1964 Ferrari 250 GT Lusso
Bill Collins bought his 250 Lusso five decades ago and has cherished it ever since. Robert Coucher finds out more about its celebrity connections.
Photography Paul Harmer
50 YEARS WITH A FERRARI LUSSO
FERRARI 250GT LUSSO
Five decades of man and celebrity machine
Now listen to me, Collins, a word of advice. If you can resist the urge to rev this V12 engine over six thou’ it will last forever,’ said the car salesman. That salesman happened to be the legendary Le Mans and sports car racer Mike Salmon, who was working at Maranello Concessionaires some 50 years ago. Bill Collins, then a 25-year-old property developer, was in the Maranello Concessionaires showrooms in Egham, Surrey, to buy his second Ferrari.
‘Growing up, I’d always been mad about Ferraris and when I turned 18 my uncle, who was, how shall I put it, a bit of an eccentric ducker and diver, bought a Ferrari 330GT 2+2,’ says Collins. ‘It was ostensibly his company car and, as I was in the property business with him, we drove it all over the country at considerable speed. It was totally reliable and never went wrong and I remember once winding it up to 7000rpm in overdrive, which must have been nearly 160mph.
‘My uncle finally sold the 330 and so I found myself at Maranello looking for another Ferrari back in 1971. There was a beautiful 250 SWB on the shop floor but it was too expensive. So I made an offer on this 1964 250GT Lusso, chassis number 5467GT, one of only 23 right-hand-drive examples ever made. When new the Lusso was the cheapest Ferrari V12 you could buy, with a list price of £5900. I didn’t pay that because it was secondhand, having had one previous owner. His name was Rory McEwen, a Scottish folk singer living in London. The car was delivered in silver, but he’d ordered it in this Aston Martin ‘Roman Purple’, so Maranello sent it to Harold Radford in King Street in Chiswick to have it repainted. I have DVD footage of the Ford GT40s undergoing some development at Radfords with my Lusso in the background,’ says Bill.
‘THIS CAR IS UNIQUE AND IT FEELS LIKE IT – THE QUIET MANNER IN WHICH IT PROCEEDS DOWN THE ROAD IS A REVELATION’
And so began the 50-year affair. ‘I did exactly as Mike Salmon had advised – well, most of the time – and actually used the car as my daily driver for a number of years. It was reliable and well-behaved, even docile in the traffic, if a bit noisy on a long run – but what a noise! It would suffer from fouled plugs in and around London but the arrival of NGKs, with a wider heat range, meant the problem was solved. At some point I fitted racy snaps to the rear of the exhausts and velocity stacks to the Weber carbs, but it has all been put back to original since.
‘Of course, I had other cars at the time, including a number of Mini-Coopers. They were great fun in London and the revvy 1071cc was my favourite. I had a white one with blacked-out windows and as a sometime DJ I drove it late at night, so was pulled over quite regularly. The police were just interested and, because I have never drunk alcohol, all was fine.’
After a couple of years of running the Lusso, it developed a geabox problem and wouldn’t go into reverse, which is not much good in London. ‘I contacted David Clarke in Leicestershire, who at the time ran a small operation. He later went on to found the renowned Ferrari specialist Graypaul. David had a fellow named Bob Houghton [another name of great repute in Ferrari circles] working for him, and he rebuilt the gearbox beautifully. A bit later he attended to the head gaskets. ‘Because I was using the Ferrari regularly I decided to clean up the underneath. With the help of Fairfax Dunn, David Piper’s mechanic, we stripped the underside and I had all the suspension components cleaned and cadmium-plated and everything painted and rustproofed. But the Ferrari didn’t feel quite right once we put it all back, so I took it to Ivan Dutton for a once-over. He immediately spotted the nearside idler arm was mounted the wrong way around, so he turned it over and the car was back to normal.’
Today, the underside of the Lusso is totally immaculate. In fact, it looks like new, with absolutely no sign of corrosion or road rash. ‘Ivan has been looking after the Ferrari for years,’ says Bill. ‘He introduced me to the excitement of the racetrack in 1984, when we entered the car in the Pomeroy Trophy at Silverstone. Being a series of handicap trials and a race, the Pom attracted all sorts of cars. I couldn’t believe how fast we could go and how wide the circuit is. And it’s great that no-one comes the other way. The fast circuit laps caused the Ferrari to overheat so I replaced the original radiator with one with a larger core, which has worked perfectly ever since.’
