Maybe the most beautiful open-top car that money can buy

The entire Ferrari 250 line seems to have secured its place in the palace of automotive royalties for generations to come. With unmistakable lines, a variety of powerful but also reliable Colombo V-12s, and limited-run production, almost all of the late-50s to early-60s Ferrari 250 models command astronomical values at auction nowadays.

There are, of course, some stars that shine brighter than others, such as the 250 GTO, the 250 GT SWB, and, lastly, the 250 California SWB Spider built between 1960 and 1962. This is one of those short-wheelbase California Spiders but, despite its originality, it lacks the aura of the ex-Alain Delon ’barn find’ that sold for $18.5 million four years ago.

Besides the fact that Alain Delon once owned and thrashed that particular 250 California SWB Spider, what made it even more desirable were its covered headlights. Amazingly, the more sought after variant is, actually, the one Ferrari made more of: a total of 37,250 California SWB Spiders left the factory with covered headlights and just 19 were optioned without the glass over the twin circular headlamps. Read on to learn more about the strange case of a buyer-induced trend that goes against the otherwise untouchable principle of rarity.

  • 1962 Ferrari 250 California SWB Spider by Scaglietti
  • Year:
    1962
  • Make:
  • Model:
  • Engine:
    V12
  • Horsepower @ RPM:
    280 @ 7500
  • Torque @ RPM:
    200 @ 6000
  • Displacement:
    3.0 L
  • 0-60 time:
    7 sec.
  • Top Speed:
    150 mph
  • Price:
  • car segment:
  • Purpose:
  • body style:

1962 Ferrari 250 California SWB Spider by Scaglietti Exterior

  • Scaglietti open-top body sitting on the shortened Berlinetta chassis
  • One of just 56 250 California SWB Spiders ever made
  • This is the second to last California SWB built by Ferrari
  • Painted in glorious Rosso
  • Less desirable because of the open-headlight configuration
  • The face of George M. Carrick’s book on the Ferrari California
  • 94.5-inch long wheelbase, shorter by over 2.5 inches than a Supra’s
  • Shorter also than an Aston Martin DB4 Convertible and a Maserati 3500 GT Spyder Vignale
1962 Ferrari 250 California SWB Spider by Scaglietti Exterior
- image 853892

If you are lucky - and wealthy - enough to buy your way into the world of Ferrari’s 250 line, one that’s arguably reached legendary status in the six decades that have passed since its introduction, you can be sure that whatever you got your hands on will practically never devalue as the cache attached to a vintage Prancing Horse is unmatched in the automotive world. Discerning collectors are willing to throw many millions in the direction of just about any Ferrari 250 although some models are more coveted than others. The undisputed king of the 250 series is, undoubtedly, Ferrari’s championship-winning grand touring race car for the road, the unmistakable 250 GTO. The 250 California, however, is also among the favorites with the short wheelbase version more desirable than the original, long-legged, LWB version.

The California Spider, as its name suggests, was designed for the American market.

On the West Coast, Californian Ferrari dealer and racer John von Neumann was receiving requests from well-to-do customers for a fast, open-top Ferrari that could easily tackle downtown L.A., the Mullholand Drive, and, if necessary, the nearby Riverside Raceway. "He asked us for a simple spyder," said Girolamo Gardini, Ferrari’s Sales Manager from 1948 to 1961. At the time, in the late ’50s, the only open-top Ferrari 250 was the racing thoroughbred with those famous red cam covers known as the ’Testa Rossa’. While the Testa Rossa, just like any sports car that raced in the World Endurance Championship at the time, was road legal, it wasn’t really usable on the street. It was as docile as a K9 police dog ordered to attack and as loud as a ’70s metal band at full chat - although Ferrari connoisseurs would argue the Colombo V-12’s soundtrack is closer to a symphony. A friendlier alternative was needed and that’s precisely what Ferrari readied up for 1958, without forgetting to add some racing pedigree to the new Spider (or Spyder, however you want to call it).

