Maranello’s racing success in the mid 1950s happened in such a flurry of technical and design innovation that for several years the latest Ferrari race cars had no road going versions.
The Ferrari 250 Cabriolet Series I, an open version of Pininfarina’s lovely 250 GT Coupe, launched in 1957 to meet the demand, growled satisfactorily on the road, but lacked the dual purpose characteristic of Ferrari’s earliest open sports racing cars. Even so, Ferrari’s American customers were slavering for it, and the biggest dealer in Southern California begged his friend Enzo Ferrari to raise his quota.
Enzo did his friend proud. He created the Ferrari 250 GT Spyder California. The ‘Cal Spyder’ was vintage racing Ferrari, at the sharp end of automotive progress but — somehow — both street legal and a work of art (with consummate grace, Scaglietti and Pininfarina each credited the other for the stunning design). California took it to its glossily competitive heart. Stars like Paul Newman, Steve McQueen, James Coburn and Clint Eastwood returned Enzo’s compliment, and raced for real; but common sense (as ever, many buyers wanted the look, not the danger) dictated that some Cal Spyders intended for road use were more steel than aluminum, and were gradually invested with carpets and other touches of luxury. There were constant mechanical upgrades like disc brakes. Most significant of all was the introduction of the short wheel base (SWB) chassis, which greatly improved rigidity and handling. The 250 GT Spyder California SWB is the apotheosis of genuine dual-purpose open-air Ferraris, and the last of them.
All the more surprising that in 2009, Ferrari revived the name California Spyder for a car that may be a marvelous luxury sports car, but owes much more to Hollywood than to racing.
COUNTRY OF ORIGIN:
1957 (until 1963)
2,953 cc V12
Top speed of 155 mph (250 km/h);0-60 mph (97 km/h) in 7.2 secs
YOU SHOULD KNOW:
The rarity and desirability of the Ferrari 250 GT Spyder California (only around 100 were ever made) makes it one of the most treasured vehicles on earth. In 2008, a black 1961 SWB Spyder Cal formerly owned by the actor James Coburn (The Magnificent Seven; The Great Escape etc) was sold at auction for $10.894 million.