“In those days, if you wanted to be seen in the Monday morning newspapers, there was no alternative. You had to buy a 250 GT Ferrari. In 10 years of racing these berlinettas won more races for Ferrari than any factory ever did before or after” – French marque and model expert without equal, Jess Pourret, on the immortal Ferrari 250 GT Berlinettas.
Unveiled at the 1959 Paris Motor Show, the model’s nomenclature referred to its 94.4in (2400mm) wheelbase, the Passo Corto being a lighter and faster replacement for the 250 GT Tour de France that had swept all before it at national and international level. The majority of these three-litre V12 beauties were ordered in Lusso trim with steel bodywork (albeit, with aluminium doors, bonnet and boot), leather upholstery, token sound-deadening and a carpeted boot. Each road car had front and rear bumpers and side and rear glazing rather than Perspex.
Among the last truly handmade Ferraris, the SWB’s other major draw is its styling. It hasn’t lost its power to captivate. Penned by an unheralded artist at Pinin Farina (legally two words to 1961 …) and fashioned by Carrozzeria Scaglietti’s hammer-wielding artisans, there isn’t a single jarring line, this being a car of singular beauty produced by a design house at the height of its powers.
The all-aluminium Tipo 168, triple-Weber, 2,953cc V12, meanwhile, was tuned for better driveability and produced a reliable 220 – 240bhp in road-going trim; enough for ferocious acceleration dependent on gearing. The engine had 12-port, Testa Rossa-style cylinder heads and still used many semi-competition components. The gearbox was a four-speed unit, by Ferrari, cast in iron rather than alloy to dampen mechanical noise.
Campaigned by established stars of the day and gentleman drivers alike, the SWB was near-invincible in the GT category, with Ferrari seizing Manufacturers’ titles in 1960 and 1961. Among the model’s many scalps were back-to-back wins at the Goodwood Tourist Trophy and Nürburgring 1000km 1961-62, and a 1-2-3-4 finish in class at Le Mans in 1960. A year later, the Pierre Noblet/Jean Guichet entry not only won its class in the 24 Heures du Mans, but also finished third overall behind a brace of 250TR/61s.
Eligible for countless prestigious events, and with instantly recognisable lines, the scintillating 250 GT SWB remains an icon of its kind, and with good reason.