Enzo Ferrari’s close friend and trusted North American concessionaire, Luigi Chinetti was a shrewd businessman. And never was this more evident than when the Italian emigrant heard out his West Coast representative John Von Neumann’s hunch that a drop-top version of the successful closed-coupé Ferrari 250 GT would prove a hit with his well-heeled sun-seeking clients in Los Angeles and beyond.
Chinetti took the proposal directly to Il Commendatore. And, unusually, Il Commendatore was amenable. Over six decades later, the resulting car – aptly christened the 250 GT California Spyder – is considered to be among the most desirable Ferraris ever built. Unpacking the characteristics of this gorgeous open Gran Turismo, its near-celestial status to collectors is hardly surprising.
Available either with a long- (2,600mm) or short-wheelbase (2,400mm), the Pininfarina-designed, Scaglietti-built Ferrari 250 GT California Spyder could be configured exactly as the customer determined. Alloy bodywork, open or closed headlights, additional spotlights, competition features such as an external fuel-filler cap or an enhanced ‘cold’ airbox – no two California Spyders are truly alike.
Perhaps the most pertinent similarity with these 100-or-so cars is their competition lineage. Let’s not forget that, in Europe, Ferrari was dominating international GT racing with its 250 GT ‘Tour de France’ and, subsequently, the SWB Competizione. And, beneath the desperately beautiful surface, the California Spyder was essentially the same car – a potent and sophisticated twelve-cylinder sports car that most manufacturers could only dream of rivalling, on the racetrack or on the road.
“The California Spyder was a potent and sophisticated twelve-cylinder sports car that most manufacturers could only dream of rivalling, on the racetrack or on the road.”
A jaw-droppingly pretty drop-top 1950/60s Ferrari with all the glamour and celebrity sex appeal that comes with it, the 250 GT California Spyder is entirely befitting of its hallowed status not just in Ferrari spheres, but in the broader collector-car world in general.
The 27th of the 50 250 GT LWB California Spyders built by Ferrari, chassis number 1425 GT was not exported to the United States but instead remained in Italy – more specifically Naples, with a distinguished lady by the name of Livia Mustica.
An open-headlight 1959 model originally finished in white over a black interior, this late-production California Spyder benefitted from the more resolved Scaglietti coachwork, the enhanced Tipo 508D chassis and the latest (and most powerful) Tipo 128D variant of the Colombo V12.
The latter was complemented by two desirable optional extras: the cold airbox, designed to force-feed cooler and denser air to the engine, and the competition-inspired velocity stacks. From a visual perspective, this Ferrari’s engine bay is indistinguishable from that in the 250 GT LWB ‘Tour de France’.
We think it’s worth noting that chassis number 1451 GT, which was produced two cars behind ‘ours’ at the factory and also an open-headlight model, finished fifth overall in the 1959 24 Hours of Le Mans. The California Spyders may have been beautiful, but they were thinly disguised racers at heart.
So pleased was Ferrari with how chassis number 1425 GT turned out that it borrowed the car for a commercial photo shoot in the pretty port of Naples. A hastily applied cardboard dealer number plate was affixed for the occasion, which resulted in some excellent photographs for the press to feast on.
Almost a decade after it was delivered, in 1968, this 250 GT LWB changed hands, remaining in Naples. And a year after that, the Ferrari was acquired by Tom Meade. If you’re unfamiliar with Meade, his story is a fascinating one. A native Californian who’d spent his impressionable adolescence in Australia, Meade made the pilgrimage to Italy’s Motor Valley in 1960, dreaming of one thing and one thing only: owning a Ferrari or a Maserati.
“Meade made the pilgrimage to Italy’s Motor Valley in 1960, dreaming of one thing and one thing only: owning a Ferrari or a Maserati.”
Over the course of the following decade, Meade truly immersed himself in Italy’s history-steeped automotive industry, shrewdly negotiating to buy a series of road and competition Ferraris and Maseratis, either for restoration, customisation or export to America. He convinced Medardo Fantuzzi of the famed Carrozzeria Fantuzzi to teach him the art of panel beating – an art he employed to build his own short series of bespoke coach-built one-offs, romantically christened the Thomassimas.
Upon receiving this Ferrari, Meade repainted the car red and refashioned the nose from open-headlight configuration to closed. He then contacted an acquaintance back in California by the name of Jack Castor, to let him know that chassis 1425 GT was available to be viewed in Modena.
A young Lockheed aerospace engineer looking to buy his first Ferrari, Castor had learned about Tom Meade and his Italian offerings from a colleague at work, who received the hotly-anticipated bulletins from Tom Meade’s Used Sports Car Center of Italy. Like a moth to a flame, Castor arranged to fly to Europe, even securing a loan against his Volkswagen Beetle beforehand so he could afford to buy the 3,000-dollar California Spyder and ship it home.
Sure enough, when Meade took Castor to see chassis 1425 GT in a small one-car garage in rural Modena, Castor knew it was the car for him. He didn’t even need to see or hear it running. It was love at first sight.
As the accompanying documentation attests, on 11 August 1969, this Ferrari 250 GT LWB California Spyder set sail from Genova aboard the SS Paolo d’Amico, bound for San Francisco. After what we imagine would have been an agonisingly long wait for Castor, not even the slightly damaged windscreen could diminish his overwhelming sense of pride.