1962 Ferrari 250 California SWB Spider by Scaglietti Exterior
- image 853897

The Ferrari 250 line, whose roots can be traced as far back as the late ’40s when Ferrari was barely getting off the ground as an automaker, was the first to feature models that were actually designed to be docile enough to be driven on the road, not just some road-registered tourers underpinned by race car chassis. This isn’t to say most of the Ferrari 250 models didn’t go racing - in fact, quite the opposite is true - but, unlike the 166 Inter, for instance, the ladder-type frame of the 250-series models was designed with street use in mind, not only motorsport activities.

The 166 Inter, despite hiding a V-12 under the hood, only put out 110 horsepower at 6,000 rpm with a 7.5:1 compression ratio and a single Weber carb.

This is all laughable by today’s standards when a base model Toyota Corolla packs a 132-horsepower 1.8-liter four-pot. But you must remember this was right after the end of WW2 and Gioacchino Colombo’s engine was by no means a behemoth displacing just two liters at first. Power went up a bit with the introduction of the 195 Inter that was at the receiving end of the first coupe-style bodies ever to grace the traditional ladder-type chassis underpinning the earliest Prancing Horses.

1962 Ferrari 250 California SWB Spider by Scaglietti Exterior
- image 853900

The 195 Inter was replaced by the 212 Inter in 1952. This model featured a 2.6-liter version of the same V-12 (up from 2.3-liters in the 195 Inter) good for 170 horsepower at 6,500 rpm. Three Weber 32DCF twin-choke carburetors and a new gearbox complemented the list of updates while Ghia, Vignale, and Pinin Farina were all ready with coachwork options. The first 250 model - although not part of the 250 lineage as such - had already been released by the time of the 212 Inter’s introduction. Known as the 250 Export, it was different from the Inters mainly in the engine bay where you’d find a detuned Lampredi V-12, instead of Colombo’s mill. The Lampredi V-12 became famous as the heart of Ferrari’s 340 America, but, in the 250 Export, it displaced 3.0-liters and put out a healthy 220 ponies at 7,000 rpm.

The racing-bred traits of the engine made the 250 Export unpopular but, regardless, Ferrari crammed it in the first 250 Europa models that were made.

The so-called square engine (due to identical bore and stroke) fed by new Weber 36DCF twin-choke carburetors made as much power as in the Export.

The 250 Europa was both more luxurious and bigger than other Ferraris at the time with a 110.25-inch wheelbase and a dry weight of 2,300 pounds. Ferrari also fitted the 250 Europa with another version of the Colombo V-12 that matched the output of the Lampredi units although it only came under the hood of the short wheelbase models that also featured Porsche-patented synchromesh transmission and coil springs instead of a single transverse leaf spring in the front.

1962 Ferrari 250 California SWB Spider by Scaglietti Exterior
- image 853935

The Europa revealed that its maker had intended it for street use when taken to the races. Usually outgunned by the 300 SL and whatever Porsche would bring, it was replaced in 1956 by the 250 GT. This model shared its wheelbase with the smaller Europa but the Colombo V-12’s output jumped up some more to 240 horsepower at 7,000 rpm. With all that oomph and the fastest rear end around, Ferrari said the ’Gran Turismo’ could reach almost 160 mph in top gear. A number of versions were made before the dawn of the ’60s, such as the GT Berlinetta "Tour de France" that shares many of the bits under the skin with the 250 California SWB Spider.

The ’Berlinettas’ were first introduced on special order in 1959 when Ferrari was urged to fit modified 250 Testa Rossa engines on the 250 GT chassis. With dual overhead cams, a compression ratio of 9.8 to 1, and a trifecta of larger, twin-choke 38DCL3 Weber carbs, the Berlinettas put out 267 horsepower, almost 30 more than the standard GT. While these Berlinettas led to the construction of the gorgeous and highly effective 250 GT SWB of 1960, Ferrari’s preferred coachbuilder, Pinin Farina, tried his hand at dressing the 250 GT chassis with an open-top bodywork. Originally launched at the 1957 Geneva Auto Show, the 250 GT Cabriolet Series I sat on a 102.4-inch wheelbase. It was followed by the Series II models that more closely resembled fixed-head Berlinettas in appearance. In all, less than 240 Pinin Farina-bodied 250 GT Cabriolet examples were built.

