"The car was, and still is, a pure joy to drive and look at. As an open road car in the 50s and 60s, few cars can come near its beauty" - Ferrari 250 GT authority sans pareil Jess Pourret on the California Spider
A beautiful example of the most famous and sought-after convertible sports car ever made, on the button and ready to be enjoyed.
The Ferrari 250 GT California Spider
On the suggestion of North American distributors Luigi Chinetti and John von Neumann, in early 1958 Ferrari added a stripped-down, high-performance roadster to its line-up.
Appropriately named the 250 GT California Spider, it was closer in design and specification to Ferrari competition cars than the series-production 250 GT Coupé and Cabriolet, and was clothed in voluptuous, lightweight coachwork designed by Pininfarina and built by Scaglietti.
At its heart was a barely detuned version of the 3.0-litre V12 found in the race-winning Berlinetta Competizione. While a typical street car's melodic V12 was good for around 220bhp, a handful of semi-competition cars packed peaky, 260bhp V12s. All Californias were built to order with numerous variations in body (a few were all-alloy, road cars were steel with alloy boots, bonnets and doors, and both open and covered headlights were available) and engine specification.
The first were based on the long-wheelbase Tour de France and several LWB California Spiders were raced to great effect. Targeted at Ferrari's sportiest clients, the California Spider was not luxuriously equipped; it did not come with a fully lined soft top like the regular production Cabriolet, just a skimpy version although Ferrari did offer an attractive hardtop. These are highly prized today.
Much like the successful Porsche 356 Speedster, the new car was a pure driver's machine.
After 50 LWB versions, in 1960 Ferrari introduced an improved California Spider using the shorter - by 200mm - chassis of the company's latest GT racing car, the immortal 250 GT SWB. The styling was almost identical, but the SWB's air intake was recessed into the bonnet rather than sitting proud. Handling took a leap forward with this new, nimbler chassis.
Under the skin, the most substantial improvement, already seen on the last LWB cars, was the introduction of Dunlop disc brakes. The V12s were also further uprated, using the latest specification of coil-valve, semi-comp Tipo 168 engines. Between 1960 and 1963, a total of 56 SWB California Spiders were built, most with covered headlamps. Records suggest that no more than 20 combined the SWB's aggressive and muscular egg-crate grille with open lights which were now standard on the SWB berlinetta.
Since those days, Ferrari has occasionally dusted off the California name, but the original remains one of serious collectors' must-have models, and as such is among the most valuable Ferrari road cars of all time.
This Motor Car
According to the unusually extensive history file that accompanies chassis '3345 GT', Dott. Vincenzo Comi, a 39-year old foreign-exchange trader from Milan, ordered a new short-wheelbase Ferrari 250 GT California Spider on 7 June 1961. Official Milanese Ferrari agent Crepaldi handled the sale, though the invoice came from SEFAC Ferrari.
Dott. Comi specified an open-headlamp car in elegant Grigio Argento complemented by a subtle and appealing interior of Connolly Vaumol VM 3087 Bleu. The paperwork also confirms the following extras: shorter gear lever; spare wheel mounted differently to allow a suitcase or golf bag to fit; slightly larger side air intakes; different seat cushions; heater cut-off tap (for summer use); under-bonnet light; fuel filler concealed under a flap; central cockpit console with different switches; radio.
It was a bespoke order from a typical Milanese businessman of discreet and discerning tastes and today makes '3345 GT' stand out. Period photos kindly shared by Dott. Comi show '3345 GT' with hardtop in the snow, suggesting this desirable extra in body colour Grigio Argento was also specified from new. In the photo he is accompanied by an attractive female passenger in the Italian mountain resort of Sestriere: the only way to enjoy a new Ferrari.
Although the order confirmation promised a delivery date of January 1962, the car was completed in April and invoiced on 12th of that month (nothing changes). Including taxes, the bill from Ferrari totalled 5,865,065 lire. Interestingly, Dott. Comi received a 250,000 lire discount and the Blaupunkt Colonia radio cost a weighty 175,000 lire alone.
Mechanically, '3345 GT' was a mid-to-late-production SWB California Spider with a Tipo 168/61 motor producing c.240bhp and a Tipo 539/61 four-speed gearbox. The car was registered MI 641834 and the original 1962 Italian road tax disc is still with the car.
Some four years later, Dott. Como sold '3345 GT' to a company in Aosta. From then onwards it changed hands several times always in Italy, quite possibly merely paper transactions, before entering the collection of renowned Italian industrialist, sportsman and former World Powerboat Champion Dott. Carlo Bonomi.
From Bonomi's ownership, in 1986 the car passed into the hands of another long-term Italian collector and gentleman racing driver. It was to share garage space with, among others, a Ferrari 512 BBLM and a Maserati 200 SI. It was at this point that the decision was taken to restore it to its original condition. Marque specialist Dino Cognolato was entrusted with the work and the result earned '3345 GT' FIVA, ASI and Ferrari Classiche certification.
The gleaming California Spider, freshly repainted in Grigio Argento, was then borrowed by Ferrari for the launch of the 550 Barchetta (2001) and the California (2008).
The current European owner purchased the car through Kidston SA in September 2010, making '3345 GT' almost unique in never having travelled outside Europe and remaining in Italy for nearly 50 years.
As the Ferrari was in fine condition, but not quite as perfect as other cars in the owner's world-class collection, the decision was taken to embark on a full restoration. The choice of master craftsmen in the Modena region was straightforward: companies responsible for countless concours trophies, Ferrari experts Carrozzeria Cremonini (body, paint, electrical and trim) and Autofficina Bonini (mechanical).
The brief was simple: bring '3345 GT' up to the high standards of originality and finish expected by today's top-tier collectors, while making it the visceral driving machine intended by the artisans in Maranello all those years ago.
Cremonini carried out a total bare metal respray, having first inspected and restored the panelwork. All chromework was examined and replated as necessary. The company also oversaw a complete retrim in correct blue Connolly Vaumol and extensive rewiring work. Over a period of two years the invoices from Cremonini totalled €133,197. The car was then passed to Autofficina Bonini for a total mechanical restoration including engine, suspension, brakes and gearbox superlative work by one of the worlds leading specialists that ran to €130,185. The car was ready to be enjoyed for spring 2016.
The stunning result of this total restoration in the area it was born can be seen here. A concours-level Ferrari 250 GT, '3345 GT 'is once again, in Jess Pourret's words, "a pure joy to drive".
Since that time, '3345 GT' has been used sparingly but with enthusiasm by its owner, yet remains undiscovered by many and is rarely spotted at events.
Presented in its unique original specification complete with matching hardtop and a comprehensive history file, as good-looking as any car ever built and totally on the button for tours, weekend fun and top-level concours, this generally unseen Ferrari 250 GT SWB California Spider invites you to jump in and Just Drive It.