50-Year Dream

A half-century after he fell for the model, David Wheeler found this 250 GTE.

Photo: 50-Year Dream 1
August 31, 2023

An early experience, encounter, or meeting can have such a strong impact that it remains with a person for life. That’s definitely the case with David Wheeler’s introduction to the world of Ferrari.

“When I was 15 years old in 1961, I saw my first Grand Prix, on a grainy black and white television,” Wheeler, now 77, recalls. “It was the British GP at Aintree, and Ferraris came first, second, and third in the pouring rain. I thought, Gosh, that’s good, must be an interesting car.

“Later that year, my parents, after much nagging from me, took me to the London Motor Show,” he continues. “That was the year the E-Type Jaguar was announced. Yes, the Jaguar was lovely, but there was a Ferrari stand with a silver 250 GT SWB and a white 250 GTE, and I fell in love with Ferrari at that point. I bought a Ferrari key fob, which I still have, and after that I followed Ferrari racing. The early ’60s were wonderful years for Ferrari sports car racing, they won pretty much everything.”

From that point on, Wheeler dreamed of owning a Ferrari. But as the years rolled by, work, wife, and kids took priority. The desire still burned strong, of course, and then came a twist.

“Unfortunately my marriage fell apart,” he says. “We sold our house and, in 1982, with my half of the money I bought a silver-blue 1974 365 GT4 2+2. I thought, To hell with a mortgage! The big V12 engine sounded wonderful and my two sons loved it.”

Photo: 50-Year Dream 2

S/n 2713 (in foreground) at the Nürburgring in 1962, parked next to Ferrari team transporter.

Wheeler later married again, and this time a couple of Ferrari 400s and a Testarossa—which wife Anne hated—followed. Then, in 2002, came another twist.

“Anne was made one of those job offers you don’t refuse and went to work in the United States,” Wheeler explains. “I was able to follow her with my job, so we sold up, including our cars, and moved to the U.S. in 2003.”

Once in America, Wheeler bought another Ferrari, this one a 550 Maranello.

“I made the mistake of buying a bright red one, which is a speeding ticket standing still,” he says. “But it was a lovely car and I enjoyed it, and I joined the Ferrari Club of America.

“I’d always wanted a 250 or a 330, a Colombo-engined car,” he continues. “In 2006, I went to a local Ferrari event and there was a Series 1 330 GT 2+2 for sale. A lot of people don’t like the Series 1 because of the four headlights, but I liked it, and the 330’s 4-liter engine is a little bit more powerful and torquey than the 250’s 3-liter engine. I ended up buying it.”

Photo: 50-Year Dream 3

Fred Wheeler, the current owner’s father, purchased the 250 GTE in 2011.

In 2011, Wheeler’s 92-year-old father, Fred, asked him what he should do with his savings. The answer was simple.

“Buy a classic Ferrari, Dad,” he replied. “That won’t lose value.” Tongue in cheek, he then added, “and you can leave it to me when you die.”

This is where our featured 250 GTE (s/n 2713GT) enters the picture. Wheeler, still living in America, found the black Ferrari for sale at New Forest Classic Cars in the south of England. New Forest had recently imported the car from America, apparently with the intention of restoring it.

“However, it was one of those ‘in between’ cars,” Wheeler says. “It was okay as it was, not great, and it would not have been viable to tear it down and re-build it. It would have cost more than the car was worth, so they decided to sell it.”

A deal was done, and Wheeler found himself the official owner of a classic Ferrari he’d never driven.

Photo: 50-Year Dream 4

S/N 2713 HAD CLEARLY led a full life; it was no pampered pet. Wheeler, who has been a member of the 250 Register since 2002 and editor of the 250 GTE Newsletter since 2014, researched its full history, which makes for very interesting reading.

The 250 GTE was first road-registered in September 1961 as MO 69170 by Ferrari itself; at the time, it was painted Beige Classico with a beige interior. In 1962 the car was photographed in the race paddock at the Nürburgring, next to the Ferrari race transporters, and in April 1963 it was snapped at the Modena Autodrome. It was even allegedly driven by Enzo himself to the 1962 Italian Grand Prix at Monza, and the following year was used by Ferrari works driver Mike Parkes as his company car.

