1967 Ferrari 275 GTS/4 NART Spyder

By: James Elliot, Photography by: James Lipman

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Ferrari 275 NART Spyder Ferrari 275 NART Spyder Ferrari 275 NART Spyder
Ferrari 275 NART Spyder Ferrari 275 NART Spyder Ferrari 275 NART Spyder
Ferrari 275 NART Spyder Ferrari 275 NART Spyder Ferrari 275 NART Spyder
Ferrari 275 NART Spyder Ferrari 275 NART Spyder Ferrari 275 NART Spyder
Ferrari 275 NART Spyder Ferrari 275 NART Spyder Ferrari 275 NART Spyder
Ferrari 275 NART Spyder Ferrari 275 NART Spyder Ferrari 275 NART Spyder
Ferrari 275 NART Spyder Ferrari 275 NART Spyder Ferrari 275 NART Spyder
Ferrari 275 NART Spyder Ferrari 275 NART Spyder Ferrari 275 NART Spyder
Ferrari 275 NART Spyder Ferrari 275 NART Spyder Ferrari 275 NART Spyder
Ferrari 275 NART Spyder Ferrari 275 NART Spyder Ferrari 275 NART Spyder

Taut yet elegant, this exceedingly rare Ferrari 275GTS/4 NART Spyder is perhaps the ultimate embodiement of a sixties gentleman's express...

1967 Ferrari 275 GTS/4 NART Spyder
Ferrari 275 NART Spyder

 

Ferrari 275 NART

WORK OF NART

If ever a fleeting celluloid appearance both summarised a car’s personality and seared it into the memory, it was early on in Norman Jewison’s 1968 cars-and-crime showcase The Thomas Crown Affair. Steve McQueen seems to have it all: the looks, the smarts, the cars, the cash, the successful Boston heist behind him and a rosy future ahead. But then his world is turned upside down by the appearance of Faye Dunaway on the sidelines, effortlessly upstaging the King of Cool with her own determined yet laid-back savoir faire. And how should this be manifested? By no more than perching on the deck of a highly exclusive, drop-dead-gorgeous car. The car in question was perfectly fitted to the role: like Dunaway’s character, it was impossibly glamorous and near unattainable. The burgundy Ferrari so impressed McQueen on-set that he had to have one in real life.

We’re speaking of a Ferrari 275 GTS/4 NART Spyder, the chopped version of the 250-succeeding 275 GTB/4. It was one of just 10 built – two of which were alloy-bodied – and, as the NART (North American Racing Team) tag suggests, the brainchild of US Ferrari importer Luigi Chinetti. The foundation for this spectacular drop-top was the hourglass-figure 275 GTB. The long-nosed, short-tailed gran turismo started life as a Pininfarina-penned two-seater coupé surrounding a 3286cc development of Colombo’s captivating V12. It also introduced the combined rear axle and five-speed transmission that was to become such a staple. Launched in 1964, it was soon joined by a dowdy-in-comparison open-top effort. In 1966, the four-cam, six-carburettor version came into being, wearing a reworked, Scaglietti-built bodyshell.

Chinetti, a trusted importer, Le Mans winner and, most importantly, an old mucker of Enzo’s, reckoned that people had been hungry for a proper-handling, proper-performing and, crucially, proper-looking front-engined convertible Ferrari ever since the 250 GT California ceased to be in 1962. You do have to wonder whether this sudden impetus was driven by the emergence of Tom Meade’s stunning 250-based Nembo Spyder, an all-alloy beauty built by Neri and Bonacini (thus Nembo), the shape of which was came close to a silhouette of the 275 GTB.

Waiting was not Luigi Chinetti’s style, though, and neither was questioning his own instincts, so at his behest a limited run of Spyder versions was tabled. The paper trail suggests that 25 cars were planned, but only 10 made it to reality.

The NART Spyder – with few obvious panel changes – was unveiled at the New York Motor Show in April 1967, billed as being ‘produced for the United States exclusively’ and described as ‘astonishing for its exceptional maneuverability [sic], enthusiastic for its instantaneous pickups, distensive for its docility’. The price was a heady $14,400, against near-$8000 for the Berlinetta, which also happened to be the price that Ferrari was charging Chinetti for each Scaglietti-converted car. The first and most famous of them, The Thomas Crown Affair car, was sold later that year and had a creditable Sebring history – with Denise McCluggage and ‘Pinky’ Rollo, racing under the NVRT (North Vermont Racing Team) banner due to a NART entry problem following a fatal crash the previous year – before turning to acting, but all are immensely desirable and exclusive today.

Chassis 10749, the second-last car built and last to go to the States, has had a fascinating, multi-coloured life. It was bought from Chinetti Motors for $15,500, with optional radio, by New York-based Dr Michael Serman soon after its August 1967 build. Serman piled on an impressive 5000 miles a year during his ownership and his son, then 19 years old and another Michael, has fond memories of the car he was fortunate enough to enjoy: "What I remember most was washing the car by hand. It was a shape one never tired of just looking at – especially the rear aspect." He also recalls being left a blank cheque by one collector and being told to fill in whatever was appropriate for the NART. No deal.

