When talking about the Ferrari 250 GT California Spyder, you are sort of talking about two different cars, the long-wheelbase version and the later short-wheelbase version. The cars debuted a few years apart, and have different bodies and engines with different states of tune. But both are built with the same idea in mind, and you could almost call them two generations of the same car, if that wasn’t such a difficult word to apply to the 250. All Californias, whatever the wheelbase, wore Scaglietti bodywork, and all of them were convertibles.

Throughout the ’50s and early ’60s, small European roadsters had become incredibly popular in North America. On the cheaper end of the spectrum, MG was selling huge numbers of cars in this newly discovered market, and in 1957, Ferrari debuted this new version of the 250 as a high-end convertible specifically for the U.S. market. It was based on the 250 GT Cabriolet Pininfarina, but was a higher-performance version of the car, produced in much smaller numbers. In theory, the Pininfarina was meant to be sold in Europe, and the California in America, but those were more suggestions than rules, and certainly today you’ll find examples of both on either side of the Atlantic.

Continue reading to learn more about the Ferrari 250 California.

Exterior

1958 - 1960 Ferrari 250 California High Resolution Exterior
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The truth about the California’s styling is that, in LWB form, there is very little to distinguish it from the Pininfarina version of the 250 that it is based on. The California had bigger taillights and an optional removable hardtop, but that is essentially the whole list of differences. Things changed a bit more then the 250 Berlinetta Series II debuted in 1959.

The Cabriolet got a complete redesign to go with this shorter wheelbase, and a year later

The Cabriolet got a complete redesign to go with this shorter wheelbase, and a year later, the California got a new version of its existing coachwork. But while the new design was based on the LWB’s bodywork, it isn’t just a shorter version of the car. The sheet metal fit tighter over the frame, and it was generally given a more sporting appearance to go with the SWB’s improved handling.

Both versions of the body were designed by Pininfarina and built by Scagliette. This wasn’t true of every single Ferrari in those days, but by this point in the company’s history, it could be considered the norm. The SWB car is generally considered to be the superior design, but both cars offer a classic look that doesn’t look dated and remains extremely attractive today.

Exterior Dimensions

Wheelbase 2,600 MM (102.36 Inches)
Front track 1,354 MM (53.30 Inches)
Rear track 1,349 MM (53.11 Inches)
Weight 1,100 KG (2425 LBS)

Interior

1958 - 1960 Ferrari 250 California High Resolution Interior
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The 250, even in its most luxurious forms, was essentially built to be a race car first and a road car second. As such, the interiors aren’t the most spacious or comfortable for extended periods. There was no air conditioning, no radio and no arm rests on the doors. But this is probably about the nicest of all interiors out of the cars that have those drawbacks. The highest quality leather has been used, and the seats aren’t just recovered racing buckets. This was an era when Ferrari still used wooden steering wheels, and it looks fantastic as ever here. The overall layout is simple, but very attractive, and there is an ashtray, because Italy.

Drivetrain

1958 - 1960 Ferrari 250 California High Resolution Exterior
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All of the many cars that Ferrari offered with the 250 designation share a 3.0-liter Colombo V-12 engine. But even though they shared the same architecture and displacement, there are a number of other differences from one version of the engine to the next.

The LWB car was based on the “Tour De France” car, mechanically speaking, and shared its 237 horsepower engine. SWB Berlinetta-based versions of the car were offered with this same 237-horsepower configuration, but certain versions were given more power, with the California being one of them. For the California, the engine made 276 horsepower, making it one of the most powerful examples of the car, with the obvious exception of the GTO and its 300 horsepower.

Drivetrain Specifications

Type front, longitudinal 60° V12
Bore/stroke 73 x 58.8 mm
Unitary displacement 246.10 cc
Total displacement 2953.21 cc
Compression ratio 8.5 : 1
Maximum power 240 HP @ 7,000 RPM
Top speed 252 KM/H (156 MPH)

Prices

1958 - 1960 Ferrari 250 California High Resolution Exterior
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There are no cheap 250s, but the California Spyder is one of the most expensive. Again, just behind the GTO. There were 50 units of the LWB produced and 55 of the SWB, so both are pretty rare, even as far as 250s go, but the SWB’s higher power and what is generally considered to be better looks mean that it typically commands a higher price at auction. Both have mysteriously shot up in value in the past few years, and of those sold since 2014, LWB cars have generally gone for more than $8 million.

That’s a lot, more than almost any other type of car in the world, but the numbers for the SWB are even more astonishing. The best example of this comes from the auction of the Baillon collection earlier this year. A SWB California Spyder that had sat in a barn for decades, and was in need of a bit of restoration work as a result, sold for $18.5 million, exceeding all estimates by several million. It’s well below what the $38 million that a GTO got in 2013, but since that’s the most expensive car ever sold (at least of those with figures that are a matter of public record; the Bugatti Type 57 SC Atlantic, for example, is assumed to be worth more) it would be a very difficult number to beat.

Competition

Jaguar E-Type

1961 - 1968 Jaguar E-Type High Resolution Exterior
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There can be no debating the fact that the E-Type is nowhere near as rare or valuable as the California, but a very good case could be made for it being at least as iconic. Originally debuting the year after the SWB version of the California, the E-Type is the go-to cool car of the ’60s. Like the 250, it uses a lot of racing-derived technology, acquired from Jaguar’s decade as the winningest marque at Le Mans during the ’50s. Also, you may conceivably be able to afford one, and that’s a big advantage over the California, which you cannot.

Read our full review on the Jaguar E-Type here.

Alfa Romeo 33 Stradale

1958 - 1960 Ferrari 250 California
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If you want an ultra rare ’60s Italian car made with racing technology for a money-is-no-object price, the 33 Stradale is a serious contender. Just 18 were built between 1967 and 1969, making it even more rare than the Ferrari. The two-liter, DOHC, dry-sump V-8 revved up to a screaming 10,000rpm redline and could take the 1,500-pound car to 60 mph in just 5.5 seconds. It’s a crazy amount of racing technology to have on the street, and it looks amazingly cool to boot. Prices today usually exceed $10 million.

Conclusion

1958 - 1960 Ferrari 250 California High Resolution Exterior
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It wouldn’t be right to end this article without mentioning the 250 GT California Spyder SWB that featured prominently in the 1986 movie Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. Ferrari 250s weren’t worth nearly as much as they are now 30 years ago, even after adjusting for inflation ($350,000 in 1986 dollars), but it is given its near staring roll in the film because of the strong emotional bond that owners would form with them regardless of price. It still wasn’t cheap, to be sure, but it wasn’t yet old or trendy enough to be purchased as an investment, it was just a car that you would buy because you loved it. And it is a very lovable car indeed.

  • Leave it
    • * Insanely expensive considering it’s so similar to the Cabriolet
    • * No proper hardtop version ever made
    • * High price may only be a bubble, could be a terrible investment
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