Around this time, s/n 2713 was repainted Nocciola, or hazelnut. Eagle-eyed readers may have noted that the taillights seen in the Nürburgring photo are different from those on the car today, which are Series 3 lights. Indeed, this is just one of the many differences from standard that Wheeler has discovered. Others include altered bodywork around the front light and turn-signal area (which may have necessitated the re-spray), the fitment of coil springs in addition to the original leaf springs in back (which required a new rear axle), and a crude cutout in the transmission tunnel to access the Series 3 gearbox’s overdrive oil filler. These have led him to conclude that this car, often mistaken as a Series 3, is actually a Series 1 example that was used by Ferrari as a development mule for the Series 3, which was introduced in late ’62.

After Ferrari had no further use for it, in January 1964 the Italian registration was cancelled and s/n 2713 was exported to America and a buyer in Salt Lake City, Utah. Four years later it changed hands to another Utah resident, who soon after replaced its engine with one from a different 250 GTE (s/n 3225), which had been parted out. (S/n 2713’s original V12 was sold to Doc Roach and used in his hydroplane.) At this point, the Ferrari was repainted white and a black interior was installed.

Around 1986, s/n 2713 was purchased by Walter D. Hagstrom, Jr., also of Utah, who had it sprayed black in 2000. In 2004, Hagstrom sold the car to Richard Powers, who promptly entered it in an FCA Ferrari Challenge Rally, where he finished first in the Vintage class. That same year, s/n 2713 was one of 12 GTEs shown at Concorso Italiano during Monterey’s annual Car Week.

Photo: 50-Year Dream 5

Current owner David Wheeler.

Powers sold the Ferrari to Fantasy Junction in California in 2007. For the next four years, the car, seemingly a little unloved, bounced around the trade before ending up at New Forest Classic Cars.

“THERE WERE ALL SORTS of issues with the car,” Wheeler recalls. “The engine smoked a little, which they all seem to do, it had a vinyl interior instead of leather, it rattled, the wipers packed up, and all sorts.”

Wheeler sent s/n 2713 off to Carrs of Exeter, an official Ferrari dealer, for a mechanical refreshening and a leather re-trim, rather than a nut-and-bolt restoration. Carrs rebuilt the engine, had the overdrive unit serviced by a specialist, fitted a new differential from GTO Engineering, and resolved a plethora of other concerns.

“It was a rolling restoration,” says Wheeler. “Every time I drove it, something else reared its head, and it took two years on and off. But all the work done transformed the car.”

With Wheeler paying the refurbishment bills, he and his father agreed to become joint owners. Then, in 2015, with the Ferrari fully sorted, Wheeler brought s/n 2713 to live with him and Anne in Northern Virginia.

Photo: 50-Year Dream 6

“We went to three or four FCA Concours events, and in 2015 I organized the GTE gathering at Concorso Italiano, where we had 19 GTEs and three 330 Americas, which are indistinguishable from Series 3 GTEs until you look under the hood,” says Wheeler. “We have always welcomed 330 Americas, of which only 50 were built, to GTE Register events.

“We drove our car to Watkins Glen and 450 miles each way to Ohio,” he adds. “We had some great trips and nothing much went wrong. We did have the engine mounts changed, though.”

Wheeler’s enthusiasm for Ferrari and his GTE in particular grew stronger over the years. Between 2016 and 2020, he travelled around the world documenting and photographing as many GTEs as he could find, then wrote what some consider the definitive book on the model: “Ferrari 250 GTE: The family car that funded the racing.” Published by Porter Press and limited to just 750 copies, it was a real labor of love.

“The great thing about GTEs is that, until recently, they were all owned by people who were fans of that car and wanted that car,” says Wheeler. “They worked on them themselves, they exchanged technical information, where they got parts and so on. It’s quite a community. They all loved their cars. There are a lot of modern Ferrari owners who aren’t a member of any club and who have no idea about the history of Ferrari. It’s become more a lifestyle thing. My passion and interest is about the cars.

“954 examples were built,” he continues. “We estimate that about half of those still survive, and there are only 250 to 300 cars that are actually on the road, so they are quite rare. Remember that white GTE I saw on the London Motor Show stand in 1961? I found it in Edmonton, Canada. That was very exciting. The owner is restoring it himself, so it may take a while before we see it in public.

