My Car Quest

December 13, 2018

The Ferrari 250 Breadvan – A Joke That Went Too Far?

by Wallace Wyss –

Let’s flash back to the Sixties. Imagine you are a state trooper in New York State, sitting behind a billboard and just starting your third bagel. You see a station wagon, a red one with flashy wire wheels, go by. He seems to be doing an inordinate amount of speed. You start up your 440 Dodge cruiser and give chase.

At 140 mph, you notice that dirty rotten sonovawhatsis is pulling away from you.

With ease.

That’s how at least one cop met The Breadvan.

The legend of the 1962 Ferrari SN2819 aka, the “Breadvan” starts here.

Ferrari Breadvan

Ferrari Breadvan With Gary Wales Leaning On The Rear Fender – Photo by Dave Craddock

Ferrari Breadvan

Interesting Livery – It Does Not Look Red – Photo by Dave Craddock

DETROIT’S CORNER ON FERRARIS

First you have to know despite Detroit back in the Sixties being the kind of place where you better drive a car to work bearing the name of the manufacturer that signs your check, there was actually a semi-secret cult of Ferrari worshipers there. Their God was Enzo.

First of all the really big guys like Henry Ford II could drive a Ferrari and no one said anything. Too big to criticize or something like that. And there were a few designers (like Hank Haga at GM) and engineers that had Ferraris, they just didn’t park them at their jobs.

And someone had to feed this desire to have the ultimate sports car and one of those was a stockbroker named Gary Wales, who with two friends, bought and sold various Ferraris that were, in the early ‘60s, like $3,000-$5,000 each delivered to New York docks.

Wales told me he and his buddies would order them two or three at a time and didn’t pay never no mind to their pedigree, racing records, yadda-yadda, I mean these were Ferraris and sure as hell outranked anything else on Detroit streets.

So one time three cars arrive and the telegram comes from New Yawk City that three cars are waiting for pickup and Gary and his two friends hopscotch over there to pick them up. The first two cars are normal street cars but the third one is an ugly sucker with a low nose like a GTO, but lower, and a flatback rear like a station wagon.

Ferrari 250 Breadvan

Ferrari 250 Breadvan at the Ferrari Museum – Photo by Mike Gulett

Gary shrugs, thinking hey, I’ll find out later why it’s that way and they draw straws as to who drives what. And Gary gets the oddball car. He has a buddy with him who wants to ride in a Ferrari and the trio set off for Detroit.

Oh, I forgot it’s winter. The guys in the regular passenger cars got heaters. Gary, he can’t find no heater. This is a race car, god damn it! Somewhere up above 140 mph Gary gets nailed.

The cop is plenty irate. He almost blew up his cruiser trying to catch him. When he asks “Do you know how fast you we’re going?” Gary looks guileless and says: “But officer, I got an emergency. See the color of that guy next to me? (it was a medium shade of blue—Ed.) He’s dyin’. I got to get him to some heat.”

So the cop lets them drive to HoJo’s (Howard Johnson restaurant) and they thaw out the guy. The cop can’t wait and Gary skates.

Eventually he finds out the former race car actually did race, as a private entry car run by Count Giovanni Volpi’s Scuderia Serenissima out of Venice. Underneath the odd body is a short wheelbase berlinetta 250GT chassis. At that time the SWB 250GTs were going for $3,000 which today probably wouldn’t buy you a valve adjustment but you have to remember houses in the Detroit ‘Burbs were about $20,000 back then.

The car got its nickname from English reporters because from the back, it looks no more distinguished than the little van the breadman delivers loaves of bread in, what the French would call it “camionette.”

Ferrari 250 Breadvan

Ferrari 250 Breadvan at the Ferrari Museum – Photo by Mike Gulett

BORNE OUT OF REVENGE

Now you have to understand that this Breadvan had one reason for its raison d’etre—to make Enzo eat crow.

Oh, at one time the man who ordered it built, Count Volpi, and Enzo were tight as ticks, but somehow they ran afoul of each other and Enzo cancelled the Count’s order for two more 250GTOs. So the Count, noting that Giotto Bizzarrini, chief engineer of the 250GTO, had left Ferrari’s employ, hires him to trick up a SWB 250GT into a GTO beater.

