1961 Ferrari 250 GT Short Wheelbase Berlinetta

Coachwork by Pininfarina

Ferrari’s 250GT reached a level of true dual-purpose perfection with the Short Wheelbase Berlinetta. It coalesced three parallel and mutually-supporting paths of Ferrari development. Ferrari’s continuing focus upon racing in both grand prix and long distance endurance sports cars and prototypes emphasized power and reliability.
Production of high quality granturismo automobiles delivered comfort and exclusivity to a demanding clientele. And Pininfarina had refined a distinctive Ferrari design that visually captured and expressed the marque’s attributes.

The Colombo-designed V12 had evolved into a powerful engine but more importantly its racing pedigree, where it is said, “To finish first, you must first finish,” meant it also was reliable. Continuously refined, developed and improved, the 250GT engine epitomized the adage that racing improves the breed. That reliability carried over to 250GTs that never saw the race track, creating confident and satisfied owners.

Enzo Ferrari, as astute at catering to clients’ varied desires as he was at creating winning race cars, was always willing to create specialized variations on his series-produced cars to satisfy a whim – when the whim was backed by a heavy chequebook. These unique Ferraris are among the most prized by collectors and 250GT SWB Berlinetta ‘2649 GT’ is one of these built-to-order cars.

Introduced in 1959, the 250GT Berlinetta was designed with three objectives: first, to be more aerodynamically efficient; second, to be as compact as possible; and third, to provide appropriate accommodation and luggage space for a true granturismo automobile. In the process, Pininfarina and Scaglietti created one of the most beautiful automobiles of all time, a succinct, straightforward and purposeful blending of form following function that is pleasing from all aspects.

Seven cars, known today as ‘Interim Berlinettas’, were built on the 2600mm long wheelbase chassis before construction was shifted to the 2400mm short wheelbase chassis, a change deemed desirable to improve the cars’ responsiveness in cornering. Still called by Ferrari the 250GT Berlinetta, its wheelbase has subsequently been firmly attached to the factory’s model designation to distinguish it from numerous other 250GT models and the 2600mm chassis ‘Interim Berlinettas’. As the 250GT SWB Berlinetta it has established a reputation and following second only to its successor, the illustrious 250 GTO.

Pininfarina’s body design as executed by Scaglietti on the 2400mm short wheelbase chassis excels in all aspects. It is unmistakably Ferrari. It is devoid of superfluous bulk, features or embellishments.

It is aerodynamic. The driver’s visibility from the ample greenhouse is good. The corners of the car are tightly wrapped around the wheels.

Its gently rounded masses speak unambiguously of potency and power.

Complementing the 250GT SWB’s landmark design were a number of innovations and the kind of continuous improvement and evolution that characterized Ferrari. Perhaps most importantly, the 250GT SWB was the first production Ferrari delivered with disc brakes, a feature proudly displayed at the SWB’s 1960 showings at Turin and Geneva where it was exhibited on jack stands with the wheels removed to show off its Dunlop disc brakes. Also for the first time for a complete model run the lever action shock absorbers favoured by Ferrari for years were abandoned in favour of telescopic shocks from Koni or Miletto.

Indicative of the 250GT SWB’s versatility is the appearance for the first time of the ‘Lusso’ designation for road versions to complement the lightweight competition berlinettas. Steel bodied for strength, quietness and durability, the 250GT SWB ‘Lussos’ had softer suspension, more insulation in the passenger compartment and more luxurious interiors to coddle their demanding owners. Ferrari even made heaters standard.

Under the bonnet the Ferrari 3-litre V12 engine took on new life with revised block, distributors relocated to the back of the camshafts, 12- port heads and coil valve springs. The spark plugs, long resident inside the engine’s vee, had now definitively migrated outside the vee. Several variants powered the 250GT SWB during its life, the last of which was the Tipo 168, a stronger and more powerful engine derived from Ferrari’s experience with the 250GT SWB at Le Mans and with the famous ‘Comp/61’ high performance variants. Capable of over 280 bhp in competition tune, the softer and more tractable street versions produced a reliable 220-240 bhp with unusually strong mid-range torque.

