Girardo & Co.’s guide to the 1959 Ferrari 250 GT LWB Berlinetta ‘Interim’
08 September 2021
by Girardo & Co.
Just seven Ferrari 250 GT LWB Berlinetta ‘Interims’ were built, representing a crucial development milestone in the creation of the SWB, a car commonly hailed as the greatest dual-purpose Ferrari Gran Turismo. Using this exquisite example, which Max Girardo is honoured to be racing at the 2021 Goodwood Revival, we’re going to show you exactly what distinguishes the ‘Interim’ and why it’s among the most desirable Ferraris of them all…
A force to be reckoned with
Every gentleman racing driver worth their salt yearned to own a Ferrari 250 GT LWB Berlinetta ‘Tour de France’ in the second half of the 1950s. In its three distinct iterations (14-, three- and single-louvre) the desperately beautiful dual-purpose Gran Turismo set Ferrari on a course towards total domination of GT racing.
It was the exuberant Spanish nobleman Alfonso de Portago who earned this Ferrari its ‘Tour de France’ moniker, when he won the 1956 running of the gruelling 3,600-mile six-day French endurance road race.
In addition to two further consecutive victories in the Tour de France Automobile, the 250 GT Berlinetta’s competition accolades include class victory at the 24 Hours of Le Mans in 1959 and outright victory at the Targa Florio in 1957. These cars were as unstoppable as the charismatic racing legends who drove them – from Piero Taruffi to Olivier Gendebien – and did Ferrari the world of good from an international publicity perspective.
Impatience is a virtue
On his unrelenting quest to innovate, win races and, uncoincidentally, cash in on the demand drummed up by the success of the ‘Tour de France’, Enzo Ferrari greenlit development for a new shorter, sleeker and more technologically advanced version of the 250 GT Berlinetta in early 1959, anticipating its reveal at the Paris salon – a show he famously favoured – in October of the same year.
Pinin Farina, the history-steeped design house, was entrusted with the design of the new Berlinetta. And this is where the so-called ‘Interim’ enters the fray. Il Commendatore was keen to test the high-speed capabilities of the new car’s bodywork, so using his direct, no-nonsense influence, commissioned Pinin Farina and Scaglietti to clothe the current 250 GT LWB’s 2,600mm chassis with an early development of the new SWB’s coachwork ahead of the 24 Hours of Le Mans in June of 1959.
“With its fastback canopy tapering down to its pert rounded-off posterior, voluptuous hips and tall, commanding nose, this car very much heralded the arrival of a new 1960s aesthetic.”
A radical departure from the comparatively ornate styling of the ‘Tour de France’, Pinin Farina’s new body was softer and more voluminous, boasting a more purposeful and racy overall stance. With its fastback canopy tapering down to its pert rounded-off posterior, voluptuous hips and tall, commanding nose, this car very much heralded the arrival of a new 1960s aesthetic. The extra 200mm in the wheelbase compared to the later 250 GT SWB Berlinetta makes the ‘Interim’ slightly less cohesive from a proportion point of view. However, in our opinion, it’s still a very pretty thing.
The very first ‘Interim’ – chassis number 1377 GT – was, uniquely, constructed by Pinin Farina in Turin while the second example, 1461 GT, which appeared alongside the aforementioned prototype at Le Mans, was built by Scaglietti in Modena. Ironically, the short and open-faced nose of the ‘Interim’ was to be its undoing – the car proved no quicker than the ‘Tour de France’ on Les Hunaudieres. It wasn’t until the 250 GTO, which the factory chose to design itself, that Ferrari really got a grip on aerodynamic efficiency.
At Le Mans, the two ‘Interims’ faired very well. Raced by Lino Fayen and Gino Munaron, the Pininfarina-built prototype finished sixth overall. And despite engine niggles, the N.A.R.T.-entered chassis 1461 GT finished even stronger, its drivers George Arents and André Pilette crossing the line fourth overall and second in the GT class.
Over in a flash
Just five further Scaglietti-built 250 GT LWB Berlinetta ‘Interims’ were sold to Ferrari’s VIP customers and well-known privateers. They were delivered in time for the Tour de France Automobile in September of 1959, a race in which Olivier Gendebien and Lucien Bianchi piloting an ‘Interim’ – chassis 1523 GT, the final example built – claimed an emphatic outright victory. It was the fourth consecutive win for a Ferrari 250 GT in the taxing road race a mic-drop moment from the model which was about to be superseded.
Perhaps the most intriguing aspect of the ‘Interim’ story is the flash of time in which it competed. A mere three months after its introduction, the 250 GT SWB Berlinetta – with its more compact design and disc brakes – took a bow in Paris and instantly rose to the top of every driver’s wish list. Swiftly rendered obsolete on the track, most of the ‘Interims’ were instead left to serve as fast road cars for their small number of well-to-do owners.
