The was built on request of John Von Neumann, the US west coast Ferrari representative, who believed that there was potential for an open Spider suited to the Californian sun, a sort of open 250 GT Berlinetta. The car was built by Scaglietti, with 106 units created, nine with aluminum bodies.
The 250 California was a convertible model, with a full folding hood, built in two distinct series: the ‘LWB’ (long wheelbase) between 1958 and 1960, although a prototype was built in late 1957, and the ‘SWB’ (short wheelbase) from 1960 to 1962.
The LWB version was built on a 2600 mm wheelbase chassis, and during its production period the car suffered a few exterior changes: the shape and design of the front wing engine bay exhaust air vents, and more noticeably the rear wing line and lights, boot, and tail profile, which received a step in the panel projecting beyond the base of the lid on late series cars. The very last cars in the series, produced in late 1959 and early 1960, were fitted with disc brakes to all four wheels, instead of the drum brake set-up of the earlier examples.
In 1960 at the Geneva auto Show, Ferrari unveiled the short wheelbase version of the 250 California. Even if the last version was built on a 2400 mm wheelbase chassis, it was pretty difficult to distinguish the one from the other. The only difference was that on the LWB version the bonnet air intake is proud of the bonnet line, whilst on the ’SWB’ it rises from a depression in the bonnet line. The exhaust air outlet design on the front wings is also different: the ’LWB’ has three vertical raised strips and the ’SWB’ only two.
The 250 California was powered by a 3 litre V12 engine, that delivered 260 bhp and could hit a top speed of 145, while the 0 to 60 mph sprint is made in 6,5 seconds.
As noted relative to the engines, certain examples of both long and short wheel base cars had competition careers, probably due to a driver’s preference for an open GT car over a closed one, but maybe also to promote the model by use in competition. The American driver Bob Grossman was one of the most successful exponents in a 250 GT California in competition, with a fifth overall at Le Mans in 1959 partnered by Fernand Tavano, in ‘LWB chassis 1451 GT. He also had numerous good results in national races in the USA during 1959 and 1960 in this car.
In our days a SWB California was auctioned at the Ferrari’s Leggenda e Passion Auction for $10,900,000 USD. The car was once owned by actor James Coburn.