The deep purple paintwork flatters the Ferrari and it looks smart and clean. There is some evidence of paint fade on the bonnet and at the rear, which is not surprising because this paintwork is 58 years old. ‘I have had some work done on the sides but have no plans to give it an entire respray,’ says Bill. And why would he? This is not some hard-used, careworn old rat-box. It’s an original, well-cared-for Ferrari that has covered only 54,638 miles in the hands of an enthusiast who loves the car and who has really looked after it.
‘Two years ago I noticed the engine was starting to go off-song. So I took the car down to Foskers near Brands Hatch in Kent, where Alastair Gill found that the engine was losing compression. He rebuilt it with new pistons, rings, bearings, seals, gaskets, rebuilt carbs and so on. All to standard spec and now it feels like all those horses are back with enthusiasm.’
Open the driver’s door and you are enveloped by the lovely smell of proper, original ‘Luxan’ Connolly leather. Once you’ve slipped into the fixed-back bucket seat you notice that the cabin is light and airy, with slim pillars and good visibility in all directions. The instrument layout, long regarded as plain odd, is now just quirky and not unattractive. The Veglia speedo and rev-counter are located in the centre of the dash, aimed at the driver, with the lesser gauges straight ahead. The tall gearlever is a little less macho than usual, with a nice two-finger indentation on the leading edge, and it does without a racy exposed gate. The large woodrimmed steering wheel feels cool and elegant.
There are a few unusual touches to 5467GT’s interior, including a nonstandard glovebox and passenger headrest, which were possibly fitted by Radfords. Bill had a top-of-the-range Becker Mexico radio installed in 1971 and the Ferrari has aircraft-style Irvin seatbelts; the scrutineer tag from the Pom still hangs proudly from the passenger grab-handle. The Lusso was styled by Pininfarina but built by Carrozzeria Scaglietti. And it is highly stylised, with its three-piece front bumper – a main centre section and two corner overriders – curved under the sidelights. Some aficionados view the Lusso as slightly fussy and certainly it has a bit more chrome and flourish than the stripped road racers, but it remains an elegant grand tourer and the overall shape is beautifully proportioned and graceful, from the low aquiline nose to its purposefully kicked-up Kamm tail.
The engine is the classic Colombo-designed short-stroke 60º V12, with a single overhead camshaft for each bank. The displacement is three litres, so each cylinder has a capacity of 250cc – hence the Ferrari nomenclature of 250. Power was quoted as 240bhp at a high-revving 7000rpm, with the maximum 192lb ft of torque reached at a heady 6000rpm. And this engine is a thing of beauty. Slung low in the frame, it displays all the best Ferrari signatures: 12 cylinders topped by crackleblack cam covers, a smart line-up of Weber carbs running down the centre, and two oil filters standing to attention at the front. Naturally there are twin distributors, twin coils and a Fiamm air horn to clear the way. The engine bay is clean, tidy and fit for purpose but in no way scrubbed-up for show. Just like the Lusso in its entirety: it’s a user. Bill casually gives me the keys and says: ‘Go and take it for a drive.’
No briefing, no instructions, no fuss. Just take his Ferrari of 50 years’ standing around busy London. So I insert the ignition key and push against the spring loading; that unique Ferrari whirr from the starter motor leads to a crackle as the V12 catches. The three twin-choke 36DCS Webers snaffle and pop as the fuel fills the bowls and the engine runs smoothly. Yes, it emits that special Ferrari V12 yowl grown men pay a fortune to listen to, sounding urgent and busy, and you can tell there is a lot going on under the bonnet. Talented engineers have worked hard to ensure the myriad mechanical components mesh and co-ordinate in syncopation and they want you to hear about it.
The throttle, gearshift and clutch pedal are as mechanical-feeling as you might expect but the Ferrari moves away with ease, its controls linear and allowing for smooth progress. The thought that you might have to rev this engine hard to get any response is soon banished, as low-end torque is ample and the car drives with gentle fluidity. Power comes through in a steady swell as the revs rise and the Lusso is a co-operative companion. The driving position is good for a driver of average size but those with long legs might suffer because of the close-set pedals.
