The Ferrari 250 GT SWB that enabled ‘gentlemen racers’ to beat the professionals
First introduced in 1959, the Ferrari 250 GT SWB quickly built up a reputation on the world’s race circuits. In 1960, the car’s first full race season, it achieved class wins at Brands Hatch, Goodwood, Le Mans, Monza and Spa.
In 1961 Ferrari introduced some modifications to the 250 GT SWB in an effort to keep it competitive, giving the engine bigger valves and a higher compression ratio as well as high-lift cams and twin-choke carburettors.
The success of these modifications meant that the 1961 model featured in this book – chassis 2689GT – has an interesting history and story to tell.
The car was first owned by Pierre Noblet, an amateur racer, and was in fact a replacement for chassis 2021GT, one of the original 250 GT SWBs, which was badly damaged at Clermont-Ferrand by his friend Pierre Damay. Being a true gentleman, as they were back in those days, Damay ordered a new 250 GT SWB to replace the one he damaged. The new car was delivered in early 1961 but too late for the pre-Le Mans test. However, Noblet managed to have the car ready for the race itself. Along with fellow amateur racing driver Jean Guichet, the two drivers were undeterred and drove the 250 GT SWB to an impressive class-winning third place overall, only beaten by two factory-run Ferrari 250 TRI/61s.
The car’s racing career was a short one, but it did go on to win at Monza and on the old Brussels street circuit before being exported to America, where the car unfortunately fell into disrepair.
The car has however now been fully restored to its ’61 specification and is currently owned by much respected Californian car collector Bruce Meyer.
The Ferrari 250 GT SWB is certainly considered to be one of the all-time greatest Ferraris, and perhaps even the greatest of all sports cars ever produced. The 250 GT SWB handled superbly on the road and was near-invincible in the GT racing category, giving Ferrari the title for GT Manufacturers in 1960 and 1961, and is today, over half a century later, one of the most coveted cars ever produced in Maranello. This was a car that even by today’s standards was quick, being able to achieve the 0-60mph sprint in just 6.7 seconds and go onto a top speed of 158mph.
This beautifully produced and entertaining hardback 128-page book, written by author and journalist Richard Heseltine, and priced at just £30, tells the story of chassis number 2689’s all too brief but successful competition career, and of the Ferrari 250 GT SWB in more general terms. It is the latest book in Porter Press’s Exceptional Cars Series.
The book is divided up into three parts, with Part 1 delving into the car itself and how its low-key introduction did not detract from the fact that the Ferrari 250 GT quickly became one of the talking points of the 1959 Paris Motor Show, and how over the following two race seasons, it would leave an indelible mark on the international sports car racing scene.
Chapter 1 talks about the introduction of the 250 GT SWB and includes some wonderful black and white photographs of the car along with photographs of the original factory build sheets for chassis 2689GT.
Chapter 2 looks at Ferrari and the Gran Turismo ideal. Enzo Ferrari’s legend preceded him, and he was an intense and intimidating type of person. Having originally run Alfa Romeos under the Scuderia Ferrari banner, he started producing cars under the Ferrari name in 1947, with Le Mans being deemed more important to him than Formula 1 for a period of time. It was in fact Alberto Ascari who was the first Ferrari driver to win the World Championship when it ran to F2 regulations in 1952 and 1953. “Within only a few years, the Ferrari mystique was already in full bloom. By 1952 the firm had grown exponentially.”
Chapter 3 goes into details about the rise of the 250-series, with racing drivers Phil Hill and Mike Hawthorne, who became Britain’s first World Champion, both racing Ferrari 250s.
Charles Pozzi first displayed the Ferrari 250GT Berlinetta at the October 1959 Mondial de l’Automobile, not Ferrari. It appeared alongside the only example of the recently introduces 250 GT Cabriolet and although the stand was small, it was prominent and was the centre of attention at the show. Chapter 4 goes into details of how the Short Wheelbase was met with very little fanfare by the international motoring media and talks about the technical specification of the car. For example, the 2953.2cc engine was from the latest Tipo 168B 3-litre, twin-cam. It had borgo alloy pistons and featured a 12-port, 250TR-style cylinder heads and individual branch exhausts. It had a triple Weber 40DZ/DCL six-carburettor set-up, although some road cars came with Solex PAA L carburettors. The rear suspension was made up of semi-elliptic leaf springs with a live axle differential assembly, plus limited-slip mechanism. It had disc brakes on all four wheels and although there was very little in the way of servo assistance for the race cars, road cars were fitted with a Bendix servo. The car’s steering was a new ZF steering box design. Whilst Ferrari claimed that the 250 GT could to the 0-60mph dash in just 6.7 seconds and achieve a top speed of 158mph, the competition versions produced around 35-40bhp more and combined with their lighter panel work, meant that they could reach a top speed of over 165mph.