Ferrari 250 GT LWB Berlinetta ‘Interim’ chassis numbers
Chassis number Delivered to
1377 GT Venezuela
1461 GT USA
1465 GT Italy
1509 GT France
1519 GT Switzerland
1521 GT France
1523 GT Belgium
The stunning and beguilingly original 250 GT LWB Berlinetta ‘Interim’ pictured here at Belchers Farm is chassis number 1509 GT, which Max Girardo was invited to race at the 2021 Goodwood Revival on behalf of the very generous owner.
The fourth of the seven examples built, 1509 GT was delivered new in September of 1959 to the French racing driver Jo Schlesser. The car was finished in white with a green and red stripe, the national colours of Madagascar. Schlesser was born in and grew up on the island, which was until 1960 a French colony.
This 250 GT LWB Berlinetta’s first competitive outing came in the 1959 Tour de France Automobile, in which he drove together with his wife Annie. Schlesser entered many further races with 1509 GT in 1960, including the Nürburgring 1,000km and the Tourist Trophy at Goodwood. You can find out more about this car, including what it’s like to experience from behind the steering wheel, by reading our Goodwood Revival 2021 test-day report here.
The ‘Interim’ in detail
First and foremost, all seven of the Ferrari 250 GT LWB Berlinetta ‘Interims’ are left-hand-drive cars fitted with lightweight all-aluminium bodies. Externally, the ‘Interim’ can be distinguished from the SWB most obviously by the slightly squarer canopy, the longer and less recessed bonnet intake and the vestigial three-quarter windows aft of the side windows, which account for the extra 200mm in the wheelbase of the LWB’s chassis.
Another minor difference are the small brake ducts in the front fender panels, which are not sleeved unlike on the majority of 250 GT SWBs. Interestingly, because all the cars were delivered with 16-inch Borrani wire wheels, owners would paint their spokes different shades of grey so there would be no confusion when they presented the wheels to the tyre distributor to be shod with fresh rubber.
“Externally, the ‘Interim’ can be distinguished from the SWB most obviously by the slightly squarer canopy, the longer and less recessed bonnet intake and the vestigial three-quarter windows aft of the side windows, which account for the extra 200mm in the LWB’s wheelbase.”
Given the incredibly low production number and the bespoke coach-built nature of these cars, they inevitably differ from each other in many minute ways. All seven cars, for example, have large quick-release external fuel filler caps, though on the first three chassis they’re mounted atop the left rear wing, while on the remaining four they’re notched into the boot lid, much like they are on the early SWBs. Similarly, some cars were delivered with chrome bumperettes, sliding Perspex side windows, prancing horse emblems in the grille and bonnet-mounted bug deflectors.
In the cabin, there was a new crackle-finish dashboard with a larger binnacle placing all of the dials closer the driver’s line of sight, rather than the spread-out layout of the ‘Tour de France’. The cabin could be upholstered in leather or Everflex vinyl, and the passenger seat was fitted with a headrest – a common period requirement for co-drivers on long-distance rallies such as the Tour de France Automobile. The alloy-topped gear lever sat as tall and proudly as it did in the car’s predecessor, and there are other ‘Tour de France’ tells-tails such as the ornate door handle pulls.
Beyond skin-deep beauty
Beneath the beautiful surface of the ‘Interim’, it was very much a case of evolution and not revolution. The tubular 2,600mm ‘Tour de France’ chassis (Tipo 508D) was virtually unchanged, though strengthening tubing was added around the engine and at the rear. In a similar vein, the suspension, four-speed gearbox, exhaust system (peashooters for the win!) and 136-litre fuel tank remained the same as the earlier 250 GT LWB Berlinetta.
Every ‘Interim’ was constructed with a limited-slip differential, and large finned drum brakes. In order to match the performance of the later SWBs, with their Dunlop disc brakes, several ‘Interim’ owners retrofitted Campagnolo discs. Two chassis – 1461 GT and 1523 GT – were fitted with the Dunlop discs for the 1959 Tour de France Automobile, though the cars failed to pass scrutineering as the modifications were not homologated.
The heart and soul of any Ferrari has always been its engine, and the powerplant in the ‘Interim’ is suitably soul-stirring. Unsurprisingly, it was the engine earmarked for the first versions of the new 250 GT SWB. Fundamentally, its roots were in the Colombo-designed V12 which had done so much to forge the Ferrari legend since it featured in the very first Ferrari, the 125 S.
In three-litre guise, the Tipo 128DF engine in the ‘Interim’ differed from its 250 GT LWB predecessors’ in that it had new alloy cylinder heads with 12-port induction and spark plugs outside the vee rather than in. The reasoning for this was simple: not only did it reduce the risk of fire, but it also meant spark plug changes could be performed much more quickly. Five ‘Interims’ were fitted with this updated engine, which breathed through three Weber 36 DCZ 3 carburettors. Why the remaining two didn’t is probably a question of supply constraints at the time. Power was officially rated at 240bhp – the exact same figure as the earlier LWBs.
