1961 Ferrari 250 GT Short Wheelbase Berlinetta

Coachwork by Pininfarina

In those days, if you wanted to be seen in the Monday morning newspapers, there was no alternative. You had to buy a 250 GT Ferrari. In 10 years of racing these berlinettas won more races for Ferrari than any factory ever did before or after” – French marque and model expert without equal, Jess Pourret, on the immortal Ferrari 250 GT Berlinettas.

Unveiled at the 1959 Paris Motor Show, the model’s nomenclature referred to its 94.4in (2400mm) wheelbase, the Passo Corto being a lighter and faster replacement for the 250 GT Tour de France that had swept all before it at national and international level. The majority of these three-litre V12 beauties were ordered in Lusso trim with steel bodywork (albeit, with aluminium doors, bonnet and boot), leather upholstery, token sound-deadening and a carpeted boot. Each road car had front and rear bumpers and side and rear glazing rather than Perspex.

Among the last truly handmade Ferraris, the SWB’s other major draw is its styling. It hasn’t lost its power to captivate. Penned by an unheralded artist at Pinin Farina (legally two words to 1961…) and fashioned by Carrozzeria Scaglietti’s hammer-wielding artisans, there isn’t a single jarring line, this being a car of singular beauty produced by a design house at the height of its powers.

The all-aluminium Tipo 168, triple-Weber, 2,953cc V12, meanwhile, was tuned for better driveability and produced a reliable 220 – 240bhp in road-going trim; enough for ferocious acceleration dependent on gearing. The engine had 12-port, Testa Rossa-style cylinder heads and still used many semi-competition components. The gearbox was a four-speed unit, by Ferrari, cast in iron rather than alloy to dampen mechanical noise.

Campaigned by established stars of the day and gentleman drivers alike, the SWB was near-invincible in the GT category, with Ferrari seizing Manufacturers’ titles in 1960 and 1961. Among the model’s many scalps were back-to-back wins at the Goodwood Tourist Trophy and Nürburgring 1000km 1961-62, and a 1-2-3-4 finish in class at Le Mans in 1960. A year later, the Pierre Noblet/Jean Guichet entry not only won its class in the 24 Heures du Mans, but also finished third overall behind a brace of 250TR/61s.

Eligible for countless prestigious events, and with instantly recognisable lines, the scintillating 250 GT SWB remains an icon of its kind, and with good reason.

This motor car

Chassis ‘2649 GT’ was a special-request Lusso, the only just civilised version of Ferrari’s raw 250 GT SWB, the 85th of 164 250 GT SWBs. Mechanically, it was a well-specified Lusso: Tipo 539 chassis; Tipo 168, triple-Weber V12 motor dynoed at 236bhp; steel bodywork with alloy boot, bonnet and doors.

It was ordered, though, via supplying Rome dealer Vincenzo Malagò & Co for its first owner, fellow Roman Professore Renato Ricceri, to a one-off specification making it unique among the 91 SWB Lussos built. In the extensive history file that accompanies ‘2649 GT’, correspondence from both Malagò and Prof. Ricceri to Ferrari confirms a request for a bespoke interior for the Rosso Bordeaux car in Connolly Pelle Nero VM 8500, with many unusual features.

These numbered 17 in total and included: 250 GTE-type instruments; leather-covered dashboard and floor; California Spider-type seats; flush-fitting door handles; window quarter-lights; electric windows; buttons, rather than knobs on the dash; chromed air outlets behind the wheels. The design of the bespoke central console – “similar to that in a Facel Vega” – is quaintly illustrated in a sketch dated 15 November 1960. Prof. Ricceri was emphatic that his new Ferrari should have 280bhp, a notion Ferrari did nothing to dispel. The car was certainly intended for serious driving: it had a limited-slip differential and, unusually for a street car, a magnesium bell-housing and ribbed alloy gearbox, features usually seen only in competizione SWBs and present in the car today.

