1962 Ferrari 250 GTO – the most expensive car ever
Is it possible that one car can cost a whopping 38 million dollars? Yes, it is. The world record for the most expensive car sold at a public auction is 38.115.000 dollars at the Bonhams auction in August 2014. The machine which commanded the price is the 1962 Ferrari 250 GTO with the serial number 3851GT. So, what is it exactly about this car that makes it worth that astronomical figure? Let’s find out.
Ferrari 250 GTO was produced between 1962 and 1964
The Ferrari 250 GTO is a racing GT car which was produced by Ferrari between 1962 and 1964. For the 1962 International Manufacturers Championship, the focus was switched from sports prototypes to GT cars and Ferrari was motivated to further develop its successful 250 GT within the permissible rule limitations, of course. The next model was to be named the 250 GTO, with the numerical part of its name denoting the displacement in cubic centimeters of each cylinder of the engine, whilst GTO stands for Gran Turismo Omologato.
Giotto Bizzarini led the creation of the 250 GTO
Before the 1962 season, Ferrari had already built nearly 200 competition cars based on the 250 GT, so the team had a great base and technical knowledge for its next model. A small team led by Giotto Bizzarrini was given the green light to develop the new model with a well-known layout: a front mounted V12 engine and rear-wheel drive.
Bizzarrini created a crude prototype called Papera from his own 250 GT Boano chassis and a dry-sump version of the V12 engine. The chassis and body were modified to keep the whole car as low and as aerodynamically efficient as possible. This meant moving the engine lower and further back in the chassis, which allowed for a sleek new fastback body. The rear end was designed using the Kamm principle that cutoff the rear bodywork while the front had a small front area that made the 250 GTO predecessors look like a brick.
Focus on the aerodynamics
Bizzarrini focused his design effort on the car’s aerodynamics in an attempt to improve top speed and stability. The body design was improved upon wind tunnel testing at Pisa University as well as road and track testing with several prototype cars. The resulting all-aluminium bodywork had a long, low nose, small radiator inlet and distinctive air intakes on the nose with removable covers.
Early testing resulted in the addition of a rear spoiler. The lower floor of the car was covered by a belly pan and had an additional spoiler underneath formed by the fuel tank cover. The aerodynamic design of the 250 GTO was a major technical innovation compared to the previous Ferrari GT cars.
Improved 3.0 V12 engine was used
Early tests by Stirling Moss at Monza showed significant improvements in every area over the SWB Berlinetta and Sperimentale, sometimes called the GTO prototype, that raced at Le Mans in 1961. Before production of the GTO commenced, Bizzarrini and several prominent people left Ferrari and eventually Mauro Forghieri became responsible for sorting out Ferrari’s 1962 sports car for the initial race season. He worked with drivers like Moss to add modifications such as rear spoilers and Watts linkage for stability.
At their yearly press conference held on February 24th, 1962, Ferrari released no fewer than six different racing models and among these versatile race cars was the chassis 3223GT, the first production version of the 250 GTO. During its launch, the 3223GT was fitted with the Tipo 168/62 Comp 3.0L V12 engine. Compared to the previous V12, it used larger valves, tighter clearances, lighter materials, dry sump lubrication and could be used up to 9500 rpm. It produced approximately 300 horsepower and was very reliable, as proven by previous competition experience with the Testa Rossa. The gearbox was a new 5-speed unit with a Porsche-type synchromesh.
The chassis was an evolution of previous units
The mechanical aspects of the 250 GTO were relatively conservative at the time of its introduction. The car was using engine and chassis components that were proven to be effective in earlier competition cars. The 250 GTO chassis was an evolution of the unit found in the 1961 Ferrari 250 GT SWB, with minor differences in the frame structure and geometry to reduce weight, as well as stiffen and lower the chassis. Through years of development, this chassis had become more like a space frame, using a higher number of small bracing tubes. Upgrades to the chassis also included new front brakes, Koni adjustable shock absorbers, a stiffer suspension and a lower drive line.
Inside, the GTO was very sparse and purposeful with no heater or sound deadening. As such, the only covered areas were the thinly-clothed seats. This left the thin aluminum panels and steel tube frame naked in view. Neither a speedometer nor an odometer was included and the only luxury was the wooden Nardi steering wheel. Directly in front of the driver was a Borletti/Veglia 10,000 rpm tachometer which shared a binnacle with smaller temperature, fuel and pressure gauges.
Experienced racers tested the prototype
After testing by Stirling Moss, Willy Mairesse, Lorenzo Bandini and Giancarlo Baghetti, the GTO was ready for the 1962 season. The demand was high, but Ferrari reserved its cars only for the top-notch drivers.
The car debuted at the 12 Hours of Sebring in 1962, driven by the American Phil Hill and Belgian Olivier Gendebien. The experienced pair impressed themselves and everyone else by finishing 2nd overall behind the Testa Rossa of Bonnier and Scarfiotti.
