60 years of Ferrari 250 GTO
It’s possibly the most famous example of oneof the world’s most revered cars – and ownerNick Mason has driven his Ferrari 250 GTOabsolutely everywhere. Here’s whyit’s now firmly part of his family.Words James Page. Photography Dean Smith.
60 years of Ferrari 250 GTO
NICK MASON’S 44 YEARS WITH THE WORLD’S MOST DESIRABLE CAR – FROM STREET PARKING IN LONDON TO RACING AT GOODWOOD
Life with the world’s most famous Ferrari
The racing history of the Ferrari 250 GTO is well known: three consecutive World Championships; overall victories in the Tour de France and Tourist Trophy; class success in endurance classics such as Le Mans, Sebring and the Targa Florio; and wins in everything from short races on British airfields to epicItalian hillclimbs. For many people, that period in the early 1960s is all that matters – they have little interest in what’s happened to the cars in the decades since.
But to focus solely on a GTO’s frontline competition career is to overlook chapters in its life that still contribute to that car’s story. Take 3589 GT, for example, which Tom O’Connor donated to Victoria High School in Texas so that it could be used for the ‘automechanics’ programme; the same car was later left outside on a trailer for a number of years by subsequent owner Joe Kortan.
‘THE FIRST HISTORIC LE MANS WAS EMBARRASSING BECAUSE WE WON SIX OR SEVEN TROPHIES’
Then there are the GTOs that will forever be linked to their long-term custodians. Jim Mc Neiland Anthony Bamford have each clocked up more than 50 years, while those to reach 40 (and counting) include Paul Vestey and Peter Sachs – and Nick Mason, who bought 3757 GT in 1978. Mason grew up in a motoring family. His father, Bill, was a documentary maker who worked for Shell and produced motor racing films. He also competed in a Bentley 4.5 Litreand would take Nick with him to race meetings. The automotive bug was duly passed from father to son, andMason’s success as the drummer in Pink Floyd enabled him to build a truly mouth-watering collection – although describing it as such is perhaps slightly misleading, as if compiling it was a deliberate goal.
In reality, and as is often the case, it was more random than that. As he added cars, he found himself in the position of neither needing nor wanting to sell others, and by his own admission he ‘got a bit carried away’. In fairness, there were worse vices for a rock star to have during the 1970s.
Although he owns a number of single-seaters, Mason confesses to having a particular soft spot for ‘Le Mans-type’ cars, and the GTO is almost certainly the most famous inhabitant of his bustling workshops. Having been supplied new to Jacques Swaters and Ecurie Francorchamps, 3757GT made its competition debut in the Le Mans 24 Hours in June 1962 and finished third overall in the hands ofJean Blaton and Léon Dernier. Later that year, it finished third in the Tour de France – an event that was even more of a challenge to man and machine than LeMans.
That result owed much to a moment of… let’s call it ‘ingenuity’ by Jacques Swaters. The GTO arrived for the race at Spa-Francorchamps with a broken wishbone, but parc fermé regulations meant that it couldn’t be replaced. All the cars had to complete three practice laps before the race itself, a process that would take about 12 minutes. Swaters therefore sent his mechanics out to the far side of the circuit and Gérald Langloisvan Ophem set off for his three laps, but when he got to Malmedy he dived into a side-road and the repairs were hastily done out of sight before he drove back to the pits. Officials then marched straight up to Swaters and said that the car hadn’t done its required three laps, but lepatron showed them his lapchart, on which he’d entered completely fictitious times for theGTO. Swaters had a reputation as being a superb timekeeper and argued that the officials must have made a mistake. They bought it, and 3757 GTwas allowed to continue.
After the Tour de France, the GTO was sold to GuyHansez and he raced it through 1963, mostly in domestic Belgian hillclimbs. It then passed to British enthusiast PeterClarke and was used in everything from club meetings at Crott to the Nürburgring 1000km and Sebring 12 Hours, until its period competition career came to an end in 1966. By then, it was simply an out-of-date racing car, and AvalonGarage in Kent paid Clarke £2000 for it.
