1961 1961 Ferrari 250 GT SWB - California Spider

California Spider

Summary

  • Year of manufacture 
    1961
  • Car type 
    Other
  • Lot number 
    129
  • Drive 
    LHD
  • Condition 
    Used
  • Location
  • Exterior colour 
    Other

Description

PROVENANCE
Italauto SA, Lausanne, Switzerland (acquired new in December 1961)
M. Babour, Switzerland (believed to be the original owner)
Stephen L. Safran, Grenoble, France (acquired in 1965 via Italauto SA)
Bob Grossman, Nyack, New York (acquired from the above in 1968)
Pierre de Siebenthal, Lausanne, Switzerland (acquired by 1979)
Emilio Gnutti, Brescia, Italy (acquired circa 1998)
Current Owner (acquired from the above)

EXHIBITED
Monza Historic Races, Italy, April 1981
Stella Alpina Rally, Italy, July 2008
Belgian Grand Prix, Spa-Francorchamps, August 2014 (Official Parade Car)

LITERATURE
Stanley Nowak, Ferrari Spyder California, pictured and discussed on p. 169
George M. Carrick, The Spyder California, chassis no. listed on p. 69
Hilary A. Raab Jr., Ferrari Serial Numbers Part I, chassis no. listed on p. 38

THIS CAR
In late 1957, just as production of Pinin Farina’s Series I Cabriolet was getting underway, a new open 250 GT variant was being developed for the booming North American market. Ferrari’s leading US dealers, Luigi Chinetti and John von Neumann, impressed upon the factory the need for a simple, dual-purpose 250 GT Spider – a car that could be used to commute during the week and then raced with success on the weekend.

As a result, Ferrari produced the California Spider, a high-performance 250 GT with striking coachwork by Carrozzeria Scaglietti. As its name suggested, the California Spider was aimed at a very specific segment of Ferrari’s American clientele – young, well-heeled enthusiasts who wanted a stylish, thoroughbred sports car that was equally at home on road or track. Like other high-end European sports cars built for the American market, the California Spider featured a racy, swept-back windscreen, minimal interior appointments, a lightweight folding top, and supportive competition-inspired bucket seats. The earliest examples were built on the long-wheelbase (LWB) chassis shared with the 250 GT Tour de France Berlinetta and Series I Cabriolet, and it was not until late 1959 that the California Spider was finally made available with disc brakes and tubular shock absorbers.

Faithful to its original concept, the LWB California Spider was often put to use as a GT racing car and several examples were factory-equipped with competition features such as aluminum coachwork, high-lift camshafts, and long-range fuel tanks with outside fillers. In this form, California Spiders achieved a remarkable degree of success in racing, including a 5th Place finish at Le Mans, a class win at Sebring, and many victories in SCCA B-production events.

With the introduction of Ferrari’s short-wheelbase (SWB) Berlinetta in 1960, the California Spider was thoroughly redesigned to complement its new stablemate. When compared to its predecessor, the 250 GT SWB California Spider benefitted from a much more sophisticated chassis, with standard four-wheel Dunlop disc brakes, a more refined suspension, and new outside-plug Tipo 168 and 168/61 engines.

Scaglietti redesigned the California Spider’s coachwork around the updated chassis, resulting in a much more aggressive and sporting appearance, with curvaceous front fenders and muscular rear haunches. While the earlier LWB California Spiders featured a rather spartan interior, the updated SWB variant was more luxuriously trimmed. Stitched leather took the place of wrinkle-finish paint on the dashboard, wool carpeting replaced rubber floor mats, and redesigned seats made the new car more comfortable for long journeys.

Despite being a more refined and well-rounded sports cars, the SWB California Spiders were true thoroughbreds, with several examples raced at major European events such as the 24 Hours of Le Mans and the Targa Florio. Between 1957 and 1963, Ferrari built just 106 examples of the 250 GT California Spider – 50 of the early LWB version and 56 of the final SWB variant.

The Ferrari 250 GT presented here, chassis 3095 GT, is among the most desirable SWB California Spiders, as it features the highly attractive covered headlight treatment that Scaglietti applied to 37 of the 56 examples built. In addition to this significant distinction, this is one of a limited number of SWB California Spiders factory-equipped with an optional hardtop and a distinctive passenger-side headrest.

Originally finished in the splendid color scheme of Blu Metallizzato (Metallic Blue) with red leather upholstery, 3095 GT was equipped with features typical of the late-production SWB models: a Tipo 168/61 engine, three Weber 40 DCL 6 carburetors, Abarth Lusso exhaust system, white-faced Veglia instruments, and polished Borrani wire wheels wearing Pirelli Cinturato tires.

