It’s doubtful that Ferrari, or any other automaker for that matter, will ever again repeat the sporting glory that Enzo’s Scuderia enjoyed from the late ’50s through to the mid-’60s—a time where Ferrari enjoyed absolute dominance of international motorsport and produced a dynasty of victorious cars that, today, are sold for tens of millions of dollars.
Consider the numbers: Between 1959 and 1965, Ferrari won Le Mans seven times (six consecutive overall wins between 1960-1965), five endurance racing championships, two F1 constructors titles, and two F1 drivers championships.
An astonishing record … and yet, as remarkable as that reads, it doesn’t even include the arena where Ferrari was having even more success—the wonderful, competitive world of GT-racing where the Ferrari 250 GT Berlinetta tdf (“tour de France”) was happily enjoying weekend outings from South Africa to Argentina and everywhere in-between by winning pretty much everything it entered.
To put all this in perspective, in just one year—1961—Ferrari were crowned Formula 1 World Champions (both constructors and drivers), Le Mans winners (overall, and in GT), and World Sportscar Champions. All in little less than 8 months …
Prototypes, Formula 1, and GT racing; the motorsport firmament belonged to Maranello in that period that stretched out into the mid-’60s, and while the all-winning 250 Testa Rossa that is coming to the Ferrari Essentials Pack was making short work of the competition at Le Mans and the world sportscar championship, in GT, the 250 GT Berlinetta tdf (AKA the “Passo Lungo”)—itself a four-time winner of the tour de France race—was about to get a facelift that would see its evolution launch into yet another three years of absolute and unrivalled domination.
The Crazed Days of GT Racing
GT racing in the ’50s and ’60s was exactly as was as advertised on the box—you went to the dealership, you bought a road-going GT, you upgraded it with a roll-bar, spark plugs, tightened-on four racing tyres, and then you drove it to the races. There, you paid your entry fee, stuck a number on your car, and you went racing.
But if you went racing to win, and this was 1960, you first took the road to Maranello, because there was only one car you wanted for GT competition: the Ferrari 250 GT Berlinetta SWB (short wheel base): that hero is coming to the Ferrari Essentials Pack.
In 1959, with the competition heating up in GT-racing, Ferrari felt it was time to update its all-winning Ferrari 250 GT Berlinetta tdf (“tour de France”) with its long wheel base and crackling V12.
Its successor was officially launched at the Paris Auto Show in the early autumn of 1959—a car named the 250 GT Berlinetta, and informally referred to as the “SWB”. The SWB for short wheel base.
Styled by Pininfarina and constructed by Scaglietti (then also building the Le Mans-winning 250 Testa Rossa coming to the Ferrari Essentials Pack), the new top-running GT from Maranello featured a timeless design under whose light-weight aluminium shell lay the foundations of the dominance it was about to enjoy: a classic chassis (the much-tested “Tipo 539” steel tubular frame) aligned to an all-action and newly-tuned “Tipo 168” Colombo V12, and Dunlop disc brakes on all four corners for the very first time in a road-going Ferrari.
In the Golden Age of motorsport, there was an accepted golden ratio wheelbase, a ratio that went back to the all-winning Bugattis of the 1920s: a textbook length that allowed for the best of both worlds—high-speed stability and cornering agility.
That length was 2,400mm.
And the new short wheel base (“Passo Corto”) Ferrari 250 GT Berlinetta was precisely that length: 2,400mm, and shortened from the “Passo Lungo” by exactly 200mm.
Evolved, too, was the single-cam 3-litre Colombo V12 which, in its “Tipo 128” evolution, was now pushing out around 280hp for the racing version though a 4-speed synchromesh box. (You could get a “Lusso” version of the 250 GT SWB, good for around 220hp, and without the light-weight aluminium body. You could also get the aluminium body without the tuned engine … but if you were going racing, what you wanted was the tuned engine and aluminium body, the version you’ll find in the Ferrari Essentials Pack.)
The 250 GT SWB proved an immediate sensation, Sports Car Illustrated calling it “the finest genuine sports car we have ever driven”.
