ferrari 250 gt swb berlinetta racecar
The Ferrari 250 GT SWB Berlinetta built on the success
of the 250 GT Tour de France. See more Ferrari images.

Examine sports-racing results from the early 1960s, and it’s obvious why the Ferrari 250 GT SWB Berlinetta was such an integral part of the Ferrari legend.

 

The record is riddled with class victories, rife with top-10 finishes. It’s rich with such names as Stirling Moss, Mike Parkes, and Graham Hill, and with myth-making runs at storied places like Le Mans, Sebring, and Brands Hatch.

The Ferrari 250 GT SWB Berlinetta was a natural continuation of the Ferrari 250 GT Tour de France. Its competition incarnation was seen first at Le Mans in June 1959 in the form of two cars called the Ferrari 250 GT Interim. Their shape was by Pininfarina (who in 1961 began using his name as one word) and employed the Ferrari TdF’s 102.3-inch (2600mm) chassis and virtually identical mechanicals.

The Interims placed fourth and sixth overall, then, in September, won the Tour de France itself with Olivier Gendebien and Lucien Bianchi. This assured the design’s continuation. Scaglietti subsequently received the wooden body buck and constructed five more examples.

The definitive Ferrari 250 GT SWB Berlinetta broke cover at the 1959 Paris Auto Show. Wheelbase was now 94.5 inches (2,400mm) for better handling and less weight, though to the eye the body differed from the Interim only in the absence of rear quarter windows.

Over the life of the model, about 75 of the total 165 produced were earmarked for serious competition and were typified by a comparatively sparse interior, aluminum instead of steel body, more-aggressive engine tuning, and a stiffer suspension.

Street or track, underpinnings were similar to those of the Ferrari TdF: independent with double wishbones and coil springs in front, the proven rigid axle and leaf springs in back. Besides the shorter wheelbase, the big difference was installation of disc brakes.

The 3.0-liter V-12 was reaching the pinnacle of its development. The SWB’s had a new block and heads. Competition Ferrari SWBs received additional modifications, such as cylinder heads similar to those in the Ferrari Testa Rossa, and higher compression ratios. Depending upon state of tune, horsepower was between 240 and more than 280. All used a four-speed transmission.

On the track, the race-tune Ferrari 250 GT SWB Berlinetta picked up where the Ferrari TdF and Interim left off. In its competition debut at Sebring in 1960, it took three of the first ten places, including fourth overall. At Le Mans, the Ferrari SWB of Fernand Tavano and Pierre Dumay came in fourth overall and first in GT; other Ferrari SWBs finished sixth and seventh on distance. Later that season, a Ferrari SWB won outright at Goodwood in England and at Monza in Italy, helping Ferrari secure another sports-racing endurance championship.

ferrari 250 gt swb berlinetta racecar
The Ferrari 250 GT SWB Berlinetta combined
the best parts of previous Ferrari models.

 

The results were much the same in 1961. Significant showings included the Le Mans performance by Pierre Noblet and Jean Guichet in Noblet’s SWB. They won the GT category and finished third overall, covering 25 miles more in 24 hours than the previous year’s outright winner, a full-race Ferrari TR 60. Another SWB took sixth overall.

Among other ’61 Ferrari SWB successes were overall victories at Goodwood and Monza. At the 1,000-kilometer race at Montlhery outside Paris, Ferrari SWBs swept the first five places and accounted for 11 of the top 13 finishers. Ferrari’s little GT came in fourth at Germany’s challenging Nurburgring, second at Pescara in Italy.

Throughout, there were no major changes to the poised-to-pounce appearance that made the Ferrari 250 GT SWB Berlinetta among the most arresting cars at any track. Small alterations included the addition of air outlets on front and rear fenders for 1960. For ’61, side windows gained wing vents and lost the subtle kink at their upper rear corners.

Several Ferrari SWBs did however get wholesale rebodies in an effort to make them even faster. Most famous was the “Breadvan,” a one-off funded by Giovanni Volpi, a European Count and Ferrari racing privateer. Volpi had staffed his team with engineers hired from Ferrari, and in retaliation, Enzo refused to sell him Maranello’s sports-racing successor to the SWB, the Ferrari 250 GTO.

So Volpi took a Ferrari SWB that had finished second in the 1961 Tour de France and had engineer Giotto Bizzarrini create a form with a truncated vertical Kamm tail; some thought it resembled a bakery delivery truck. “Bizzarrini made the Breadvan in two weeks,” marveled the Count.

Volpi’s Scuderia Serenissima raced the Breadvan during 1962. Early in the 24 Hours at Le Mans, it lead all GTOs before retiring with driveshaft failure. At Montlhery, it finished third, behind two GTOs, but ahead of seven others. It was first in class at Brands Hatch.

Then, in a demonstration of why the Ferrari 250 GT SWB Berlinetta was one of history’s great dual-purpose machines, the Count retired it from competition and used it as his road car starting in 1963.

ferrari 250 gt swb berlinetta racecar breadvan
This Ferrari 250 GT SWB Berlinetta is one of a kind,
and known as the "Breadvan."

 

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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