In June 2018, I had the exclusive story about Greg Whitten selling his 1962 Ferrari 250 GTO. These two stories originally appeared on Forbes.com
This Ferrari 250 GTO Could Become The Most Expensive Car Sold At Auction
1962 Ferrari 250 GTO at Ridge Motorsports Park
Renowned car collector Greg Whitten, former chief software architect at Microsoft and now chairman of Numerix, is parting with his 1962 Ferrari 250 GTO, chassis no. 3413. It’s widely considered the most valuable vehicle to ever come to auction with an estimated sales price in excess of $45 million. It will be the star of auction consigner RM Sotheby’s upcoming sale in Monterey, Calif., 24-25 August, which coincides with The Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance.
But the 3413 could sell for far more than that estimate, if recent sales are any indication. Earlier in June, German race car driver Christian Gläsel sold his 1963 Ferrari 250 GTO, chassis 4153, for at least $70 million in a private sale to David MacNeil, founder of the car floor mats maker WeatherTech. In 2014, chassis 3851 sold for $38.1 million, at that time the most expensive car ever auctioned. Another rumored private sale by American collector Paul Pappalardo in 2013 estimates his 250 GTO traded hands for around $52 million.
Ferrari expert and historian Marcel Massini recently told CNBC he expects a similar car to the one that MacNeil bought will sell for over $100 million in the next two to three years. With Whitten’s decision to sell – “I’ve had the GTO a long time. There are other cars I want to buy,” he says – momentum continues to build.
“We are thrilled at the rare opportunity to offer a legendary Ferrari 250 GTO at auction,” said Shelby Myers, car specialist at RM Sotheby's. “This is just the third time that a GTO has been offered for public sale in the new millennium. The fact that the GTO exists as it did in period along with Dr. Whitten’s long-term enthusiastic ownership only adds to the car’s impeccable pedigree.”
What makes the Ferrari 250 GTOs so incredibly special to command such prices? First, it’s the final evolution of Ferrari’s famous 250 model, the first Ferrari GT Berlinetta with a five-speed gearbox. Second, the 250 is the last great front-engine GT car, as the design evolved to mid-engine. Third, there were just 36 250 GTOs built, and incredibly, all 36 chassis are still accounted for, a testament to the intrinsic value of the model. And finally, the 250 GTO is arguably the most beautiful example of Giotto Bizzarrini and Ferrari design, with timeless proportions and an unmistakable silhouette.
The 250 GTO also marked a turning point, adds RM Sotheby’s Myers. “Due to the evolution of technology and safety regulations that followed, the GTO was essentially the final true road racer, marking the end of an era when drivers really got their hands dirty. This was the last car that you could park in your garage, drive to the track, win the race, and then drive home.”
Besides its stunning beauty, the Ferrari 250 GTO is also known for its drivability, its forgiving handling, and its sheer love of the road. It’s considered the most successful road/racing car Ferrari ever built, placing first in its class or winning overall in nearly 300 races worldwide. The trifecta of scarcity, racing success, and seductive styling means the 250 GTO is the pinnacle of possession for car collectors around the world.
Indeed, current owners include the likes of Ralph Lauren; Pink Floyd drummer Nick Mason; Peter Sachs, grandson of Goldman Sachs founder Samuel Sachs; and Jon Shirley, of Microsoft fame. Three currently own two 250 GTOs, including hedge fund founders Tony and Lulu Wang, (unrelated to U.K.-based owner Brandon Wang), Rob Walton of Wal-Mart, and British businessman Sir Anthony Bamford, who for a brief time once owned the chassis coming up for auction. This car eventually landed in the hands of Sir Lindsay Owens-Jones, former Chairman of L’Oreal and current Ferrari board member, who sold it to Whitten in January 2000.
For the past 18 years, the car has been lovingly maintained and frequently raced by Whitten in vintage events and rallies, including participating in four owner rallies, which is restricted to the exceedingly exclusive club of 250 GTO owners and occurs every five years in a city of the group's choosing, most recently in Florence in 2017.
Its provenance is as authentic as its condition, and its genealogy is impeccable. The vehicle was crafted in 1962 as a Series 1 car for Ferrari factory use, only the third 250 GTO ever built. Ferrari factory driver Phil Hill tested the vehicle for the 1962 Targa Florio road race. Soon after, the factory team sold the car to Italian textile entrepreneur and accomplished hill climb driver Edoardo Lualdi-Gabardi, a favorite customer of Ferrari.
