If there are two words in the Ferrari vocabulary that get the blood flowing in any tifosi, surely they are “California Spyder.” Considered by many to be the most beautiful car to come out of Maranello, the California Spyder had the performance credentials to back up its stunning presence. To the individual that was looking for a car that could be driven leisurely with the top down on Saturday, taken to the track and raced hard on Sunday, and with the requisite Italian style and flair only a Ferrari could deliver, there was simply no other option.
The story of the California Spyder starts with Ferrari’s two United States distributors, Luigi Chinetti and John von Neumann. Both men recognized that the American market was desirous for a convertible version of Ferrari’s mighty 250 GT Berlinetta, which gained the nickname “Tour de France” (or TdF) for its wins at the iconic French sports car race. Ferrari’s American clients wanted all the performance that the TdF could provide but also a convertible roof, which was perfect for those sunny California days, and they lobbied the factory for the production of such an automobile. While Ferrari already produced a convertible V-12 road car at the time, the 250 GT Cabriolet, this car was not to be confused with the California Spyder, as the Cabriolet drew its roots from the Pininfarina Coupe. The California Spyder was something far more potent.
Make no mistake, the long-wheelbase Spyder was not solely intended for Ferrari’s wealthiest clients to use for jaunts down the California coastline; it was a car that came with a serious competition pedigree and was perfect for that enthusiast in search of a fast and purposeful open two-seater. American driver Richie Ginther co-drove with Howard Hively in a LWB California Spyder to win the GT Class at the 1959 12 Hours of Sebring, finishing 9th place overall. However, the most remarkable competition success was undoubtedly Chinetti’s North American Racing Team’s 5th overall at the 1959 24 Hours of Le Mans. The NART-entered Ferrari California Spyder of Bob Grossman and Fernand Tavano was beaten only by two Aston Martin sports racing cars and two Ferrari competition coupes, and it covered 3,964.491 kilometers at an average speed of 165.187 km/h, including pit stops. This was no boulevard cruiser and not a Ferrari to be taken lightly.
California Spyder production began in 1958, and several examples had been built by the time it was announced as a separate model at Ferrari’s annual press conference in Modena on 9 December 1958. Many of the early California Spyders carried only subtle changes over their hardtop siblings. The prototype, chassis 0769 GT, was nearly unchanged from the TdF, with the exception of its convertible top. By mid-1958, the car had adopted an engine with reinforced connecting rods and crankshaft (type 128D) and a new chassis (type 508D), but it still retained the 250’s original wheelbase of 2,600 millimeters. Cosmetic changes were minor, with slightly revised wheel arches, and it could be specified with either open or closed headlights. All told, 14 LWB California Spyders were built during 1958, with the remaining 36 cars being built between 1959 and 1960.