It is difficult to find new superlatives when discussing Ferrari. The company’s cars and racing heritage have been examined, considered and written about repeatedly and in detail. Yet even in this rarified world of records and wins, automotive excellence and power, there are a few cars that have gained more significance than the rest. The 250 GT Short Wheelbase Berlinetta is one, and it will be celebrated at the 2010 Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance on August 15.
Racing great Sir Stirling Moss, who serves among the Honorary Judges at the Pebble Beach Concours, is eager to see these cars take to the 18th fairway of Pebble Beach Golf Links. He drove a 250 GT SWB Berlinetta to four victories on racing circuits across Europe in 1961 and has high praise for the model: “It was beautiful to drive, reliable and stunning to look at. It always amazed me that the car had such an uncomplicated rear suspension. Although it was only three liters, I cannot think of any car that was better to drive, especially on difficult roads. It was one of those cars, that the more you drove it, the better she became.
“It was such a civilized car, that Rob Walker fitted the one I drove with a radio. This allowed me to tune in to the BBC and listen to not only my race, but also to hear how my competitors were doing!”
Enzo Ferrari’s passion was racing. He brought to market a number of extraordinary cars meant for the road, but still racers at their core. The first car from Maranello that was intended from its beginnings to be built in quantity, Ferrari’s 250 GT, was the finest high performance grand touring car in the world — and its sales success made the company’s worldwide sports car and grand prix racing programs possible.
The ultimate 250 GT, the Short Wheelbase Berlinetta — the term “berlinetta” literally means little coupe in Italian — made its debut at the 1959 Paris Auto Show and was an immediate hit. A total of 165 were produced, 75 for serious competition. No two were exactly alike; features were often changed depending on the client’s wishes and manufacturing expediency. The engine was the latest development from the original V-12. Depending on carburetion, camshafts, compression and other modifications, the engine produced 240 to almost 280 horsepower. During its brief period of production the SWB won numerous races around the world, including the GT class at Le Mans twice and the Tour de France twice.
The Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance has chosen eight cars to provide a comprehensive overview of the Ferrari 250 GT SWB Berlinetta in honor of its 50th anniversary. “It is an extraordinary assembly,” said Ed Gilbertson, Chief Judge. “Fifty years ago the 250 GT Passo Corto — the Short Wheelbase Berlinetta — set the standard for dual purpose Ferraris. We think the cars selected will give Pebble Beach Concours guests insight into the magic and mystery of these special cars.”
Among the cars invited to participate in the Concours celebration is the very first 250 GT SWB Berlinetta produced. It's the car that debuted at the Paris Auto Show in 1959 and also took 6th place overall at Sebring in 1960. This car is currently being returned to its ’59 Paris Auto Show condition by Ferrari specialist Bob Smith.
Three of the renowned 1961 250 GT SWB Berlinetta Competition cars will also grace the eighteenth fairway at this year’s Pebble Beach Concours, including one of the cars that won its class at Le Mans. Only 21 of these high performance cars were produced. Factory built for racing with a special lighter chassis, subtle changes to the alloy body, and powered by the highest specification Tipo 168B engine, the Comp/61 (sometimes called a “SEFAC Hot Rod”) delivered almost 300 bhp, reached 60 mph in five seconds and had a top speed of over 150.
One of these Comp/61 cars, owned by Joseph M. Barone and Vanessa Wong, is featured on the poster for the 2010 Pebble Beach Tour d’Elegance presented by Rolex. Restorer Wayne Obry explains, “Because of this car’s original condition and racing provenance, we’ve picked a precise point in time — when it raced in the Tour de France in 1962 — and are restoring the car to that configuration. This was a period when the car’s livery was especially attractive and for which we’ve found the most detailed photos. This is a powerful, beautiful car.”
In addition to celebrating the Ferrari 250 GT SWB Berlinetta, the 60th annual Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance will feature Alfa Romeo, Jaguar and Pierce-Arrow and will showcase Italian designer Ghia. Additional special classes focus on the centennial of the Indianapolis 500, Hot Rod Lakesters and Bonneville Racers, and Prewar American Motorcycles.