MORE THAN A PRETTY FACE by Ian Kuah
The 250GT Lusso is widely considered one of the most beautiful Ferraris ever. Better still, says IAN KUAH, it drives as good as it looks.
Over Ferraris 50-plus-year history, the company has built cars of all shapes and styles, from beautiful and elegant to purposeful and even brutal. One particular series, the 250 GTs built between 1953 and 1963, evolved to encompass the entire aesthetic range.
The 250s’ heyday came in the early 1960s, when The Beatles were topping the charts in Britain and Elvis was threatening to become America’s best-known export. The most famous Ferraris of the era are the 250 GT SWB and the incredible 250 GTO, both racing legends with purposeful looks to match. But the most beautiful car from that period—and arguably the most elegant road-going Ferrari of all time—is the 250 GT Lusso.
This is, of course, a subjective judgment, a gut reaction to a Pininfarina design that just looks right from every angle. But if you stand back and consider the Lusso’s styling objectively, it is clear the car’s basic proportions obey all the fundamental rules of good design.
At the core of this “rightness” in proportion are the long front, which conveys a sense of power and speed, and the way the rear end tapers to a Kamm tail. In between, the proportion of roof to body and the roof’s shape and position in relation to the wheelbase are also sheer visual perfection.
The slim roof pillars and sweeping greenhouse create a feeling of light and space both inside and out, resulting in a car that appears powerful yet graceful. This is exactly the look that makes the Supermarine Spitfire—another lithe and curvaceous design—an aviation classic.
While the Lusso’s shape may appear simple at first glance, a closer look belies that impression. For example, the fenders and door panels feature complex compound curves (a panel beater’s nightmare), while in plan view the Lusso tapers gently towards each extremity. If this Ferrari was a living, breathing thing, it would surely be a dolphin!
Overlaid on this masterful shape is some exquisite detailing you would never find on a mass-produced car. From the neat three-piece chromed front bumpers to the hood scoop’s handcrafted grille to the chromed covers for the jacking points (which celebrate, rather than try to hide, such a utilitarian function), the Lusso is a feast for the appreciative eye.
The cabin is as graceful as the bodywork, simple and functional in the typical Italian style of the era. The details are quite delightful: every item from the elegant wood-rimmed steering wheel to the sun visors’ chromed hinges has been thoughtfully designed and crafted.
Our featured car, s/n 4411 GT, is an early Lusso, the 28th of 350 built between 1962 and 1964. S/n 4411 was originally commissioned for Mylene Demongeot, a French film actress whose beauty was widely compared to Brigitte Bardot’s. Demongeot appeared alongside Bardot in the film Futures Vedettes, and co-starred in other significant period films with Alain Delon, Jean-Paul Belmondo and a then- unknown Roger Moore.
Demongeot did not take delivery of the car for some reason, so the Lusso went to Parisian Clemente Setbon. Setbon used the car regularly to drive around Paris and commute to his second home in Menton, near Monaco. He did this for around 20 years, then put the car into storage.
In 1996, Setbon decided to sell his Lusso. It was purchased by Paul Baber, a London-based classic Ferrari dealer and enthusiast, who kept the car for nearly six years. He sold it in May 2002, then bought it back about six months later.
John Mayston-Taylor became s/n 4411’s fourth owner in December 2002. By then, the Lusso had 35,000 miles on the clock and was rather tired, so Mayston-Taylor turned to Lynx International Motors in East Sussex, England for a painstaking rebuild. Lynx is best known for its work on old Jaguars, but it cheerfully took on this special job—after all, Mayston-Taylor owns the company.
“We went through the car with a fine-tooth comb,” explained Mayston-Taylor. “The body and chassis were largely fine. We only had to replace metal on the bottom two inches of each door, where electrolytic reaction between the alloy skin and steel frame construction had caused corrosion. We also had to do some remedial work on the nearside corner where there was a bit of rust behind the rear wheel arch. Apart from that, the body was remarkably rust-free.
