The It Car

In the late 1950s, Ferrari’s stunning success in the Tour de France made its long-wheelbase 250 GT the car to have in European sports-car racing.

July 20, 2012
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To adequately describe this car, we’d have to call it a 1957 Ferrari 250 GT LWB Berlinetta Scaglietti “Tour de France,” three-louver version. That’s a bit of a mouthful but necessary, because cars produced in small numbers by specialist constructors—especially those involved in racing—tend to constantly evolve, and very few are the same.

Ferrari was still quite young in 1957, its first car—the 125 S—having been built just ten years earlier. Nonetheless, the company’s first decade had yielded an impressive tally of racing successes: three Grand Prix World Championships, three World Sportscar Championships, a staggering seven victories in the Mille Miglia and two at the 24 Hours of Le Mans.

During this early period, Ferrari labelled its cars with a number—rather strangely, this reflected the capacity of just one of the engine’s cylinders—followed by some form of meaningful identification such as F1, F2, Indy or GT, or Monza, Mexico or Mille Miglia. Thus, our featured car, a 12-cylinder 250 Gran Turismo, has a displacement of 3.0 liters—2,953cc, to be precise. The LWB reference, for long wheelbase, is to differentiate this 2,600mm car from the later 2,400mm SWB versions. Berlinetta, the car’s closed-cockpit, two-seat, fastback-style configuration, and Scaglietti, its coachbuilder, are straightforward, but Tour de France, often shortened to TdF? That calls for a bit of explanation.

THE FERRARI TDF’S LINEAGE begins with the 250 S, a special or prototype built for the 1952 Mille Miglia. This Berlinetta was fitted with a new 200-plus horsepower 3.0-liter version of the Gioacchino Colombo-designed, 60-degree V12 engine. A smaller, 2,562cc 150-hp version had powered the not-dissimilar 212 to victory in the 1951 Carrera Panamericana, so great things were expected of the 250 S.

Ferrari wasn’t to be disappointed: The 250 S, driven by Giovanni Bracco and Alfonso Rolfo, fended off the might of the Mercedes works team and its 300 SLs to take a glorious win in atrocious conditions. In honor of this triumph, the 250 MM (for Mille Miglia) Berlinetta emerged in 1953 with 240 horses under the hood and a sleeker body by Pinin Farina.

In ’54, the Colombo V12 was first installed in a street car, the 250 Europa GT, kicking off that famous line of road-going 3-liter Ferraris. For 1956, Pinin Farina started production of its replacement, the 250 GT coupe, and Scaglietti created a matching race car, the 250 GT Competizione.

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