1964 Ferrari 250 Le Mans BerlinettaCoachwork by Pininfarina
Le Mans: one of the most evocative names in the history of motor racing, and the one which identifies one of the most charismatic Ferraris ever built, the 250 Le Mans berlinetta.
The early 1960s were a time of great change and development at Maranello. Well into his second decade as a car manufacturer, Enzo Ferrari had already gained a reputation as the world's foremost producer of the most sought-after road and racing machinery. The cars that bore his name had achieved unprecedented success on the most famous circuits across the globe and as the ultimate in Grand Touring cars. Ferrari's competition efforts, always closer to his heart than road car production (which was still largely seen merely as a means to financing his racing) were paying great dividends in every class which he entered: the 250 SWB berlinettas, and then the immortal 250GTOs, had achieved almost total domination in the GT classes, whilst in the prototype category the mid-engined 2-litre Dinos and the new 250P were proving equally successful. The latter won at Le Mans in 1963, where, as an indication of Ferrari's nearly invincible status, his cars took the first six places.
By the end of 1963 it had become apparent to Ferrari that a successor to the 250GTO would be needed in order to counter increasing opposition in the GT class, particularly from the US onslaught of Carroll Shelby's Cobras. It was thus that the new Ferrari 250 Le Mans was introduced to the public at the 1963 Paris Motor Show in October of that year. Quite how Enzo Ferrari ever expected the car to be accepted by the FIA into the GT class is one of those unresolved mysteries of Italian logic. The LM was plainly quite unlike any Ferrari GT that had gone before, and represented a significant development over the preceding 250GTO. It was clear to see that the new car bore a far greater resemblance to the 250P sports-racer than anything intended as a road car, and it seemed unlikely in the extreme that Ferrari had the capacity or indeed the intention to build anything like the 100 examples of the new model that would be required for homologation into the GT class. The GTO had crept into that category through the back door masquerading as an evolution of the 250 SWB, but Carroll Shelby had cried foul so loudly that the FIA were not going to be seen falling for the same trick a second time.
The specification of the 250LM was indeed impressive. As Ferrari's first mid-engined 'GT' it initially used a development of the 3 litre engine seen in the GTO and Testarossa, but this was immediately enlarged to 3.3 litres after the first LM had been built. The model name was left as '250', however, rather than '275', in order to avoid homologation difficulties. In this guise the longitudinally mounted dry sump V12 produced around 360bhp at 7,500rpm. Driving through a five-speed non-synchromesh gearbox this gave the LM a top speed ranging from 230 to 300km/h, depending on the axle ratio used. The chassis was of the conventional multi-tubular frame type, the side chassis tubes also doubling as water and oil carriers from the radiators in the nose back to the engine. The independent suspension was by double wishbones and coil springs on all four wheels, with anti-roll bars front and rear and Dunlop disc brakes (inboard at the rear) all round. Wheelbase remained, as per the GTO, at 2.4m, whilst length, width and height were just 4.27m, 1.7m and 1.11m respectively; the entire car weighed in at 830kg.
LM production gained momentum early in 1964 and in April Ferrari duly applied to the FIA for homologation into the GT class, which was promptly denied. So enraged was Enzo Ferrari that he surrendered his entrant's license for a while, but in the meantime the 250 LM was forced to compete in the prototype category, for which it was never intended. This did not stop it from achieving greater success than it could ever have rightfully expected, the first surprise being outright victory in the Rheims 12 Hours on 5th July 1964 for the Maranello Concessionaires car driven by Graham Hill and Jo Bonnier. The most memorable result, though, has to be the outright 1-2 finish against all odds at the 24 Hours of Le Mans in 1965, won by the NART entered 250LM of Masten Gregory and Jochen Rindt which showed that despite the odds the car had proven itself worthy of its illustrious suffix.
Chassis '5899' was the 9th of the 32 LMs built and was completed on 3rd June 1964, briefly carrying the works registration 'MO 36' for testing purposes. It was sold to Ferrari's foremost Swiss client, Scuderia Filipinetti in Geneva, which had been very successful with other Ferraris in the past and enjoyed a degree of works support.
For its first race, the Sierre-Montana Crans hillclimb on 30th August, '5899' was piloted by works Ferrari driver Lodovico Scarfiotti, who took it to overall victory. After this initial 'try out' run the 250LM was sent to Monza for the all-important Coppa Intereuropa preceding the Italian Grand Prix a week later, in which it was driven by another works ace, the Sicilian Nino Vaccarella. Against other 250LMs he brought '5899' home first overall.
For the next race, the 1000km of Paris at Montlhéry, Vaccarella was paired with Ferrari team mate Jean Guichet. On this occasion, though, his luck deserted him and a crash put '5899' out of contention.
At the end of the '64 championship season Filipinetti received their new prototypes and '5899' was sold to Werner Biedermann of Basel, a successful and wealthy amateur driver. Along with his friend Pete Ettmüller he entered the LM in a variety of Swiss championship and European races under the Scuderia Basilisk banner. The pair enjoyed considerable success, including 2nd at Vienna-Aspern, 1st at Weerberg (Tyrol) and placings at St. Ursanne-Les-Rangiers, Mitholz-Kandersteg, the Grand Prix of Monza and Marchairuz.