Bizzarrini lowers the engine and moves it back and makes it dry sump and does other changes but the big change was the body that was the ultimate Kamm effect. (actually the ultimate Kamm effect is a tapered rear like the Porsche long tails but Plan B is an abrupt cut off tail). It was almost as fast as a GTO, the only thing holding it back is Bizzarrini couldn’t get a 5-speed for it.

With its original body it had participated as a factory race car in the Tour de France with Gendebien and Bianchi behind the wheel, before it was bought by Count Volpi. Volpi painted on his shield and race team name (Scuderia SSS) and fielded it in the 1,000 km of Paris with Trintignant and Vaccarella co-driving.

You dig more and you find out what soured the atmosphere between Volpi and Ferrari was that, when it came to the famous “palace revolt” at Ferrari where five of the top engineers left, Volpi was on the side of the revolutionaries. Not only that but Volpi, with a Bolivian tin magnate, was funding a new firm who would make cars to compete with Ferrari. That firm was called ATS.

Ferrari 250 Breadvan

Ferrari 250 Breadvan at the Ferrari Museum – Photo by Mike Gulett

There have been those who speculate that, if Bizzarrini had stayed at Ferrari, this would have been his proposal for the third series of GTO (the second body style of GTO, the ’64, was designed by Pininarina). But there’s no way of knowing it that’s true. One thing for sure, though, is that when Ford developed the Mk. IV, they had a flatback/station wagon shaped roof on the prototype and it was damned fast in practice at LeMans. So aerodynamically it was sound.

At the 1962 LeMans, the Breadvan, with much smaller proportions, weighed in at 143 lbs lighter than the standard GTO. Despite the lack of five-speed gearbox, the reduced weight helped the Breadvan stay ahead of the GTOs at Le Mans, until it retired four hours into the race. The drivers were Abate/Davis. What led to the DNF was an unbalanced driveshaft. Bizzarrini had moved the engine back from where it was in the 250GTO, and that required a new driveshaft and hence the problem.

The Breadvan only raced four more times after LeMans, and managed a class win at Brands Hatch in 1962. It also ran with Scarfiotti at the Paris 1,000 km. In 1965 it ran its last “original period” race,–the Coppa Gallenga in Rome. In later years, it was used as a daily driver.

ITS ROLE AS A BLACK MARIAH

The Count did quite a bit of entertaining on the French Riviera and among the playboys he ran with was Giovanni Agnelli, a Fiat heir and the living epitome of the word “playboy.” One night Agnelli had no car to go home in from the latest bacchanal so he was loaned the Breadvan. Once he had it at his house, someone remarked “it looks like a funeral hearse” so he told his butler to go out there with a bucket of paint and paint it black so it would look like a hearse.

Ferrari Breadvan

Ferrari 250 Breadvan at the Ferrari Museum – Photo by Mike Gulett

The butler did the back, roof and sides but ran out of paint so the front just had black stripes. Volpi was not amused. Volpi liked driving the car. The weight was so evenly balanced fore/aft that you could, he said “paint with it,” i.e. do any maneuver.

But eventually, his interest in his own Serenissima brand (which came out of the ashes of the failed ATS firm) took his attention so he sold the Breadvan for a reported $2500 plus a Dodge Polara station wagon. His thought at the time was probably along the lines of: “I can always buy it back for less later on” because that was before vintage racing with postwar cars became what it is today– a multi-billion dollar sport. In those days race cars went down in value.

Ferrari Breadvan

Ferrari 250 Breadvan at the Ferrari Museum – Photo by Mike Gulett

Now, back to Gary Wales in Detroit. Wales kept the car until he decided to move to California. He and his wife drove it out, and someday I’d like to hear more stories of the couple driving into endless horizons with a car faster than any car in America.

Out in California Wales figured the car was a little dull so he would make it more exciting, painting it racing red, and putting racing roundels with numbers on the sides, with little lights to illuminate the numbers, just like at LeMans. This, of course, gave him the opportunity to use his ready comeback when some guy would jibe: “What—you pretending your car raced at LeMans?” he could answer back “As a matter of fact…”

Ferrari Breadvan

Ferrari 250 Breadvan at the Ferrari Museum – Photo by Mike Gulett

But then his house needed a new roof and, hey, gotta keep the homefires burning, so he sold it. A rock and roller, coincidentally from Detroit, name of Sonny Bono bought it and paid for it with a rubber check, only to abandon it that same day. Wales got the car back from the cops but wanted to prosecute for the rubber check. Bono sent some mean dudes to dissuade him but when the muscle arrived Wales was entertaining a friend. Wales heard their veiled threats and then introduced them to his friend who was something like a chief prosecutor for the County.

