Is Ferrari 250 GTO the greatest... or just very good?

Glance at the stats and there’s no doubting the Ferrari 250 GTO’s competition record – more than 50 race wins between 1962 and ’65. But as Doug Nye assesses, is its legendary status really justified?

Ferrari 250 GTO, Le Mans 1963

The Belgian duo ‘Beurlys’ and Gérald Langlois van Ophem brought their 250 GTO home second at Le Mans in 1963

Gerry Cranham / Offside

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Amongst all the world’s greatest classic cars there can be no doubt that, in general perception, the confined group of Ferrari 250 GTOs reigns supreme. Some might argue but as Stirling Moss used to say, these things are a pyramid, a pyramid has a point and on that point there’s only room for one…

For proof that the GTO sits at the apex, just look at where the modern-day collectors’ car market rates the GTO, where a vast global audience of enthusiasts and fans rates the GTO, where a huge majority of established and aspiring well-heeled collectors (and investors) rate the GTO. All of them prize the Ferrari 250 GTO most.

But is this based on its achievements in period? Allow me to argue the evidence against, and to examine the reality of why, and how, the GTO has found its astounding level of enduring acclaim.

“The Old Man famously rated the GT championship above F1”

When I bought my March 2, 1962 issue of Autosport, I found in it a report accompanied by mouthwatering photos of Ferrari’s latest fleet of Formula 1 and endurance cars launched fresh for the coming season. It was my first sight of what struck me as Maranello’s most beautifully proportioned and stunningly styled road-racing Berlinetta – the 250 GTO. I was then just a wide-eyed, racing-mad teenager, but today – and over the 60 long years since – absolutely nothing has changed my admiration for, at least, that shape.

And that enduring, defining 1962-63 shape is utterly crucial. What consummate artist styled it? Ferrari has always merely said it was done ‘in house’. Styled by the factory. But someone there must have conceived it. Who should we credit? After years of digging I am convinced the GTO was ‘styled’, if that’s the right word, by Ferrari’s humble ‘shape man’ and wind tunnel model maker Edmondo ‘Millimetro’ Casoli… long years uncredited.

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The 1963 Le Mans runners-up are swamped

Ferrari 250 GTO Cobra Mustang 1963

The Cobra of Dave MacDonald leads the 250 GTO of Pedro Rodríguez in the Daytona 3 Hours, 1963 – but the Ferrari won

ISC Archives/CQ-Roll Call Group via Getty Images

He met requirements for a better aerodynamic form than the bluff- nosed 250 GT SWB cars of 1960-61. Those requirements were made by ’62 GTO project engineer Giotto Bizzarrini. Mr Ferrari surely had final approval. Scaglietti’s feisty body- shop foreman Giancarlo Guerra then made the body buck, and panel-bashed the prototype GTO in time for launch. But if we should give credit to one artist for the shape, I would plump for Millimetro Casoli, remembered as a charming and modest man, just happy to contribute to his beloved Ferrari firm’s future – as were so very many of Ferrari’s artisan staff.

The Old Man famously rated winning the GT Championship above an F1 title “because it sells our production cars, which pays for our racing”. So Ferrari’s Gran Turismo cup absolutely overflowed through 1962-63 – GTOs excelling in all manner of non- championship races, hillclimbs and rallies as well. And this is what the tifosi saw, and adored, both in period and ever since. But hey, there’s a question – and it’s a big one. What did the GTOs really beat?

Unfortunately, for the rabid Ferraristi , the answer is ‘not very much’. Certainly within that 3-litre GT category, precious little beyond the odd Austin-Healey 3000.

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‘Anteater’ GTO prototype at Monza test, 1961

Ferrari 250 gto

The 1964 Tour de France featured a 250 GTO 1-2; Jean Guichet and Michel de Bourbon- Parme, here on the Charade circuit

Klemantaski Collection / Getty images

Jaguar tried to press Ferrari hard overall with private E-types – especially the gawky-stance 1963 Lightweights – but they were in the 4-litre class, while Chevrolet Corvette careered and rolled around as 5-litre GT contenders. When the GTOs twice failed to out-run opposition overall – at Reims ’63 against Dick Protheroe’s Low Drag Coupé Jaguar and at Monza ’63 against Roy Salvadori’s works Aston Martin Project 214 – they still dominated their points-scoring 3-litre category, which allowed them, despite those rare defeats, to win their repeat world title comfortably. But this ‘from whom’ perspective remains historically important.