“One of the things that pleased me immensely was the obvious originality of the car,” he noted. “When we took off the door trim panels, we found ‘4411’ written on the inside of the door skins in factory chalk. Even the insides of the fog lamp trims were stamped ‘4411.’ In those days, every piece was made specifically for each car. Our exploration showed the Lusso had never been taken apart. We knew from the thick service dossier that came with the car that it had been repainted in 1967 in Paris, but beyond that the whole car was totally original.
“The chrome-plated Borrani wire wheels were also original,” he continued. “But the spinners had been polished so much that their engravings were worn.
We had to have them hand engraved by a specialist.” Also well worn was the cockpit’s leather trim. “The leather had dried out and started to crack in places,” Mayston-Taylor said. “We had no choice but to re-trim the car, but I was concerned about obtaining the correct grade of Connolly hide used by the factory in the 1960s.” The original Connolly company went bust three years ago, but one family member, Jonathan Connolly, now runs his own operation. His records showed the Lusso used a grade of leather known as Luxan grain. “He sourced hides with the correct antiqued grain for us and applied the oils himself to achieve the Luxan effect,” said Mayston-Taylor. “So we were able to replicate the original leather trim perfectly with brand-new hides. This added immeasurably to the authentic look and feel of the car.”
The dashboard was re-trimmed in new black leather, while the beautiful instruments were in perfect condition and needed no attention. The head- liner, however, was in a sorry state. It wasn’t available off-the-shelf in Europe, but a correct replacement was eventually found in California.
While this cosmetic surgery was taking place, the engine was stripped to its component parts and inspected for wear and problems. The Lynx mechanics fitted new pistons, valves and valve guides, along with hardened valve seats so the Lusso could run on modern high-octane unleaded fuel.
The gearbox was in good condition, so received only new bearings and seals.
Lynx also fabricated a new stainless-steel exhaust system based on the original. It took two and a half days to install the new exhaust due to the difficulty involved in lining up so many different sections!
The original dampers were overhauled, then Lynx fitted new brake discs and pads, as well as new suspension bushings to tighten everything up.
As work neared completion on the major components, the mechanics sent chromed parts out for replating and replaced a cracked rear tail light lens.
Mayston-Taylor was happy to discover the car came with its original full-body undertray. On many Lussos, the under- tray is missing, removed for servicing and never replaced. This is a pity, since the unit makes a noticeable difference in the car’s stability and handling at speed.
There was only one big drama during restoration, which centered around the very rare front windshield. “Glass is something we steer clear of our- selves, we always call in a specialist,” explained Mayston- Taylor. “In this case, the original windshield was fine, and we had all the glass removed for the body shell to be painted. Unfortunately, when the windshield was reinstalled, the technician neglected to slacken off the rear view mirror coupling. As the car cooled overnight, the pre-tension on the glass cracked it.
“I was having kittens on the workshop floor the next morning,” he continued. “Luckily, Ferrari U.K. had one last windshield in stock. In the course of our inquiry, we also learned that Lusso rear windshields are on the unobtanium list, and the SEV Marchal lamps are hard to find.”
With fresh Rosso Rubino (code 106 R7) paint and a new tan leather interior, the Lusso looks magnificent. More importantly, however, the sympathetic restoration retained the original hand-built asymmetrical character of the car. Many classic Ferraris have been over-restored and look too perfect. Mayston-Taylor was very conscious of this, so while the car appears fresh, it also wears the character and maturity that come from a life well lived.
We were eager to drive s/n 4411, but were well aware that it’s often difficult to get a true picture of what a classic was like when it was new. A vintage car that was not restored with the proper expertise cannot give you a true picture of what the model is really all about.
But after its restoration at Lynx, this Lusso probably drives as well, if not better than, any factory-fresh Lusso ever did. We were genuinely surprised by how modern s/n 4411 feels, even on pock- marked Sussex country roads. This is particularly true of the ride, which is taut in a sporting GT way yet very comfortable, thanks to well-chosen spring and damper rates and relatively long wheel travel. Despite the bumpy country roads that made up the bulk of our test route, the Lusso did not exhibit a single squeak or rattle. It was hard to come to terms with the fact that we were driving a four-decade-old car!
