The Ferrari 250 GTO was a sports car and auto racing car made by Ferrari in the early 1960s. It is widely considered to be the quintessential Ferrari model, and one of the greatest sports cars - indeed, one of the greatest automobiles - of all time.
The numerical part of its name denotes the displacement in cubic centimetres of each cylinder of the engine, whilst GTO stands for "Gran Turismo Omologato", Italian for "Grand Touring Homologated." In 2004, Sports Car International named the 250 GTO number eight on the list of Top Sports Cars of the 1960s, and number one as the Top Sports Cars of All Time. Similarly, Motor Trend Classic named the 250 GTO as number one in their list of the "Greatest Ferraris of all time".
The Ferrari 250 GTO was designed to compete in GT racing. It was an orthodox (some would say conservative) evolution of the 250 GT SWB. Chief engineer Giotto Bizzarrini took the chassis from the 250 GT SWB and mated it with the 3.0 L V12 engine from the 250 Testa Rossa. After Bizzarrini and most other Ferrari engineers were fired in a dispute with Enzo Ferrari, development was handed over to new engineer Mauro Forghieri and designer Sergio Scaglietti. The widely-admired body was developed from work done by Bizzarini and Scaglietti and perfected in wind tunnel and track testing and, unlike most Ferraris, was not designed by a specific individual or design house.
The rest of the car was a well-balanced presentation of early-Sixties Ferrari technology: a hand-welded tube frame, A-arm front suspension and a live-axle rear end, disc brakes, Borrani wire wheels. The five-speed gearbox was a step forward, if not really revolutionary; the metal gate that defined the shift pattern would in turn become a tradition that is still maintained in current models. The interior was stripped-down and simple in the extreme, to the point where a speedometer was not considered necessary for the instrument panel.
According to the FIA rules for sports car racing, at least one hundred examples of a car had to be built in order for it to be homologated in the GT class (as opposed to the less-restricted prototype class). However, Ferrari built only 39 250 GTOs (33 of the "normal" cars, three with four-liter 330 engines (sometimes called the "330 GTO" but properly the 330 LMB), and three "Type 64" cars with revised bodywork) but nevertheless the car was allowed to race in the GT class. Some say that Ferrari successfully argued that the model was technically a modification of the 250 GT SWB, some say that Ferrari’s clout was such that it was better for the sport to allow the team to compete instead of dealing with a petulant (and crowd-depressingly absent) Scuderia Ferrari.
The car debuted at the 12 Hours of Sebring in 1962, driven by the team of American Phil Hill (the standing World Driving Champion) and Belgian Oliver Gendebien. Although originally annoyed that they were driving a GT-class car instead of one of the full-race Testa Rossas competing in the prototype class, the experienced pair impressed themselves (and everyone else) by finishing 2nd overall behind the Testa Rossa of Bonnier and Scarfotti.
The success was not a fluke; the 250 GTO was an exceptionally capable racing car. At the time of its introduction it was (depending on choice of gears and final-drive ratio) most likely the straight-line fastest car on any race track; more subtly, but perhaps more important, it had no bad habits or nasty tricks in its wide performance envelope. In the best Ferrari tradition, it made normal drivers look excellent and gave great drivers an unsurpassable advantage. Years of development for its significant components, and traditional Ferrari robustness, also guaranteed that the car would last until the end of the race. In the end, the GTO won the World Manufacturer’s Championship three years in a row: 1962, 1963, and 1964.