The Five Most Collectible Ferraris

The Ferrari 250 GT Spyder California SWB is tops among collectible road Ferraris.

Ferraris are among the most highly coveted automobiles and these articles reveal which of the Italian stallions are prized above all others.

Our focus is on Ferraris treasured for their significance to the marque and to automotive history, not merely what they might bring on the auction block. And though the world of collectible Ferraris is deeply influenced by Ferrari racing cars, our spotlight is on the road-going models, which were available to Ferrari's regular clientele.

We must note, however, that each of our choices does boast some racing exposure. A competition pedigree is, after all, the dual-purpose ideal that courses through the Ferrari bloodline; all the classics have it.

So, with the expertise of renowned Ferrari authority Winston Goodfellow as a foundation, here, in order, are the five most collectible Ferraris:

The Ferrari 250 GT Spyder California SWB

Unmatched provenance and unwavering class make this stunning open-air GT the most collectible Ferrari.

The Ferrari 275 GTB/4 NART Spyder

A drop-top version of one of Ferrari's best coupes, this convertible was a star of street and screen.

The Ferrari 250 GT SWB

Flawlessly proportioned and famously potent, this is the definitive dual-purpose sports car.

The Ferrari 375 MM

A competition-bred machine that brought high speed and high style to the road.

The Ferrari 275 GTB/C

Every one of these bold berlinettas was a gem, but the covey of alloy-body examples stands out.

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Ferrari 250 GT Spyder California SWB

The Ferrari 250 GT Spyder California SWB is tops among collectible Ferraris.

The Ferrari 250 GT Spyder California SWB

Years produced: 1958-1963

Number built: 54

SWB stands for short wheelbase and, combined with the words Spyder California (as in "Ferrari 250 GT Spyder California SWB"), grown men get teary eyed. Achingly beautiful, the Ferrari 250 GT Spyder California SWB is also a high-performance sports car of the first rank. This Pininfarina-penned masterpiece rides a chassis with 94.5 inches between front and rear axles, down from its "long wheelabase" companion's 102.3 inches. That shortened span makes the Ferrari 250 GT Spyder California SWB stiffer and more maneuverable, to the benefit of performance on the road and, yes, on the track.

Inspired by Ferrari's California distributor, Johnny von Neumann, and powered by a 280-horsepower version of Ferrari's classic 3.0-liter V-12, the Ferrari 250 GT Spyder California SWB combined speed and style in brilliant harmony. Most of the 54 built had steel bodies and were intended primarily for public roads. But this was still the day when the finest sports cars were also expected to hold their own in competition, and so Ferrari produced a handful of race-ready Ferrari 250 GT Spyder California SWB. These had aluminum bodies and could be distinguished from the road models by the presence of a quick-fill fuel cap on the trunklid.

If the Ferrari 250 GT Spyder California SWB gets adults all misty, an alloy-body competition version makes them grow weak in the knees, and qualifies as the ultimate in collectible road going Ferraris.

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Ferrari 275 GTB/4 NART Spyder

The Ferrari 275 GTB/4 NART Spyder has celebrity status and a racing pedigree.

The Ferrari 275 GTB/4 NART Spyder

Years produced: 1967-1968

Number built: 10

The Ferrari 275 GTB/4 NART Spyder is among the most collectible Ferraris because it's a factory-sanctioned convertible version of another celebrated Ferrari, was produced in small numbers, and was touched by the glamour of both the race track and the silver screen.

Ferrari's U.S. importer Luigi Chinetti prevailed upon the factory to cut the top off the glorious 275 GTB/4 berlinetta coupe. The resulting convertible was dubbed the Ferrari 275 GTB/4 NART Spyder, its name a tie in to Chinetti's North American Racing Team. The car used the same 300-horsepower 3.3-liter V-12 as the berlinetta, and one raced in the 12 Hours of Sebring. Another NART Spyder was the subject of a noted Road & Track cover story in which the magazine called it "The most satisfying sports car in the world." And one starred with Steve McQueen and Faye Dunaway in the Hollywood hit, The Thomas Crown Affair.

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Ferrari 250 GT SWB Berlinetta

The Ferrari 250 GT SWB Berlinetta, the zenith of the road-and-race sports car.

The Ferrari 250 GT SWB Berlinetta

Years produced: 1959-1962

Number built: 165 (75 with aluminum body)

If the golden age of the sports car is defined as the era in which a performance machine could be driven to the track, raced with a chance of winning, then driven home, the Ferrari 250 GT SWB Berlinetta is the crown jewel of that luminous age.

Here was a taught coupe packing Ferrari's classic 3.0-liter V-12 and dressed in exquisite Pininfarina bodywork. With up to 280 horsepower and just 2,350 pounds of curb weight, the Ferrari 250 GT SWB Berlinetta was a tiger on the road and, with little more than taped-up headlights, could be a terror on the track. Those fitted with aluminum instead of steel body panels, slightly stiffer suspensions, and a bit of engine tuning, were still roadable, but were also winners in storied races at such places as Le Mans and Sebring and Monza.

That something so beautiful to the eye could also be so brutal to the competition, and yet function as everyday transportation, was a remarkable achievement, one that defines the dual-purpose sports car and places the Ferrari 250 GT SWB Berlinetta solidly among of the five most collectible Ferraris.

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Ferrari 375 MM

The Ferrari 375 MM had star power. This one was film director Roberto Rosellini's.

The Ferrari 375 MM

Years produced: 1953-1955

Number built: 24

Ferrari produced its first car in 1947, and through the company's first decade, its road cars were basically slightly civilized racing cars. Case in point was the Ferrari 375 MM, one of which set a lap record in the 24 Hours of Le Mans of 1953.

It was precisely this sort of pedigree that attracted to Ferrari wealthy enthusiasts - literally emperors and moguls and world celebrities. A handful commissioned top independent car designers, such as Pinin Farina, to clothe Ferrari 375 MMs in custom bodywork and line the interiors with sumptuous leather. Film director Roberto Rosellini, for example, had master coachbuilder Sergio Scaglietti build him one.

What couldn't be domesticated was the Ferrari 375 MM's 4.5-liter V-12, a 340-horsepower jewel that made this 2,400-pound car perhaps the fastest road going automobile of its day.

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Ferrari 275 GTB/C

The Ferrari 275 GTB/C was race-ready, but looked much like street version.
The Ferrari 275 GTB/C was race-ready, but looked much like street version.

The Ferrari 275 GTB/C

Years produced: 1966

Number built: 14

That the Ferrari 275 GTB/C was virtually identical in appearance to the highly desirable but not quite as collectible 275 GTB/4 is part of this car's special allure.

This basic Pininfarina shape succeeded the 250 GT SWB as Ferrari's most sporting coupe. There were three basic iterations of the street Ferrari 275 GTB/C, and Ferrari built some 765 examples in all, a high production total for this low-volume automaker. Winning races by the mid 1960s required specialized competition cars, but Ferrari couldn't quite surrender the urge to put its road-going models on the track.

To that end, it prepared a small batch of 275 GTBs, with extra-thin aluminum body panels and plexiglass side windows to shave 500 pounds off the road versions. The 3.3-liter V-12 was left basically stock except for hotter cams and altered carburetion. The first 14 of these tweaked cars were called 275 GTB Competizione, the second 14 the 275 GTB/C. Both were winners on the track, but the GTB/C had slightly more success, including a 1966 GT-class win in the 24 Hours of Le Mans.

As one of the last road-based Ferraris to extended its reach into the highest forms of international racing, the Ferrari 275 GTB/C wins a place among the five most collectible Ferraris.

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