In the late 1950s, Luigi Chinetti and John von Neumann, Ferrari’s two U.S. distributors, both realized that a convertible version of the 250 GT Berlinetta Tour de France would sell well in the United States, as clients desired the performance of the TdF yet yearned for the excitement that a convertible provided. The California Spider proved to be a success, and as Ferrari updated the 250 GT Berlinetta to ensure that it remained competitive in motorsport, it was only natural that the California Spider received a similar set of upgrades.
The biggest difference between the original California Spider and the newer series that had first been shown at the Geneva Salon in March 1960 was the change in wheelbase. In an effort to improve handling and increase the car’s cornering speeds, the wheelbase was reduced from 2,600 millimeters to 2,400 millimeters. Through utilizing the newer Tipo 168 design with new heads and larger valves, the engine was now reported to produce up to 280 horsepower. Additionally, the track was wider than that of the outgoing California Spider, and the car’s lever-type shock absorbers were replaced with newer Koni adjustable and telescopic shock absorbers. Braking was transformed by the inclusion of four-wheel Dunlop disc brakes, and the SWB California Spider became the contemporary of the legendary 250 SWB Berlinetta.
In 1961, a gentleman driver could drive his California Spider to the race track, easily outrun comparable Aston Martins and Jaguars, and drive home again in the early evening with the top-down and in utmost comfort. The car’s dual-purpose nature appealed to many well-heeled individuals, and SWB California Spiders were owned by film stars, such as Alain Delon, James Coburn, and Roger Vadim; European aristocracy, including Vittorio Emanuele of Savoy; and even racing drivers. Jan De Vroom campaigned his SWB California Spider at both the 1960 24 Hours of Le Mans and the 1961 12 Hours of Sebring, where he finished 12th overall, which is an incredible result for a street-legal convertible.
The Spider has its roots in the 250 GT Berlinetta Tour de France in 1956. In 1957, two different convertible versions of the car were made, the 250 GT Cabriolet Pininfarina, with bodywork by Pininfarina (obviously), and the America-bound 250 GT California Spider, with bodywork by Scaglietti. Both of these were superseded in 1960 when Ferrari decided to go with a shorter wheelbase for improved handling. There are some variations in the bodywork between the versions of the car, especially given that the SWB versions were a full 8 inches shorter than the original, but all told, a 250 GT is always pretty recognizable as a 250 GT.
Among the differences are the pronounced “hips” in the bodywork just behind the rear doors. These are not unique to California models, or even to the convertibles, but it is something which not every 250 had, and those that have them are more valuable. The bodywork of the California models is about as curvaceous as 250s get, yet it manages to hold on to the elegant simplicity that makes the whole line still so desirable.
|Wheelbase||2,400 MM (94.5 Inches)|
|Length||4,200 MM (165.4 Inches)|
|Width||1720 MM (67.7 Inches)|
|Height||1370 MM (53.9 Inches)|
In 1961, Ferrari was still mainly concerned with building race cars. Road-going cars were built almost as an afterthought and were always based on platforms designed chiefly for racing. Cabin accessories are essentially nonexistent, and you might have noticed from the pictures that it lacks even a radio. But that’s fine, this was a car that was meant to be driven, and the sound of the engine was all the music you would ever need. There is an ashtray though because we’re talking about 1961 in Italy. And though there might not have been a lot of interior options, the finest materials were used, from the copious amounts of leather upholstery to the big wooden steering wheel.
Ferrari used some variation or another of the same 12-cylinder engine from 1947 all the way up until 1995, and the 250s all had them as well. This was the Colombo V-12, and at the time of the 250, Ferrari differentiated models by unitary, rather than total engine displacement. This meant that the 250, rather confusingly, actually had a 3.0-liter engine, with 250 cc per cylinder, times 12 cylinders. Early road-going versions of the 250 produced 217 horsepower, but along with the shortened wheelbase, 1960 also saw improvements to the engine that resulted in more power. The improvements consisted largely of redesigned heads and larger valves, which pushed output up to 280 horsepower.
RM Auctions has estimated that the car will likely go for anywhere from 11 million to 13 million euros ($12 million-$14 million). It sounds like a lot of money, but it’s actually probably a fairly conservative estimate, given that an unrestored barn finds 250 GT SWB California Spider just recently went for $18.5 million at auction. But as with anything this rare and valuable, it is a very difficult thing to predict.
ASTON MARTIN DB4
Maybe my favorite car all-time, though not as rare as the 250 GT SWB California Spider, the DB4 is very much the same kind of thing: a low-volume European Grand Touring machine. And The DB4 does date back to a time in the company’s history before the sales explosion that would result from the DB5’s appearance in the movie Goldfinger. They aren’t cheap, but because they aren’t as rare, you can have one for generally between half a million and one million USD, depending on condition and which variation of the car you’ve got your heart set on. Sporting 240 horsepower, the DB4 isn’t quite as powerful as the Ferrari, but the important thing is that you’ll look at least as cool driving it.
MASERATI 5000 GT
Though this is very much open to debate, the 5000 GT is considered by some to be the greatest Maserati of all time. Based on the 3500 GT, but with a 5-liter, 340-horsepower V8 in place of the inline six, only 34 units of this car were ever produced. Not only that, but there is a fair amount of variation in the bodywork from one unit to the next, as eight different coachbuilders produced bodies for various clients, many of whom were royalty. It is therefore literally a car fit for a king, and RM Auctions happens to have one of these going up for auction soon as well. That particular car was owned by King Saud bin Abdulaziz Al Saud, and is expected to go for $2.2-$2.9 million.
Note: Maserati 5000 GT by Allemano pictured.
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