Exploring A ‘Secret’ Mediterranean Coastline With Johnny Hallyday’s Ferrari 275 GTB
Photography by Virgiliu Andone
We’ve all seen the artwork of pre-war hero cars, their speed-distended forms captured at the apex of some magical corner flanked by beautiful architecture and the world’s natural wonders. Though often based on real locales, the places depicted might as well be proxies of heaven, the scenes imbued with a style and grace beyond mortal possibility.
Whether these pieces were depictions of the era’s great motorsport events, or just promises of the delights that a future ownership of a model could deliver, these part art deco, part futurist illustrations inflamed the imaginations of generations of petrolheads, myself included. My favorites are those where the sea makes an appearance, with coastal highways perched high above the rocky shores and crushing waves. As a child, I wondered where the artists thought these dreams took place, and if they were maybe, just barely, real. I kept imagining being there at least once in my lifetime, in the right place at the right time.
Where were those roads? The Mediterranean coast is a good candidate, the Pacific coast another one high up on the list, while the South African shores sometimes look like they designed by some deity for the explicit purpose of shooting beautiful car commercials. Mass tourism and the building boom that came with it engulfed many of these once majestic bays with too many people and too many chain stores. Today, finding the spots that inspired the original posters can prove very frustrating—what was once idyllic is often now overdeveloped.
That’s not to say that there aren’t still gems to be found out there. The road markings may be a little different to the ones of yesteryear, making pre war cars look a little out of place now, but, on the bright side, they provide a splendid environment in which to admire the design of slightly younger cars like this gorgeous Ferrari 275 GTB.
This 1967 3286cc V12 is no stranger to the Mediterranean lifestyle, having spent much of its life ferrying mythical French rocker Johnny Hallyday between his pressing appointments with a certain gusto, given that he ended up blowing its engine on one of his spirited journeys. This car was his second 275 GTB, bought a couple of years after his red short-nose.
Johnny loved fast driving, so the 300hp this car develops were put to good use, and not always in the best conditions, if the additional pair of headlights he fitted to it at the time were anything to go by. The 275 GTB’s first owner was another celebrity, as Mr. Claude Terail, owner of the famous Tour d’Argent Parisian restaurant, was the first one to taste this Italian delicacy, taking delivery from the trusted hands of the Pozzi dealership. A silver car, in the shadow of the silver tower, on the banks of the Seine, with the Gothic stone webbing of Notre Dame as the backdrop. It must have broken a few hearts back in the day.
More recently, the car is pampered by Barcelona’s Auto Storica, since 2011. If you want something to make your eyes water, ask them how much this car is valued at. It’s for sale right now, but it ain’t cheap. It would certainly make a very lucky person feel even more blessed, and hopefully the new owners will add a couple of kilometers to the scant 50,000 it has travelled so far.
When the time came to take the 275 GTB out to stretch its legs a little for this shoot, we were spoiled for choice. But in the end there was one place that stood out as our favorite. Costa Brava may be the most famous sweep of the Mediterranean adorning Catalunya, but just north of Barcelona is another coastline, nowhere near as famous. In fact, you constantly find it on the internet’s shortlists of the world’s best “secret” coasts. Back in the day when the ink on those old posters was still wet, Costa Maresme was where the in-the-know citizens of Barcelona would retreat to for a lazy weekend in the sun.
The train line encouraged more and more people to escape city life for a couple of days, to enjoy the comfort of their holiday homes. Scenic spots like the effortlessly charismatic Sant Pol de Mar were great for relaxation, but for those of us who prefer driving with sweaty palms instead of baking in the sun on a balcony with a glass of wine (a great post-drive activity, mind you), the real treat would be a brisk drive on the beautiful road just beyond. It’s a coastal highway, snaking through some mighty cliffs and overlooking the sea below, winding through the naturally exciting topography.
At sunset, the silhouette of some of Barcelona’s iconic buildings are still easily distinguishable on the horizon, engulfed in golden light, while the immediate backdrop is graced with views of the postcard-perfect villages along the route. If this wasn’t an inspiration for one of those old pieces of automotive art, consider me stumped.
Perched in my shooting positions above, I could hear the report of the Ferrari’s V12 long before I saw the silver streak emerge from behind an outcrop. It’s a sound that one never tires of, but the sight was even better. The aural announcement grows louder as it comes into view, an automotive interpretation of the hungry silver sharks patrolling the sea below. The 275 GTB was canonized as one of the great Ferraris many decades ago, but while it’s as known an entity as anything in the world of cars, it’s still very rare to see one outside of a car show.
In a context like this, we glimpse our old favorites in a new light, and are reminded of their true appeal—not to be parked neatly at a concours, but to be driven on the roads that live in our imaginations most of the time. There’s undoubtedly something hedonistic about driving a vintage V12 along the coastline, but not in a debauched way. This is peak elegance, pure mechanical excellence, unparalleled beauty, a poster come to life.