Jason Barlow14 August 2014

How it feels to drive a 250 Cali Spider

With the classic Ferrari expected to fetch £9m at auction, Jason Barlow explains why it’s worth every penny

It might be Ferris Bueller's fault. Then again, it might not.

Bueller remains a talismanic figure for anyone who reached their mid-teens in the 1980s, the kid who had it all - nice house, gorgeous girlfriend, raffish charm - and who topped it all by borrowing his best friend's father's Ferrari 250 California Spider, and razzing around Chicago in it.

Of course, the film's director - the late, great John Hughes - wasn't daft enough to mess around with the real thing, and used a Ford-based replica instead. But even so, the spell was cast. Up until then, it had been Magnum's 308 GTS all the way, or maybe the Miami Vice Testarossa. Now the 250 Cali Spider was the car.

Well, this weekend aspiring Buellers can get in the Pebble Beach auction ring and bid on the real thing, a short wheelbase, covered headlight car, the prettier of the 106 cars that were ever made (55 short ones, 51 long, fact fans).

Gooding & Co has an estimate of $15m (£8.8m) on this particular car, and even though Bonhams' 250 GTO - up for grabs tonight - is likely to generate the bigger share of breathless Daily Mail headlines, and make even more money, the question the great unwashed will still be asking is: can a car - any car - possibly be worth £9m?

Yes. Of course it bloody can. Two reasons. Firstly, something is worth whatever somebody is prepared to pay for it. And the fact is, there are far more people out there with the necessary moolah to pay for one than there are Ferrari 250 California Spiders. Supply and demand: it's a basic tenet of capitalism.

Secondly, I've driven a 250 Cali Spider, and it's as good as cars get. Why? It just is.

Although not for the reasons you might think. There was nothing particularly advanced about the 250 GT's separate chassis (the hardware that underpinned a huge variety of different Ferrari models during the 1950s), and it took Scuderia Ferrari F1 driver Peter Collins to junk the drums and put proper disc brakes on one of Enzo's cars for the first time. Nor is the Cali Spider's 240bhp much to write home about these days.

None of which matters one iota. Because those same Fifties Ferraris are simply on another planet when it comes to glamour, sensuality, and sheer emotion. Somehow, by chopping the roof off the 250 Tour de France (at the behest of Ferrari's US west coast importer John von Neumann), the 250 Cali Spider accessed another level of cool and desirability.

Film director and legendary swordsman Roger Vadim drove one, as did French actor Alain Delon. Hollywood hard man James Coburn had one, a car now being enjoyed by some bloke called Chris Evans. All four of these gentlemen knew (and know) their automotive onions.

Pininfarina, who had done a deal with Enzo Ferrari to design his cars, was too busy to do the Cali Spider. So the gig went instead to Sergio Scaglietti and his guys, who hand-beat the aluminium for the car's bodywork over wooden bucks. Who cares if the doors or wings were a bit off on one side compared to the other? They didn't know it back in 1957, but they were creating art.

Now people are paying fine art money to own these treasures.

There's another reason why this era of Ferrari is so alluring: Gioacchino Colombo's 3.0-litre V12. Turn the key, prime the fuel pump, listen as the starter motor whirs, then let your ears fill with the wonder of a triple-carb 12 cylinder mashing fuel and air together. This is Jimi Hendrix at Monterey in 1967, or Marilyn Monroe serenading JFK on his birthday. Or maybe a mixture of both.

I drove chassis no.0923 GT, a car that sold at a Sothebys/RM auction back in 2008 for a piffling £1.8m (an even more piffling £314k in 1998). The steering was heavy, the brakes worked - eventually - and every gearchange needed planning and finesse. Any half-decent modern hot hatch would take the Cali Spider to the cleaners.

But, to coin a cliche, this Ferrari is a car that makes you feel like a million dollars. Trouble is, you need 15 million dollars to get your hands on one these days.

Damn you, Ferris.

All images copyright and courtesy of Gooding & Company. Photos by Mathieu Heurtault.

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