The first version was bodied by Scaglietti (as were subsequent versions) and immediately showed its mettle during the very tough Tour de France. As a result it was often unofficially referred to as the TdF. After a new series was built with a 20 cm shorter wheel base, the longer first generation models were quickly nicknamed LWB, or long wheelbase.
The “Tour de France” series of cars were the competition orientated berlinetta versions of the 250 GT road cars, designed for racing in the GT category, and were produced from 1956 to 1959. The “Tour de France” part of the model title came from the great French endurance event for cars, rather than the even more famous one for bicycles of the same name.
Any manufacturer whose car won the event, was permitted by the organisers to use the event name as part of the model title. Hence, after winning the 1956 running of the event, Ferrari could use the nomenclature. Although never used officially, it has become the general term used to identify this series of berlinettas.
The bodies were designed by Pinin Farina and constructed in aluminium by Scaglietti. They were mounted on a 2600mm wheelbase chassis, that initially had factory reference number 508, gaining suffixes “B”, “C”, “D”, and “G” as minor developments were made, all were numbered in the odd number road car sequence carrying a “GT” suffix, generally constructed along the same lines as those of the concurrent 250 GT “Boano” and “Ellena” models, as were the mechanical components, like suspension, brakes, and steering, all examples being left hand drive.
The body shape underwent four evolutions during the production run, the first version in 1956 being very similar to the design seen on the 250 Europa GT berlinettas during 1955, but with tauter lines having a slimming effect on the appearance. In early 1957 the body underwent its first alterations, to provide a separate horizontal rear wing line with vertical light assemblies, in place of the rounded tail on the 1956 model. At the same time the wrap around rear screen was replaced by a smaller flatter Plexiglass screen bounded by sail panels featuring a row of fourteen tapering cabin exhaust air louvres.
The nose of the car was very similar to its predecessor, but the oval radiator grille with a recessed egg crate grille was shallower in depth, lightening the frontal appearance. In late 1957 for 1958 model year it was the front of the car that received the main metal surgery, with a redesigned radiator opening, and changed wing line that moved the headlights higher into recesses under clear perspex covers, concurrently the sail panel vent arrangement also altered to a triple louvre assembly. A number of examples were fitted with full width front and rear bumpers, whereas previously only small vertical bumperettes had been provided.
In 1959 the early models of the year were very similar to the 1958 model, except that the headlights were uncovered in shallow recesses at the wing extremities due to changes in Italian lighting legislation, although some foreign market cars retained a covered light arrangement, and the sail panel louvres became a single outlet. Equally, some earlier cars were changed to the open headlight layout at this time, when returned to the factory for maintenance or repair.
At the Le Mans 24 Hour Race, in June 1959, a completely new Pinin Farina body style for the berlinetta appeared, this has subsequently be given the unofficial nickname “Interim” to differentiate it from the more regular bodied 2600mm wheelbase berlinettas, and the subsequent 2400mm wheelbase berlinetta which it closely resembles, that replaced this series at the end of the year.
The main identifying feature of the “Interim” berlinetta, relative to its successor, is the small quarter light behind the door glass in the sail panel. Over the production period of the model apart from the “standard” series cars to the Pinin Farina design built by Scaglietti, there were five examples with varying designs of bodywork designed and constructed by Zagato on chassis numbers 0515GT, 0537GT, 0665GT, 0689GT and 1367GT.
The single overhead camshaft per bank 3 litre V12 engine, with factory type references 128, 128B, 128C and 128D, each being a progressive development of the Colombo designed “short” block unit, maintaining the capacity of 2953cc, with bore and stroke of 73mm x 58.8mm, and still with sparking plugs inside the vee of the block, fitted with a bank of three twin choke Weber 36 DCL3 or 36 DCZ3 carburettors, with a twin coil and rear of engine mounted distributors ignition system, to produce a claimed 260bhp. Some of the very last examples in the series were fitted with the outside sparking plug 3 litre V12 type 128 DF engine. The engine was coupled to a four speed all synchromesh gearbox, that initially had either a central or an offset lever position, but from 1958 a revised gearbox with central lever became a standard fitment, driving through a prop shaft to the rigid rear axle, for which a range of ratios were available.
These competition berlinettas were enormously successful, including four consecutive wins in the Tour de France between 1956-59, winning the Targa Florio in 1957, and winning the GT category at Le Mans in 1959. These were just a few of the many class and overall victories scored in the hands of amateur and professional drivers during the four years in which it was the GT car to beat.