Subsequent custodians included Headley Gué and PeterNewens, the latter being a great motoring enthusiast whose family ran a bakery in Kew.
The GTO then had two owners whose names will be familiar to anyone with a knowledge of classic Ferraris. First there was Vic Norman, a close friend of Mason who owned the 1959 Paris Salon 250 GT ShortWheelbase and later setup Rosso Racing. In turn, Norman sold it to Ronald Stern and Malcolm Clarke – Stern then bought Clarke’s stake when he decided that the car needed to be restored. Not only did Stern go on to own both of the ex-Stirling Moss-winning Short Wheelbases, he has also acquired an unrivalled collection of Ferrari memorabilia.
It was from Stern that Mason acquired 3757 GT, by which time it was already wearing the ‘250 GTO’ registration number. When Stern handed him the logbook, Mason noticed that it had previously been registered ‘4 HLY’, and only then did he realise that he’d taken a photograph of Peter Clarke racing it at Goodwood during the mid-1960s.‘ I’d bought a 275 GTB/4,’ says Mason, ‘which was so unsatisfactory. It had terrible problems with brakes, it had terrible problems with wetting plugs, and it was there because I couldn’t afford a GTO at the time. So, whenI could afford it, I was really keen to get out of that and into a GTO.
‘IT WAS AN EXPENSIVE CAR,BUT IT’S NOT LIKE YOU COULD SHOP AROUND’
‘I knew that it was one of the best in terms of the fact that it had just been rebuilt – it hadn’t been sitting in a garage somewhere.It was an expensive car but there was very rarely more than one for sale at any given time. It’s not like you could shop around. And ifI really want a car I tend not to spend too much time talking about it. In ever drove the GTO beforeI bought it, which is true of the D-type, true of the Birdcage.You know if you want it.
‘I bought the D-type before the GTO. I bought that because Michael Scott told me that he didn’t think, if I found a GTO, the guy would want money. He’d want to swap it for something else. So I bought the D-type but it was completely useless because [Stern] wanted money – he didn’t have any interest at all in the D-type…
‘I love Ferraris dearly, but actually I have as much loyalty towards the [Aston Martin] Ulster, or the Birdcage. Ferrariis the iconic brand, so you spend more time talking aboutFerrari than anything else. Having said that, I didn’t know quite how good the GTO was.’
Mason started competing in the car as soon as he’d bought it. His first outing was in the Vintage Sports-Car Club’s Pomeroy Trophy – ‘I think I ranin to a Frazer Nash on the coming-in lap, which was a bit embarrassing’ – and the GTO became a regular at the Goodwood Revival.
‘Doing the Revival with it is absolutely a highlight, but also the first Historic Le Mans, where we ran the car withMark [Hales]. I had to leave early and Mark said it was stunningly embarrassing because we won, I can’t even remember, but we must have won six or seven trophies from one meeting.There were three races, all of which we’d been at the front of, plus first Ferrari, plus something else. By the end of it, people were booing when he got up to pick up another trophy! That was possibly the most success full meeting we ever had with it.
‘I’ve always said it’s the ultimate amateur’s car. If you’re a good driver, you can do really well. If you’re a bad driver, you’ll still do quite well, and if you’re a superstar you’ll win the race. Balance is the key word. It’s the fact that the brakes are about right for the weight of the car and the power of the engine. All that produces something that you can drive. By the time you get to something like the 512S, that’s a big boy’s car. There weren’t many gentleman drivers by that time.’
Talk to enough past and present owners of a GTO and you’ll soon find those who will argue that it’s far from ideal on public roads. Among them is Vic Norman, who is quite adamant when he states: ‘It looked fantastic, but as a road car – it’s not a road car. It was so bloody loud inside.’His friend Mason disagrees: ‘[It’s] a perfectly good road car. It’s noisy, but I’ve driven it to the Nürburgring, raced it there, and driven it back. And there are stories in period of cars being driven from the factory to races. It’s one of the last cars you could do that with. I took both my daughters to church in it for their weddings, and there were one or two occasions on which it would be the only car that would start in the morning and I’d take them to school in it.