1962 Ferrari 250 California SWB Spider by Scaglietti Exterior
- image 853905
As if trying to beat Pinin Farina at the game of who could build a better looking roadster, Carrozzeria Scaglietti also debuted in 1957 an open-top 250 GT.

This was the first ’California’ and, just like the Pinin Farina Cabriolet, it was underpinned by the long-wheelbase chassis while power came from the 3.0-liter Colombo V-12 good for the same 240 horsepower as before or, if you were a ’special’ customer, the detuned Testa Rossa unit (those were fitted mainly to the few aluminum-bodied examples meant for racing). In 1959, a California was driven to fifth place overall in the 24 Hours of Le Mans proving that the lack of a metal roof is not something that slows down a Ferrari.

In 1960, Ferrari followed the introduction of the 250 GT SWB with that of an open-top model featuring the exact same 94.5-inch wheelbase chassis. The 250 California SWB also became the recipient of the SWB Berlinetta’s Testa Rossa engine that put out loads of power while the suspension and gearbox came, as before, from the 250 ’Tour De France’. While well-known celebrities such as James Coburn have owned and driven Californias, it was quickly overshadowed in period by the appearance of the 300 horsepower GTO with its sleek new body that made the world stop in its tracks.

1962 Ferrari 250 California SWB Spider by Scaglietti Exterior
- image 853932

Decades later, however, the California, especially in short-wheelbase guise, is rightfully praised as one of the prettiest Ferraris ever - and it’s easy to see why, even in the case of an example that lacks the aerodynamic covered headlights.

In the front, the 250 California SWB Spider features the traditional rounded grille with a chromed surround and metal egg-crate mesh with large, rectangular holes.

Within the confines of the grille, there are two fog lights, while the blinkers are placed outboard below the headlights. The chromed bumper features thin overriders with minuscule rubber add-ons that are probably only good enough for 0.5 mph taps.

As the nose of the car swoops down, it leaves the fenders to edge higher before they end with one circular headlamp each. The hood features a functional scoop. As was the case back in the ’60s, the California Spider only comes with an exterior rear-view mirror for the driver. The teardrop-shaped mirror is located on the left-hand side fender. The frame of the windshield, as well as the window wipers, are chromed.

1962 Ferrari 250 California SWB Spider by Scaglietti Exterior
- image 853940

Viewed from the side, the car looks elegant despite the short wheelbase. In fact, it’s at its most elegant without the desirable headlight covers. The teardrop indicators placed on the front overhangs were optional at the time but all cars came with those stylish side vents with two angled bars. The pure line of the body is punctuated by a gentle waistline, while the small flares aren’t really needed as the tires aren’t wide enough to poke out from the wheel wells.

The tail of a 250 California is, as its face, remarkably simple.

The taillights, narrow and split between the blinkers and the brake lights, are bolted on to the tall and pointy rear fenders. A chromed bumper with twin overriders is present here as well, complete with lights for the number plate that is to be placed immediately below the trunk lid. Four exhaust pipes, two on each side, come from under the curved body of the 250 California. You’ll see that this nonsense approach is carried over into the tight cabin.

1962 Ferrari 250 California SWB Spider by Scaglietti exterior dimensions
Length 165.4 inches
Width 67.7 inches
Height 53.9 inches
Wheelbase 94.5 inches

1962 Ferrari 250 California SWB Spider by Scaglietti Interior

  • Spartan by modern standards
  • Shows the wear and tear of a 50+ year-old cabin
  • No center console
  • Only creature comfort is the ashtray on the transmission tunnel
  • Shows almost 90,000 kilometers on the odometer
  • Main dials located behind the wheel, the others in the middle of the narrow dash
  • Interior rearview mirror on the dash
1962 Ferrari 250 California SWB Spider by Scaglietti Interior
- image 853915

The interior of Ferrari’s most vivacious topless model of the ’60s is spartan even by the standards of the ’60s (look inside a DB5, for instance). Open the lithe door, jump inside, and you’ll be greeted by the squeak of the aging natural leather on the driver’s bucket seat and the sight of that glorious, big, three-spoked steering wheel with a wooden rim. The dash is wrapped in black leather while the rest of the cabin is beige.

There's a single knob to the driver's left (and one lever on the steering column for the indicators), while the rest are to the right, placed awkwardly under the rounded edge of the dash.

