Lifestyle

The Last of the 250s


The 1963 Ferrari 250 GTL "Lusso" Berlinetta was one of Pininfarina's most successful designs

Late in 1962, at the Paris Show, Ferrari introduced the Lusso Berlinetta, the last of the 250 series. The Lusso combined features of the 250 SWB and the 250 GTO in a beautiful, luxurious steel body by Scaglietti, and was one of Pininfarina's most successful designs.

The design incorporated aerodynamic refinement, the result of Ferrari's experience with the round-tailed SWB and the cutoff Kamm tail of the GTO. The sloping back window flowed to the short rear deck and the effective spoiler above the Kamm tail. "Lusso" means luxury, and the car was trimmed with thick carpets and soft leather. Like all Ferraris, the Lusso was a driver's car, with excellent visibility. In barely 18 months, 350 were built.

Steve McQueen parted with his Lusso in late 1967, after becoming irritated with the smoke under hard acceleration. He had the engine rebuilt but the smoke persisted, so he traded it to Charlie Hayes, ex Can-Am driver and dealer, who advertised it in Competition Press, now AutoWeek. San Francisco collector Tom Sherwood purchased it in July 1972, for $8,000. Sherwood drove it about 6,000 miles and did some restoration during his 25-year ownership. In 1997, he sold it to Mike Regalia, past president of and guiding light behind many of the Nethercutt Collection's Concours-winning restorations. Regalia called it "the nicest unmolested Lusso that needed a restoration in the world. Cosmetically it was not great, but it ran very well."

The Lusso's association with McQueen was undocumented, but SCMer Mike Sheehan obtained the original order by Santa Monica dealer Otto Zipper to Luigi Chinetti showing the purchaser was Steve McQueen. McQueen's wife, Neile, actually ordered it before his 34th birthday. It quickly became McQueen's favorite for high-speed road trips. McQueen's son, Chad, introduced Regalia to McQueen's friend, photographer William Claxton, and painter Lee Brown, who remembered the Lusso. Claxton had a number of photos of their 1,500-mile trip up Route 1 a week or so after McQueen took delivery. Lee Brown, who repainted the Lusso for McQueen, had a can of touch-up paint marked "McQueen Lusso," which he had saved for 30 years.

Restoration began in 2000, and Regalia stripped the body to reveal rust-free and undamaged metal. The engine was removed and serviced, but because it had only been 6,000 miles since its last rebuild, the internals required no work. Doing all the metal, mechanical work, and detailing himself, Regalia took his time until March 2005, when Pebble Beach Concours chairman Glen Mounger asked Regalia if the car could be finished for the August occasion, honoring Pininfarina, which meant the restoration went from idle to redline, resulting in a seven-day-a-week push.

The Lusso was shown at the Concours but did not win an award. Additional work followed, which resulted in Platinum Awards at the 2006 Cavallino Classic and Concours on Rodeo Drive and Best in Class at Amelia Island in March 2006. Now in concours condition, it comes with extensive documentation, including a copy of the original order, Lee Brown's touch-up paint, documentation and photographs by William Claxton, and McQueen's California license plates.

The SCM Analysis

This Lusso sold for $2,310,000 at Christie's August 2007 Monterey auction, certainly a world record for a Lusso and over five times the $400,000 that an excellent Lusso without celebrity provenance would otherwise bring. The McQueen legacy seems to produce prices about five times normal based on sales of his stuff at the Bonhams Petersen Museum auction last November. And the Lusso sold in that range.

So what does this outstanding result say about Lusso values? Absolutely nothing. On inspection, I found little to fault--it was beautifully done. It wasn't a winner at its one Pebble Beach appearance, but good enough to garner Platinum status--95 points-plus--at Ferrari concours.

Collectors own objects for the value they provide. Collector car value resides in the associations with technical or aesthetic superiority during the period. Celebrity ownership causes cars to be valued highly, because of the value associated with famous people.