‘The people who tell you that [the GTO] is not really as good as you think, nearly always you discover they own a Short Wheelbase. It’s not quite as versatile as a Short Wheelbase, but part of the problem is that everyone who’s raced GTOs – and I include myself in this – goes through the process of endlessly stiffening the damn thing trying to make it a little more race worthy. Actually, once you take all that trick stuff off, the car’s no slower.
‘Yes, you do need to wear ear-plugs or, ideally, headsets, but it’s OK. It’s got good visibility, and if you put a fan on it… You wouldn’t want to get stuck on a motorway, but it’s pretty good through Italian towns or wherever. The view down the bonnet is just wonderful, and for what it’s worth the GTO has far more luggage space than a LaFerrari or any of the hypercars – you can actually get a reasonable-sized bag behind the seats.’
The stratospheric value of a GTO has inevitably meant that the ownership experience in 2022 is very different to how it was in the 1970s. Steve Earle, for one, has no regrets about selling his cars when he did, arguing that ‘they might be worth $50 million now, but we had $50 million-worth of fun with them’. If you wince when your annual insurance renewal comes through, it’s best not to imagine how much it now costs to ship a GTO to an overseas event.
Mason admits that, while it used to be something of a ‘point of honour’ to race a GTO, it’s ‘starting to look more and more unwise’. For one thing, a GTO in standard trim won’t be competitive against many of the cars currently running in Historic racing. Even so, he is emphatically not one to wrap up his cars in cotton wool. Shortly after our photoshoot, 3757 GT was being sent to the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao to take part in an exhibition there, and after that it’s going straight to the USA for a GTO rally.
‘When Martin Brundle drove the car a few years ago, he more or less asked, “How hard do you want me to try?” My response was to point at it and say that I didn’t want it coming back looking like that, where it was highly polished and looking far too new and lovely. I’m still perfectly happy with some battle damage.
‘I have to say that it’s testament to the car that, although the owners inevitably change, nearly all of them have competition licences and an interest in motorsport.Despite the enormous values of the cars now, they tend to be real enthusiasts. I think that’s important, actually – they are a delightful bunch of people to hang out with.’
Even though picking a favourite from his collection is akin to picking a favourite child, it’s clear that the GTO holds a special place inMason’s affections.With the obvious exception of his father’s Bentley, he admits that it would probably be the last car he’d part with – and without doubt his ownership has added much to its story. ‘It’s a great all-rounder and it’s given such great service,’ he concludes. ‘It’s part of the family.’
‘YOU WOULDN’T WANT TO GET STUCK ON A MOTORWAY, BUT IT’S GOOD THROUGH ITALIAN TOWNS’
Facing page and above No speedometer in the main instrument pack, which centres on the rev-counter, but making the GTO road-legal means installing one on the transmission tunnel. Gloriously patinated leather seats and wood-rim wheel are testament to decades of use. Right and below Engine cover removed to reveal that six-carb 3.0-litre V12 in all its glory – so far back it’s effectively front/ mid-mounted; Kamm tail is just as distinctive as the nose.
TECHNICAL DATA FILE 1962 Ferrari 250 GTO
- Engine 2953cc V12, OHC per bank, six Weber 38 DCN carburettors
- Max Power 300bhp @ 7500rpm
- Max Torque 254lb ft @ 5400rpm
- Transmission Five-speed manual, rear-wheel drive
- Steering ZF worm and peg
- Suspension Front: double wishbones, coil springs, Koni telescopic dampers, anti-roll bar. Rear: live axle, locating rods,
- Watt’s linkage, semi-elliptic leaf springs, Koni telescopic dampers
- Brakes All Discs
- Weight c1050kg
- Top speed c170mph
- 0-60mph c6.5sec (performance figures vary according to final drive)
THANKS TO Victoria Gilbert and Ben de Chair at Ten Tenths. James Page’s limited-edition book Ultimate Ferrari 250 GTO is available from £450, published by Porter Press International, ISBN 978 1 913089 02 3.