x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 23 January 2018

The great pretender

Only 39 of the much revered Ferrari 250 GTOs were ever built and, as Kyle Fortune finds out, this isn’t one of them.

This replica 250 GTO is so much like the original that a Ferrari specialist gives it nine and a half out of 10, and it could save you a few million, too. David Smith
This replica 250 GTO is so much like the original that a Ferrari specialist gives it nine and a half out of 10, and it could save you a few million, too. David Smith

One hundred and fifty million dollars. That's one rather conservative estimate of the value of the cars lining up on the grid for the RAC Tourist Trophy at the Goodwood Revival in 2011. Old metal, lots of it, driven hard during the premier race on the historic racing calendar. It's conservative as, among the AC Cobras, Aston Martin Zagatos and numerous Ferraris, there are several Ferrari 250 GTOs. Not even the very rare Shelby Daytona AC Cobra, which won, can detract from the Ferraris, 250 GTOs having near mythical status in the classic car world.

And it's for good reason. The 250 GTO helped Ferrari win the GT manufacturer's world championship three times from 1962 to 1964. Just 39 were built, which somewhat makes a mockery of the FIA's homologation rules that required 100 to roll off the production lines before being allowed to go racing. GTO itself stands for Gran Tourismo Omologato (homologation), underlining that this 250 was the car Ferrari designed and built for racing. It used a 250 GT swb chassis, a 3.0L V12 engine from a 250 Testa Rossa and a body sculpted by Sergio Scaglietti over a tubular frame.

That is nothing too revolutionary for the '60s - all Ferrari's competition were doing much the same. It's only in the past two decades or so that the GTO has become such a revered car. Once changing hands for tens of thousands of dollars and used by wealthy playboys on the road, the 250 GTO has been elevated to the most sought-after Ferrari among serious, and extremely wealthy, collectors. Prices are incredible, with one of the most recent recorded sales to UK DJ Chris Evans in 2010. The car cost him $18 million (Dh66.1m).

Back at Goodwood, weeks later, the pit lane echoes to the sound of a track day. Modern, fuel-injected engines, not carburettor-fed V8s or V12s here, the intoxicating reek of fuel replaced by the tantalising smell of breakfast baps and coffee. The sun is out, as it always seems to be at Goodwood when the car we're waiting for arrives.

There's a V12 crackle from the narrow tunnel under the pit-straight, the 250 GTO's sound arriving before its shape. It's a stunning thing, the Scaglietti-formed lines among the most beautiful on any car. The GTO was created when wind tunnels were in their infancy so its lines were lovingly sculpted rather than mathematically measured.

The shaping of the bonnet, with its long snout containing a small oval grille and three additional horseshoe-shaped holes, is among the most recognised among classic car enthusiasts. It could only be GTO, the headlamps sitting low and in front of the wheels, the wings punctured on their flanks to vent hot air away from the 3.0L V12 engine mounted up front, but far back behind the front axle.

The bonnet's low profile helps it cut through the air as efficiently as anything could be reasonably expected to in the 1960s. Chrome surrounds the headlamps, the small grille opening housing the prancing horse and the windows, but otherwise the GTO is devoid of superfluous decoration, as you'd expect in a car designed to go racing.

There are subtle differences between all the GTOs and it's particularly true of the bodywork, with some featuring two vents on their flanks, others three. Likewise, some feature four driving lights up front, others having them removed for extra cooling air for the brakes and engine. This car has two vents in front of the door's leading edge, while a pair of driving lights are partnered by two intakes under the bonnet.

The shapely flanks roll away from the raised front wings, the small doors simply formed before the arches swell over the large profile rear tyres covering the spoked wheels. It rises and falls down to the truncated rear, the kicker spoiler across the back sitting atop a near Kamm tail. Within it sits the number plate, the turn and brake lights and, on this example, a North American Racing Team (NART) Ferrari badge. Underneath sit four exhausts; above, a chromed fuel cap.

The racing sparseness is continued inside. Chrome gearshift gate aside, there's little adornment or decoration. The cockpit is for driving, the racing belts and cage underlining this. The Veglia instrumentation is simple and clear, the 3.0L V12's 7,500rpm maximum denoted by the smallest of red markers. Toggle switches and a crackle finish on the dash, three pipes for cooling air and painted, riveted metal makes up the interior. The control surfaces are tactile, though. The large metal ball topping the tall gearstick feels wonderful in your hand and the thin-rimmed wooden steering wheel is heavy as you turn it initially but lightens on the move.

Push and turn the key and the V12 fires. A flare of revs isn't essential but impossible to resist, as your foot hits the accelerator. It's pure GTO but it's also time to confess.

This isn't one of the 39. It's a recreation, a car that's been built without thoughts to budget to perfectly replicate the 250 GTO. What it isn't, is a replica based on modern underpinnings. Underneath it's a period-correct Ferrari. Built on a shortened 250 GTE chassis, the body took two years to hand-build in Italy. Joe Macari, the Ferrari specialist who's currently looking after the car, has seen a few GTO re-creations but considers this the very best he's worked on. Nine and a half out of 10, he admits, describing it as close to the real GTO as is possible without actually being one.

Being a period car itself, it has FIA papers, allowing it to race in classic championships. In reality, it's little different to what might have happened in the '60s, when it wasn't unusual for sports and racing cars to be re-bodied. Indeed, one of the 250 GTO's race track rivals was the so-called 250 Breadvan, a re-bodied 250 SWB built by ex-Ferrari chief mechanic and body specialist Peiro Drogo. It's now worth millions.

Pushing the gear lever from the dogleg first through the open gate to second, it feels pretty authentic inside. The interior ricochets with the glorious sound and vibrations of the 300hp V12 pulling hard. The gearshift is accurate, but it requires a bit of patience, particularly on downshifts where heal-and-toe throttle blips smooth progress dramatically. The five-speeder is pleasingly physical though, there being huge reward when you time your shifts right. The engine doesn't feel like its age, the 12-cylinder unit's response immediate and strong.

It takes a while to get comfortable in the GTO. The steering is heavy at slow speeds and the brakes need a firm shove to get to work, but lean on it and this Ferrari rewards enormously. It gets so much better as the speed piles on. The suspension is beautifully compliant, the high sidewalls of the tyres and relatively soft dampers allowing the GTO to shrug off ripples and bumps that would have a modern sports car skipping and bobbing.

The feel through the thin wooden steering wheel is delightful, with the weighting just on the right side of heavy to make you work the car through bends. It's physical, rewarding and enjoyable in a way that nothing modern can touch for delicacy and feel. Perhaps even better than the real thing, as you're not hindered by the overriding fear of damaging it. Sure, if you can afford to buy one of the 39, such things may not worry you, but it's like an artwork that needs to be kept in special conditions - it's a victim of its own rarity and value.

Pricing such a recreation is tricky. Macari reckons this example could be worth anything up to £500,000 (Dh2.95m) such is the fastidious attention to detail and build accuracy. Small change compared to an original. For a useable GTO, a car that can be raced and enjoyed, it seems reasonable, too, especially in a world where new supercars often feature list prices with six zeros. And anyway, not many people could spot the difference.