How Did The Ferrari 250 GTO Come To Be?
The early 1960s were undoubtedly good for the Ferrari racing team, as team driver Phil Hill led the team to victories in both the drivers and constructors F1 championships and the ‘60 and ‘61 LeMans with a Ferrari TR (250 Testa Rossa). However, other automakers like Lotus were beginning to rattle Enzo Ferrari off his throne. Determined to retain his world dominance in auto-racing, Scuderia Ferrari commissioned the development of an even more perfect sports car, the 250 GTO.
Ferrari employed several designers and engineers to craft his masterpiece in his private Ferrari factory. The chief engineer, Gioota Bizzarini, focused his design efforts on helping improve the overall speed and wind resistance of the racing car. Although Ferrari fired him in 1962, along with most of his other trusted advisors (the rumor was that most of the top management walked out), the basis of the car was pretty established by the time of the separation between Ferrari and Bizzarini. The flowing curves and the basic design were considered an innovation at the time, unlike anything that Ferrari or any of its competitors had accomplished to date.
The basis of the race car is taken from the 250 GT SWB, with an extended frame to which all-aluminum alloy body panels were attached. The oval tubular frame was strengthened for the stress loads of racing, and the entire car was shifted lower to accommodate the V12 Tipo 168/31 engine that rested quietly in the front of the car. (The 250 GTO was one of the last GT class cars with an engine in the front).
The prototype was introduced for the competition in the 1961 LeMans driven by Tavano and Baghetti, who were Formula One drivers with plenty of experience. The prototype performed well (running as high as eighth before blowing an engine), but Ferrari insisted on using the race to return to the drawing board. It was not long before the second prototype would be developed with changes in the front end to improve the vehicle’s stability. (A rear spoiler was also added). The prototype quickly gained the moniker of “The Anteater” by the press (mainly because it was butt-ugly in initial press reports, (including unpolished aluminum and exposed rivets). But eventually, the car was fixed, and it performed reasonably well when raced in the Monza in September of 1961.
Ferrari now had enough information to begin production work of the race car, and the first bonafide 250 GTO made its racing debut in 1962 at the endurance race, the 12 Hours of Sebring. (A converted Air Force base in Florida). Ferrari enlisted his winning Formula One drivers, Jim Hill and Oliver Gendebien, and the pair drove the car with enough skill to finish second right behind another Ferrari vehicle, a Testa Rossa).
The 250 GTO began to win races. It won the LeMans in 1962 and the FIA International Race For GT Manufacturers the same year. (It would perfect the feat again in ‘63 and ‘64). In addition, the race car won the prestigious Tour De France the following year (‘63) and was repeated as champ in ‘64. The legacy of finishing first continued to propel Ferrari into the stratosphere, where it seemed as if every car he raced won and won big.
At the time, FIA regulations required that at least there be at least a hundred cars be built to be able to qualify for the homologation for Group 3 racing. Ferrari built thirty-three original Series 1 (1962 - 63) and three Series 2 after changes and modifications were made. Early in the production, Ferrari fired his chief engineer, Giotto Bizzarrini. After Bizzarrini left, the new chief engineer, Mario Forghieri, oversaw the remainder of the work, along with trusted Ferrari friend Sergio Scaglietti.
What Are The Features Of The 250 GTO?
Let’s take a look at some of the features of the Ferrari 250 GTO. Most of the GTO production models were labeled Series 1 and made from 1962 - 63. Three of the 36 units made were fashioned as Series 2, with a distinctive different body style. Since each car was handmade, it is not unusual for original Series 1 GTOs to have subtle differences. (For example, some 250 GTOs have two air vents on the side rather than three. The first 18 units produced had a rear spoiler that had to be bolted onto the vehicle for use).
The regulations for FIA Group Three had been modified several years earlier, limiting the displacement of any engine to no more than 3.0 L. The 250 GTO used a Tipo 168/62 Columbo engine which was reasonably common for the time. (The Le Man’s winning Testa Rossa’s used the same engine). At the time of its first production model, the motor produced 296 hp @ 7500 rpm and 294 rpm @ 5500 rpm. The car was designed to speed down the track at 173 mph, which could hold its own with the Jaguar E-type. Jaguars finished fourth and fifth in 1962 LeMans behind a couple of 250 GTOs.
