Well here we are. I am writing this blog as an expression of my love of all things automobile. My interest in cars began young (read my bio for more info on that) but it didn’t really get going until I was in my early 20s when I discovered vintage and classic cars. I think it’s fitting then that I begin this blog with a post dedicated to the car that sparked my love of classic cars, the Ferrari 250 GTE.First, a very brief history of Ferrari. The founder of Ferrari, Enzo Ferrari, decided to set up his own car racing business after leaving Maserati in the mid-1940s. Mr. Ferrari was building race cars and having some good successes by the late 1950s, but was still producing very low volume cars–meaning that he would produce a very small number of examples of each car he produced. By the very late 1950s he saw a new market beginning to open up. Maserati and Aston Martin were both building luxury sports road cars with slightly detuned versions of their racing engines and having some success at selling them. (This is the highly simplified version of events…purists and jerks, please don’t write to me to explain all the details of racing homologation regulations. I’m trying to keep things simple here.)
Ferrari had been building two-seater sports cars for about a decade when Enzo Ferrari decided it was time to branch out and build a 2+2. Enzo Ferrari’s son Piero has stated that Enzo liked 2+2 cars as it allowed him to travel in comfort with a driver and a dog. (A 2+2 is a fancy way of saying it’s a car with a backseat.) Ferrari had already been having success with the 250 series of cars–and that success would continue well into the 1960s. The automotive designer Pininfarina was selected to design the new GT car. It was the first series-produced 2+2 for Ferrari and the first design for them to be tested in a wind tunnel.
The GTE debuted as a marshall vehicle at Le Mans in 1960. It was officially unveiled to the public at the Paris auto show that same year. The new Ferrari was more luxurious than other Ferraris had been at the time with a high quality full leather interior featuring more padding for the seats and a good sized backseat that would fit adults. The wood rimmed Nardi steering wheel and Veglia gauges rounded out the look on the inside.
Outside the car has an understated elegance but look closely and its sporting attitude is evident. Sitting on Borrani wire wheels with a raked rear window and tail the GTE looked like it was in motion while sitting still.
Ferrari used the Gioacchino Colombo designed V12 engine (Tipo 128E–the “E” was tacked on to the Gran Turismo designation which gave the car the GTE name). Producing 240hp the car would hit 60mph in 7 seconds and keep pulling up to it’s 140mph top speed. Racing driver Phil Hill took the car from 0-100-0 with 3 people on board in just 25 seconds! The chassis was the short-wheelbase format with the engine moved forward a few inches to make room for the rear seats. It utilized an independent front suspension, 4-wheel disc brakes, and a 4 speed transmission with overdrive.
The GTE stayed in production for just 3 years but during that time it became the most commercially successful Ferrari up to that time with 955 made. Though it was successful for Ferrari it did not best its rivals in sales. With an $11,000 price tag (at a time when the average new home in America cost $16,500) the Ferrari sat between the $10,500 Aston Martin DB4 and the $11,400 Maserati 3500 GT. Though it was competitively priced and well-matched the performance of the other two cars the GTE was unable to outsell its rivals.
The GTE underwent minor cosmetic changes twice, creating what are now known as Series II and Series III cars. Series II cars were built only in 1962. The difference was only a minor revision to the interior and dash. Series III cars came in 1963 and had more substantial changes including a revision of the rear suspension to improved handling, and changes to the rear taillights (now one unit) and the driving lamps were moved from the grille to below the headlights.
In 1962 the Italian police commissioned Ferrari to build them two suped up GTEs to aide them in capturing members of the Roman mob who had been able to embarass the police by using Ferraris to outrun them. The first car was totaled–reportedly broken in two!–in a road accident during testing. The second car was delivered and is still in the possession of the Roman police today. It was used successfully for a decade and was involved in several legendary police chases.
In 1963 the last 50 GTEs were given the new 4-liter V12 engine from the 400 Superamerica. In slightly detuned spec the engine now gave the car 300hp. These 50 cars only were badged as 330 Americas. They are the most desirable of the GTEs–for obvious reason–and are quite rare with only 25 thought to still exist.
It is believed that of the 955 GTEs built only around 500 still survive today. The GTE was not a particularly well-loved model as time passed–and to a certain extent they still aren’t, which is a real shame–and in the 1980s it became popular to buy them and chop them up into replicas of other more valuable 250-series Ferraris (like the GTO). In the last couple of years values for GTEs have risen, though mainly this can be attributed to the overall rise in prices for all 250-series cars.
I can’t really explain why I love the 250GTE. There is something about the car that just seems exotic. The shape of the body, the chrome, the dash…all of it could not have come from any other time. It invites daydreams of a bygone era when a gentleman’s express like the GTE would whisk a man in a well-tailored suit and his elegantly attired lady friend along to the kinds of locales and soirees of la dolce vita. In the end the fantasy of these classic cars is part of their allure. Vintage Ferraris always seem to live up to the hype. They’re impossibly glamorous. The 250GTE is an excellent looking car that happens to go fast and sound great as well. It’s a shame that it hasn’t gotten the attention and respect that it deserves. Here’s hoping that changes.