The term ‘race car for the road’ is one that’s bandied about far too often, but the Ferrari 250 GTO is exactly that – a machine that was developed for track use, but which can be used on the road for some of the ultimate driving thrills. Sadly though, sky-high values mean the likelihood of a 250 GTO actually clocking up significant miles on public roads are pretty slim...
The 250 was the first of the Ferrari GTOs – or Gran Turismo Omologato. Effectively an evolution of the 250 SWB, FIA rules stated that for the car to be homologated, 100 examples would have to be built. Ferrari lumped the 250 SWB and 250 GTO together and hey presto – the 100 minimum was achieved, just 39 of which were GTOs.
Power – all 300bhp of it – came from Gioacchino Columbo’s legendary 3.0-litre V12, and when combined with a new five-speed gearbox there was 170mph there for the taking, along with 0-60mph in around five seconds. While this was possible thanks to the prodigious power on tap, the low-drag lightweight alloy body played its part, while the interior was stripped bare too. It was a formula that worked; Ferrari scooped the manufacturers’ championship in 1962, 1963 and 1964 and the 250 GTO would go on to become one of the most valuable and collectible cars ever built.
Which one to buy
With so few cars made, the 250 GTO you buy will be the one that comes up for sale, which you know about before somebody else snaps it up. GTOs change hands more often than you might think – it’s just that they rarely come onto the open market.
Despite the tiny production run, nine 250 GTOs were built with right-hand drive and all of the 39 cars built have survived, although some have been rebuilt since they left the factory. But the complete history of every car made is exceptionally well recorded, so it’s not as though you’re going to end up with a rebodied Datsun 240Z by mistake. However, it has been known for Ferrari-based recreations to be touted as the genuine article, so it is possible to come unstuck if you don’t know what you’re doing.
Of the 39 cars built, 33 feature the classic 250 GTO design with a 3-litre V12. For 1964 there were three cars with Series II bodywork – four of the earlier cars would later be rebodied to this specification. There then followed a trio of 4-litre cars, unofficially known as 330 GTOs – which is why sometimes the official tally of 250 GTOs can be either 36 or 39.
• The 250 GTO’s massive value means the cost of any repairs you’ll have to undertake aren’t really going to be of any consequence. A complete engine rebuild or an all-new bodyshell is going to cost relatively little compared with the Ferrari’s worth. That fact alone makes buying a 250 GTO a rather different proposition from a Hillman Imp or Triumph Herald...
• The alloy bodyshell doesn’t rust although it can corrode. Its thickness (or lack of it) also means it picks up dents easily. But a skilled panelbeater will be able to make things perfect if that’s what you want.
• For some reason, you can’t buy any 250 GTO panels off the shelf, so everything has to be made specially. No two GTOs are quite the same, as they were hand-built, so there are myriad detail differences between each of the cars produced, and over the years, further changes have been introduced to differentiate them even more. But there are companies that can make you a complete new bodyshell if necessary.
• The V12 is incredibly tough and it’s a complex unit too. A dry-sump version of the engine that powered the 250 Testa Rossa, it’s fairly stressed as it can generate 100bhp per litre – a hugely impressive feat.
• The gearbox isn’t especially pleasant to use, even once it’s warmed up. With its heavy action you don’t always feel as though the transmission is on your side, but stick with it and ultimately you’ll find using it hugely rewarding.
• The original single-plate coil-sprung clutch isn’t very strong, but it’s easy enough to upgrade to a modern design that gives lighter pedal pressures and it’s also more durable.
• Make sure you can fit inside, as there isn’t much space in the two-seat cabin. If you’re much over six feet tall you’ll probably find your head is jammed up against the roof once you’re in.
1962: The 250 GTO is unveiled in February, in Ferrari’s annual press conference. That season, it would give the Aston Martin DB4 GT Zagato and Jaguar’s Lightweight E-Types a pasting, winning at venues such as Goodwood and Montlhery, with class wins at Sebring, Le Mans and the Nurburgring.
1963: There are more wins for the GTO, this time at Daytona, Spa and Goodwood with class wins at Sebring, Le Mans, Monza and several more.
1964: The Series II 250 GTO is revealed. It’s still front-engined but looks more like the mid-engined 250 LM – just three Series IIs would be built, although four earlier cars would be rebodied in 1964. In this year there were also three final cars produced, powered by the 4.0-litre Superamerica V12 and known as 330 GTOs. Meanwhile, the wins just keep coming; in 1964 the GTO wins at Daytona and Spa, plus it takes gold in the Tour de France.