Fate stepped in again though, and Biedermann rolled the car in heavy rain during the second heat of the Engelberg hill climb late in 1965. It was sold, still damaged, to Hans Illert of Feldmeilen, near Zurich. Instead of repairing the original body, he decided to fit one from a Porsche 906, compete with fiberglass panels and gullwing doors. The car, now 200kg lighter, was raced as an 'LM-P' under the name of Scuderia Tartaruga and driven by Herbert Müller, Heini Walter and Illert himself.
In this guise '5899' competed throughout 1966, races including Denmark (4th), St. Ursanne-les Rangiers, Mitholz-Kandersteg (1st in class), Eigenthal (1st in class), Vienna-Langenbarn (5th after losing the engine lid and spare wheel) and Vienna-Aspern (1st in prototype class, Donau Cup).
At the end of the 1966 season the car appeared in the Ferrari Yearbook and it was displayed at the race car show in Zürich early in 1967. On 21st May it won the Schwartzenberg-Bödele Voralberg hillclimb with Illert, then on 2nd July it competed at the Norisring in the International ADAC event driven by Ettmüller/ Illert. Again the St. Ursanne-les Rangiers hillclimb was contested in August and in December 1967 the car was displayed at the race car show in Lugano (see p.303 of Antoine Prunet's Ferrari Sports & Prototypes, 1st French edition). Once more the car was pictured in the Ferrari Yearbook.
1968 saw '5899' sold by Illert to Pierre Sudan in Switzerland. He traded its original engine to David Piper in return for a 330P unit which he duly installed in the car, before selling it the following year to Stefan Sklenar in Vienna. He entered it into the 200 miles race of Nürnberg at the Norisring, placing 11th, and the International Solitude race at Hockenheim, placing 2nd in the prototype class. The car's last race appears to have been at the Grand Prix of Tirol at Innsbruck, on 5th October 1969, where it finished 10th.
In January 1970 '5899' was sold to a new owner, still in Vienna. We understand that this gentleman fell foul of the law and, following his arrest and the seizure of his possessions the car was sold off by the police. It was bought by collector Paul Blancpain of Matran, Switzerland, who sold it in September 1974 to René Widmer, also in Switzerland.
The following year Widmer sold '5899', through broker Rob de la Rive Box, to collector Dr Paul Schouwenburg of Amsterdam. He contacted David Piper and, in return for the 330P engine in the car, got engine number '5899' back. The 250LM was by now in a tatty state, however, and Schouwenburg was persuaded to sell it to Eric Stewart (of 10cc pop band fame) in June 1977. Stewart travelled with Bob Houghton (then teamed with Vic Norman as Ferrari specialist Rosso Ltd) to bring the car back to England whereupon a complete restoration began.
The Porsche bodywork was removed and, using 250LM chassis number '6107' as a model alongside, the original bodywork was recreated. The chassis framework, which by now bore the scars of its many years of hard racing, required partial renewal, although those sections which were repairable were retained and incorporated in the rebuild. Some of this chassis work was carried out in Italy under factory supervision as revealed recently in their own archives.
After four long years the restoration of '5899' was completed by Rosso and the car was demonstrated at Goodwood by Eric Stewart. The following year he decided to sell, and German enthusiast Peter Groh added the car to his collection. Two years later it passed to Said Marouf (who also owned Alfa Romeo BAT 7) in California, before it went to another well-known collector, Takeo Kato in Japan, in the late 1980s. From him it passed to a Mr Ito, who sold the car to Coys of Kensington/ Brian Classic in June 1995. '5899' was imported to the UK, European taxes being paid, and obtained FIA papers before being auctioned at Coys' 1995 Silverstone sale. The successful bidder was Irvine (now Lord) Laidlaw, the Scottish entrepreneur and historic racer, who had further work carried out by Phil Stainton before selling the car at Coys' 1997 Silverstone auction to the current owner, a South American enthusiast.
Since then the LM has returned to Italy to undergo a thorough rebuild to correct previous restoration errors and ensure that it remains exactly to original specification, the cosmetics being entrusted to renowned coachbuilder Dino Cognolato, the mechanics to his colleague Corrado Patella and the chassis work (over €70,000 was spent on this alone) to Ferrari chassis supplier William Vaccari. Following this lengthy procedure the car was accepted in the Ferrari-Maserati Challenge and more recently it has been inspected in detail by the Ferrari factory and granted their official Certificate of Authenticity, which comes with the car. For the past few months visitors to the Galleria Ferrari outside the factory gates in Maranello have been able to admire '5899' on display.
'5899' is today resplendent in its original Rosso Cina livery as delivered to Scuderia Filipinetti and is ready to be raced. With its exquisite lines, roaring V12 exhaust note and undisputed rarity, this handsome Ferrari will compliment any collection and is likely to be widely admired whenever the new owner chooses to drive it. Like many 250LMs it has led a colourful and sometimes traumatic life but it has a continuous history and, most importantly of all, has full factory blessing.