Behind the wheel, you are presented with two big dials: the tachometer on the left and the odometer (that goes all the way to 300 km/h or 186 mph) on the right. There are no idiot lights in the middle and the rest of the gauges are placed in the middle of the dash, all grouped together.

1962 Ferrari 250 California SWB Spider by Scaglietti Interior
- image 853901

The oil pressure and temperature gauges are closest to the driver, positioned next to the hole for the ignition key. Then you’ll see the water temperature and water pressure gauges, and, finally, the fuel gauge. The fuse box, too, is placed underneath the dash.

The gear lever sprouts up from the tall and wide transmission tunnel, ending with a black knob. The hand brake lever isn’t located on the tunnel as you’d expect but, instead, it’s within the driver’s footwell next to the transmission tunnel. Pedals are arranged as you’d expect with the gas pedal coming up from the floor. This car notoriously lacks just about any creature comforts. You’ve got no radio, no heater, not even a lighter. But there is a polished, Ferrari-badged ashtray in between the seats.

1962 Ferrari 250 California SWB Spider by Scaglietti Interior
- image 853918
Storage space is also limited at best: there are some small pockets on the interior door panels but don't go inside expecting much more than that as this is strictly a two-seater with virtually no room behind the seats.

Whatever you’d like to store inside a 250 California SWB Spider has to fit in the trunk.

The interior of the car you see here is all-original, hence the wear and tear. It may not look concours-ready but we’d rather feast our eyes with worn-out leather, testament of a life spent on the road eating up the miles and the gallons, over a spotless refurbished interior that tells you whoever’s owning the car barely ever sits in it, let alone drive it.

1962 Ferrari 250 California SWB Spider by Scaglietti Drivetrain

  • One of the most well-preserved 250 California SWB Spiders out there
  • Powered by the Tipo 168/61 3.0-liter V-12
  • With triple Webers, it put out 280 horsepower when new
  • New cylinder heads and large valves compared to the LWB’s Tipo 128
  • Engine almost identical to the 250 GTO’s
  • Steel body, not aluminum
  • Dunlop disc brakes all around
  • Independent suspension in the front, live axle in the back
  • Reaches some 150 mph at full chat
1962 Ferrari 250 California SWB Spider by Scaglietti Drivetrain
- image 853904

The 250 California, while part of the first family of mass-produced (by mass-produced we don’t mean Toyota levels of mass production but a higher production output compared to the days when Ferrari made a couple of dozen cars per year), still has a strong relationship with the world of motor racing. Its engine, for instance, is that of the 250 GT SWB, namely the detuned Testa Rossa unit. But this shouldn’t scare you.

The Tipo 168/61 3.0-liter Colombo V-12 with new cylinder heads and large valves is almost as powerful as the Tipo 168 Competizione engine in the 250 GTO.

It is rated at somewhere between 276 and 280 horsepower at 7,500 rpm. In contrast, the 250 GT ’Tour De France’ delivered just 260 horsepower from the Tipo 128 3.0-liter V-12 equipped with three Weber 40DCL/3 twin-choke carbs. Fuel feed on the California is performed by a similar three-carb setup. Max torque was about 200 pound-feet at 6,000 rpm.

1962 Ferrari 250 California SWB Spider by Scaglietti Drivetrain
- image 853912

When we say ’detuned’ we also mean ’revised’. The Tipo 168/61 differs from the Tipo 128 in that the spark plugs have been relocated to outside of the ’vee’ instead of inside the ’vee’. There’s protection for the wiring leading to the plugs and the mated intake ports of the Tipo 128 have been replaced in the Tipo 168 with six separate ports. Fuel feed is also not the same. While a Testa Rossa would feature no less than six twin-choke Weber 38DCL3s, the production California’s gotta make do with just three, but they’re newer. Beyond these details, the engines are similar but the cam covers are no longer painted red. Both sport chain-driven camshafts with short rockers driving the valves. Wet sump lubrication is present here with one gear type pump while there are two fuel pumps, one mechanical and one electrical that’s at the discretion of the person behind the wheel.

The chassis was made up of steel elliptical-section tubes on which the steel body laid.

