1950s: 250 GT California Spider
Ferrari the organisation entered the 1950s aged just three, and exited the decade triumphant in sports car racing, Formula One, and the manufacturer of the world’s most desired road cars.
Core to this imperious rise was its 250 model line, an ever-evolving range that encompassed such an array of body styles and technical alterations that even the world’s many Ferrari experts often disagree on who did what with whom and when. It also makes choosing a representative Fifties Ferrari almost impossible, but we’ll go for the 250 GT California Spider.
It was dreamt up by Ferrari’s US west coast point man John von Neumann, who knew a racier convertible would suit his burgeoning showbiz clientele. Luigi Chinetti, the company’s indefatigable man on the east coast, a former Le Mans winner for Ferrari, and the first to recognise the brand’s enormous Stateside potential, backed the idea and persuaded Enzo Ferrari of its merits.
Launched in 1958 in 2600mm long wheelbase form, the car soon morphed into the 200mm shorter, 30mm lower SWB car, powered by Giacchino Colombo’s magnificent 3.0-litre V12, and available with covered and uncovered headlights. Disc brakes also replaced the earlier drums. Although Pininfarina was by now Ferrari’s couturier of choice, the Cali Spider was designed and built by body fabricator Scaglietti.
Just 106 of all types were made, plenty were raced, and owners included film director (and ex-lover of Brigitte Bardot, Jane Fonda, and others) Roger Vadim, French screen idol Alain Delon, and Hollywood hard-man James Coburn. Later generations got turned onto the car in John Hughes’ 1986 brat pack classic Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, although as it got spectacularly trashed, wisely they used a replica.
(NB: the 1940s of course, belonged to the Ferrari 125 S, which made its race debut on May 11, 1947)