Ferrari’s team had used the V12 engine for years but primarily had been adapted for Formula 1 racing. The 250 TR Columbo motor was modified for use in the Testa Rossa (the spark plugs were moved outside the engine to make room for additional intake valves and bolts). Six two-barrel Weber carburetors handled the air/fuel mix well enough to keep the engine from running too lean. Dry sump lubrication helped keep the engine components working effectively.
Unlike the engine, which Ferrari had plenty of experience with, the 5-speed transmission was a new concept for 1962. The 250 GtO adapted a five-speed synchromesh from Porsche transmission, with a limited-slip differential and live axle configuration, providing an excellent balance to the vehicle. The car handled well in the turns and accelerated out of a turn onto a straightaway like nobody’s business.
The GTO had a tubular steel frame with the addition of unique bracing bars to provide stability. The all-aluminum body panels gave the car a sleek but aggressive look as it sat low on the ground. The oil pan, gearbox, and small radiator intake were lowered to help balance the weight of the motor. The car emerged from the workshop with an almost perfect center of gravity, split nearly evenly between the front and rear wheels.
A long front fascia was designed to scoop air and channel it over the roof line and toward the car's sides. Three D-shaped intake covers were situated directly in front (they could be removed to increase airflow to the engine), and straight air slats were designed into each side panel to help keep the wind resistance to a minimum. The dynamics forced air up and around the car, flowing toward the outside and rear to help provide acceleration and increase speed. Ferrari’s chief engineer used both wind tunnels and racing experience to continue to fashion the iconic look of the 250 GTO.
The interior was designed for racing purposes. There is no speedometer (Ferrari didn’t see the need for one, after all, fast is fast). The seats were rugged racing-style cloth upholstered units that fit around the driver's contour, and there were simple air vents for driver ventilation. (Meaning the faster the car went, the more air was pushed into the cabin).
Instrumentation was sparse, with temperature gauges and a tachometer but little else. The gearbox was placed strategically on the center floor with a chrome-metal guide that came to a part of the Ferrari models until paddle shifters replaced the manual gearshift in the 2000s.
Was the 250 GTO Sold To The Public?
Several Ferrari GTOs were sold to the public as production cars, although they are not usually considered street cars or used as racing cars. Enzo Ferrari appointed the head of Ferrari’s North American race team, Luigi Cheniti, as the sole American distributor for the 250 GTO. (Every potential owner was required to be vetted by both Cheniti and Ferrari before being allowed to purchase the vehicle). Consequently, it was difficult to purchase the car directly from Ferrari, although it doesn’t mean plenty of racing enthusiasts and celebrities didn’t try.
There is no question that the 250 GTO is the epitome of the Ferrari tradition for excellent car design and production. Although the car was withdrawn from major competition after 1964 and would be upstaged later by the likes of Carroll Shelby and the Cobra, Ferrari would rule the racing world for most of the early sixties, and this racing car was a big part of that legacy.
Over the years, many private car collectors have purchased and sold these rare 250 GTOs. In 2018, a Tour de France-winning 1963 Ferrari 250 GTO Series 1 was sold for an estimated $70 million to David MacNeil (the founder and CEO of WeatherTech). Until Mercedes upended that amount in 2022 with the sale of a 1955 300 SLR coupe, the 70 million dollar GTO was considered to be the most expensive car ever purchased. The appeal of these cars for collectors isn’t just their rarity but the elegance they excuse as they are driven. Not many cars could be considered a “driver’s car,” but the 250 GTO is one of the exceptions.
Today, most of the remaining 250 GTOs have been purchased through a private sale. These rare sports cars sit in car collections quietly nestled into the corners of garages and rarely see the light of day. However, now and then, there is a rumble through the rafters as the Italian sportscar roars to life. Here’s to hoping we see more perfection in motion in the days and years ahead.