Only 165 of these cars would be built between 1959 and 1962, with the 1961 version coming to the Ferrari Essentials Pack featuring much larger wheel arches, a ventilation vent on the rear windscreen, and fender vents.
Inside, the car was textbook period Ferrari—an alloy three-spoke wooden wheel, obligatory Veglia dials, and an absolutely enormous gear-knob. As in—well yes—enormous! From the cockpit, the sound emanating from the four fat exhausts sticking far out of the rear sounded pretty-much like victory, all the way up to the V12’s 7,700RPM limit.
This being 1961, you’d be forgiven to imagine the car would be slow by today’s standards. You’d be wrong: 0-100 came in five blistering seconds, and it would just keep going to 268kmh. That’s what happens when you match 280hp with 1,020kgs weight. Throw in a live axle at the rear, and what you have is the purity of handling that made this car so special and successful—a car that can be thrown about with unrestraint, the double wishbones, coil springs, and Koni dampers with anti-roll bar up-front and semi-elliptic leaf springs with Koni shock absorbers at the rear giving the driver a weapon with which to fully utilize their skills.
Racing Around the World
The 250 GT Berlinetta SWB was quickly scooped-up by racing enthusiasts around the world. No surprise, of course, because when one of these cars turned up, everyone else went home a loser. And this wasn’t just in GT—converted to rally cars, to hillclimb monsters, to long-distance endurance racers or sprinters or even drag racers, whatever it was asked to do, the 250 GT Berlinetta SWB did it better than anything else on the planet.
The 5,500km-long tour de France? The 250 GT Berlinetta finished that first, second, and third in 1960. The 24-Hour of Le Mans? The 250 GT Berlinetta finished first, second, third, and fourth. The 1,000KM at the Nürburgring? 250 GT Berlinetta. The 1000km of Monza? 250 GT Berlinetta. Spa? 250 GT Berlinetta. Tourist Trophy? 250 GT Berlinetta. The oval at Montlhéry? 250 GT Berlinetta. Sebring? 250 GT Berlinetta. Daytona? 250 GT Berlinetta.
And that was just the major wins.
In every continent and every country, if there was a motor-race featuring a 250 GT Berlinetta, the chances were it was the 250 GT Berlinetta taking home the victor’s medal. Just a cursory look at some of the models and their racing history shines a light on the 250 GT Berlinetta’s dominance of GT-racing.
In 1961, model number 1613GT 59 was sold to a gentleman from Luanda, Angola, and after winning its first race at the Circuito Vila de Conde in Portugal (on its way to the loading docks), the car was shipped down to Angola where it won its debut race—the GP Cidade Luanda. That car would later be driven down to South Africa and keep winning races for another five years before ending its life back in Italy.
Model number 1759GT, meanwhile, was imported into the US by Luigi Chinetti (the man behind NART who would, almost single-handedly, keep Ferrari in GT racing in the dark days that came with the 1970s) and sold to a chap from Scarsdale New York who used it for drag racing. And yes, it won that too.
Model number 1785GT enjoyed two years of domination in SCCA racing in the US: at Sebring, Montogemery, Binghamton, Marlboro, Bridgehampton, and Lime Rock, before it was totaled in late-’61 in a massive shunt.
Model number 1811GT was sold to a gentleman racer out in Holland who won at Zandvoort with Robert Crevits at the wheel in November ’61. Model number 1887GT was winning the Cote du Mont Ventoux race with Werner Ruefenacht at the wheel as late as the summer of ’65. Model number 1997GT, meanwhile, was setup for hillclimbing events and won the hillclimb in Castell’Aquarto-Vernasca with Nando Pagliarini doing the wheel work in ’62, while model number 2001GT won the 3.0 class at Le Mans in ’60, and then doubled into a rally car where it won Rallye du Val de Loire, Rallye de Picardie, and the Rallye Cote du Pin, all within 8 weeks in ’62.
It didn’t matter what motorsport, the 250 GT Berlinetta won it all—a perfect union of form and function, handling-agility and power, this was and remains an absolute masterpiece of engineering from Maranello.