Devil in the details
It’s important to note that both the Pininfarina-built prototype and the first Scaglietti-built ‘Interim’ (the two cars which appeared at Le Mans) differed from their counterparts in myriad small ways. Take the bonnets, for example, which were detachable rather than hinged and featured a small hump to cover the carburettors instead of an open vent. Additionally, these cars boasted small aluminium panels in their grilles in order to better regulate the engine temperature dependent on the time of day at Le Mans. Both cars were also notable for their experimental 40 DCZ 6 and 40 DCZ 3 Weber carburettors, revised compression ratios and lightweight Elektron sumps and cam covers.
A word from the boss
Max Girardo shines a light on what the Ferrari 250 GT LWB Berlinetta ‘Interim’ is like from behind the gorgeous slightly dished steering wheel and what makes the model so important and desirable in today’s collector car market. “In my opinion, the ‘Interim’ represents an underrated sweet spot in the Ferrari GT lineage.
“Despite sharing virtually identical underpinnings to the ‘Tour de France’, the ‘Interim’ feels more modern somehow. There’s the slightly reclined driving position, the updated dashboard and the view out over the slightly elevated bonnet. I can’t hammer home enough how much of a joy to drive it is – whether you’re tearing lap after lap around a racetrack or on a cross-continental road trip. And that inherent dual-purpose nature is exactly what makes it such an appealing ownership proposition today.
“In my opinion, the ‘Interim’ represents an underrated sweet spot in the Ferrari GT lineage. It’s the car’s inherent dual-purpose nature which makes it such an appealing ownership proposition today.”
“The car is so user-friendly. It’s powerful enough to be balanced on the throttle, but not so much as to terrify you. As well as sounding glorious, the V12 is laden with torque, and the four-speed gearbox is a delight to use. The handling is predictable and balanced, with the poise of a ballerina. It’s refined and comfortable and enjoyable precisely because it’s not razor-sharp and threatening to bite at any second. I can understand completely why the 250 GT LWB Berlinetta was able to win the Tour de France Automobile four times in a row.
“I can’t put my finger on exactly what makes the ‘Interim’ feel slightly sharper and more zingy than the ‘Tour de France’. Perhaps it’s the disc brakes on 1509 GT, which were a common period upgrade on these cars. By no means is the overall difference night and day, but you can definitely recognise it. The ‘Tour de France’ is rooted in the 1950s. But the ‘Interim’ peers ahead into a new decade.”
Such is the rarity of the Ferrari 250 GT LWB ‘Interims’, even by the standards of the earlier ‘Tour de Frances’, and the narrow window of time in which they were ‘current’, they are not widely known about or understood today. In 1959, the car was a fleeting glimpse of a very near future; an integral stepping stone towards the creation of the car commonly considered to be the greatest dual-purpose Ferrari berlinetta of them all – the immortal SWB.
We don’t think the ‘Interim’ should be viewed merely as a fascinating development stopgap until the SWB, though. We think it should be viewed instead as the culmination of the long-wheelbase Ferrari 250 GT Berlinetta , a car which, over the course of five years and in various guises, proved to be the undisputed car to beat in international GT racing.
It’s entirely fitting that the last of the circa-100 LWBs built, the ‘Interim’ bearing the chassis number 1523 GT, won the 1959 Tour de France Automobile outright, the race which earned its predecessors the name by which they’re now widely referred. As one extraordinarily successful book closed, another even more triumphant chapter was about to begin. Naturally, for today’s discerning collectors, the elusive ‘Interims’ are among the most sought-after and valuable Prancing Horses in the marque’s illustrious history.
- Alloy Pinin Farina-designed bodywork in the style of the later 250 GT SWB Berlinetta
- Three-quarter windows in the sail panel aft of the doors
- External quick-release fuel filler cap on the left-hand-side of the tail
- Tipo 128DF engine with 12-port induction and spark plugs outside of the cylinder heads
- Passenger seat headrest
- Small un-sleeved brake cooling ducts in the front valance
- 2,953cc, 24-valve, 60-degree single-overhead camshaft Tipo 128DF V12, wet sump and longitudinally mounted
- Three Weber 36 DCZ 3 carburettors
- Circa-240bhp at 7,000rpm
- Four-speed gearbox
- Tipo 508D steel tubular frame chassis
- Double wishbones and coil springs at the front
- Live rear axle with semi-elliptic leaf springs
- Alloy body by Scaglietti (except chassis 1377 GT, which was built by Pininfarina)
- Finned drum brakes to all four wheels
Photos: Tom Shaxson for Girardo & Co.
Reference Points is a new series of extensively researched features here on girardo.com in which we will be exploring the most significant historic road, competition and rally cars in detail, showing what distinguishes them, from both a visual and mechanical point of view, and why they’re so desirable in the context of today’s collector car market.
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