We have driven a number of Ferrari 250 GTs, including the redoubtable 250 GT SWB. The SWB has light and incredibly communicative steering and a delightful four-speed gearbox, and just begs to be drifted through the bends on a racetrack. But while the SWB and Lusso share many mechanical parts, they are actually quite different to drive.
The Lusso has a fine tiller as well, but it feels heavier and slightly more insulated from the road. And although the Lusso uses the same gearbox as the SWB, the gears didn’t seem as willing to slot in as the last 250SWB we drove.
We soon realized the problem: the race-bred 250 GT SWB comes with a perfectly sized alloy ball gear knob, where the Lusso’s equally long shift lever is capped by a tall, thin black plastic knob. The SWB’s round knob allows perfect operation from any angle—important in the cut- and-thrust of competition— but the Lusso’s plastic knob forces you to adopt a comparatively tense position, making it harder to negotiate the spring-loaded gate as instinctively. We’ve seen period photographs of Lussos fitted with the SWBs alloy shift knob, so it’s likely some owners of the day preferred the ball as well.
The gearbox is linked to Colombo’s fabulous twin-cam 60° V12, which is topped with lovely black crackle-painted cam covers. Known as the Tipo 168, this 240-bhp 3.0-liter V12 is essentially the same motor fitted to the 250 GT SWB, and can propel the Lusso to 60 mph in 8 seconds and up to 150 mph at the top end.
Once on cam, the free- revving V12 is simply magnificent, the sound of its triple carbs overlaying the distinctive thrash of the timing chains and the bark of the twin exhausts. Life near the top of the rev counter is what this engine was designed for!
The small displacement V12 does suffer from a certain lack of low-speed tractability, however. Unlike the 4.4-liter four-cam V12 in the Daytona I once owned—which had stump-pulling low-speed torque and would happily pull third gear around town—the Lusso’s 3.0-liter motor simply runs out of answers below 1,500 rpm in a high gear and fluffs badly. When negotiating slow corners, we had to select second and sometimes even first gear. That’s not really a problem, though; you just have to work a little harder than in a torquier car.
When we became familiar enough with the Lusso to begin pushing briskly, s/n 4411 rose to the occasion, showing off a lovely poise and fluidity through fast sweeping turns. We were also pleasantly surprised by the strong and responsive servo-assisted disc brake system, which felt well up to the car’s performance, even by today’s standards. In that respect, the Lusso is very well balanced compared to the heavier and more powerful Daytona, which has blinding straight-line speed but not the brakes to match.
Our only real complaint arises from the location of the speedometer and tachometer, which are mounted in the center of the dashboard. This triumph of style over practicality is a major distraction during quick driving, since it requires you to look away from the road to glean crucial information.
Ferrari apparently learned its lesson and never used the central-instrument arrangement again. Unfortunately, this irritating layout has reappeared in recent years on cars as dissimilar as the BMW Z8 roadster and the Saturn Ion coupe.
Unlike many owners of classic machinery, John Mayston-Taylor believes in exercising his charges. For example, he drove the Lusso in the five-day Italia Classica in 2003. There, joined by many other magnificent Ferraris, the car ran faultlessly throughout.
Mayston-Taylor also took the Lusso on the concours circuit. In May 2003, s/n 4411 won the Associate Class in the U.K. Aston Martin Owners Club (!) Spring Concours. Two months later, the car won its class and came in second overall in the Ferrari Owners Club U.K. National Concours, losing by just two points out of a possible 400 to a Dino that had been painstakingly prepared for concours competition.
That September, the Lusso was invited to the prestigious Louis Vuitton Concours in Paris, where it created quite a stir and won the Prix d’Elegance.
As perfect as the Lusso is in isolation, its original French connection and Susan Mayston-Taylor’s in-depth knowledge of its history (John was racing a GT40 at the Goodwood Revival that weekend) no doubt helped to clinch the award.
In the spring of 2004, an American collector in Connecticut purchased the reborn Lusso, then with 36,600 miles on the odometer. With luck, American tifosi will have the chance to see this beautiful car on the road or the concours lawn. As with Elvis and The Beatles, talent like this should be enjoyed by everyone!