1957 Ferrari 250 GT California

Many people consider the 'California Spider' to be the most beautiful car to emerge from Maranello, with its stunning lines and elegant form equally complimented by its performance credentials. It was designed for leisurely drives with the top down on Saturday, and racing and winning on Sunday. For discerning buyers seeking Italian style and flair of an open sports car with power, reliability, versatility, and excellent road holding and handling capabilities - none was more suited than the Ferrari 250 Granturismo Spyder California.

The booming North American market provided a lucrative opportunity for those who got the formula right, and Ferrari's success was aided by two influential dealers, Luigi Chinetti and John von Neumann. They impressed upon the factory that a dual-purpose 250 GT convertible would appeal to a segment of American clientele, specifically those with influence, wealth, style, and an inkling towards competition. Faithfully following and executing the original concept, the California Spider was given a lightweight folding top, swept-back windscreen, minimal interior appointments, and bucket seats. 106 California Spiders were built between 1957 and 1963 with 50 resting on the long-wheelbase (LWB) platform and 56 of the final short-wheelbase (SWB) variant. True to form, they were raced with a remarkable degree of success, including class wins at Le Mans and Sebring along with numerous victories in SCCA B-Production events. American driver Richie Ginther co-drove with Howard Hively in a LWB California Spider (chassis 1085 GT) to win the GT Class at the 1959 12 Hours of Sebring, finishing 9th overall. Chinetti's North American Racing Team entry (chassis 1451 GT) driven by Bob Grossman and Fernand Tavano finished 5th overall (and 3rd in the 3-liter GT Class) at the 1959 24 Hours of Le Mans, beaten only by two Aston Martin sports racing cars and two Ferrari competition coupes. It covered 3,964.491 kilometers at an average speed of 165.187 km/h, including pit stops. Grossman would drive the same car to many SCCA victories including at Lime Rock, Bridgehampton, and the Nassau Memorial Trophy during the Bahamas Speed Weeks.

At the time, Ferrari produced a convertible V-12 road car called the 250 GT Cabriolet which drew its roots from the Pinin Farina Coupe. The far more potent California Spider was a convertible version of the 250 GT Berlinetta known as the 'Tour de France' (or TdF) for its wins at the iconic French sports car race. Production of the California Spider began in 1958, and several examples had been built by the time it was announced as a separate model at Ferrari's annual press conference in Modena on December 9th of 1958. Many early examples were given only subtle changes over their hardtop sibling, and the prototype example (chassis number 0769 GT) was nearly unchanged from the TdF, apart from the convertible top. Within a short time, the California Spiders were given a new chassis (type 508D) an engine with reinforced connecting rods and crankshaft (type 128D). They retained the 250's original wheelbase of 2,600 millimeters and the cosmetic changes were minor, with slightly revised wheel arches, and it could be specified with either open or closed headlights.

The elegant bodies were designed by Pinin Farina and constructed by Scaglietti. The chassis was a traditional Ferrari steel tubular setup with a double-wishbone front suspension and live rear axle. The LWB cars had drum brakes while the proceeding SWB examples were equipped with discs. The early cars were equipped with the latest iteration of the 3-liter Colombo V-12 engine while later examples were given the tipo 128E motor that had been developed during the 250 Testa Rossa campaigns. The redesigned unit had spark plugs outside the engine's V which simplified maintenance. The former siamesed intake arrangement was replaced by an engine head that featured individual porting, lowering the risk of head failure and improving aspiration.

The 250 GT Berlinetta received styling modifications and a change in chassis dimension during 1959, with the transition officially shown at the Paris Auto Salon in October 1959. The competition-geared 250 GT short-wheelbase (SWB) received tubular shock absorbers from Koni or Miletto rather than the traditional Houdaille levers, as well as Dunlop disc brakes on all four wheels. The Colombo V-12 engine was given valve actuation via coil springs rather than hairpins. The changes to Ferrari's racing 250 GT Berlinetta were quickly integrated on the California Spider.

In 1958, a total of 14 LWB California Spiders were built and the remaining examples were built in 1959 and 1960. The SWB version that followed, resting on the 200mm shorter platform, received the 250 GT Berlinetta modifications. 9 SWB examples received lightweight alloy bodies and raced in period.

Chassis number 1795 GT was shown in March of 1960 at the Geneva Salon with styling nearly identical to its LWB forerunner. This was unlike the Berlinetta, whose coachwork styling significantly diverged from its Tour de France predecessor. Only minor changes were visible on the California Spider, including the hood inlet now partially countersunk, the grille shaped in a slightly more elliptical fashion, and the door handles were no longer flush to the paneling. The wheelbase was 200mm shorter (as mentioned), however, 450mm had been shaved from the LWB's bumper-to-bumper length, and it sat lower to the ground due to the 15-inch Borranis replacing the prior 16-inch wheels.

Due to the chassis change and smaller wheels, the SWB California Spyders arguably had the more menacing competition appearance. Being mechanically superior to its predecessor, the SWB was better suited for competition use, ironically, they were driven less on the track than on the road. When they did compete, they were impressive. At the 24 Hours of LeMans in June of 1960, the NART entry (chassis 2015 GT) driven by Bill Sturgiss and Jo Schlesser was running 5th in class and 11 overall before an engine failure on lap 253 forced them to retire early. The same car, under the Scuderia Serenissima banner, driven by Gaston Andrey, Allen Newman, and Robert Publicker, finished 12th overall and 2nd in the 3-liter GT class at the 12 Hours of Sebring in March of 1961.


by Daniel Vaughan | Apr 2020

Related Reading : Ferrari 250 GT History

Production of the 250 Series began in 1954 and continued on through the early part of the 1960s. There were numerous variations of the 250 and would ultimately become Ferraris most successful line of vehicles to date. The 250 is also recognized as the first Ferrari to ever receive disc brakes. This did not take place until the end of the 1950s. Also, the 250 was the first four-seater. Ferraris....
Continue Reading >>

1957 Vehicle Profiles

Spyder
Coachwork: Scaglietti
Designer: Pininfarina

Chassis Num: 0769 GT

This 250 Long-Wheel Base California Spyder is the prototype-the first one built. It was based on the 250 GT Berlinetta passo longo (long wheelbase) and specially built at the request of the first owner and racer George Arents and North American distr....[continue reading]

Spyder by Scaglietti
Chassis #: 0769 GT 

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Performance and Specification Comparison

Price Comparison

$295-$16,800
1957 250 GT California
1957 Ferrari 250 GT California Base Price : $16,800

Model Year Production

#1#2#3Ferrari
1962Chevrolet (2,061,677)Ford (1,476,031)Fiat (957,941)
1961Ford (1,338,790)Chevrolet (1,318,014)Volkswagen (807,488)
1960Chevrolet (1,653,168)Ford (1,439,370)Toyota (1,068,321)
1959Chevrolet (1,462,140)Ford (1,450,953)Volkswagen (575,407)
1958Chevrolet (1,142,460)Ford (987,945)Volkswagen (451,526)
1957Ford (1,676,449)Chevrolet (1,505,910)Plymouth (726,009)
1956Chevrolet (1,567,117)Ford (1,408,478)Meteor (1,408,478)
1955Chevrolet (1,704,667)Ford (1,451,157)Buick (738,814)
1954Ford (1,165,942)Chevrolet (1,143,561)Plymouth (463,148)
1953Chevrolet (1,346,475)Ford (1,247,542)Plymouth (650,451)
1952Chevrolet (818,142)Ford (671,733)Plymouth (396,000)

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