Scheduled for delivery in May 1961, the extent of the bespoke work meant the car was completed in July 1961 (certificate of origin dated 26 July 1961) and delivered to Ricceri’s company VAR Srl (Vendita Autoveicoli Roma) of 9 Monte Parioli, Rome, on 12 September that year. Three days later it was registered ‘Roma 480099’. The invoice came to 5,500,000 Lire, of which 145,000 Lire was one-off commissioning.

Sometime in 1962 it was returned to the factory for service work and on 14 January 1963 ‘2649 GT’ was bought from Ricceri by its second owner, Italian-domiciled but US-born actor Gordon Scott. Scott was living at 15 Via di Porta Latina, San Giovanni in Rome and is best known from 1955 to 1960 for his portrayal of Edgar Rice Burroughs’ eponymous muscle-bound hero in five of the Tarzan films. Scott moved to Italy in 1960, continuing to act, swapping loin cloth and liana vine for sword and sandals. He appeared in Romolo e Remo (AKA Duel of the Titans, 1961), amongst others. 

Scott was a fan of Ferraris – arriving in Italy he took delivery of a new 250 GT Pininfarina Cabriolet Series II – and Roman night life: ‘2649 GT’ could often be seen parked in the exclusive Trastevere quarter well into the early hours. Scott and his Ferrari 250 GT SWB were particularly associated with the famous Meo Patacca jazz club and restaurant owned by another American actor and Italian performance car enthusiast, Remington Olmsted. 

With 23,000km recorded on the odometer, ‘2649 GT’ was serviced at Maranello in 1964.

Scott’s ownership of ‘2649 GT’ ended on 21 March 1966 when he sold the car to Henri Richard Heller. Born in Berlin, Heller was a resident of Morges, Switzerland, but lived for a time at the Hotel Eden in Rome. In March 1966 the car was once again returned to Maranello for service work and the following year was imported to Switzerland. Registered on 1 June 1968 with the Vaud plates ‘VD 139933’, the car’s home address was listed as Chemin de la Grosse-Pierre 2, CH-1110 Morges, by the shores of Lac Leman. Heller had three years to enjoy his Ferrari before it was acquired in 1970 by well-known classic car dealer Rob de la Rive Box, also resident in Switzerland. This same year it appears the car’s nose was updated to the late-1960s vogue for covered headlights, before it was sold on 26 May 1971 via another respected classic car specialist, Lukas Hüni AG of Zurich, to Michel Roger Lepeltier in Geneva.

M. Lepeltier’s world-class Ferrari collection included such greats as an F40, a 288 GTO and a 275 GTB/4, and ‘2649 GT’ shared garage space with these definitive models until 1990. Following Lepeltier’s untimely death that year, the collection remained in storage until disposal by auction – at Gstaad, an event masterminded by Simon Kidston – in December 2003. At that time, the mileage recorded was 56,816km. The new Italian owner barely used the car, except a run up the Goodwood House hill in June 2005 and an invitation-only tour hosted by Ferrari.

Our client, a significant European Ferrari aficionado, purchased ‘2649 GT’ early in 2011. Recognising the importance of such a one-off car, he commissioned a total ‘nut and bolt’ restoration under our supervision by the world-class restorers of the Modena region: Carrozzeria Cremonini for all paint and bodywork, Autofficina Bonini to handle mechanical work and Luppi for a complete retrim.

Such was the standard of the work that in May 2013 ‘2649 GT’ was invited to the Concorso d’Eleganza at Villa d’Este where it won Class E, ‘Prancing Horse vs. Trident’. It had been granted a category A/3 FIVA Identity Card that month and on 18 June 2014, after a full technical inspection, ‘2649 GT’ obtained full certification from Ferrari Classiche.

Today, with just 59,983km on the odometer, a figure that records suggest is the actual distance covered since new, 1961 Ferrari 250 GT Short Wheelbase Berlinetta Lusso ‘2649 GT’ is totally a punto. Not over-exposed at events, it has never left Europe and wants for nothing, meticulously maintained and cherished as part of a world-class curation of the finest Ferraris including a California Spider and ‘Comp’ SWB.

This is a car for a connoisseur as demanding as first owner Prof. Ricceri…