After a series of US owners – one of whom traded it for a Lamborghini Urraco, Maserati Ghibli Spyder and $35k in cash – it was bought by John Moores from Santa Fe, who at one point was custodian of a brace of NART Spyders. After Junior’s House of Color restored the car to its original Argento (it had been previously been Giallo) and a Pebble Beach appearance in 1995, the noted philanthropist then made the extraordinary gesture of putting it up for auction in 1998 to raise cash for the Scripps Institute. Later it made its way across the Atlantic to a new owner. In 2009, it won Best of Show at the exclusive Salon Privé in London.

And now it sits before us. At first it is difficult to get near the NART because photographer James Lipman has gone into one of those rare camera frenzies, darting all around the car, cooing to himself and trying to capture every nuance. If ever we needed confirmation that what we are looking at it is a bit special, this behaviour is it.

Golly, it must have been a simple chop for Scaglietti. Only the rump appears to have changed at all – even that kicked-up tail feather remains. Ok, you lose the sensuously tapered roof of the GTB, but the rear deck and bootlid meld seamlessly between the hips. It is exactly the sort of bench worthy of Faye Dunaway. The front is unchanged from the second-series GTBs, with the furrowing snout and bonnet bulge. Overall, no one could question its beauty.

With no sign of Lipman calming down and the weather closing in, it is necessary to force my way into the driver’s seat, keen to be on the road. The bucket seat in deep, lustrous rosso is surprisingly well-padded, the detailing and splashes of chrome a counterpoint to the relative austerity of the stark black dash. Grip the wheel and feel that wooden warmth, two of the three spokes sprouting west and east just thinly enough for you to curl your fingers. Reach down to the right, to rest a hand atop that long, delicate gearlever with its finger-grooved knob leading to the open polished gate.

Fire it up and that V12 beat sounds all grown up. It is still deep-throated and mesmerising, but less raucous, more mellow. On the move, the difference an extra pair of cams makes is all the more obvious. Coerce that gearlever into first and you undramatically launch away on a wave of torque. Launch? Well, waft doesn’t capture the power and crispness. When the engine comes on cam(s), it bursts out of its steady power curve as if it’s caught a second wind. From there it screams melodiously to the 7700-8000rpm redline.

So far, so Ferrari. But on other occasions the four-cam characteristics start to chime, establishing its individuality within the breed through its astonishing flexibility; it’s as smooth as spreading soft butter on toast. The upshot is that such a progressive demeanour doesn’t encourage you to explore the understeer that can be found when you press on in an otherwise gorgeous-handling car. Other than that it is surprisingly well planted and solid for a convertible, not to mention largely free from scuttle shake – testament to the quality of Scaglietti’s work. Plus, there are constant reminders of the NART’s pedigree, with its low clutch take-up and narrow-spaced pedals built more for jabbing with racing boots than caressing with loafers.

This is a self-assured car. Why the NART Spyder was met with so much apathy in its day, therefore, is hard to fathom. Perhaps it was the price – though there is evidence to suggest that Chinetti accepted lower amounts to shift his obligation. Whatever it was, the lack of interest was so pronounced that the final car was never even shipped to the States.

Of course, such paucity of available cars, along with the McQueen link, has had a huge impact on values today. Ferrari expert James Cottingham of DK Engineering reckons that one would set you back as much as US$7-10 million (possibly conservative, as one recently changed hands at RM’s Monterey auction for US$27.5million – Ed). "They were built to be exclusive in their day," he explains. "It was the car that everyone wanted but no one could have, and that still holds true. Their rarity adds hugely to their value and means that the differential between a 275 NART Spyder and the closed car is far greater than on similar Ferrari open and closed pairings.

"There is also the fact that very rarely do Ferraris, or any cars, look quite so delectable as a GT or convertible. The balance is absolutely perfect. But then, the balance is what sets these cars apart – the five-speed transaxle, disc brakes, all-independent suspension combine in a very traditional performance car that has as much power as you could possibly want, but not so much that it becomes bulky like some later cars.

To my mind, it’s a shame that they didn’t build more of them because, thanks to that four-cam engine, it’s the absolute embodiment of the gentleman’s Ferrari."

Of course, that valuation reflects not just the rarity, but also the quality of the car. This was no homebuilt chop-job, it was a bona fide factory conversion (though factory records suggest that some cars were sold as converted, others scratch-built) that offered something the Ferrari range was conspicuously lacking.

With that smoother, more docile four-cam V12, it may not have quite the wham-bam sporting credentials of the fiercest 250-series drop-tops, but it is a world away from the contemporary 275 GTS. Here was a Ferrari that you could seriously hustle, race to second in class at Sebring even, as it was – or simply cruise with a gentility that no previous Maranello offering could match.


SPECIFICATIONS

1967 Ferrari 275 GTS/4 NART Spyder

Engine: 3286cc V12, DOHC, 24v
Power: 246kW @ 8000rpm
Torque: 325Nm @ 6000rpm
Weight: 1114kg
Gearbox: 5-speed manual
Brakes: discs (f/r)
Top Speed: 250km/h
Value: US$7-10 milltion

 


*****

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