The “muscle guys” melted.

Then somewhere along the way Matt Ettinger got the car. Matt used to buy and sell exotics like they were going out of style and he also had it with the racing numbers, the roof lights, the whole nine yards. I will never forget on the opening night of an auto show when he roared in, attracting all the attention in the parking lot. To hell with the cars inside the auto show, this was more exciting.

Ettinger had bought it from Asa Clark, head of the Ferrari club, but who drove it like it was a child’s pram. Ettinger drove it like he was on the last lap at LeMans.

He stuffed the nose at least once, so the car was rebuilt sorta like it was with its second body.

Your author had a ride in it from Ettinger and it reminded me of the 250GTO I had been treated to a ride in when a Motor Trend artist borrowed one for a week when 250GTOs were only worth $90,000 and not $38 million. The sound was even better than the GTO because of the whoosh from air being sucked into the Testa Rossa-styled clear bubble air scoop atop the hood enclosing the Webers. That scoop alone, for me, made it “oh-so-exotic.”

Ferrari 250 Breadvan at the Ferrari Museum

Ferrari 250 Breadvan at the Ferrari Museum – Photo by Mike Gulett

The car went through a few more owners, one buying it after Jess Pourret, a famous Ferrari author of a GTO book in France recommended it, saying “if not a GTO, it certainly belonged with the GTOs.”

Eventually it sold at auction, the buyer half persuaded by an invitation—if he bought the car, along with it came an invitation to go to a rally featuring 27 real GTOs in France. He bought it. When the rally went to the Ferrari factory as part of the itinerary, he told the authors of Rebel Rebel Ferrari workers poured out of the factory to look at the car.

Apparently Ferrari had forgotten this car was once the outlaw car built purposely to shame them! In 2005 it was taken to the Christies auction at the Monterey Jet Center but was not sold with an estimate of $3,500,000 to $5,000,000. Later, in February 2006, it was purchased by Klaus Werner in Switzerland. He had the car completely refurbished, complete with a period-correct nose from Hietbrink Coachbuilding who used the old fashioned methods, like hammers and sand bags to make the nose match the way the car looked in ’62. The interior was once again restored to GTO blue cloth seat covers. He took it to several events, and recalled in the book Rebel Rebel how at Mugello in 2008 it was faster than even the 4-liter 250GTOs.

Ferrari Breadvan

Photo from “Gabriele Spangenberg” the Ferrari 250 Breadvan on a race track!

Ferrari Breadvan

Photo from “Gabriele Spangenberg” driving the Ferrari 250 Breadvan on a race track!

In April of 2010 Ferrari Classiche issued a notice of Attestation for vehicles that “do not comply with the strict Ferrari Authenticity Certification criteria, (but) have been deemed, as a result of their competition and/or international recognized show history, to be of historic interest.”

Youhafta ask, does the Count miss it. The authors of the book Rebel Rebel asked him. Count Volpi said something curious:”Really owning those cars is similar to still feeling them and doing with them what cannot be done anymore. In other words, we, I, still own them, even if they’re sold. If I bought a stagecoach I would never experience what it was like, because the time had gone and whatever the reenactment wouldn’t even get me far from what it was.” I think, no doubt due to translation difficulties, the Count really meant “close to” what it was, but I get his point.

Owning the Breadvan in 2016 wouldn’t be the same as it was owning it back in the days of no speed limits in parts of the USA, when gas was cheap and there was nothing made domestically that could touch it. When the idea of running a full blown tuned-for-LeMans 180 mph Ferrari on the street was incomprehensible for people who thought a sports car was like a Thunderbird.

It reminds me of an airplane story. This military guy was flying an airplane coast to coast. For some reason pilots call towers and report their airspeed. So the military guy waits patiently until a Cessna driver reports his speed of 175 mph or something and then he chimes in, identifies himself and says “2000 mph.”

I imagine consternation in the tower ensued.

