl, though it doesn’t take the soothsaying talents of Nostradamus to glean that this might include permission to negotiate around the offer price, which Collins confirms is $60 million (US) – for the record, in February 1969, 3387 sold to Kirk White for the princely sum of $5400. Lawks a-mercy, how did GTOs get so valuable? Collins says it is ‘because they’re like a work of art. If you’re a collector, you should have a GTO. They’re the holy grail of classics, they put you at the top of the tree.’
At the other end of the business spectrum, Simon Kidston agrees. He’s the founder of the eponymous Swiss-based classic-car consultancy and brokerage, who has orchestrated at least three sales of 250 GTOs including the most recent sale of Hartmuth Ibing’s car.
‘They’ve become a billionaires’ calling card,’ he says. ‘There’s an unequivocal number in existence and there are not really any GTOs with horror-story histories. They’ve all been documented thanks to author Jess Pourret’s painstaking research decades ago.’
And both men concur that they’re also fun. The 250 GTO came at a point in motor-racing history where successful racing cars could still just be raced on a track or a road circuit. Frontengined and with a conventional layout, they have handling benign enough for gifted amateurs to race quite competitively. When John Surtees observed that ‘the GTO was quite an ordinary car’, what he meant was that it had no bad habits when it got to its limits and that allowed an ordinary driver to drive it pretty quickly. Add in a brilliant power-to-weight ratio, a beguiling soundtrack, the magic of the Ferrari name and the breathtaking coachwork, and it’s small wonder that 250 GTOs have become so valuable.
With prices seemingly well on their way to nine figures, however, as Kidston points out: ‘There are very few people capable of writing a cheque in cold blood for that amount of money. And it’s unsurprising that the generation of gentlemen drivers who owned them for decades are now selling out to the masters of the collecting universe.’
Fact is, however, most of these deals are leveraged in some way, dependent on time (to raise the cash via sales of other cars or assets), or the partial exchange of other not-sovaluable cars. And that usually involves brokers, agents, lawyers and time. I ask Collins what the typical ‘dance’ between seller, broker, dealer and lawyer is.
‘Brokers and agents are a pain in the arse,’ he answers. ‘They piss me off; I don’t like to have any dealings with brokers. They don’t have any financial involvement. They want you to sign all sorts of crap and it just wastes your time. I would rather a buyer comes to me direct, deals with me, pays the money and takes the car away, with no frigging around in-between.’
So there you have it, although would you seriously go into a $50-million-plus car deal on just the shake of a hand? Martin Emmison, and his partner Damen Bennion, whose law firm Goodman Derrick specialises in car-collecting and high-value investment transactions, point out some of the pitfalls.
‘Title is the most important aspect,’ Emmison says. ‘How can you be sure that the person purporting to be the owner owns 100% of the car? It could be that person only owns a proportion of the car and behind the curtain there’s a sleeping partner, often a financier, who if he doesn’t get paid in the deal might have a crack at title to the car.’
Besides the normal checks that the car is free from encumbrances – finance, banks, hire purchase (which, as Bennion points out, aren’t always the easiest to discover) – there’s always the risk of an ex-wife, disgruntled family member or partner who might lay claim to part of the value, especially when they learn what the price is.
‘There’s also the potential problem of the garagiste,’ Emmison says. ‘Third parties such as workshops who might have a workman’s lien over the car, which they’ll hold against all-comers until they get paid for their work. ‘The idea that someone might come out of the woodwork and say “Oi, that’s my car” is the worst problem,’ he adds, ‘but there are also provenance issues, which are chiefly economic: is the car as good as the seller says it is?’
In most cases this involves painstaking research and ‘discovery’, just as if you were buying a company or property, but in the case of Ferrari there’s potential salvation in its own Classiche programme of authentication. Collins says the Carl car doesn’t have this. Emmison says that while older buyers tend to rely on innate or long market knowledge, a new breed of younger and perhaps less knowledgable buyer likes to have the peace of mind offered by this process.
Kidston agrees. ‘It’s helpful to have,’ he says, ‘especially for less experienced buyers, but there are cars where the history is so wellknown that the inclusion of Classiche certification is superfluous, time-consuming, costly and occasionally humiliating, when the factory, which hasn’t been in the restoration business that long, tells a long-term owner what it thinks the car needs to make it original.’
And you also need to ascertain whether there is a 250 GTO for sale at all. ‘GTO transactions in general are notorious for the number of Walter Mitty characters they attract from nowhere,’ says Kidston, telling of ‘hot air’ offers to purchase from unlikely agents, mysterious cars touted on the internet alongside superyachts and Da Vincis, and middlemen who don’t know one end of a GTO from another.
‘You have to kiss a lot of frogs,’ he says. Emmison describes a sort of broker frenzy, which Kidston also recognises. It’s a bit like Brighton antique dealers and the search for the ultimate grandfather clock. This is where one broker floats the idea that a GTO is for sale and another suggests he might have a buyer, when in reality there is no car and no buyer. There’s a suspicion in the trade that a bogus dance of this sort actually did happen to one GTO five years ago, culminating in media stories that the car in question had actually been sold at a record price, which subsequently helped inflate the value of the other 38 extant 250 GTOs.
Journalists need to have a care not to get involved in this sort of confabulation. Like collecting duelling pistols or trophy wives, owing a Ferrari 250 GTO is mainly a male thing, a form of chest-beating virility symbol, but they are also very beautiful pieces of design, which hold a special place in dealers’ hearts. As Kidston observes: ‘If you’re in the business, of course you’d be proud to say you’ve sold a GTO, but the reality is that barely one changes hand every year and no deal is ever straightforward.’
So is the GTO safe in its position as Numero Uno investment Ferrari? Collins admits it isn’t even his favourite. ‘Believe it or not I think my favourite Ferrari has to be a 330 LMB – no, actually a P4,’ he says.
But he doesn’t reckon the 250 GTO is about to be blown off its perch anytime soon. ‘It’ll remain at the top of the tree forever,’ he says. ‘It’s got the looks and the performance and the exclusivity.’
Kidston tends to agree, though he suggests that, in time, the McLaren F1 could be a modern contender. For the moment, however, the GTO is ‘in a different league. Nothing is recession-proof and no-one should be under the impression that values only go one way but, with the 250 GTO, demand is likely to remain greater than the supply. As the saying goes, they’re not making them anymore.’
So as the pinnacle of the car collector’s and investment market, the GTO looks set to stay but, if you really have to have one, you need almost bottomless pockets as well as a willingness to dance and kiss ponds full of frogs on the way to being united with your prince of automobiles. Caveat emptor!
‘WOULD YOU SERIOUSLY GO INTO A $50-MILLION-PLUS CAR DEAL ON JUST THE SHAKE OF A HAND?’
‘IF YOU’RE A COLLECTOR, YOU SHOULD HAVE A GTO. THEY’RE THE HOLY GRAIL OF CLASSICS’