Lusso SWBs came well-equipped, with leather-clad seats, door cards and dashboard. The competition cars got an aluminium-panelled dashboard, finished in crackle-black paint. Both came fitted with a wood rim, alloy spoked steering wheel.
Chapter 5 tells the story of the 250 GT SWB’s track debut and successes, with the 1960 Sebring 12 Hours being its first outing of any significance. Chapter 6 then goes into detail about the car’s further development if it was to maintain its competitive edge on the racetrack. The engine was uprated with an increase in compression ratio thanks to a new Testa Rossa-type cylinder heads and bigger valves. This increased the car’s performance, producing 280-295bhp at 7,000rpm and allowed the engine to rev higher. This meant the 0-60mph time dropped to 5 seconds and a 160mph top speed was more attainable.
Chapter 7 talks about the early years at Ferrari and the key roles Pininfarina and others played. During the 1950s, Ferrari only produced small series runs of their road cars. Maranello was only a small boutique enterprise, often producing one-off cars for the rich and famous. Enzo Ferrari then forged a successful relationship with Gino Scaglietti and by the mid-1950s, Scaglietti had become the de facto body builder for Ferrari’s sports racing cars. While it was Pininfarina that styled the 275GTB, 365GTB/4 Daytona and other 1960s road cars, it was Scaglietti’s new firm that manufactured the bodyshells in volume. By 1969 Ferrari had transformed itself from being a small boutique car producer to mass production manufacturer. It was also in 1969 that Enzo Ferrari sold his majority shareholding in the marque he founded to Fiat. At around the same time, Carrozzeria Scaglietti became a limited company, with its shares divided between Fiat, Ferrari and the founder’s family. In 1975 Carrozzeria Scaglietti became a Ferrari subsidiary.
The rest of the chapter talks about some of the key engineers, designers and drivers at Ferrari, such as Giotto Bizzarrini, Mauro Forghieri, Carlo Chiti and of course Pierre Noblet, the unabashed amateur ‘gentleman’ racing driver and his friend and fellow driver Jean Guichet.
In Part 2 of the book Richard Heseltine goes into detail about the 250 GT SWB’s racing career, starting with the 1961 Le Mans 24 Hours and Paris 1000 Kilometres at the L’Autodrome de LInas-Montihéry. Chapter 9 continues with the car’s track career in 1962, where Noblet contested more races, having only picked the ones he wanted to race in the year before. These included Coupe de Bruxelles in April, the Grand Prix de Spa in May as well as the Nürburgring 1000 kilometres and the Trophée d’Auvergne in July.
Part 3 of the book is dedicated to the car’s life after racing having been sold by Pierre Noblet. It was resprayed ‘resale’ red and exported to the United States where it was owned by several people, all the time deteriorating. It was then rescued in the 1970s and restored to its former glory, which took almost 10 years to complete. There are some wonderful photographs showing the different stages of the restoration process which was meticulously carried out. The current owner, Bruce Meyer, maintains the car in pristine condition along with the other classic and rare cars he houses in his museum in California.
Having recently completed its nine-year restoration, in 1984 Cavallino put the car through its paces, driven by Formula Atlantic champion Don Marvin, who drove the car at Sears Point Raceway. Then in 2010 Dave Lillywhite featured 2689GT in Octane magazine, driving the car along canyon roads north-west of Los Angeles. So in chapter 11 you can read these two driver’s impressions of this historic car in its current guise.
Chapter 12 goes into details about the 250 GT SWB’s current owner Bruce Meyer, founding chairman of the Petersen Automotive Museum and member of the Bonneville 200 MPH Club. Just like 2689GT, the majority of Meyer’s collection have wonderful back stories and I particularly like one of his favourite sayings, that perhaps sums up his approach to car ownership: ‘You’re never too old to have a happy childhood.’
The final chapter of the book is a wonderfully illustrated photo gallery of the beautifully restored 2689GT, where the car’s overall beauty and design details look really striking photographed under perfect studio lighting. Back in the 1960s most Ferraris were painted red, so the Noblet car stood out from the crowd with its metallic silver body and rather distinctive blue stripe.
Shropshire based Richard Heseltine, who is both an author and journalist, focusses his writing on classic and contemporary cars and motor sport history. He was a former staff member of Classic & Sports Car and Motor Sport magazines, and is the author of a wide variety of books as diverse as small-series British sports cars, Italian coachbuilding and Ferrari design history, to the biography of racing driver and team principal Graham Warner.
Publication date: January 2020
UK Price: £30.00
Format: 240 x 280mm landscape, Jacketed hardback
Illustration: over 120 images
Exceptional Cars Series No. 8
Ferrari 250 GT SWB – The remarkable history of 2689GT
By Richard Heseltine
Published by Porter Press International
For more information and to purchase your own copy of the book, please visit the Porter Press website: https://porterpress.co.uk
Simon Burrell is Editor of Our Man Behind The Wheel, a professional photographer and former saloon car racing driver.
Illustrations courtesy of Porter Press International