Right from the start, Lualdi-Gabardi and the car were winners, coming away with nine out of 10 outright victories and claiming the 1962 Italian Hill climb champion in its class. In 1963, Lualdi-Gabardi received a second GTO and sold chassis 3413 to jewelry heir Gianni Bulgari, who would go on to lead the family company from the 1960s through the 1980s.
In 1963, Bulgari sold the car to Italian engineer Corrado Ferlaino, who sent the chassis back to the factory for the Series 2 or 1964 rebody, becoming one of only four original GTOs modified to 1964 specs. Chassis 3413 was one of the two long roof Series 2 GTOs that competed in the 1964 Targa Florio, where the 3413 finished first in its class again.
Ferlaino eventually sold the 3413 in late 1965. The car passed through several owners, all the while either finishing first in its class, or sometimes even first overall. Throughout its 20 in-period races, the 3413 chassis was never involved in an accident and finished every race. It retains its original engine, gearbox, and rear axle, as well as its factory Series II body, an incredible feat for a race car of this heritage and caliber.
I was lucky enough to spend the day with Whitten – “Call me Greg” – at The Ridge Motorsports Park in Shelton, Wash., as he prepared to say goodbye.
“You’re sitting in the seats of champions,” Whitten emphasizes to me. “I want cars that have soul. I like having cars that I can use. I always look for cars that I thought would do well in vintage racing. They had to be successful in period. I look for cars with high originality. I like authentic cars. I don’t want cars that have been highly modified. This 250 GTO is quite authentic. It had a very successful life racing. It won its class in almost every race it entered, and sometimes won first overall.”
The lines of the 250 GTO are pure emotion, drawing one in with its elegant proportions and muscular stance. Commemorative large decals decorate the car; bumper stickers never looked so good. The headlamps are exaggerated and the horizontal grille is narrow, giving the front a clean, modern look. The door height is nearly two-thirds of the car, and the windows are small with a dramatically sloping windscreen. The 250 GTO is a testament to gripping Italian design.
Inside, the large, round, three-prong steering wheel is chrome and wood with the famed yellow and black prancing stallion in the middle, right where an ugly airbag cover would be today. The instrument panel is simple and straightforward, with buttons in large font advertising “Lights,” “Wiper,” “Fuel,” and “IGN” (short for ignition), and the like.
The GTO doesn’t have a speedometer, which apparently is for rookies or those with learner’s permits. “The GTO is a race car, so RPMs and gearing are more important than speed,” says Greg. “So you know you’ve got 8,000RPM red line and five gears in the box so how fast are you going? Maybe 175 miles an hour?” he chuckles.
The race car doesn’t have an odometer either. It’s nearly impossible to guess the miles, so Greg doesn’t even try; when a Ph.D. of applied mathematics from Harvard doesn’t want to calculate a number, neither do I.
The huge floor-mounted gear shift lever is reminiscent of a slot machine pull – lucky you! - and the bright chrome gearbox has no markings. No doubt one figures out where reverse is (top left) and the five gears in very short order. There is no padding on the inside of the cabin. The door release is reminiscent of a loosely strung rubberized laundry line. The seat shells are authentic but the fire extinguisher tag is up to date.
The windows are thick pliable plastic, which can and should be removed as there’s no heating, ventilation, or air conditioning. Really, there are no creature comforts at all. Apparently, noise, vibration and harshness weren’t a concern for race cars back in the 1960’s, even for a vehicle deliberately designed to sustain the grueling 24 Hours of Le Mans.
It’s never a bad day at the office when helmets are involved, so I strap one on and climb into the passenger side of the 250 GTO. Greg suits up in a racing suit, gloves, and helmet, folding his 5’10” frame into the pocket rocket. “I’m not six feet. It’s OK. I fit into race cars better,” he tells me, laughing.
I ask him how many people have driven the 3413. "Not too many," he says, and I get the feeling that's an understatement and today isn't my day, which is OK because, well, $45 million. Greg lights up the SOHC 3.0 liter V12 engine, which roars to life through the six Weber carburetors and screams out through the four chrome exhausts. Greg depresses the clutch, which he’s never had to replace, and that huge gear shift lever goes smoothly into first; lucky guy indeed.
