Our second in this series, we track down the oldest Ferrari on the road in South Africa, a 1962 250 GT...
The words “1960s Ferrari cabriolet” should evoke images of a twisty Italian coastal road, classic Riva speed boats on inland lakes and a glass of chilled Prosecco.
It’s unlikely, however, that the car you see here experienced too much of that. While it, of course, began its life in Italy, this 250 GT has since had an unremarkable and rather sad existence in South Africa … until a few years ago, that is. Not only was it parked outside for a couple of decades, exposed to the Highveld elements, but various bits had gone missing over the years. It was in a terrible state when the current owner acquired it; the car’s ashtray, for example, was actually found on the previous owner’s terrace, filled with cigarette butts.
The current owner had known about the car for 15 years and, when he was eventually able to buy it, the decades of neglect meant that the car could not be driven. The owner’s technician and restorer had his work cut out. He explains: “It is not easy working on an old Ferrari. Unlike other cars, there is not a lot of information on the internet.” Fortunately, he had many years worth of restoration experience to call upon.
As the owner, no longer a young man, didn’t want to waste time having the car off the road for the two to three years a ground-up restoration would require, another plan was made: a partial restoration that would allow him to enjoy the car and retain the 250 GT’s patina.
The fluids were flushed, the braking system overhauled, period-correct wheels and tyres were sourced, and attention was paid to the gearbox that needed its worn rubber bushes replaced. Further work was done on the cooling and ignition systems, while some of the exterior lights were sourced during a trip to Europe. Finally, the interior was reupholstered and the ashtray with its Ferrari and Pininfarina flags put back on the transmission tunnel where it belongs.
During this partial restoration, extensive research was done on the car. This 250 GT had entered South Africa around 1967, but did not sport its current cream-coloured exterior. Below this layer the car is yellow, and yet that isn’t the original shade; its first colour is Shell Grey. There are several dings, dents and paint cracks, but somehow it all looks fitting; a badge of honour.
From behind the wheel, the red leather seats are comfortable and soft, with a driving position that sees your legs fairly straight out with easy access to the three pedals. The large wood-rimmed steering wheel is close to your body and its circumference allows for decent leverage; important at parking speeds, as there is no power steering. The tall, beautifully machined gearlever is perfectly positioned to your right and is one of the cabin’s highlights. Behind the wheel are seven analogue dials that include a large speedometer, rev meter, oil-pressure gauge, oil and water temperatures, and fuel level, as well as a clock.
Turn the key, then press it and the Colombo 3,0-litre, V12 engine burbles into life with a fruity note from the quad exhaust pipes. It only takes a shift or two to realise how solid, thorough and mechanical each shift through the four-speed (with overdrive) gearbox is. As the engine hasn’t been opened or fully restored, I take it relatively easy. But, between the 2 000 to 3 000 r/min marks, there is a serious amount of grunt.
I watch the needle pass 4 000 and then 5 000 r/min as the carburettors start to work harder while the engine easily picks up speed; it is clear the V12 was designed to rev and not to potter around the first third of the rev range (maximum power is delivered at 7 000 r/min). Higher up the rev range, the V12’s sound becomes more intense and, with no roof, your ears are treated to the aural qualities of this legendary engine layout. I can’t help but smile as I make my way through traffic.
“It was a visionary engine,” remarks its owner, “and it did a lot to establish Ferrari back in the day. Once you become smitten with Ferraris, you compare every car with them. For me, it was the 250 LM that raced several decades ago at the Nine-hour endurance race at Kyalami; it kick-started my interest and love for the brand.”
There may be some who don’t agree with the owner’s decision not to fully restore such an important piece of automotive history, but I understand it. It can be restored at any time in the future, but for now he wants to enjoy chassis number 2307GT in the state that it is. And who could blame him.