The classic rumor mill is abuzz this month with talk of a recent record-breaking sale, that of 1963 Ferrari 250 GTO #4153GT. The price? A rumored $70 million (or just under that figure, as some in the know contend), which, if accurate, would make the GTO, yet again, the most expensive car ever sold. For now, that is.
The buyer is reported to be American entrepreneur David MacNeil, founder of the ubiquitous WeatherTech automotive floor mat company which advertises heavily in several Motor Trend Group publications, including Automobile magazine. MacNeil’s passion for cars is well known, as WeatherTech is the headline sponsor for the IMSA SportsCar series and his son, Cooper, who is often found driving WeatherTech-sponsored race cars in various series including IMSA and Ferrari Challenge. You may also have heard that WeatherTech is the new headlining sponsor of Laguna Seca Raceway, following Mazda’s decision to not renew its sponsorship.
Over the last several years, the Ferrari 250 GTO, fitted with its swoopy bodywork and a 3.0-liter “Colombo” V-12 engine, has continued to establish itself as perhaps the premier collectible car produced in the second half of the 20th century. Just 33 Series 1 cars (like our subject) were built, plus three more Series 2 cars with revised bodywork and three more 330-powered GTOs, for 39 total. The car’s legacy is well-known. Essentially the last true “win on Sunday, work on Monday” racers, in that they were conceivably able to function as dual-purpose street and track machines, the 250 GTO (250 for the car’s displacement, per cylinder, in cubic centimeters and GTO for Gran Turismo Omologato) was the ultimate evolution of Ferrari’s front-engined 250 GT series which had begun in the mid 1950s and achieved much success both on the race track and in the showroom. The 250 GT series essentially put Ferrari on the map as an established automaker, not just a racing outfit which sold a few road cars to make ends meet.
But make no mistake, the 250 GTO, in contrast to the brand’s 250 GT/L “Lusso” road car, was made for a single purpose: to contest and win the 1962 FIA GT 3.0-liter international racing class. Which it did. And then it did it again in 1963, besting competition in the form of Jaguar’s new E-type Lightweight and the AC Shelby Cobra. Developed by an engineering team helmed by Giotto Bizzarinni, with bodies produced by Scaglietti in Modena and final production at the Maranello factory, the 250 GTO represented the last hurrah of front-engined cars racing in the top classes in international competition. Its successor, the 250 LM, was a diminutive, mid-engined racer through and through and a world apart from the comparatively “old school” GTO.
Though rare, there have been several 250 GTOs that have come available for purchase in the past decade. In 2012, at least three GTOs traded hands in private sales: Chassis #4675GT was bought by former “Top Gear U.K.” presenter Chris Evans in 2010 for approximately $17 million and resold by an English dealership for a rumored $25 million. U.S. collector Craig McCraw bought chassis #3505, an ex-Stirling Moss car in light green, for $35 million in 2012 and in the same year, chassis #5095 was said to be sold in England for around $32 million. In 2013, another GTO, chassis #5111GT sold privately by a Connecticut collector brought a reported $52 million, making it the most expensive vehicle ever sold, at the time.
The last 250 GTO to sell at public auction, at the 2014 Bonhams Quail Lodge sale, during Monterey Car Week, was a 1962 example, chassis #3851GT. That car was well-known to the congnoscenti, having been in single-family ownership for nearly 50 years and a storied history in both period racing and more recent historic race meetings. Still, it sold for less than the $50 million that many were expecting bids to bring, hammering with commission for just over $38 million on the day. The disappointing result was chalked up at that time to several details, including the fact the car had been extensively crashed at least twice in-period, resulting in one death and the car carrying virtually none of its original bodywork—not unusual for a race car, mind you, but a detractor nonetheless. Couple this with no major race victories (a second-place finish at the 1962 Tour de France with first owner Jo Schlesser is the car’s career highlight) and this was simply not among the most desirable of the 39 cars extant. Clearly, those in the running felt that better cars would follow in the not-too-distant future.
More recently, #3387GT, the second GTO built, was offered by Washington state collector Bernard Carl through well-known U.K.-based dealer, Talacrest at a reported $56 million. The car has some provenance, having been driven to first in class and second overall at the 1962 12 Hours of Sebring by none other than Phil Hill and Olivier Gendebien, a famed motorsports pairing who also won the 24 Hours of Le Mans for Ferrari previously. It is said to have sold in the $50 million range after the better part of a year on the market.
Which brings us back to the subject at hand, MacNeil’s recently purchased #4153GT. This particular GTO is known as one of the more desirable to exist, as it is believed to retain its original bodywork and engine, both rarities for cars that have been extensively raced. Additionally, the car finished 1st overall at the 1964 running of the prestigious Tour de France open road race with Bianchi and Berger at the wheel and finished 4th at the ’63 24 Hours of Le Mans, driven by Dumay and Dernier. Early in its life, it competed under the well-regarded Ecurie Francorchamps team, headed by Belgian racer Jacques Swaters, giving the car its silver paint with traditional yellow stripe. Since its period racing days, it has been campaigned regularly in vintage events since the 1980s.
Is a $100 million dollar Ferrari 250 GTO only a few short years away? The odds are favorable. There certainly aren’t anymore being made, and with values rapidly ascending for the best examples, it would appear that various GTOs will continue to leap-frog each other in value as they come to market in time. Is a $100 million valuation absurd? That depends on your perspective. After all, one only need look at the current collectible art market to find paintings, sculptures, and other art works selling for similar amounts and occasionally much more. Just last year, a restored painting of Jesus Christ holding a challis, dubbed “Salvator Mundi,” said to be produced by Leonardo da Vinci around the year 1505 brought in $450 million dollars at a Christie’s auction in New York City. In 1958, several years before the first 250 GTO was built, the very same painting sold in London for £45, according to the BBC. Yes, that’s just forty-five pounds (or about $60 dollars) in ’58.
But while classic art may still be the king of high-stakes collectibles, it remains true that you can’t race a painting.