Ex-Roman Polanski

1967 Ferrari 275 GTB/4 Berlinetta

Coachwork by Scaglietti

All Ferrari 275GTBs are special, the ‘four cam’ variants even more so, but chassis 09729GT has a particularly interesting provenance.

It was built for celebrated film director and ‘enfant terrible’ of post-war cinematography, Roman Polanski. Aged 80, Polanski is still as active and controversial as ever but in the mid-1960s he was a young prodigy making an early name for himself with critical successes such as Knife In The Water and Repulsion. To celebrate these achievements, and as a life-long lover of fast motorcars, Polanski decided upon a new Ferrari 275GTB liveried in classic Rosso Chiaro with sober black leather upholstery, set off by Borrani wire wheels. He placed his order via celebrated British importer Maranello Concessionaires as he was working between London and Hollywood at the time, and his original order form, dated 25th October 1965, specified a normal 275GTB at a price of US$10,500 and, under the rather snooty heading of ‘accessories’, a Mini Cooper S 1275cc for an additional £650 (sterling).

Delivery was presumably delayed as a fresh order was submitted, again via Maranello Concessionaires, in November the following year for the latest 275GTB/4 model, still in the same colour scheme but with no mention of the Mini...Carpets were to be light grey, with headlining to match, and delivery was scheduled for March 1967.

Mr Polanski’s home addresses were given as his house at 95 West Eaton Place in London’s smart Belgravia district, and the rather more bohemian sounding 1038 Ocean Front, his beach house in Santa Monica, California.

Ferrari invoiced the car to Maranello Concessionaires, specifying chassis and engine numbers 09729, and the colours ‘Ferrari Light Red (ref. R.20.190) with black leather (VM 8500)’ on 14th April 1967, and wrote to Roman Polanski on 17th June to confirm that his ‘275/GTB4 Berlinetta de Luxe n. 09729’ was being shipped the same day from the port of Livorno aboard the M/V Anna Maria d’Amico.

Polanski, in the meantime, had written to query why the price of his Ferrari had risen from the original $10,500 to $11,500, with the factory referring him to Maranello Concessionaires whose general manager S.P. Bealey replied on 1st August that the lower price referred to the ‘ordinary single cam 275 GTB model’; the debate went on for some time as there is an additional invoice to Polanski, now c/o Paramount Pictures in Hollywood, for ‘underpayment on Ferrari 275 GTB4’ in the amount of £365 almost a year later!

Polanski collected his new Ferrari from Beverly Hills dealership Otto Zipper Motors soon after its arrival from Italy and was photographed at its wheel near his new home in Cielo Drive, Hollywood. It was here that his young American actress and model wife, Sharon Tate, was notoriously killed by followers of Charles Manson’s sect on 9th August 1969. Polanski was away at the time, and the Ferrari was undergoing maintenance at Otto Zippers workshop.

When we met him recently, Polanski recalled that after the murder he presented the Ferrari, which had been a favourite of his late wife, to her father Colonel Paul James Tate. Polanski later owned a Dino, he said, but the 275GTB/4 remained the car for which he held both the fondest and saddest memories.

A well-known American Ferrari collector shared this vivid recollection with us: “I was a student at UCSB and would regularly hitch down to LA for the weekend to visit my girl friend.  Those were different times.  You'd stand on the freeway ‘on’ ramp and cars would often stop and offer you rides.  I was looking for a ride back to Santa Barbara standing on the Sunset ‘on’ ramp to the 405.  Sharon stopped and asked how far I was going.  I told her Santa Barbara and she said she was only going up to Mulholland.  I said 'Thanks anyway' and she motored on.  A short while later a van with the Band 'Iron Butterfly' stopped.  They were heading to UCSB for a concert.  They gave me a lift and invited me to the concert. I must admit I thought about Sharon and her red Ferrari as I listened to Grace sing 'Someone to Love' on Iron Butterfly's 8 track player.”

In February 2014 we were fascinated to hear from a gentleman who remembered the car well. His name is Andrew Gutowski: “This [car] interests me, as I am probably one of the few people that has actually ridden in it with Roman. My father is Gene Gutowski, who was the producer of several of Roman's most famous films and a life-long close friend of Roman.

In the summer of 1967, my father, brother, and I spent several weeks living in LA with Roman and Sharon at their beach home in Santa Monica.  One day Roman said that he had to take this car to a race track to clean out the valves. Roman, Sharon, my brother and I drove to a remote track, where my brother and I took turns riding with Roman as he blasted around the course.  I still recall strapping myself into the car's race safety belts.  I have photos of that day. 

In 1968 Roman had the car shipped to Rome to a villa that my father had rented in the hills above the city.  Roman had planned to pick up the car and drive it around Europe. His plans changed and Roman never came.  To keep the battery in the car charged, my 'chore' was to start the car once a week (during the whole summer!) and run it for a few minutes.  I have vivid memories of sitting in this Ferrari, going though the priming and starting process and firing up its 12 cylinders.  

All these years I have wondered where the Ferrari was and I am very happy it is in great condition. It is a wonderful car and I hope it goes to a good owner.”

Colonel Tate appears to have either sold or gifted the Ferrari to a friend, Al Verbin of Palos Verdes and Los Angeles, who kept it for almost two decades. Verbin offered the car in the 3rd October, 1987, edition of Ferrari Market Letter describing chassis no. 09729 as being in ‘immaculate restored condition’ with ‘show paint’ and ‘44,000 original, certified, 2 owner miles’. He mentioned that it had been featured in Carrozzeria Italiana, Los Angeles, in 1981, came with ‘all original manuals and leather owners portfolio’ and asked for the ‘best firm offer over $300,000’, making it the most expensive 275 in the publication. Presumably nobody came forward quickly enough, as shortly afterwards the Ferrari was consigned to Barrett-Jackson’s Scottsdale auction the following January where it was sold to the next owner, a Swiss collector.

The car arrived in Switzerland in 1988 and has remained here, unregistered and unused, ever since. In 1998 a complete mechanical rebuild was performed by one of Switzerland’s top Ferrari specialists, Costantini of Zurich, at a cost of CHF.120,846.50 ($129,601.40), to include: chassis and suspension overhaul, gearbox rebuild, complete engine rebuild (with lead free valve seats), rebuilt carburettors, water pump, starter motor, distributor and clutch, overhauled brakes (with new front discs) and steering box, suspension rebuilt, new clutch master cylinder and new ancillary tubes.

The list is too exhaustive to detail here, but it totals 1½ pages of items and is available for inspection. It specifies that the speedometer was converted from miles to kilometres, and read 65,100km upon completion of the rebuild. Since this work was carried out the car has been regularly started and it has just been through the workshops of Ferrari Classiche in Maranello, who have confirmed its numbers to be correct and original and just issued the famous ‘red book’ certification folder.

The mileage of the car now reads 65,449 kilometres, and it is accompanied by an interesting history file including the aforementioned Polanski correspondence and factory purchase order and sale invoices, Costantini invoices, old US title (registration number 2HMH363), four handbooks in their leather wallet and recent invoices for work performed by Ferrari Classiche. This, then, is a uniquely historic example of perhaps Ferrari’s best loved road car of all, offered on the open market for the first time in 25 years.