Some parts of the body were out of aluminum (such as the doors, hood, and trunk lid), although the owner could request an all-steel body and this what this example, chassis #4131, was optioned with. Suspension was by double wishbones with coil springs and an anti-roll bar in the front, and a live axle with coil springs in the back.

1962 Ferrari 250 California SWB Spider by Scaglietti Drivetrain
- image 853928

Behind the luscious Borrani spokes, you’ll find Dunlop disc brakes that were first trialed on Peter Collins’ personal Berlinetta in the late ’50s before becoming a standard feature on the 250 GT in 1960. Steering is by worm-and-wheel with all of the power reaching the rear wheels via a four-speed manual without overdrive (the heavier, 3,200+ pound 250 GTE 2+2 was the only to be fitted with overdrive for more top-end speed).

Despite tipping the scales at about 2,650 pounds, the 250 California was fast in its day with a top speed of 150 mph and Mercedes-Benz-rivaling braking ability and acceleration, although it didn’t behave that well in the twisty bits. But its forte was, undoubtedly, the ultra-flexible engine that offered enough torque all over the rev range although you had to rev it to unlock all of its resources and that blissful soundtrack.

1962 Ferrari 250 California SWB Spider by Scaglietti specifications
Engine Naturally aspirated, Tipo 168/61, 3.0-liter, SOHC, 24-valve V-12
Bore x stroke 2.87 × 2.31 in
Fuel feed Three Weber 40 DCL/6s
Output 280 horsepower at 7,500 rpm
Torque 200 pound-feet of torque at 6,000 rpm
Gearbox Manual, all-synchromesh four-speed
Suspension Double wishbones, coil springs, and an anti-roll bar in the front and a live axle with coil springs in the back
Steering Worm-and-wheel
Brakes Dunlop discs all around
0-60 mph  7.0 seconds
Top speed  150 mph
Weight 2,646 pounds

1962 Ferrari 250 California SWB Spider by Scaglietti Prices

1962 Ferrari 250 California SWB Spider by Scaglietti Exterior
- image 853903

The Ferrari 250 California SWB Spider is a car only attainable by the richest of the rich. With only 56 units ever built, you can be sure it’s more likely to be struck by lightning on a sunny day than to see one of these out on the wild. Even a decade ago, a 250 California with the short wheelbase setup and the enclosed headlights (37 out of the 56 came with the headlights covered by clear glass) sold for a whopping $11 million and, more recently, the unrestored ex-Alain Delon car traded hands for almost $19 million. Other covered-headlights examples trade hands for anywhere between $14 and $17 million apiece.

The rarer 19 SWBs with the more old-school exposed headlights, however, are a while away in terms of pricing. Sure, you’ll still need to trade in a few F40s to afford one, but you could get it for $10 million or even less. This particular 1962 example was slated to sell for anything between $10 million and $13.5 million. In the light of all this, RM/Sotheby’s presented this car as a "very interesting opportunity for the discerning collector". Discerning and very rich, we might add!

1962 Ferrari 250 California SWB Spider by Scaglietti Competition

1961 Aston Martin DB4 Convertible

1958 - 1963 Aston Martin DB4 High Resolution Exterior
- image 631119

Unveiled at the 1958 London Auto Show, the DB4 marked a new beginning for Aston Martin. All the bits that counted were new and, thus, not shared with the outgoing DB Mk. III, as was the design. Touring built the bodies using its famed Superleggera technique in which the aluminum body panels are fixed to the metal bars of the chassis. With a naturally aspirated, DOHC 3.7-liter straight-six capable of 240 horsepower at 5,000 rpm, the DB4 came forth with a bold, yet new, performance claim: the ability to go from naught to 62 mph and then back to naught really fast. It could do so in 21 seconds, easily diving into the sub-30-second range. By comparison, a 250 GT 2+2 that’s almost 1,000 pounds heavier than the DB4 completes the task just four seconds slower. The DB4 was slower than the 250 GT 2+2 in the 0-60 mph run, The Motor averaging 9.3 seconds for the job while the Ferrari needed just 8.5 seconds.

