The tragic accident at the 1955 24 Hours of Le Mans that claimed the lives of one driver and 79 spectators had a profound effect on the shape of racing, one that ultimately led to the creation of one of Ferrari’s most celebrated models. Racing enthusiasts and competitors alike agreed that the crash was ultimately the result of the increasingly potent powertrains of the Le Mans sports cars, and in order to prevent further disaster, new regulations would be required to veer from the path of these thinly veiled race cars, which were essentially grand prix cars packaged with two-seater bodies.
The following year, the FIA responded by creating new gran turismo classes that not only prioritized safety, but also re-established the concept of competitively racing a road-based production car. Ferrari, of course, was well prepared for the challenge, having just debuted its new series-production 250 GT at the Geneva Motor Show of 1956. While the coupe on display featured an elegant body that would go on to be produced in quantity by Boano, thus providing necessary homologation, the underlying chassis proved to be the basis for the competition car, or berlinetta, that Ferrari sought to enter into the FIA’s new racing classifications. Pininfarina designed a new lightweight body that was built by Scaglietti, using thin-gauge aluminum and Perspex windows and a minimally upholstered cabin. The finished car, then known officially as the 250 GT Berlinetta, was ultimately made in a sparing quantity of 77 examples that are further sub-divided by subtle differences in coachwork over the model’s four-year production run.
Ferrari’s hopes for competitive success were quickly realized when Olivier Gendebien and Jacques Washer co-drove the very first car, chassis number 0503 GT, to a First in Class and Fourth Overall at the Giro di Sicilia in April 1956, with a Fifth Overall (First in Class) at the Mille Miglia later that month. But the model’s defining success didn’t occur until September, during the 1956 Tour de France Automobile, a grueling 3,600 mile, week-long contest that combined six circuit races, two hill climbs, and a drag race. The Marquis Alfonso de Portago, a Spanish aristocrat and privateer racer, drove chassis number 0557 GT to a dominating victory that sealed the dynamic model’s reputation. Enzo Ferrari was so pleased with the outcome that the 250 GT Berlinetta was subsequently and internally, though never officially, referred to as the Tour de France. The moniker proved to be quite fitting, as Gendebien took First Overall at the 1957, 1958, and 1959 installments of the French race, as well as a Third Overall at the 1957 Mille Miglia, a triumph that witnessed the defeat of many more purpose-built sports racers.
With the introduction of a short-wheelbase 250 GT in late-1959, the outgoing platform became retrospectively labeled as the long-wheelbase version, though the original car’s designation of 250 GT LWB Berlinetta is now largely simplified with the name ‘Tour de France.’ Through its brief production run, the TdF underwent several external body modifications, ultimately resulting in four different series-produced body styles (not including a handful of Zagato-bodied cars). The alterations in appearance are most easily recognizable in the so-called sail panels, the rear ¾-panels of the c-pillar that adjoin the roof. Initially produced with no louvers at all, these panels featured 14 louvers in the second-series cars, followed by a series with just three louvers, and ending with a series that featured just one sail-panel louver. Of all of these series, the 14-louver cars are the rarest, with only nine examples produced, and are judged by many enthusiasts to be the handsomest of the group.