The 250 GTO was designed to compete in GT racing, where its rivals would include the Shelby Cobra, Jaguar E-Type and Aston Martin DP214. The development of the 250 GTO was headed by chief engineer Giotto Bizzarrini. Although Bizzarrini is usually credited as the designer of the 250 GTO, he and most other Ferrari engineers were fired in 1962 due to a dispute with Enzo Ferrari.
Further development of the 250 GTO was overseen by new engineer Mauro Forghieri, who worked with Scaglietti to continue development of the body. The design of the car was a collaborative effort and cannot be ascribed to a single person. The mechanical aspects of 250 GTO were relatively conservative at the time of its introduction, using engine and chassis components that were proven in earlier competition cars. The chassis of the car was based on that of the 250 GT SWB, with minor differences in frame structure and geometry to reduce weight, stiffen and lower the chassis. The car was built around a hand-welded oval tube frame, incorporating A-arm front suspension, rear live-axle with Watt’s linkage, disc brakes, and Borrani wire wheels.
The engine was the Tipo 168/62 Comp. 3.0 L V12 as used in the 250 Testa Rossa. This engine was an all-alloy design utilising a dry sump and six 38DCN Weber carburettors. It produced approximately 300 horsepower and was very reliable, proved by previous competition experience with the Testa Rossa. The gearbox was a new 5-speed unit with Porsche-type synchromesh.
Bizzarrini focused his design effort on the car’s aerodynamics in an attempt to improve top speed and stability. The body design was informed by wind-tunnel testing at Pisa University as well as road and track testing with several prototype cars. The resulting all-aluminium bodywork had a long, low nose, small radiator inlet, and distinctive air intakes on the nose with removable covers. Early testing resulted in the addition of a rear spoiler. The underside of the car was covered by a belly pan and had an additional spoiler underneath formed by the fuel tank cover.
The aerodynamic design of the 250 GTO was a major technical innovation compared to previous Ferrari GT cars and in line with contemporary developments by manufacturers such as Lotus. The bodies were constructed by Scaglietti, with the exception of early prototypes with bodies constructed in-house by Ferrari or by Pininfarina (in the case of s/n 2643 GT). Cars were produced in many colours, with the most famous being the bright red “Rosso Cina”.
The interior of a 250 GTO is extremely basic, emphasising the car’s racing intentions. The instrument panel does not contain a speedometer, seats are cloth-upholstered, and no carpeting or headliner is present. Cockpit ventilation is provided by exterior air inlets. The exposed metal gate defining the shift pattern became a Ferrari tradition that was maintained in production models until recently (due to the exclusivity of paddle-shift gearboxes across the range).
FIA regulations as they applied in 1962 required at least one hundred examples of a car to be built for it to be homologated for Group 3 Grand Touring Car racing. However, Ferrari built only 39 250 GTOs (33 of the “normal” cars, three with the four-litre 330 engine sometimes called the “330 GTO”—recognizable by the large hump on the bonnet—and three “Type 64” cars, with revised bodywork). Ferrari eluded FIA regulations by numbering its chassis out of sequence, using jumps between each to suggest cars that did not exist. When FIA inspectors appeared to confirm that 100 examples had been built, Enzo Ferrari shuffled the same cars between different locations, thus giving the impression that the full complement of 100 cars was present.
The car debuted at the 12 Hours of Sebring in 1962, driven by American Phil Hill (the Formula One World Driving Champion at the time) and Belgian Olivier 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 second overall behind the Testa Rossa of Bonnier and Scarfiotti.
Ferrari would go on to win the over 2000cc class of the FIA’s International Championship for GT Manufacturers in 1962, 1963, and 1964, the 250 GTO being raced in each of those years.
The 250 GTO was one of the last front-engined cars to remain competitive at the top level of sports car racing. Before the advent of vintage racing the 250 GTO, like other racing cars of the period, passed into obsolescence. Some were used in regional races, while others were used as road cars.
Prices fell substantially during the car market crash of the early 90s, resulting in the most recent lows of $2,700,000 in September 1994, and $2,500,000 in May 1996. Prices began to climb again in the late 90s and reached about $7,000,000 by 2000. They reached $10,000,000 again in 2004. Since 2013 the most recent record is quadruple that of the $13 million paid in January 1990.
In February 2012, a 1964 Ferrari 250 GTO became the most expensive car ever sold, fetching a staggering $32 million. Then, just a few months later, a 1962 GTO, built for the legendary Sir Stirling Moss, eclipsed that record selling for $35 million. But in the world of Ferraris, GTOs, and incredibly affluent, unidentified buyers, a $35 million GTO is now a relative steal. That’s because a 1963 Ferrari 250 GTO was sold for $52 million back in 2013, according to Bloomberg, snatching the record as the latest “most expensive car ever sold.”