Value based on proven connection

Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis's BMW 325i sold for $79,500 in 1995. Like most everything else at her estate auction, it was considerably more than Sotheby's estimates of $18,000-$22,000 before the sale.

"As long as she left those cigarette butts in the ashtray and the horse show programs in the trunk," said Dave Brownell, then editor of Hemmings Motor News, "That's what they were buying. They weren't buying a car." But after the comprehensive restoration this Lusso received, there were certainly no cigarette butts left, or anything McQueen had ever touched. So the associative value here is based on the excellent documentation that Christie's and Regalia provided of McQueen's attachment to the Lusso.

Christie's and the owner's excellent promotion brought together serious car collectors and the most fervent of nostalgia buff to achieve this outstanding result. Are there any rules that determine why one celebrity's artifacts bring high premiums? The question of how much celebrity provenance adds to a car is complex. In a recent article on such provenance, Publisher Martin concluded that investing in celebrity ownership has its pitfalls and that verifiable historic competition achievement is the safer bet.

As far as increased dollars for celebrity ownership, the congruence of the celebrity inherent in the car and the nature of McQueen's own celebrity might have importance. The Lusso is itself a celebrity; the mystique of Ferrari, some would say, is the ultimate automotive symbol of car coolness. And McQueen was the quintessentially cool car guy.

Ferraris for McQueen were what Nike basketball sneakers are to Michael Jordan. A Michael Jordan iPod would not garner as much celebrity value, since it's hard to visualize Jordan using one during a game, whereas McQueen's "car guy coolness" was built on his reputation for doing many of his own stunts, including those in "Bullitt" in 1968, and his ownership of many great fast cars. It's easy to visualize McQueen driving the Lusso up Highway 1 at unwarranted speeds. So the new owner can make the ultimate nostalgia trip.

Another important addition of value, whether in the art world or in celebrity artifacts, is rarity and the sanctity of the artist's/owner's image. So artifacts of deceased celebrities should be worth more, since there is a finite number of items. Elvis or Rembrandt aren't going to buy/produce more cars or masterpieces. Of course, celebrity reputation is also a factor--Michael Vick artifacts took a precipitous drop recently. Deceased celebrities' stuff should be a safer buy, as it's hard to imagine a corpse being booked for a DUI, steroid use, or shoplifting.

Celebrity can be fleeting

Another consideration, as Martin pointed out in his article, is that celebrity can be fleeting. And the recent explosion of multimedia content on the Internet has led to an increase in the number of celebrities. Reality TV and YouTube produce short-lived celebrities fulfilling Warhol's prediction: "In the future, everyone will be famous for fifteen minutes." Recently, a study by psychologists shows that nearly one third of Americans display signs of "celebrity obsession." Americans not only have more celebrities from which to choose, but they appear to care more about them. A recognized celebrity like McQueen, who died in 1980, is a safer bet than, say, Paris Hilton.

McQueen's Lusso has many favorable attributes, so maybe the five-times sale price factor is justified. After all, Elton John's 20 cars at Christie's 2001 London auction all sold above Christie's generously high estimates; some reached close to three times the estimate. And Elton is still buying cars. As he said later, "There's obviously a lot of money to be made from second-hand cars!" And as the Christie's sale showed, there is even more money to be made from collector cars belonging to departed celebrities, especially if they are "car guys."

In the end, the sale of this car says more about McQueen than it does about Ferrari.

Details

Years Produced: 1962-64

Number Produced: 350

Original List Price: $13,375

SCM Valuation: $400,000-$500,000

Tune-up Cost: $2,000

Distributor Caps: 2 @ $400 each

Chassis # Location: Front frame tube

Engine # Location: Engine rear mount

Club Info: Ferrari Club of America, Box 720597 Atlanta, GA 30358

Website: click to visit

Alternatives: Elton John's Jag XJ220, Frank Sinatra's T-Bird, Jackie O's BMW 325i

Investment Grade: B without McQueen, A with


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