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The most celebrated car ever made

Sixty-one years ago Ferrari delivered what is arguably still one of the most celebrated Prancing Horses of all time: the 250 GTO
Words: Ben Barry - Video: Ollie McIntyre

The Ferrari 250 GTO isn’t merely a beautiful car in the subjective sense of the word, it is officially a work of art – the Court of Bologna legally ruled as such in 2019, forbidding any company from creating replicas of Maranello’s iconic piece of industrial design.

Nicknamed the ‘The Anteater’ on account of a long, low bonnet that extended to streamlined Plexiglas headlamp covers and a protruding front grille, the 250 GTO was first and foremost about function-driven design. 

Watch the story behind the stunning 250 GTO, now one of the most sought after cars on the planet

GTO abbreviates Gran Turismo Omologata, or Grand Touring Homologation, a nod that the 250 GTO was born from homologation requirements for the FIA’s Group 3 Grand Touring Car motorsport category – it was created to beat the AC Cobra, Jaguar E-type and various Aston Martins on the racetrack, and a more aerodynamically efficient body was key to that.

This was not a clean-sheet project. The GTO’s predecessor was the closely related 250 GT ‘SWB’ – for short-wheelbase – that debuted in late 1959 and enjoyed significant motorsport success, but as competition intensified, so Ferrari needed to step up a gear.

Originally unveiled some 61 years ago, the 250 GTO was unprecedented in terms of styling and power

It did so in style with the GTO. Evolving the fundamentals of the SWB’s engineering and layout, the 250 GTO featured a front-mounted Colombo V12 engine with 250 cubic centimetres per cylinder, a two-seat Berlinetta body and a lightweight tubular chassis.

The 3.0-litre V12 was tuned and mounted both lower and further back in the body for sharper handling, the chassis employed smaller-diameter tubing to save weight, and the new aluminium bodyshell slipped more easily through the air. Factory prototypes were engineered from existing 250 GT ‘SWB’ models.

The GTO’s nose was softened with its grille and three removeable D-shaped cooling vents brought closer into line with the headlights, and the rear wheel arch was reprofiled to flow more gracefully into the quick slash of a Kamm tail that encircled the rear lights. 

The Colombo designed, 3 litre V12 engine was front-mounted and pushed the car on to a dizzying 252 km/h

These were relatively subtle changes but they yielded a more curvaceous and far more aesthetically pleasing design, as well as one that was aerodynamically effective on track.

Inside, the production GTO remained resolutely no frills, weight-saving being the order of the day – there are cloth bucket seats, no carpet or headlining, an exposed metal gear gate that would become a Ferrari trademark, and not even a speedometer.

Although only 36 examples of the 250 GTO were ever produced, six decades on they are all still in existence and fully road legal

Combined with its 300hp output, 282km/h top speed and feathery 880kg without fluids (sizeable improvements of 20hp, 7mph and 60kg over the 250 GT SWB), the 250 GTO was immediately competitive, clinching the over 2.0-litre class in the FIA’s International Championship for GT Manufacturers three years on the bounce in ’62, ’63 and ’64.

Only 36 examples were produced between 1962 and ’64, all road-legal, all still in existence today and all among the most sought after and valuable collector cars ever created.

The "Anteater"'s legacy is unparalleled in the automotive world; its scarcity, beauty and driving characteristics have resulted in it becoming one of, if not the most, wanted cars in existence

Not all GTOs are identical, however – the first 33 Series 1 cars featured triple D-shaped vents above the front grille and twin shark-gill-like vents behind the front wheels, while three Series 2s were produced in 1964, losing the vents on the nose but gaining an extra gill behind the front wheels. Some Series I cars were also rebodied in period with Series 2 coachwork, others were modified.

Very different propositions they may be, but true works of art nonetheless.

02 febbraio, 2023