In the first year of competition itself, Ferrari scored maximum points in the Division III Championship for sports cars over two liters. A part of the Championship was the legendary race 24 Hours of Le Mans. Ferrari 250 GTO was placed second (drivers Pierre Noblet and Jean Guichet) and third overall (drivers Leon Dernier and Jean Blaton), behind the winning prototype Ferrari 330 TRI/LM. This was a remarkable result and proved that the GTO could beat many cars in the prototype category.
The rivals were shocked and surprised
By the end of the first season, Jaguar, Aston Martin and Chevrolet tried to convince the governing body that the GTO was not a GT car. However, regulation stated that any modifications introduced after homologation did not disqualify the car if it were a’normal evolution of the type’. Since the GTO was an ‘evolution’ of the largely produced 250 GT road car, it was declared legal, although the five-speed gearbox and dry-sump lubrication were never factory road car options.
The remaining two seasons were also very successful for the 250 GTO. Ferrari took the Division III championships again, in both 1963 and 1964. At the 1963 24h Le Mans, the 250 GTO again was the fastest GT car and 2nd overall (drivers Jean Blaton and Gerhard Langlois van Ophem) behind the winning Ferrari 250P. By the end of the 1964 season, Shelby Cobras reached the Ferraris and had beaten them at Le Mans and Sebring.
Beyond 1964, the GTO started to stretch its potential. Ferrari was unable to homologate the car’s rear engine 250 LM and instead developed a competition version of the 275 GTB which was really a ’65 GTO. These developments left the hat trick of the Division III championships to forever highlight the end of Ferrari’s 250 GT series.
Only 39 GTOs were built
In total, 39 Ferrari 250 GTOs were manufactured between 1962 and 1964. This includes 33 cars with 1962-63 bodywork (Series I), three cars with 1964 (Series II) bodywork similar to the Ferrari 250 LM and three “330 GTO” specials with a larger engine.
The series II was very similar to the 250 LM, although without the model’s mid-engined configuration. Minor modifications to the engine, gearbox, chassis, and interior were also incorporated into this new design. Three new cars were produced according to this specification in 1964, and four earlier 250 GTOs were retrofitted with the 1964 modifications by the factory.
330 GTO specials get a larger engine
Three 330 GTO specials were made using 400 Superamerica 4.0L motors. They used the same chassis and body as the 250 GTO, although distinguished by a larger bonnet bulge. These cars were used briefly for racing and testing by Scuderia Ferrari before being sold to private customers.
Various differences are visible between individual 250 GTOs, as a result of their handbuilt production process, updates and repairs throughout each car’s competition history. Differences in air intake/vent configuration are also common among said cars. Modifications to the original bodywork were performed by the factory, Scaglietti or other body shops, usually after crashes or according to a racing teams’ wishes.
Jo Schlesser – the original owner of 3851GT
That brings us back to the 38 million-dollar-car… The car with the serial number 3851GT was produced in September 1962. It was finished in a metallic pale grey with lengthwise red, white and blue center-line stripes and was collected by its first owner, the experienced and rugged 34-year-old French privateer Jo Schlesser.
Its first race was the Tour de France Automobile, which ran from 15th to 23rd September. The car was driven by Schlesser and his friend Henri Oreiller, the national war hero and famous skier. They finished second in the 5500 km-long race.
Fatal accident in the second race
In yet another race, held in October at Montlhery Autodrome, the outcome proved to be tragic for Oreiller. He was killed after the car hit a trackside building. The badly-damaged car was returned to the factory for repair and subsequent resale. Six months later, the car was sold to a new Italian owner, Paolo Colombo.
He was an enthusiastic gentleman driver who contested that year’s Italian national championship hillclimb series under the Scuderia Trentina banner. He competed in 14 races that season and scored 12 class victories.
4000 dollars bid by Fabrizio Violati
At the end of 1963, another amateur owner/driver Ernesto Prinoth made Colombo an irresistible offer for his 3851GT. In 1964, the new owner had a busy programme of hill-climbing and circuit racing. He crashed once, on September 6th, 1964, during the supporting race of that year’s Formula 1 Italian Grand Prix at Monza Autodrome. Prinoth finished the racing season and next year sold the car to Fabrizio Violati, a young Italian businessman.
Ernesto Prinoth agreed to sell Violati the 250 GTO for 2,500,000 Lire, around 4000 dollars, equating to around 33.500 dollars today. That Bill of Sale exists to this day and forms part of the car’s history file. The 3851GT was used at historic racing events and was a part of Violati’s collection of Ferraris.
Enzo Ferrari approved the Collezione Maranello Rosso
In 1984, Enzo Ferrari himself summoned Violati to Maranello and gave him the task of forming the Ferrari Club Italia. Such was the mutual respect between the two that in 1989, when Violati opened his collection for public viewing under one roof in the Republic of San Marino, Enzo approved his use of the title of Collezione Maranello Rosso. In 2000, the complete Collection was re-housed into purpose-built premises between San Marino and Rimini.
Fabrizio Violati passed away on January 22nd, 2010, so he couldn’t witness the auction at which his car, while still carrying the original Modena licence plates (MO 80576) was sold for a record-breaking price 49 years after he purchased it.