As completed on December 19, 1961, 3095 GT was the 33rd SWB California Spider built. It was delivered new to Baron Emmanuel de Graffenried’s official Ferrari dealership, Italauto SA in Lausanne, Switzerland. Little is known of the car’s first owner except that his name was M. Babour and that he had his California Spider serviced and maintained at the Ferrari factory’s assistenza clienti in Modena through May 1964. According to the research of Ferrari historian Marcel Massini, 3095 GT may have been owned or used by Gunter Sachs, the famous German industrialist, filmmaker, and international playboy, in late 1964 or early 1965, while he was living in Saint-Raphael, France.

Despite these early mysteries, it is well documented that Stephen Safran, an American medical student living in Grenoble, France, purchased 3095 GT in 1965 from Italauto SA. Over the next three years, Mr. Safran used the elegant California Spider as his daily driver, installing a discreet key-operated alarm to keep the car safe and modifying the accelerator pedal to aid in heel-and-toe shifting while driving at speed. Garage Montchoisy in Switzerland and Piero Drogo in Italy maintained the California Spider for Safran until he moved to England in 1968. Soon after arriving in England, the California’s engine “swallowed a valve” and was sent to Col. Ronnie Hoare’s Maranello Concessionaires for a rebuild.

Later that year, Safran returned to the US and traded in his aging California Spider to New York sports car dealer Bob Grossman for a new Jaguar E-Type and cash. The entire deal was valued at just $7,500 and the blue Ferrari was then repainted red in hopes of attracting an American buyer.

From there, 3095 GT is thought to have remained in the US until it was sold to Pierre de Siebenthal of Lausanne, Switzerland, in the late 1970s. A fascinating character, de Siebenthal was an amateur racing driver, mechanic, and proprietor of a scrapyard, famed for its sprawling collection of forlorn exotics, where everything from Aston Martins to Lamborghinis could be found in varying states of disrepair. Though many remember him for these lesser cars, de Siebenthal owned a number of important Ferraris, from a 166 MM to a 250 LM, which he often entered in historic racing events.

This car was surely one of de Siebenthal’s prized possessions, and, in April 1981, he entered the California Spider in the historic races at Monza. A series of photos shows the 20-year-old Ferrari in race-ready trim – wearing Swiss dealer plates, with its bumpers removed and competition SNAP exhaust extractors fitted.

In the early 1980s, de Siebenthal sold the California Spider to an American enthusiast; however, it wasn’t long before the car returned to Europe, eventually joining a private collection in France. In the 1990s, 3095 GT was sold to Emilio Gnutti of Brescia, Italy, a respected collector with a stable of outstanding road and racing Ferraris, ranging from a 375 MM Berlinetta to a Series I Cabriolet.

In 2004, both a FIVA Identity Card and an ASI Certificato di Identita were issued for the Ferrari, each bearing the desirable A/3 classification. Two years later, Sig. Gnutti had the California Spider certified by the Ferrari Classiche Department, which, in fall 2006, issued the Certificazione di Autenticita for 3095 GT and confirmed that the car retains its original chassis, body, engine, and other important mechanical components.

The current owner, a gentleman with a collection of the finest sports and racing cars, has been an excellent steward for the Ferrari and has gone to great lengths to enhance its already superb presentation. Over the past several years, the car has been looked after by respected UK specialist Tim Samways Sporting & Historic Car Engineers Ltd., which performed an engine rebuild and other important service work as recently as 2014.

The California Spider has continued to benefit from regular care and exercise, and, most recently, it has been kept at the owner’s winter home in the south of France – an ideal locale for the glamorous open Ferrari. While in the current ownership, 3095 GT also made a memorable appearance at the Belgian Grand Prix in August 2014, when it served as the official parade car for Scuderia Ferrari driver Kimi Raikkonen.

Though the Ferrari can most certainly be used and enjoyed in its current condition, its as-delivered specification is most appealing. There is no denying that this covered-headlight SWB California Spider would be a particularly striking example finished in its original Blu Metallizzato, with a matching hardtop and red leather upholstery, though it should be noted that a hardtop does not accompany the car. Unlike many top-tier Ferraris, 3095 GT has not yet been the subject of a full restoration, and it has not made the rounds at various concours d’elegance, offering its new owner the rare pleasure of being the first to exhibit such an important 250 Ferrari at the most exclusive international events.

Amazingly, the last time that 3095 GT was offered for public sale in the US was in the late 1960s, a time when only the cognoscenti knew that a California Spider was something truly special and not just another used Italian sports car. In the decades that have passed since, the Ca