by Yoav Gilad / 28 Apr 2014
Nowadays, it’s easy to forget just how humble Ferrari’s roots really are. They’ve won multiple Formula One championships in the last fifteen years (although recent results have been disappointing), have the backing of a large auto company with deep and broad resources, and are arguably the premier automotive brand in the world. But back in the 1960s, Ferrari was a small, independent manufacturer that sometimes had to ensure a car sold in order to pay the factory staff at the end of the week.
One story has it that they received four sets of Lucas electronics for evaluation and wound up installing them in customer cars so that they wouldn’t be wasted. There was no lying about it as the build-sheets include the Lucas info, rather than the usual Milanese Magnetti bits, but for a company so obsessed with competition and winning, wasting parts or money was anathema. And so Ferrari capitalized on every opportunity and sought every advantage.
And so it was with the GTO, one of Ferrari’s most well-known and beloved racecars, of which only thirty-six were built over three years. In 1962, Ferrari, seeking to build upon the success of the 250GT Short Wheelbase (SWB) berlinetta, claimed that they were going to build over one hundred (the quantity required by the FIA for homologation) GTOs and that they were evolutions of the 250GT SWB.
It certainly seemed plausible as 163 SWBs were built. And the GTO absolutely seemed like an evolution; it had the same layout and engine as the outgoing berlinetta. The two primary differences between the SWB and new GTO were the GTO’s far more aerodynamic body (that eliminated some of the high-speed lift on the SWBs) and modified rear suspension. The FIA was convinced and agreed that the GTO was a progression of the SWB.
However, three years later, the FIA realized that Ferrari was not, in fact, going to build anywhere remotely close to one-hundred GTOs. With only thirty-six examples of the 250GTO produced, Ferrari claimed that there was no point to building more as there weren’t any more buyers competent enough to race the car (whether or not they had the resources to build them is another matter altogether).
The racers that did drive the last of the GTOs enjoyed great success with them, however. In its first entry, the 1964 GTO of Phil Hill and Pedro Rodriguez won the 2000km of Daytona. In the following race, the same car finished first in class (seventh overall) and later on won its class in the three races of the Nassau TT at Hill’s hands.
Sadly, Ferrari’s ‘creative’ interpretation of rules cost them a GT car for the 1965 season. When Ferrari tried to claim that their new car, the 250 LM (derived from the 250 P) was a GT car, the FIA refused its homologation for two reasons. First, Ferrari once again claimed that their proposed entry was an evolution of the prior season’s car. This time however, Ferrari was claiming that the mid/rear-engine 250 LM was derived from the front-engine SWB and GTO. Second, and probably equally important to the FIA was the fact that Ferrari had duped them when it came to the GTO’s proposed production numbers.
It seems that the FIA was punishing Ferrari and wouldn’t be fooled twice. Had the cars been more similar there may have been grounds for dispute, but of course they weren’t. Amusingly, the 250LM wasn't even a 250 (the displacement of each individual cylinder, in cubic centimeters), for that matter; all but the first car were 275s, with 3.3L engines. The FIA's decision ultimately caused Ferrari to withdraw from the 1965 World Sportscar Championship, effectively handing it to Shelby's Cobras.
Special thanks to Mr. David Seibert and Ms. Morgan Theys.