ferrari 250 gt spyder california racecar
This Ferrari 250 GT Spyder California SWB is one of only 104 ever produced.
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The Ferrari 250 GT Spyder California Racecar would become an integral part of the 250 legend for its suave looks and competition prowess.

 

Ferrari’s earliest open-air sports-racing cars were hardly distinguishable in specification or appearance from the “touring” versions of the same models. Maranello swayed from that “dual-purpose” path with the Ferrari 375 MM and Ferrari 500 Mondial of 1953, which had no direct roadgoing counterparts.

The dual-purpose spyder returned in 1958, however, and in spectacular fashion with the Ferrari 250 GT Spyder California Racecar.

Popular belief holds that the “Cal Spyder” was inspired by Ferrari’s American importer Luigi Chinetti. In reality, the motivation came from Ferrari’s Southern California dealer, Johnny von Neumann, according to Girolamo Gardini, Ferrari’s influential sales manager at the time.

Von Neumann and the rest of the Ferrari universe got something decidedly more sporty than the 250 Cabriolet Series I, which was launched for 1957. The Ferrari 250 Cabriolet Series I was tame by comparison, basically an open-air version of the pretty Pinin Farina Ferrari 250 GT coupe.

By contrast, the Ferrari 250 GT Spyder California Racecar was a competitor at heart, with underpinnings borrowed from the Ferrari 250 Tour de France (TdF). In Ferrari tradition, the frame was welded steel tubes and retained the TdF’s102.3-inch (2600mm) wheelbase. Unequal-length wishbones, coil springs, and an antiroll bar were in front. Rigid axle, semi-elliptic leaf springs, and radius rods were in back. Brakes were initially large steel drums.

Underhood was a 3.0-liter V-12 with single overhead cams and an initial compression ratio of 9.0:1. Soon improved to 9.5:1, and with different Weber carburetors, the engine produced 240-260 horsepower.

Carrozzeria Scaglietti manufactured the car’s aluminum coachwork, but the humble man wouldn’t take credit for the design. Asked who designed the Ferrari 250 GT Spyder California Racecar, Sergio Scaglietti told this author “Pininfarina.” When the author posed the question to Sergio Pininfarina, he answered “Scaglietti.”

Production started in early summer 1958. Versions intended primarily for road use had steel bodies. Those aimed principally for competition had skins of lightweight aluminum and a larger gas tank identified by a fuel filler visible on the trunklid.

A Ferrari 250 GT Spyder California Racecar finished first in class and ninth overall at Sebring in 1959’s first race. Three months later, at Le Mans, one placed a remarkable fifth overall. At Sebring in 1960, three Ferrari Cal Spyders finished among the top ten; one was fifth overall.

Despite such successes, it was evident that less chassis flex would mean better handling. The easy solution was to use the shorter-wheelbase chassis just introduced on the Ferrari 250 GT SWB Berlinetta.

With that, the Ferrari SWB Spyder California was born. It demanded a sharp eye to distinguish from its long-wheelbase brethren. Versions of each were produced with both open and covered headlamps, and competition-oriented models of both tended to alloy bodies and trunklid fuel fillers.

The SWB could be identified from the LWB by a hood scoop slightly inset at its leading edge. Its front-fender openings had two vertical vanes versus three, and it had conventional door handles, rather than flush-type. Inside, the Ferrari SWB Cal Spyder was more luxurious, with better carpeting and a dash covered in leather rather than a black crinkle finish.

The shorter wheelbase did deliver a tauter chassis for a more nimble car, but just one Ferrari SWB Spyder California competed in international endurance competition. It had an aluminum body, covered headlights, and the outside filler cap. The engine had more radical cams, a higher compression ratio, and large Weber carbs. It ran as high as 11th at Le Mans in 1960, but did not finish the race.

Other competition Ferrari SWB Cal Spyders, such as chassis 2383 GT, were used by their owners both as road cars and as hillclimb specials. This particular example also had a hopped-up engine and alloy body.

Ferrari Spyder California production continued into 1963, with just over 100 made. It was the last true dual-purpose open-air Ferrari, and it attained near-mythic status as a sports car of rare beauty and genuine performance.

ferrari 250 gt spyder california racecar
The Ferrari 250 GT Spyder California SWB enjoys
a near-mythic status among sports cars.

 

Learn about these other great Ferrari Sports Racing Cars:

166 Sport Corsa
250 GT Tour de France
330 P4
166 MM Racecar
335 S
350 Can Am
225 S
250 Testa Rossa
212 E Montagna
340 Mexico
250 GT Spyder California
512 S
250 MM
250 GT SWB Berlinetta
312 PB
375 MM Racecar
196 SP
365 GTB/4 Competition
500 Mondial
250 GTO
512 BB LM
750 Monza
330 LMB
F40 LM
121 LM
250 P
333 SP
410 S
250 LM
575 GTC
500 TRC
275 GTB/C
360 GT
290 MM
Dino 206 S
Enzo FXX

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