The steering wheel is set high and, while the low-geared worm-and-sector system is not as sharp as a good rack-and-pinion, it’s perfectly accurate for fast road use. The suspension is the standard 1960s Ferrari set-up: at the front there are the usual coil-sprung double wishbones and at the rear the perfunctory live axle suspended by coil-assisted leaf springs and two radius arms for additional location. Brakes are discs by Girling all round, with servo-assistance.
Some purists mutter that the Lusso is too heavy and that the engine, positioned well forward in the chassis, is not as well-placed as in the 250 SWB. Maybe so, but driven as intended it doesn’t succumb to understeer and the 240bhp engine is well up to hauling it along at quite a lick. A bit more weight is undoubtedly added by the luxuriously trimmed cockpit, but the bonnet, doors and boot-lid are all aluminium. Each skin is specifically numbered because they are all hand-fitted and no skin from this car will fit another without a lot of fettling. As you shift along a bit in top gear, your brain tells you to go for the non-existent fifth cog as this is one of the last Ferraris fitted with a four-speed gearbox. Many owners have upgraded to a five-speed but Bill has left his car original as it’s ‘fast enough as it is’. Quite.
Amid the confines of Belgravia the Lusso has been perfectly well-behaved with no sign of plug fouling, and on a fast dual-carriageway out of town the V12 starts to sing. That lovely wood-rimmed steering wheel relays accurate feedback, and period Michelin XWX tyres are only 205-section, although they look fatter on the very offset wheels, and they do what is expected. Their adhesion is not high but the Ferrari’s handling is benign in the real world. The car feels smooth and tracks as straight as an arrow, devoid of any nervousness. Over badly broken tarmac the ride suffers a little, and transverse ridges can cause choppiness. But this is a car of 1960s vintage and it is up to you to ‘drive’ and control it. Now that Bill has standard-spec stainless steel exhausts fitted, the V12 soundtrack is bravissimo without being overwhelmingly loud.
Driving through sun-dappled, Georgian squares in early-morning London, before anyone else is awake, is always special. But to be doing so in a deep purple, original Ferrari with its owner of 50 years is so much more so. That magnificent engine. It’s just a foot-squeeze away from quiet to full operatic. This is seat-of-the-pants stuff and, where the road opens up (I live here so know the surveillance drill), second gear quickly becomes third and then top and we are off.
So what do I take away from this Ferrari Lusso experience? It is beautiful to behold, being largely original and so lovingly cared for by Bill Collins without resort to tearing the thing down to its nuts and bolts for a full restoration. This car is unique and it feels like it – the quiet manner in which it proceeds down the road is a revelation. I really was not expecting it to feel so tight, refined and obedient. This is a prancing horse, after all, but it doesn’t prance. It just gets on with it.
The Lusso might be somewhat overshadowed by its 250 SWB sibling but, as a Ferrari to use in London on a regular basis, this has to be the cerebral choice. Indeed, Bill will often simply drive about town in it and has sometimes ferried his sisters around when they were in town. ‘My sadly deceased sister Jackie, who was a novelist, appreciated the Lusso, but then she was a car enthusiast, having owned a 1966 Ford Mustang for many years, which she shipped between London and LA. My other sister really doesn’t take much notice of the Lusso. Well, she has a Rolls-Royce in Los Angeles with a decent make-up mirror in the back seat, which is important to her as she’s an actress. Her name is Joan.’
Above and below Unconventional dashboard layout angles centre-mounted speedo and rev-counter towards driver; scrutineers tag is from ’84 Pom Trophy; leather trim gently worn.
‘The more elegant streets of London are always a superb backdrop for the best classic cars – and they don’t come much more special than a Ferrari 250GT Lusso. Especially one with the celebrity connections of this car. It really did feel quite at home.’
TECHNICAL DATA 1964 Ferrari 250 GT Lusso
- Engine 2953cc V12, OHC per bank, triple Weber 36DCS carburettors
- Max Power 240bhp @ 7000rpm
- Max Torque 192 lb ft @ 6000rpm
- Transmission Four-speed manual, rear-wheel drive
- Steering Worm and Roller
- Suspension Front: double wishbones, coil springs, telescopic dampers, anti-roll bar. Rear: live axle, leaf springs assisted by coils, radius arms, telescopic dampers
- Brakes Discs
- Weight 1250kg
- Top speed 145mph
- 0-60mph 7.5sec