Memories of a Ferrari 250SWB

Classic and Grand Touring

Recalling Dad's favourite Ferrari, the 250SWB S/N 3605GT.

My Dad has recently taken delivery of his 25th Ferrari: a shiny new California, his first being the Daytona that is now mine. While the Daytona has always been my personal favourite (in part because it's been in the family since I was two), his all-time favourite was undoubtedly the 250 SWB s/n 3605GT.

3605GT is a late model 250SWB built with a steel body and to so-called Lusso specification (although not to be confused with the later 250 Lusso), with bumpers and a full interior. The first owner was Lord Portman who, according to the history file, collected the car directly from the factory and drove it back to England in convoy with Colonel Ronnie Hoare of Maranello Concessionaires, who was driving a 250GTE destined for Peter Sellers. It was the last RHD car destined for the UK, although if I remember correctly one more was delivered to Australia after this.

The car passed through a number of UK owners - one of whom wrote a rather amusing letter about being passed by Mike Parkes testing a 330P4 racer on an Italian Autostrada! - before ending up in Japan in the Matsuda collection in the early 80s.

Dad acquired it in late 1996 at which point the car, while still running, was clearly in need of major mechanical and cosmetic restoration. The car was painted red, but a plan was quickly hatched to return it to its original Celeste Ardennza, a light metallic blue. What would have been a restoration over about a year was rapidly rescheduled since the car gained an invite to the Ferrari 50th anniversary celebrations in Rome the following May.

The body was handled by Moto Technique while Dad's mechanic Vince handled the mechanical work. As with all of these things, the timing was very tight and the car was only finished a few days before the scheduled trip to Italy. The plan was to drive the car to Rome, but with only the opportunity for one short 50 mile test drive there was concern that the 34-year old car would be able to make it without any problems. Dad set off in the Ferrari, with Vince following in the Grand Cherokee Jeep that Dad used as a daily driver at the time, the 4x4's boot stocked full of all the spares that they could lay their hands on! Work commitments meant that I had to fly out to Rome on a miserable BA 737 two days later.

The event itself was an interesting affair. On the first day the cars were displayed at the Olympic Stadium, followed by a parade through Rome on the Sunday. The highlight of the day for me was standing in the vehicle assembly area waiting for our group to parade through the closed road section, when a certain Michael Schumacher returned to the assembly in his F1 car. I was less than two feet away when he passed by me. I doubt I will get that close to an F1 car in motion again, much less one driven by the great man himself.

The following day the collection of cars drove the section of the Mille Miglia route from Rome to the Ferrari factory in Rome. Dad elected to take a break from driving and left Vince to take the wheel, with me as passenger. It was a fun day and the mountain passes gave ample opportunity for the SWB to show off its legendary handling balance. Despite the fairly crude leaf spring rear suspension, the SWB was probably the best handling Ferrari Dad has owned (well, best handling at legal road speeds anyway), and unlike the Daytona is much more comfortable at some extreme slip angles.

Two problems did occur. Firstly, the brakes in the original configuration wilted in the springtime Italian heat. This was subsequently fixed by moving the calipers from the front, where they were originally mounted, to the back of the disc. The second was a problem from the slightly rushed restoration, The heat shield on the passenger side of the car was missing so the passenger footwell was getting very warm by the end of the day, and the soles of my shoes were starting to go soft!

Other than these issues, the car ran all day without any problems - indeed, it ran faultlessly for the whole trip. After a couple of days on display at Maranello we drove the car back to England, the sound of the 3.0 V12 echoing through the Mont Blanc tunnel being another highlight. The journey home highlighted the car's only serious design deficiency, the lack of a five speed gearbox. This results in the engine turning at relatively high rpm at motorway speeds, which is rather wearing on the occupants during a long journey. Dad did a lot of investigation work into fitting a five speed box into the car but all efforts proved impossible without a modification to the chassis, something he was not prepared to contemplate. A partial solution was found in fitting larger tyres when touring (from a Rolls Royce, believe it or not!) which slightly raised the gearing.

After the Rome trip Dad did many more trips around the UK and Europe covering around 14,000 miles during his ownership. However, during the 2000s 250SWBs climbed steadily in value which made the car harder to use, mainly due to insurance companies getting more and more wary about covering the car for anything other than sitting in the garage with the dehumidifiers on.

The car was never officially put up for sale, but as often happens at the top end of the classic car market, an offer to buy the car arrived on Dad's desk at the end of 2008 for a sum that Dad was prepared to accept and the car now has a very happy new owner. Dad says he doesn't regret selling it since he wan't using it as much as he liked and he'd enjoyed his time with it. I'm not sure I believe him. Personally I regret I never got the opportunity to drive it myself.

The odd thing is that even though Dad no longer owns the car, people still ask him about it, wanting to know about ownership of one of Ferraris most iconic models.