History/driving impressions originally published in AutoWeek October 21, 1985
Just the sound of the starter says this is going to be something special, that high-pitched whine that’s a cross between an air wrench and a dentist’s drill. So characteristic of a Ferrari.
Then the engine catches.
No matter how many times you’ve heard it, is still the same. The sound – pure and whole – starts down low. Then it rises – 12 metal throats crying for air, howling in a cocoon of aluminum and steel. The horns of the six Webers outplay the Marine Band trumpets at their best.
And the sound is only the beginning.
The car is a Ferrari 275 GTB/6C, number 8891, belonging to Tony Singer of Laurel Hollow, New York. First owned by Manuel dos Passos (son of writer Juan dos Passos), it is one of a limited number of alloy-bodied GTBs. Of that elite, only two have the combination of factory rollbar, external filler cap and Boranni wire wheels. This is one of that pair.
The story of the GTB, however, starts in 1964 at the Paris Salon, where the model was unveiled with its spider-version sibling, the 275 GTS. The two shared identical welded tube steel chassis and 3.3-liter V-12 engine but had completely different bodywork designed by Pininfarina. The spider had an elegant, formal look, while the GTB had voluptuous curves with fared-in headlamps, a sweeping, steeply raked windshield, and bulging rear fenders leading to a duckbilled tail.
The GTB was a replacement for the 250 GT Berlinetta Lusso and broke new ground for Ferrari as the first road car with independent rear suspension, with the five-speed transmission moved to the rear, in unit with the rear axle. It was a car designed primarily for the road but with full racing credentials. Ironically, Ferrari withdrew from Gran Tourismo competition (in favor of prototype racing) in December 1964, although Enzo Ferrari could not resist the temptation to enter a special 275 GTB at the Nurbergring in 1965. Although while driven in practice by Lorenzo Bandini it shattered the race lap record set the previous year, it did not do as well in the hands of others. Entered by Ecurie Francochamps, however, it won the GT class at LeMans in 1965.
In 1966, the only Ferraris to finish were a pair of 275 GTB’s. The Marinello concessionaires entry driven by Roy Pike and Piers Courage finished eighth overall and first in the GT class. And in 1967 a 275 GTB driven by Steinemann and Sperry took yet another first in GT. Nor was the progress of the 275 GTB limited to the Sarthe. A 275 GTB won the over 2000 GT class at Monza in 1966. That this Ferrari was competition worthy should not be questioned.
It is, of course a V-12, Columbo designed and with 60 degrees between the banks. It was a departure for Ferrari from the three-liter displacement of the 250 series that went back to 1952. Actual engine size for the 275 was 3286cc. With the compression ratio of 9.2:1 and three Weber two-barrel carbs, the factory rated horsepower at 280, but with the six carburetors the rating was bumped to 300, the same, incidentally, as a late 275 GTB/4. Unlike the GTB/4, however, there is only one camshaft per bank. The engine is an impressive sight, the queue of Webers with interlocking linkage, each identical to the next and packed tighter than commuters on a Tokyo subway, lined up between the rounded, wide valve covers, black crackle except for the letters spelling “Ferrari,” standing out in bold relief. A pair of oil filters mounted high on the front of the engine and the two six-lead distributors sit at the rear.
The body, designed by Pininfarina, was built by Scaglietti, usually in steel and aluminum, although the all-aluminum skin was an option. The fully independent suspension was by unequal-length A-arms front and rear, and brakes were discs all the way around. Buyers were given the choice of standard alloy rims or optional Borrani wire wheels: do Passos chose the latter for what – eventually, anyway – became Singer’s car.
About midway through the production of 450 or so 275 GTB’s, several changes were made. One involved the body shape. Following complaints of instability at high speed, the front end was modified to reduce lift. The result was that the front end was lengthened and the radiator inlet was made smaller and more elliptical. At the same time, the egg-crate grill of the early cars was dropped in favor of the plain, more aggressive opening. Less visible was the change from an exposed driveshaft running in a central bearing to a torque tube between the clutch and rear-mounted transmission.
The car is strictly a two-seater and quite comfortable once in. The large wood-rimmed steering wheel, raked in a particularly Italian angle, dates the car. On the dash, flanking oil pressure and temperature gauges, are huge Veglia tach and speedometer, modern-looking with white lettering on black. Four more gauges, centered on the dash, measure water temperature, amps, fuel, and time (a clock). One sits low in the car and rather far back. There’s a very Corvette-ish feel of driving from the backseat, what with all that car out front.
Not at all like a Corvette, however, is a sound of the engine. All 12 cylinders working together make a noise which no V-8, no matter how effective, can compare. There is a certain odd effect that makes the new driver shift early, before hitting the power peak. That’s easy to understand, though, as maximum horsepower isn’t reached until 7600 RPM. It takes discipline and confidence to tread so high on the tach, especially on a borrowed car. But the engine can take it and dish it back out.
Like all superior road cars, the GTB feels much slower – at least when not accelerating – than it really is. It’s possible to lope along in third gear, well down on the tachometer, and easily violating the 55-MPH speed limit. And there are still two more gears to go.
It is more than a matter of gearing, however. The 275 GTB is a superb handler and so confident on with almost any road that it’s easy to find oneself traveling faster than planned. Naturally, the metric speedometer doesn’t make it any easier, requiring of the driver arithmetic skills long since abdicated to pocket calculators…except that it’s hard to whip out the TI, punch in a conversion factor, note the result and moderate one’s velocity accordingly, hopefully before the uniformed officer notices the bright red car. And he will notice the car. Shame of it is that speeds which may be unsafe in other cars are quite comfortable and secure in this one
Be assured that the 275 GTB/6C is capable of prodigious speeds. Zero to 60 is in the low six-second range and the car doesn’t stop accelerating until something on the order of 150 mph is achieved.
Yet when all the statistics are calculated and photographs neatly filed away, when all the other images start to fade, it will be the sound of the V-12, the music of the six Webers, the song of the Ferrari that lingers.
I’ve never been a big follower of the prices of classic, collector and/or exotic automobiles. It part that’s because I appreciate a car for what it is, and price is, well, just money. And money, other than to economists and numismatists, is exciting only to the extent what can be bought with it. Still, it’s literally breathtaking when you see a price tag of three million dollars, give or take a couple hundred thousand, on an automobile.
I did a quick web search on this particular car and found that it was repainted from its lovely Arrest Me Red to a dark blue metallic, a color that looked good on Dad’s 1965 Galaxie but seems criminal applied to this car. A rosso Ferrari may be cliche, but really, there are good reasons to paint a Ferrari red. The Ferrari 275 GTB is Exhibit 1.