“The GTO is just a great car. If you aren’t driving the car hard, it feels rattly and unsettled. As soon as you get the car on cam and really start pushing it, the car just settles down. You really get the feeling of why the GTO is so special,” Greg says.
As we traverse around The Ridge, the aforementioned drivability of the 250 GTO and Greg’s significant driving skills are immediately apparent. The car eats up the curvy track quickly. The lack of creature comforts is completely forgotten as I’m transported into another time and place. The flow of the car on the track is rhythmic, the steering, gearbox, and brakes perfectly orchestrated. The roar of the engine surrounds the cabin, providing a symphony of sound and reminding me that this is a very, very special ride.
We continue zooming around the track, taking the mini corkscrew – an homage to Laguna Seca – at a healthy clip and zipping right through the long straightaway with grace and elegance. Predictably, the famous Pacific Northwest skies start spitting rain, and the single wiper aptly cleans only the driver’s side. The 250 GTO never loses traction, never hesitates in the wet, again a testament to its racing heritage and Greg’s quiet hands on the wooden wheel.
“It’s a very satisfying experience to drive the car. It’s something that has to be experienced. It looks like a delicate car, but it’s a workhorse. It’s really a car you can drive the wheels off and it will still go. It was designed to be driven for 24 hours. It’s an extraordinary car,” Greg says.
We eventually pull into pit lane, and I reluctantly disembark like a kid getting off a carnival ride. Greg says he’ll miss the car, as it’s one of the most fun to drive, which is saying a lot for a guy with two La Ferraris and a host of other exotics. He knows it’s widely considered the most valuable car ever to go to auction. But the 250 GTO isn’t about the dollar value. Greg is right. It’s about the soul. It’s about authenticity. It’s about sitting in the seat of champions.
1962 Ferrari 250 GTO Smashes Auction Record, Selling For $48.4 Million
The 1962 Ferrari 250 GTO at the RM Sotheby's auction at Pebble Beach, CA August 25, 2018.
RM/Sotheby's auctions at Monterey Week lived up to its billing, with renowned car collector Greg Whitten’s fabled 1962 Ferrari 250 GTO, chassis 3413, the star of Saturday night’s auction. The car, Lot 247, fetched a hammer price of $44 million in just 12 minutes of vivacious bidding in a room absolutely buzzing with excitement. With the buyer's premium, the total price comes to $48.4 million. The winning bid was placed via an agent, with the new owner not yet known at press time. The extremely rare Ferrari was widely considered to be the most valuable vehicle to ever come to auction as detailed here.
“I’m very happy,” says seller Greg Whitten, clinking champagne surrounded by his wife and close friends.
The market for Ferrari 250 GTOs continues to grow, selling for eye-popping figures. Just this past June, German race car driver Christian Glaesel sold his 1963 Ferrari 250 GTO, chassis 4153, for somewhere between $70 million and $80 million in a private sale to WeatherTech floor mats founder David MacNeil. In 2014, chassis 3851 sold for $38.1 million at auction, at that time the most expensive car ever auctioned. Another rumored private sale by American collector Paul Pappalardo in 2013 estimates his 250 GTO sold for around $52 million.
Ferrari historian and expert Marcel Massini recently told CNBC he expects a similar car to the $70-million plus chassis 4153 will sell for over $100 million in the next two to three years. Current 250 GTO owners include Ralph Lauren; Pink Floyd drummer Nick Mason; Peter Sachs, grandson of Goldman Sachs founder Samuel Sachs; and Jon Shirley, of Microsoft. Three currently own two 250 GTOs, including hedge fund founders Tony and Lulu Wang, (unrelated to U.K.-based owner Brandon Wang), Rob Walton of Wal-Mart, and British businessman Sir Anthony Bamford, who for a brief time once owned the chassis which just sold. Should any of them decide to sell, and with Whitten’s car setting a new high mark, that $100 million dollar mark inches ever closer.
The success of the RM/Sotheby's auction bucks a vintage car market that has cooled since 2013, when aggressive investors crowded the field, seeking post-recession deals. According to José Luis Celada, a Buenos Aries vintage car collector interviewed by the New York Times here, the opportunists are less active, leaving the market once again to specialists, which also means few buyers. But vintage Ferraris continue to rank amongst the most preferred, especially those in pristine, and preferably running, condition.