GTO - three letters signifying a peak in a famous, possibly the most famous, autohistory. 12 cylinders, 3 liters, 280bhp, 175mph - bald figures, without gazing at the sleek aluminum coachwork.
In its short day, only three seasons as a works racer, the GTO established itself as the quintessential dual-purpose sports-racer, just as had its predecessors, the 250 Tour de France and the short-wheelbase 250 GT Berlinetta.
But Enzo Ferrari
felt that the GTO was just too raw a car to be made widely available, and announced in December 1962, at the end of the car's first season, that only a further 10 would be built, making 35 in all.
At the time FIA rules for sports car racing required at least one hundred examples of a car to be built in order for it to be homologated in the GT class. Ferrari only built only 36 250 GTOs, three with four-liter 330 engines (sometimes called the "330 GTO" - recognizable by the large hump on the bonnet), and three "Type 64" cars, with revised bodywork.
Despite the FIA rules, the GTO was allowed to compete, although the reason why to this day remains unclear.
Between them they built a distinguished race history. The car debuted at the 12 Hours of Sebring
in 1962, driven by the team of American Phil Hill
(the Formula One World Driving Champion at the time) and Belgian Olivier Gendebien.
Although originally annoyed that they were driving a GT-class car instead of one of the full-race Testa Rossas competing in the prototype class, the experienced pair impressed themselves (and everyone else) by finishing 2nd overall behind the Testa Rossa of Bonnier and Scarfiotti.
And while the 250 GTO was not an outright winner in international championship events, competting as it did against the pure racers in the Prototype class, it was rarely far behind and regularly won the GT class. At Le Mans
, for instance, a GTO was second to a Ferrari prototype in both 1962 and 1963. Yet the car was recognisably a road-going sportscar, and was equipped with bodywork whose sensuous yet purposeful lines would have made it one of the great Italian automobiles even without racing success.
Chief engineer Giotto Bizzarrini installed the 3.0 liter V12 engine from the 250 Testa Rossa into the chassis from the 250 GT SWB and worked with designer Sergio Scaglietti to develop the body. After Bizzarrini and most other Ferrari engineers were fired in a dispute with Enzo Ferrari, development was handed over to new engineer Mauro Forghieri, who worked with Scaglietti to continue development of the body, including wind tunnel and track testing. Unlike most Ferraris, it was not designed by a specific individual or design house.
Body features originally forced on the engineers for practical reasons became visual GTO trademarks: the low nose and twin (later triple) slots in the wing to relieve air pressure to counter the lift experienced on the 250 SWB-based prototype which ran at Le Mans in 1961
; the chopped tail and spoiler added for the competition debut at Sebring
in March 1962; and most of all the three removable toenail vents above the grille to increase airflow to the radiator.
The rest of the car was typical of early-1960s Ferrari technology: hand-welded tube frame, A-arm front suspension, live-axle rear end, disc brakes, and Borrani wire wheels. The five-speed gearbox was new to Ferrari GT racing cars; the metal gate that defined the shift pattern would become a tradition that is still maintained in current models. The interior was extremely basic, to the point where a speedometer was not installed in the instrument panel. Many of its switches came from the Fiat 500
, and it was said that as the car was rushed into production, the original cloth seats were made from workers' overalls.
True or not, the GTO was definately noisy and spartan, with little in the way of comfort - in many ways the last production road-racing Ferrari. True, its 275 GTB and Daytona successors performed creditably, but under private entrants, and they were stripped-out versions of increasingly comfortable Grand Tourers.
The 250 GTO won the World Manufacturer's Championship in 1962, 1963, and 1964 - the last year of official competition. The GTO would continue to contest national and then club events as it became outclassed. Those who for sentimental or other reasons kept hold of one made a wise choice: sky-high desirability would see prices rocket even faster than the average exotic, a UK auction held in May 1987 then setting a record auction price of £940,000 for a 4-liter - almost £100,000 more than a Testa Rossa in the same sale.
According to an anonymously authored article in Times Online
, a 250 GTO seized by the FBI from a convicted drug dealer was sold in a sealed auction the next year (1988) for approximately US $2 million. In 1989, at the peak of the boom, a 250 GTO was sold to a Japanese buyer for $13.3 million plus commission. By 1991 the market had cooled to the extent that a GTO sold at a Las Vegas auction for $5.5 million, and in 1994 the example that had brought $13.3 million five years earlier changed hands for about $3.5 million.
The 250 GTO was one of the last front-engined cars to remain competitive at the top level of sports car racing. Before the advent of vintage racing the 250 GTO, like other racing cars of the period, passed into obsolescence. Some were used in regional races, while others were used as road cars. However the values of legitimate high-demand Ferrari models have continued to rise through the present decade.