Ferrari Breadvan

Ferrari 250 Breadvan Wall Art at the Ferrari Museum – Photo by Mike Gulett

In my Incredible Barn Finds books, I always end a chapter by summing up a lesson learned with that particular car. In this case, the lesson learned was–nothing is as cheap as an old race car when it no longer has a sponsor or a class where it could be competitive. The time to buy such a car is right when its future is in limbo, when it’s about to be sold downriver…

Footnote: After he had sold the car, a later owner learned Wales still had the original Italian license plates. Wanting the car to be “original” as per ’62, the new owner bought the plates. Wales gave him a deal and charged him only $5000 – which was $2000 more than he paid for the whole car in the first place!

Let us know what you think in the Comments.

THE AUTHOR: Wallace Wyss, a fine artist who shows his work at Concorso Italiano, made this portrait of the Breadvan. For information on price and availability, contact Wyss by email – click here.

Ferrari 250 Breadvan Art

Ferrari 250 Breadvan Art by Wallace Wyss

 

 

ferrari logo

Summary
The Ferrari 250 Breadvan - A Joke That Went Too Far?
Article Name
The Ferrari 250 Breadvan - A Joke That Went Too Far?
Description
The Ferrari 250 Breadvan was a wild design made to spite Enzo Ferrari on the race track.
Author

Comments

  1. wow proper job..
    i lived near ferrari egham in the 70,s when they where worth same as anything else..in fact colonel hoare used to send the px vehicles to local dealers as he only wanted ferrari on premises..
    i remember a 7.4 huge grifo went to local car dealer under £1000 pounds ukp well under..and it was parked next to an amphicar with herald engine in for £499

    in racing we always thought the breadvan was built to house a huge fuel tank for lemans…

  2. Rob Krantz says:

    Great story!

  3. Jim Harper says:

    Wow! Very interesting!

  4. Roger ram jet says:

    Thank you Wallace for the story!!
    Wallace do not stop doing your art
    But do write more!!!!

    • Here’s how the BV came to the US: I was just starting to import used Ferraris from Rome, having fun and occasionally even making some money. My friend Gordon XXXX, who owned a Lusso, asked me to let him buy the next car that came up, which happened to be this car. My Roman partner put a deposit on the car, from his own funds, and then the trouble started. First, Gordon griped about the cost of reshaping the rear of the car (!). Then, he went to his bank to borrow the money, and the banker said, “Of course the seller has a California title, right?” By then, my Roman friend and I were in a panic, so I started calling everyone I knew who might be a buyer. When I got to Dick Merritt, Dick said yes, he had a partner who would take the car: Gary Wales. Big sigh of relief! Remember, this was a time when it was hard to sell a used Ferrari, and the going price was $3,000 to $4,000.

  5. Jose Davalos says:

    Very interesting story

  6. I drove it from New York to Detroit, restored it and brought it to California when I moved there, I have thousands of miles on the Breadvan in the two years I owned it ,also had many pre 1966 Ferrari’s, Breadvan was the cats ass.

    Check me out on Facebook ( gary l wales ) & gary wales cars . plus http://WWW.ebentley.com. see you in Carmel this coming August..

  7. Bill McChesney says:

    I heard Gary Wales telling his “Breadvan story in this You Tube video.
    The story was hilarious when I heard it the first time.
    I could not conceive this vehicle in my mind until I saw this article.
    Too cool, just too cool! Or cold as hell at the time of the story.
    “@V@”
    https://youtu.be/XsdTCwCIuJU

  8. Bill McChesney says:

    http://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems-and-poets/poems/detail/45081
    Such a funny story. It reminds me of, The Cremation of Sam McGee,
    BY ROBERT W. SERVICE
    We used to read this one around Scout camp fires.
    “@V@”

  9. I wish my Cessna could’ve done 175 mph…

  10. Great story, so much more depth than what I normally see in classic car magazines and such. Thanks Mr Wyss, and the comment from Gary Wales was the icing on the cake!

  11. Even cooler is the fact that Gary doesn’t boast about this famous Ferrari connections. When I talked to him last at a local show it was mostly about how meticulous his Bentley recreations are – true jewels which show an enormous amount of craftsmanship. NO bragging, a very nice guy who stayed one of the boys!

    Thanks Mr. Wyss, great background info which would otherwise be lost!

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