With a new windscreen shipped directly from Carrozzeria Scaglietti in Modena (we even have all the documentation relating to the shipping, customs and insurance for this), Castor spent a decade sampling the virtues of his scarlet sensation on ‘an occasional basis’. That was until a minor mechanical malady prompted him to take the Ferrari temporarily off the road. Well.. what he thought was temporarily.
Chassis number 1425 GT remained tucked up in Jack Castor’s garage in San Francisco for the next 25 years. During this time, Castor satisfied his intrepid side by travelling the world and his appetite for collecting by amassing almost 20 further classic cars, including the famous ex-Elvis Presley BMW 507, which has since been fully restored by the factory. The Ferrari, however, remained the crowning piece of his eclectic collection.
Only after the dawn of the New Millennium did Castor decide to return the car to the road, turning to the widely-renowned US-based Ferrari specialist Patrick Ottis to carry out a sympathetic mechanical refresh. Preserved in remarkably original condition and by this point running as well as it ever had, this 250 GT LWB California Spyder was driven far more in its second life than it ever was in its first.
Castor particularly enjoyed taking chassis 1425 GT to the Monterey Peninsula for Car Week, relishing the chance to show off his highly original and properly driven Ferrari in front of the fastidiously-restored concours ‘garage queens’. And 43 years after he bought it, the car and its extraordinary story was featured prominently in an issue of Forza magazine.
Perhaps more admirable – and especially telling of his love for this California Spyder – is that Castor politely rebuffed a series of increasingly significant offers to buy the car.
“Castor relished the chance to show off his highly original and properly driven Ferrari in front of the fastidiously-restored concours ‘garage queens’ at Pebble Beach.”
Jack Castor sadly died in 2014 and his beloved Ferrari was subsequently sold to its current owner, a prominent collector in the United Kingdom, who recognised the rarity and appeal of an unrestored 250 GT LWB California Spyder from such long-term and cherished ownership. Having made its way back across the Atlantic for the first time since 1969, 1425 GT was promptly sent to the longstanding British Ferrari specialist Bob Houghton.
Houghton’s brief was simple: to carry out an exhaustive mechanical rebuild, while preserving the originality and the beguiling patina accrued over the decades. The California Spyder spent over a year in Bob Houghton’s workshops, the corresponding invoices on file totalling almost £100,000.
Suffice to say, from the driver’s seat, chassis number 1425 GT is now every bit as good to drive as its Scaglietti-shaped bodywork is to look at. It strikes that miraculous balance between feeling like a car that’s been freshly tuned to perfection but has worn like your favourite pair of jeans – the gear lever doesn’t feel at all tight, slotting around the gate with satisfying ease, the throttle pedal has that delicious elasticity and the Colombo V12 is as smooth as the best butter you’ve ever tried.
Today, this 250 GT LWB California Spyder retains its original engine and black leather interior. And it’s accompanied by its period tool roll and tonneau cover, and an extraordinarily detailed history file, the lion’s share of which was compiled by Jack Castor – a man who would have been the first to admit he threw nothing away.
There’s everything from correspondence and sales invoices to shipping waybills, customs clearance, insurance certificates, registration documents and, of course, a wealth of invoices, all of which piece together his 46 years of ownership. It’s the kind of history file most 1950s sports cars – and, in turn, the people who collect them – can only dream about.
One of a mere 50 long-wheelbase California Spyders and an even smaller number with such a short chain of owners and never to have been comprehensively restored, chassis number 1425 GT presents its next custodian with one of a number of thrilling opportunities.
Most obviously, there’s keeping the car exactly as it is – preserve that extraordinary patina and relish the chance to drive a properly sorted 250 GT LWB without the niggling worry about keeping the exterior flawless. Castor was especially proud of the condition of his ‘3,000-dollar Ferrari’ – and quite rightly. In recent years, it afforded him perhaps a unique chance to truly enjoy and share an unrestored California Spyder. Now you could pick up the baton.
Then there’s the case for restoration. Given Tom Meade’s deserved role in the fabled story of the Prancing Horse, it would be a perfectly reasonable decision to restore this Ferrari to the specification in which it was originally sold by Meade to Castor in 1969 – resplendent in red and with the refashioned closed-headlamp nose treatment.
On the other hand, there is the ‘go-the-whole-hog’ option, to commission a nut-and-bolt restoration to the exact specification in which chassis 1425 GT left the factory in 1959 and was pictured in those fabulous press images. Either of these routes would certainly open the door to the international concours circuit, including the Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance and the Concorso d’Eleganza Villa d’Este.
“Arguably the most important thing is safeguarding this Ferrari’s incredible legacy for generations to come.”
For us here at Girardo & Co., the choice is an incredibly difficult one to fathom, given the wonderfully nuanced history of chassis 1425 GT. Regardless of which route the new owner chooses to take, arguably the most important thing is safeguarding the car’s incredible legacy for generations to come. The thought of showing this 250 GT LWB California Spyder – one of the most beautiful Ferraris of all time – at the world’s most prestigious concours for the first time is a tantalizing thought. But then so is taking it for a spirited Sunday-morning drive to your local cars-and-coffee meeting, whether in Malibu or Milan. Wouldn’t you agree?