Have a Spare $11 Million? This Legendary Ferrari Racer Could Be Yours
Photography by Patrick Ernzen & Maurice Louche Courtesy of RM Sotheby’s
Soon, you may hear discerning car collectors whistling a characteristic Christmas tune once sung by Andy Williams. Don’t fret; the seemingly endless advertisements have not gotten an early jump on the holiday season. No, the annual Monterey motor week has arrived and for a collector that means it is “…the Most Wonderful Time of the Year”.
While the prestigious Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance is the flagship auto show at Monterey, the highly exclusive auctions are where the real gems cross the stage. On the block there will be plenty of gorgeous metal to whet any enthusiast’s appetite, from Miuras to 300 SL Gullwings, to McLaren F1s, but this year, there is one crown jewel up for grabs that will shine brighter than most: the 1956 Ferrari 250 GT Berlinetta Competizione ‘Tour de France’ by Scaglietti.
Chassis number 0557GT is just one of nine cars built by Scaglietti in this configuration; this particular Ferrari being a bonafide racer from the start. While the “Tour de France” nomenclature was never officially the given name, it quickly became the identifier for this run of competition-focused Ferrari berlinettas, each based on the 250 GT. This very car was the one that birthed the legend of the Tour de France designation, placing first overall at the 1956 Tour de France Auto.
While a handful of you might have expected this car to come with a matching bicycle and a prancing horse cycling jersey, the Tour de France Automobile was a legendary sports car race, frequently taking place throughout France between 1899 and 1986. The 250 GT Berlinetta Competizione evolved into existence as a result of drastic changes by the FIA after the catastrophic calamity at the 1955 running of Le Mans. The FIA’s amendments put emphasis on the use of grand touring cars, transforming the way manufacturers approached racing throughout Europe.
The new Gran Turismo class set a displacement cap of 3.0 liters, which proved perfect for Ferrari as their 3.0 liter V12 had already been running amok in racing circles for years. Seemingly overnight, the long-wheelbase 2,600mm 250 GT chassis became the ideal instrument for the revamped series.
This gorgeous French blue example features a 260-horsepower version of the triple Weber carbureted SOHC 12-cylinder engine, mated to an all-synchromesh four-speed manual transmission. The car also features an independent suspension up front, with a live rear axle out back using semi-elliptical leaf springs. Brakes were drums all around – no discs here.
The six-day 1956 Tour de France Auto combined multiple aspects of classic rally racing, including two hill climbs, a drag race, and six different circuit sprints. An aristocratic Spaniard, Alfonso de Portago, owned and ran this particular example for over 3,600 miles to victory at the 1956 Tour. Even though his illustrious racing career had begun less than three years prior, he bested the stiff competition from legendary marques such as Mercedes-Benz, whose 300SL was piloted by racing legend Stirling Moss. The 250 GT Berlinetta Competizione lineage went on to dominate the pack at the French rally for years to come.
Along with his copilot Edmund Nelson, Portago took chassis 0557GT to first place finishes at the Coupes du Salon and the Rome Grand Prix, tacking on another in early 1957 at the Coupes USA, thus extending the rich racing history of this very special car. While his success was sure to continue in the 250 GT, Portago was regrettably killed in a crash behind the wheel of a Ferrari 335 Sport at the Mille Miglia just one month after his victory at Coupes USA.
Following his death, the car was given to Portago’s English friend, C. Keith W. Schellenberg, who held onto it until 1983. The next owner–a Brit by the name of Peter G. Palumbo, sold the car in 1992 to a world renowned Ferrari collector in Mexico who treated the car to a ground up restoration by Bob Smith Coachworks. That owner, Lorenzo Zambrano, took impeccable care of the classic racer and exhibited the car at numerous events leading up to his death in 2012, taking top prize at Concours events around the globe.
Offered publicly for the first time in 23 years, 0557GT is being offered for sale at this year’s Monterey Auction through RM Sotheby’s. Recent versions have fetched between $8M and $9.5M, none with a legacy as significant as this very first Tour de France racer. While the car alone stands momentous in its own right, the Ferrari build sheets and period photography will accompany the vehicle across the auction block.
One can only hope the lucky buyer will continue to show it off to the world for years to come. Keep your eye on this one in the coming days at Monterey, and do try to keep any Christmas jingles out of your head until at least September.