Photo: 50-Year Dream 7

“There are about 90 cars that we don’t know anything about. We know when they were built and what color they were, and then nothing. The odd one pops up now and again that has been stored away, such as Linton Connell’s Series 1 [“In For a Penny,” FORZA #188]. No one ever puts a Ferrari away that’s running well, they run them until they don’t go. Then they can’t afford to fix them or restore them, or it would cost more to fix than the car is worth, so they put them in a garage or barn and forget about them.”

WHEELER’S FATHER DIED in 2019, at age 100. A few years later, in 2022, David and Anne moved back to England, bringing s/n 2713 with them. What has the Ferrari been like to live with?

“It’s great fun,” Wheeler replies. “It’s got to have 12 cylinders as far as I am concerned, and this has. I also have an F12, which is a wonderful Grand Touring car and a technological marvel, but it’s not as much fun or as demanding to drive as the GTE. The noise of that Colombo V12 is just terrific. I have a Becker Mexico radio, but it’s never switched on as I prefer to listen to the engine.

“I have recently had a new set of Weber carbs fitted and now it revs more freely and goes like it should,” he adds. “The engine just keeps pulling. It doesn’t fall off the end of a cliff, it’s a nice smooth progression. I just love it. You can change gear and floor the throttle and it takes it and goes. I love the ability to take it up to 6,000 or 6,500 rpm and bang it into the next gear and floor it again. You’re still on the power curve and it keeps pulling. You feel as though you’re really flying along with all the noise, but you’re actually not. It’s only got 240 horsepower but it doesn’t weigh that much.

“It’s fairly well-mannered. It’s got a four-speed gearbox plus overdrive on top gear, so effectively five speeds. It’s fine in town and will tootle along at 1,500 rpm in second gear. There’s no drama, it doesn’t fluff or spit or stall. They’ve got a big radiator and will run fairly cool normally, as long as you’re moving. They don’t like sitting in traffic jams in hot weather, though. The radiator is quite a long way a way from the fan, so it’s not very effective at pulling air through. Originally they were fitted with a radiator blind for Italy in the winter. Mine hasn’t got one. We survived the heat of America, which is much hotter than it is here.”

Photo: 50-Year Dream 8

Wheeler displayed s/n 2713 at 2020 Cavallino Classic’s 250 GTE 60th Anniversary celebration.

How about handling?

“It rolls and understeers but you know it’s going to do that so you take that into account before you enter a corner,” says Wheeler. “It’s very predictable. Because it doesn’t have any transverse location on the rear axle, if you put cornering stress into it and hit a bump it will hop. It’s perfectly controllable, though. It has no power steering so it’s heavy to maneuver, but the rest of the time it’s perfectly weighted. It has vacuum-assisted four-wheel disc brakes which are fine.”

Wheeler took me for a spin, and, being a former hillclimb competitor, he didn’t spare the horses and wasn’t afraid to bury the throttle. It was an exhilarating experience and a cacophony of noise yet, as he had said, we weren’t going all that fast. It was a lesson in how to get your kicks without losing your license.

While the driving experience is one thing, reliability is often quite another when you’re dealing with vintage cars. How does the 250 GTE rate when it comes to maintenance and parts availability?

“They are not cheap to run, but they are pretty tough old things,” Wheeler says. “The secret is to keep using them. Don’t let them sit unused for long periods, they don’t like it. Put miles on a modern Ferrari and the value plummets, but nobody cares how many miles your old Ferrari has done, so use it.

“I run the engine on 99-octane, low or no-ethanol fuel, which helps,” he advises. “Also, find yourself a good, hands-on, practical mechanic who knows and really understands these cars, and knows where to get hold of spares. Parts availability is largely down to money. There’s not much ‘New Old Stock’ out there, although surprisingly there are still a few factory body panels left.”

Summing up, Wheeler says, “in Ferrari terms, I think GTEs are a good buy and they have the magic of a 250. According to those in the know, the 3 liter is the perfect version of the Colombo engine. It’s so nicely balanced. The 4-liter 330 that I owned had another 60 horsepower, and you do notice that. The 365 and 400s have more power and more torque and are easy to drive, but they are heavy. They are limos, really, and don’t have that edge to them that the GTE has. It is also by far the prettiest, so that wins it for me. I definitely won’t be selling mine; it will be passed to my sons.”

Also from Issue 209

  • SF90 XX Stradale and Spider
  • Roma Spider
  • One-off KC23
  • Replica 330 P4
  • Alessio Rovera interview
  • F1: Changing Conditions
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