Ferrari 250 GT Berlinetta SWB
What you are looking at here is £10 million-worth of knee-wiltingly beautiful Ferrari. The Ferrari 250 SWB stands as the exception to the rule that says road cars are almost as bad at being race cars as race cars are at being road cars. It did both, and it did both brilliantly.
The 250 SWB (the 250 referring to its individual cylinder capacity in cubic centimentres, the SWB to its shortened wheelbase), also represented the end of an era for Ferrari. For this was the last time Ferrari would make a road car that with little or no modification could be raced successfully at events as big and important as the Le Mans 24 Hours. Okay, you could say the same about the legendary 250 GTO that succeeded it, but only in the most literal sense: the GTO was only designed that way to get around the rules and was actually a pure racing car.
By contrast, SWBs came first, second, third and fourth in their class at Le Mans in 1960 and even third overall in 1961, yet the car you see here never raced in period but was bought new by a Florentine doctor and used as his daily driver. So suited to its double life was the SWB that when Stirling Moss used one to win the RAC Tourist Trophy race at Goodwood in 1960, he did so while listening to songs and commentary of the race he was leading courtesy of the radio installed in the car. Indeed, Moss would enter eight races in SWBs and win seven of them, not a bad record, even for one such as he.
It’s tempting to go looking for its secret, that technological breakthrough that enabled it to be at the same time probably the most desirable road car and the most successful GT racer of its era. But there is none. In fact the Ferrari 250 SWB is a very traditional car, even by the standards of 55 years ago.
It had a state-of-the-ark ladder chassis, albeit with some tubular steel strengthening, and an engine whose basic design dated back to the 1940s. True, it also had independent front suspension, but by then so did everything else, while its live rear axle was decidedly passé, even in 1960. Its gearbox had just four speeds, and while it was the first Ferrari to be fitted with discs brakes all round as standard, Jaguar had been using them since the early 1950s. As so often was the case with early Ferraris, the secret was not the ingredients, but the recipe.
For a start, the 250 SWB was very light, or at least the 72 that were made with all aluminium bodies were. The remaining 104 had predominately steel bodies and were heavier to the tune of perhaps 100kg.
Then there is that engine: it might have been old, but it was powerful, offering 260-280bhp according to specification from its 3.0-litre V12 configuration. The SWB’s record in long-distance racing also demonstrated almost unbustable reliability, so even when it couldn’t outpace the opposition, it could generally outlast it.
As for the suspension, it may not have been sophisticated, but it was so well developed and inspired such confidence in the driver that the car could be driven far harder than a technically more advanced solution that proved trickier on the limit.
The interior is as ineffably stylish as it is ergonomically inept. The alloy-spoked, wood-rimmed steering wheel is huge, the Veglia dials gorgeous.
What more to say about this classic of classics? We could go on and on for days, but will leave it at that. Just sit back and enjoy the wallpaper.
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