And what made it even more special is that it lasted just two sweet seasons.
At the end of 1962, with the competition now finally catching up, it was time for Ferrari to upgrade the 250 GT Berlinetta. Motorsport was again on the cusp of a new shift in the never-ending quest for performance, with aerodynamics offering the next great leap. The new Ferrari would be called, simply, the 250 GTO, and feature the big Le Mans-winning 250 TR engine. It would, in 2018, become the most expensive car in the world—sold at auction for a reputed $70,000,000.
The 250 GTO, though, was built from the ground-up as a race car. The 250 GT Berlinetta SWB was quite the opposite: the final GT-racer that was prepared by the full works Ferrari factory, built for the road and that could be driven to the race track and transformed into a winning GT with a few simple additions. And that, over-and-above its unequaled racing pedigree, is what makes the 250 GT Berlinetta SWB one of the most significant cars that Maranello ever built.
Lead Vehicle Artist Casey Ringley Shakes Down the Maranello Legend, the Ferrari 250 GT Berlinetta
The Ferrari 250 line of cars is very well documented so it was relatively simple to put together a model in our systems. Old homologation forms; owner’s manuals of similar 250 models; even comparison to its successor, the Ferrari 250 GTO, provided tons of information as a baseline.
The 250 GT Berlinetta chassis is a simple-enough design with unequal-length A-arm front suspension and solid rear axle on leaf springs. The front end has nothing fancy going on but keeps a relatively stable roll center and little bump steer; most notable thing is that the steering geometry is quite old fashioned (which you would expect for a 1960 car). There is significant scrub radius due to the low kingpin inclination and ball joints being pretty far inboard of the wheel center in order to make room for fitting the brakes. It makes for informative FFB which helps give clear signals to counter-steer when in slides, but it is a very different feel to more modern cars.
The 250 GT Berlinetta was a true GT car; you would buy one, drive it to the circuit, and win various endurance races. The best SWB Competizione models had aluminium bodywork, and that is what we’ve copied here. Going aluminium rather than steel dropped the weight from 1100kg to only 957kg. A little heavier than your average sport prototype (DBR1, 250 Testa Rossa) of the time, but the coupé bodywork is good for aerodynamic drag, meaning more top speed, and the car was generally just very well sorted for road use which equated to a remarkable record in endurance racing.
Gearbox is a very simple 4-speed synchromesh unit with a range of crownwheel & pinion final drive ratios from 4.57:1 (very short tracks) to 3.44:1 (ideal for Le Mans) and a ZF-type limited slip differential. Haven’t found any talk about differential setup, but we can be sure it was something like 4 or 6 clutches with symmetrical 40-45° ramp angles for between 30-50 percent locking factor, as generally everything from this time period used something close to that configuration. Works out well in-game, too, with good stability on braking and good traction on power.
Like all Ferraris of this era, the real magic is in the engine. A 3.0L V12 using Colombo design dating back to 1947 and their first race cars, it was a very well-understood design giving good power and great reliability for the time. Engines in the 250 GT Berlinetta ranged from a quoted 240-280hp depending on state of tune. Ours is set to give 260hp @ 7,200rpm with a super smooth torque curve which peaks at 280Nm @ 6,000rpm but gives 90 percent of that peak all the way down to 3,200rpm. It has good grunt through the engine’s whole range and pulls like a champ out of slow corners.
This is my favorite Ferrari of all time, and it doesn’t disappoint after test driving the model in-game. Pace is a good match for the DBR1 at all tracks tested so far; the 250 GT Berlinetta is a little heavier but has slightly more power and slightly more top speed. Should be some epic racing to be had between this car, the DBR1, and the 250 Testa Rossa.
The Project CARS 2 Season Pass offers all four DLCs plus the Motorsport Bonus Pack, all at a discounted price.
The Ferrari Essentials Pack is available now for PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and (PC Steam).
*The Pista di Fiorano is a Ferrari-only track, both in real-life and, of course, in Project CARS 2.