1959 Ferrari 250 GT LWB California SpyderSOLD
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Estimate: €2.000.000-€2.500.000

€2.117.500 Sold

Est. 240 bhp, 2,953 cc overhead camshaft alloy block and head V-12 engine, four-speed gearbox, independent front suspension via A-arms, coil springs and telescopic shocks, and rear suspension via live axle, semi-elliptical springs and telescopic shocks, and four-wheel hydraulic disc brakes. Wheelbase: 2,600 mm (102.4 in.)

Towards the end of 1957, when the Ferrari 250 GT Pinin Farina Cabriolet went into production, a prototype for another open-top car appeared, aimed at the US market. It was called the Ferrari 250 GT California Spyder and was thought by many aficionados to be one of the most beautiful cars ever to come out of Maranello – a view still held by many to this day.

These open cars were quite different in concept and execution. The Pinin Farina Cabriolet was based on the Pininfarina Coupé, a luxurious gran turismo. The California Spyder was a much sportier car, based on the dual-purpose berlinettas also designed by Pinin Farina, though built in small numbers in Modena by Carrozzeria Scaglietti, which was partly owned by Ferrari. The procedure was described by Ferrari in their official history and catalogue as a simple one: “Pinin Farina prepared the prototype, which was then sent to Maranello to be inspected by Enzo Ferrari. Although the final decision was naturally his, the dealers also had an important say in the matter and were often called in to give their opinions.” Scaglietti would then take over: “His job was to produce the set number of ‘reproductions’ of the model and to equip himself for the task on the basis of the systems in use at Maranello, which was far more ‘artisan’ in approach than those used by Pinin Farina.”

Certainly in the case of the 250 GT California Spyder, Ferrari’s two US distributors did have serious input in the design of the new car. Luigi Chinetti, who set up the first, and for a while the only, Ferrari dealership in the US, later had all the territory east of the Mississippi River, which amounted to about half the country. Luigi Chinetti was also the founder of NART – the North American Racing Team, the racing arm of Chinetti’s distributorship. The other influential distributor was the Austrian-born John von Neumann, whose racing and dealership interests were based out of California.

Both Chinetti and von Neumann recognised a gap in the market for a higher performance open-top car in America that was not filled by the luxurious 250 GT Cabriolet. It seemed obvious to base this car on the 250 GT Berlinetta (Tour de France), which lacked a convertible version.

The Tour de France was originally known as the 250 GT Berlinetta. The Tour de France nickname was added after the car’s domination of the legendary and gruelling ten-day French event, in which the car’s performance, reliability and durability made it a success.

In the end, 14 California Spyders were built during 1958, with the remaining 36 cars built between 1959 and 1960, including at least seven fitted with alloy bodies, constructed to full competition specification. When the 250 GT SWB (short wheelbase) Berlinetta was launched, it was followed shortly thereafter by the corresponding SWB California Spyder, which was introduced at Geneva in March 1960. By the time production came to a close, a total of just 106 California Spyders had been built, 50 of them on the LWB chassis.

The California Spyder (LWB) presented here, chassis no. 1487 GT, an original covered-headlight example, was ordered new on 11 June 1959 by Paul H. Norair, an active Washington, DC-area SCCA member, for Henry E. Mergner, a Chevrolet dealer also based in DC. Invoiced to Chinetti Motors on 17 September, the car was shipped aboard the SS Franco Zeta from Livorno, Italy, arriving in New York. Upon its arrival, however, the car was registered on New York license plates and instead sold new in 1959 to Judge Samuel Leibowitz of Connecticut.
In 1960, chassis no. 1487 GT enjoyed an active racing career, driven by Pierre Mion at Cumberland, Bridgehampton and Lime Rock. On 10 July, Mion entered the six-hour race at Marlboro with Mergner, placing second overall. The car was subsequently sold by Chinetti to the Rodriguez family in Mexico. The brothers Pedro and Ricardo Rodriguez were of course very well-known racing drivers, the former enjoying quite a successful career in Formula 1 as well.

On 9 October 1961, Pedro, then aged 21, raced in the Gran Premio Indipendenza in Mexico and won the GT class, an event pictured in the 1961 Ferrari Yearbook.

Following its Rodriguez family ownership, 1487 GT was registered in 1964 in the name of Dr. Erle H. Heath of Pittsburgh, a noted Duesenberg collector. The car changed hands briefly once more and was acquired in 1967 by Houston oil baron John Mecom, Jr., who registered the car in Texas and painted it in the livery of his racing cars, pale Cadillac blue.

In 1969 his California Spyder (LWB) was at Del Lee’s Pontchartrain Motor Company in New Orleans, which was incidentally where Mecom owned the New Orleans Saints professional American football team. John Jumer of Illinois eventually acquired the car and kept it for about 25 years, until his passing in 1994. The car, which had remained in storage for many years, was eventually sold by his family and briefly passed through one more individual before it was acquired in 1998 by the previous owner, Stephen Pilkington.

Pilkington brought the car to the UK and then conducted a full restoration, stripping the body to bare metal and overhauling all mechanical parts. The wheels were rebuilt and fitted with new tyres and the interior was completely re-trimmed in red leather, as per original specifications. The original engine block, which had been separated from the car years earlier, was purchased by Pilkington in March 1999 and reunited with its original chassis after being sent to DK Engineering where it was completely rebuilt. Following completion of this restoration, Pilkington showed the car in July 2003 during the Ferrari Owners’ Club Annual Concours at Broughton House before it was acquired by the vendor later that year. A devoted and highly respected Ferrari enthusiast, he commissioned additional restoration work at Bob Smith Coachworks in Texas. The restoration, conducted to concours standards, was rewarded in 2005 with the prestigious Platinum Award at the Cavallino Classic in Palm Beach before being shown at Pebble Beach in 2005. The car has been properly maintained and cared for in his esteemed private collection ever since and remains in outstanding condition throughout.

The 250 GT “Tour de France” has long been regarded as perhaps the ultimate road/race berlinetta Ferrari ever produced. Cloaking that superlative chassis with the definitive spyder coachwork was a master stroke of brilliance, the perfect symphony of sound and beauty: the blending of the most achingly beautiful automotive form with the most glorious, soul-stirring automotive aria of all.

Reference Number 41062

as of 3/24/2009

Car 1959 Ferrari 250 GT LWB California Spyder
VIN 1487GT 
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