The 250GT SWB Berlinetta was immediately successful in racing, and remained successful until its place at the head of the GT pack was gradually assumed by the GTO. Its list of competition successes is so long as to be pointless to recount in detail but included GT category wins at Le Mans in 1960 and 1961, Tour de France wins in 1960, 1961 and 1962 and of course Stirling Moss’s pair of Goodwood Tourist Trophy wins in 1960 and 1961. Built in both steel and aluminium, only 165 were made from 1959-1962. The 250GT SWB Berlinetta is the last true dual-purpose granturismo built in quantity by Ferrari – or anyone else for that matter – and is in all respects a fitting milestone to mark the end of a legendary age.

The eighty-fifth 250GT SWB constructed and one of sixty-six cars built during 1961, ‘2649 GT’ was uniquely configured by order of first owner Renato Riccero’s VAR Srl (Vendita Autoveicoli Roma) of 9, Monte Parioli, Rome. Delivered through Rome dealer Vincenzo Malago & Co, among the seventeen special features specified by the buyer were flush mounted door handles, a special dashboard with leather covering, a central console with different knobs, special instrumentation similar to that of the 250 GTE, electric windows and a request that the SWB be delivered with “perfect panel fit.” The colour scheme was specified as Rosso Bordeaux (very dark red) with black Connolly leather. Factory documentation indicates that its engine produced 236 horsepower on the Ferrari dynamometer at delivery, a strong example of the street-tuned Tipo 168 engine.

First registered on 15th September 1961 under the licence plate ‘Roma 480099’, the Ferrari returned to Maranello the following year for a general check-up before it was sold by Signor Ricceri’s company on 14th January 1963 to its first private owner, expatriate American actor Gordon Scott, born on 3rd August 1926 and also resident in Rome at 15, Via San Giovanni Porta Latina. An avid car enthusiast who later owned an ex-Le Mans Bizzarrini 5300, the 37 year old Olsted was well known locally as the owner of the famous Meo Patacca jazz club and restaurant in the Trastevere quarter. On the big screen he had achieved international fame as Tarzan in a series of films from 1955-1960, moving from Hollywood to Rome to star in the so-called ‘swords and sandals’ epics of the early 1960s. Other parts included Goliath, Remus, Hercules, Julius Caesar, Zorro, Buffalo Bill and even a colourfully named spy, Bart Fargo.

1964 saw the three year old Berlinetta returned again to Maranello for servicing, now with 23,000km recorded. After a further two years in Scott’s ownership, during which the burgundy Ferrari was a familiar sight outside Meo Patacca, it was acquired by Henri Richard Heller, born in Berlin but resident in Morges, Switzerland, whose address was given as the Hotel Eden in Rome. Mr Heller again had the Ferrari returned to the factory for servicing before importing it to Switzerland in 1967, the road registration number ‘VD 139933’ being granted on 1st June 1968.

Third owner Mr Heller had three years to enjoy his Ferrari before it was acquired by well-known classic car dealer Rob de la Rive Box, also resident in Switzerland, in 1970. This same year it appears the car’s nose was updated to the late 1960s vogue for covered headlights, before it was sold on 26th May 1971 via another respected classic car specialist, Lukas Huni AG of Zurich, to Michel Roger Lepeltier in Geneva.

Chassis ‘2649GT’ remained within Mr Lepeltier’s extraordinary collection of Ferraris for 30 years, remaining in storage after his death in 1990 until acquired from the estate by the present owner in 2003. Following re-importation to its native Italy (with EU taxes being paid), the car was carefully checked over with all major component numbers verified with Ferrari to ensure their originality.

As a 1961 Ferrari 250GT SWB, ‘2649 GT’ incorporates two years’ experience in construction as well as desirable features such as the door quarter windows which improve passenger compartment ventilation and reduce window condensation.

No automobile in the world, even from Ferrari, better expresses the concept of a dual purpose granturismo than the 250GT Short Wheelbase Berlinetta. Highly prized for their styling, performance, responsive handling and refinement, chassis ‘2649 GT’ is a unique example of this outstanding Ferrari model. It will be a highlight of any collection but will be even more rewarding to own and drive enthusiastically where its lively performance and balanced handling will remain as impressive as they were to Stirling Moss, who described the 250GT SWB as “… very well-mannered, well-balanced cars … [that] also impressed me by their ability to change direction very quickly.” High praise indeed, but no more than is deserved by this unique Ferrari 250GT SWB.