Three years after the introduction of the DB4 Coupe, the London Auto Show was again the scene of an important announcement from Aston Martin: a convertible (later known as ’Volante’) version of the DB4 would bolster the British automaker’s lineup. The styling was by Aston Martin in keeping with Touring’s cues. While 1,100 DB4s were made in total between 1958 and 1963 when it was replaced by the far more famous DB5, only 70 of those were convertibles. 40 of those examples belonged to the Series IV and the latter 30 to the final Series V. The S5 models were different in that they were longer with smaller wheels and came with a DB4 GT-inspired more aerodynamic lower front end.

A standard DB4 would set you back about £4,000 in 1960 which is the equivalent of nearly £88,000 in today’s money. The convertible was even more expensive and this may be why it’s so rare despite sharing all of the mechanicals, including the Dunlop servo-assisted brakes, the four-speed box (or the optional three-speed Borg-Warner automatic), and the suspension setup with the Coupe. Maybe people were also deterred by the fact that a 250 GT was priced at $12,000 when new - the modern-day equivalent of about $104,000 or some $7,000 less than a DB4 Coupe. It seemed, then, that if you wanted a bargain British sports car you had to go the way of Jaguar.

Read our full review on the 1961 Aston Martin DB4 Convertible

1961 Maserati 3500 GT Spider Vignale

Images
- image 866683

The Maserati 3500 GT was the first mass-produced Maserati grand tourer after a few years in which the Italian race car manufacturer toyed with the prospect of building road-oriented models and tried its hand at the job by putting together some A6-based GTs. The 3500 GT, however, was a clean-sheet design with many new parts including the Giulio Alfieri-designed 3.5-liter straight-six that was a modified sibling of the 350S’ racing engine. In the 3500 GT, this unit featured wet-sump lubrication and less aggressive compression ratio, on top of some different internals.

Carrozzeria Touring’s Carlo Felice Bianchi Anderloni said that it was a big-name Italian Ferrari dealer that put Touring in contact with Maserati Boss Omar Orsi, the two agreeing on a deal for the construction of the bodies. The first prototype was shown at the 1957 Geneva Auto Show and was followed, in 1958, by the first Spyder prototype at the Turin Auto Show, both designed by Touring. Maserati decided against putting Touring’s topless 3500 GT in production after seeing the Giovanni Michelotti-designed 3500 Spyder presented by Carrozzeria Vignale at the 1959 Paris Auto Show.

Weighing in at 3,042 pounds, almost 400 more than a short wheelbase California, the 3500 Spyder Vignale’s body was made out of steel beside the aluminum trunk lid, hood, and the optional hardtop. Vignale’s open-top examples were all built on a 3.9-inch shorter wheelbase and, by the time the California SWB had been introduced, Maserati offered front disc brakes and a limited-slip differential as standard. This was needed as the 3.5-liter engine put out 217 horsepower at 5,500 rpm when fitted with three twin-choke 42 DCOE Weber carburetors. The Lucas fuel-injected examples were even more powerful (some 232 horsepower at 5,500 rpm). Initially, the power was sent to the back wheels via a four-speed manual from ZF that was later replaced by a five-speed box while the rear axle was made by Salisbury, brakes were by Girling, and Alford and Adler supplied suspension components (double wishbones with coil springs, an anti-roll bar, and hydraulic dampers in the front, and semi-elliptic leafs bolted to the axle in the back).

Conclusion

1962 Ferrari 250 California SWB Spider by Scaglietti Exterior
- image 853893

The Ferrari 250 California SWB Spider is one of the prettiest cars ever made. Its status is unquestioned nowadays and is also reflected by the ever-rising prices. With ample competition pedigree via its endurance racing-bred drivetrain topped by the Colombo 3.0-liter V-12, the California is a car that blends Ritz levels of style with enviable performance that made it very much at home on a road course, be it the Nurburgring, Laguna Seca, or Circuit de la Sarthe. It’s the kind of car you should take on a holiday in France to drive past the luxurious resorts of the Riviera while also looking for a cozy race track or two to allow the California to stretch its legs - top down, of course!

  • Leave it
    • Still ludicrously expensive
    • Uninteresting to those who want low-mileage examples
    • Arguably less desirable than other 250-series Ferraris

Source: RM Sotheby’s

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