How did a Ferrari 250 GTO fetch $70 million?

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Newspaper headlines expressed astonishment recently when a 1962 Ferrari 250 GTO (chassis number 4153 GT) changed hands for $70 million. This mind-boggling sum, equivalent to about £52.3m, is the highest price ever fetched by a car - but why?

To begin to answer this, it’s worth recalling that several other 250 GTOs have also commanded huge amounts of money in recent years. These set a benchmark which influenced the amount the buyer of 4153 GT, American entrepreneur and WeatherTech founder David MacNeil, was prepared to pay.

The first monumental price realised by a GTO was at Bonhams’ Quail Lodge Auction in Carmel, California, in 2014. That’s when a 1962 example, 3851 GT, sold for $38.1m - despite having little original bodywork and a history tainted by tragedy. This car’s greatest achievement, second place on the 1962 Tour de France Automobile, really wasn’t great at all: during one of the many competitive stages of this event, a race at Montlhéry Autodrome, French Olympic skiing champion Henri Oreiller crashed the vehicle at high speed with fatal consequences. Oreiller’s co-driver in the Tour, Jo Schlesser, would later also perish at the wheel of a racing car.

The year before 3851 GT was very publicly auctioned, another 250 GTO, 5111 GT, was sold privately and without fanfare. This car won the 1963 Tour de France in the hands of José Behra and Jean Guichet, the year before Guichet won Le Mans in a Ferrari 275P; was arguably more original than 3851 GT; and had a story free of tragedy. 5111 GT’s American owner, car collector and creative patent attorney Paul Pappalardo, reportedly sold the vehicle for $52m. At the time, this was the most expensive car ever sold.

Prices seemed set to rise even further in late 2016 when another 250 GTO, 3387 GT, was offered by classic Ferrari specialist Talacrest for $56.4m. This car took second place overall and won its class in the 1962 Sebring 12 Hours in the hands of Phil Hill and Olivier Gendebien. Ferrari-flavoured provenance doesn’t get much stronger: Hill won the previous year’s F1 World Championship in a ‘sharknose’ Ferrari 156 and the Hill/Gendebien pairing won Le Mans for Ferrari in ’58, ‘61 and ’62. With such rich connections, this car is believed to have fetched $50m.       

It is against these sky-high figures that 4153 GT’s value will have been approximately calculated. The significant increase, by $20m and 40 per cent, is mostly attributable to 4153 GT being so well preserved and original. Unusually for a competition car of such age, this one never sustained serious accident damage. What’s more, 4153 GT was recently re-united with its original engine, which the Ecurie Francorchamps team had taken out and replaced with a unit from a 250 GT SWB Competition model in preparation for the 1964 Tour de France. It is not clear whether this original engine was re-fitted to 4153 GT before the car’s recent sale; when it is, this vehicle could be eligible for Ferrari Classiche’s top ‘Red Book’ certification as a vehicle of historical interest.

4153 GT left the factory in December 1962 as the 24th of the 39 GTOs produced and made its competition debut in the 1963 Le Mans 24 Hours, where Pierre Dumay and Léon Dernier steered it to second in class and fourth overall. Through the rest of the ’63 and ’64 seasons, 4153 GT raced mainly in France and Belgium, tackling events such as the Spa 500Km, Nürburgring 1,000Km, and Paris 1,000Km (at Montlhéry). As illustration of the GTO’s versatility, 4153 GT also competed in hillclimbs and winter rallies. The car’s earliest drivers included Georges Berger and Lucien Bianchi (later a winner at Le Mans), who had teamed-up in Ferrari 250 GT SWB Berlinettas to win the Tour de France in 1960 and ’61 - and who would win this famously tough event again in ’64 in 4153 GT. This important victory secured the World Championship for Manufacturers for Ferrari for the third consecutive year.

Most expensive car in the worldThe full and fascinating story of this car is told by author Keith Bluemel in Porter Press’ book, Ferrari 250 GTO - The Autobiography of 4153 GT. Lavishly illustrated with more than 300 period photos, this traces the history of what is now the world’s most expensive car from its debut at Le Mans in ’63 through the action-packed seasons of ’64 and ’65 to varied competition adventures in Spain between ’66 and ’69. The book also looks more broadly at the competition successes of all 250 GTOs and the model’s immediate predecessors. Over the course of 320 pages it becomes clear why 4153 GT has become so highly valued - and why a leading Ferrari historian expects within the next five years to see a GTO sell for $100m.  

By Phillip Bingham



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