Ferrari 250 gto, 1964

The Swedish colours of Ulf Norinder and Picko Troberg at the Targa Florio, 1964

GERRY CRANHAM/OFFSIDE MEDIA

“By 1965 it was a case of ‘oh look, there’s an old GTO – lovely but quaint’”

By 1964 it took a revised GTO in the fresh GTO/64 suit of clothes to face the powered- by-Ford V8 onslaught from the Shelby American Cobra. That year’s intended GTO- replacement rear-engined Ferrari 250LMs were denied recognition as GT-class entries by the partly Ford-pressured FIA. Just one- or two-year-old 250 GTOs in their original – now so-called ‘Series 1’ – body form already looked outdated, ageing, often battered makeweight entries. By 1965 GTOs – frontline discards – were appearing across Europe and the USA as club-racing cars, wielded by the averagely well-heeled, and averagely competent.

From trackside it was a case of “oh look, there’s an old GTO – lovely, but quaint”. We concentrated on the main menu, the sports- prototypes – Ferrari versus Ford GT. The ageing GTOs and GTO/64s, just seemed insignificant beside the sports-prototypes.

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1965; Richie Ginther, No28, was well down the field at the 1964 Tourist Trophy in the Eric Portman-entered Ferrari – here chasing a GTO/64

Getty Images

Ferrari 250 gto, datyona 1964

Pedro Rodríguez and Phil Hill’s uprated GTO/64 led a 250 GTO 1-2-3 at the 1964 Daytona Continenta

ISC Archives/CQ-Roll Call Group via Getty Images

That’s why the modern glorification of ‘Ferrari versus Ford’ as being a Ferrari-Cobra conflict really grates. It might have seemed a big deal to Shelby’s finest in period – but for purebred period tifosi it was the exotic battle ahead of them, the rear-engined rocket ships racing for glory overall where the significant Ferrari-Ford battle raged. Does any of this tarnish the legend of the GTO? No way – it just adds perspective

 

GTOs triumphant — 1962-63

1962 GT World Championship
Sebring 12 Hours Phil Hill/Olivier Gendebien 2nd overall First GT class
Targa Florio Giorgio Scarlatti/Pietro Ferraro 4th o/a First GT
Nürburgring 1000Kms Michael Parkes/Willy Mairesse (4-litre) 2nd o/a First 4.0 Prototype
Le Mans 24 Hours Jean Guichet/Pierre Noblet 2nd o/a First GT
‘Eldé’/‘Beurlys’ 3rd o/a 2nd GT
Trophée d’Auvergne Carlo Mario Abate First o/a First GT
RAC Tourist Trophy Innes Ireland First o/a First GT
Graham Hill 2nd o/a 2nd GT
Michael Parkes 3rd o/a 3rd GT
David Piper 5th o/a 5th GT
Bridgehampton 400Kms Bob Grossman 2nd o/a First GT
Charlie Hayes/Ed Hugus 3rd o/a 2nd GT
Paris 1000Kms Pedro Rodríguez/Ricardo Rodríguez First o/a First GT
John Surtees/Michael Parkes 2nd o/a 2nd GT
Jean Guichet/Pierre Noblet 4th o/a 4th GT
Lucien Bianchi/Willy Mairesse 5th o/a 5th GT
 
1963 GT World Championship
Daytona 3 Hours Pedro Rodríguez First o/a First GT
Roger Penske 2nd o/a 2nd GT
Roger Penske/Augie Pabst 4th o/a First GT
Carlo Mario Abate/Juan-Manuel Bordeu 5th o/a 2nd GT
Richie Ginther/Innes Ireland 6th o/a 3rd GT
Targa Florio Maurizio Grana/Gianni Bulgari 4th o/a First 3.0 GT
Spa 500Kms Willy Mairesse First o/a First GT
Pierre Noblet 2nd o/a 2nd GT
Jo Siffert 3rd o/a 3rd GT
Nürburgring 1000Kms Pierre Noblet/Jean Guichet 2nd o/a First GT
Consuma hillclimb Paolo Colombo 9th o/a First 3.0 GT
Rossfeld hillclimb Paolo Colombo 15th o/a First 3.0 GT
Le Mans 24 Hours ‘Beurlys’/Gérald Langlois van Ophem 2nd o/a First GT
Pierre Dumay/‘Eldé’ 4th o/a 2nd GT
Trophée d’Auvergne Carlo Mario Abate 3rd o/a First GT
Freiburg hillclimb Carlo Mario Abate 11th o/a First 3.0 GT
RAC Tourist Trophy Graham Hill First o/a First GT
Michael Parkes 2nd o/a 2nd GT
Ollon-Villars hillclimb Carlo Mario Abate 5th o/a First 3.0GT
Coppa Inter-Europa Michael Parkes 2nd o/a First 3.0 GT
Tour de France Jean Guichet/José Behra First o/a First GT
Lucien Bianchi/Carlo Mario Abate 2nd o/a 2nd GT