Ferrari 250 GT Lusso – My First Drive

By Stephen Mitchell

Ferrari 250 GT Lusso
Stephen Mitchell at the wheel of the Ferrari 250 GT/L not too long after purchasing it.

After a year or so of Jaguar E-Type ownership (‘There’s nothing like Jaguar motoring!” D.S. Jenkinson was fond of writing in Motor Sport magazine), I had grown weary of breaking down at the side of the road albeit in some very picturesque locations — the California desert, the Malibu coastline, along Route 66 in Arizona — not to mention my driveway when starting off on a much-anticipated trip. The Jaguar was like being married to the most beautiful and most temperamental woman in the world. I was the envy of everyone but few knew of the frustrations. If only I had a dollar for every time someone approached me as I sat in the car waiting for a tow truck to have them tell me how lucky I was to own such a beautiful car! Well, of course, they were right, and yet…

As beautiful as the Jaguar was (and still is, by any standard), I had always had a special reaction to Ferraris. Recuperating in the hospital after my head-on collision on the Ventura Freeway, I discovered Road & Track magazine and started familiarizing myself with the Italian brand and its history not to mention the legendary drivers who raced the cars from Maranello. I wanted a Ferrari but I wasn’t yet old enough to drive much less own one.

At Riverside Raceway, I saw the most amazing car being driven by Jill St. John. It was obviously a Ferrari and later I learned that it was a 250 GT Berlinetta Lusso. It was breathtaking and I wanted one. It did not occur to me that owning one might be difficult given that it was a limited production item with only 351 Lussos manufactured during its production run from 1963 through 1964. I had staked my claim.

One of the first Lussos I looked at when my time came to buy one was a dark blue example owned by Haskell Wexler. Haskell had directed the film Medium Cool and would be the cinematographer on films like Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf, the original Thomas Crown Affair and One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, among others. As much as I was eager to acquire a Lusso, I didn’t buy Haskell’s car. When I visited his home in the Hollywood Hills to see the car, I didn’t even ask to test drive it. I wanted one that was in better shape.

I looked at a couple more Lussos which weren’t that easy to find and I wanted one that was in ‘like new’ condition if possible. Finally, I found one that met my requirements. It was silver blue with French racing blue leather and carpets. The owner, who lived in Las Vegas, Nevada, agreed to drive the car to Los Angeles so that I could drive it and have it inspected by my mechanic.

After the Lusso cleared the mechanic’s inspection, I agreed to buy the car. It was arranged for me to drive to Las Vegas with the seller that same day to get accustomed to the car and fly back to Los Angeles leaving the car with him until I had arranged for a transfer of funds into his account. I would bring the car back to Los Angeles in the coming days.

We left Los Angeles just before rush hour traffic got underway and this would be my first long distance drive in a Ferrari. The weather was cool and the engine sounded magnificent with the windows down. We bypassed a long section of the San Bernardino Freeway in favor of a tree-lined road that seemed to go on forever towards the I-5 and the sounds of the V12 engine echoed off those trees as I imagined they would along the Mulsanne straight at Le Mans. Compared to the E-Type, the Lusso seemed like a wild animal that had slipped its leash — it revved to seven thousand and the fenders stretched forward hunting every nuance of the pavement in a predatory manner very different from what I had been used to.

As we passed Victorville, it began to rain and by the time we reached Barstow, a heavy fog had moved in. It made not the slightest difference and the Lusso maintained a cruising speed at or near 100 mph the whole time. All I did was to turn on the fog lamps that are designed into either side of the Lusso’s front grill. I felt as though a new world had opened for me.

At Baker, we stopped for gasoline and I let the seller take the wheel. As we climbed the incline leaving Baker, I saw 120 mph on the speedometer, which is so extraneous on a Ferrari that the designer Pininfarina saw fit to put it on the passenger side of the instrument array. It wasn’t to dip below that speed until we slowed to exit the freeway going towards McCarran Field and my flight home.

It was another two days before I took possession of the Lusso. I was still in high school (having missed a semester because of the accident) and it was not ‘opportune’ for me to miss any school time. Realizing that I was impatient to have the car and that I was not happy about waiting for the weekend to get it, my father offered to fly to Las Vegas and drive the car back home to me. I countered by suggesting that we fly up together but that didn’t solve the problem of school.

The following day, I was hoping to find the Lusso waiting for me as I came out of school. It was not to be. Not wanting to waste a trip to Las Vegas, my father spent some casino time at the Sands (as he and I would do on our subsequent trips) and it was almost midnight before I heard the Lusso coming down the street and turning into our driveway. At that point, the Lusso was mine!

I’ve heard people refer to Ferraris (and other special automobiles) by saying, “It’s just a car”. Nothing could be further from the truth. The 250 GT Lusso formed a way of life for me that opened the door to special people and adventures I never would have otherwise known. It was never a toy that was taken for granted and I don’t think I ever parked the Lusso without turning back to admire it before walking away.

In retrospect, I would say that the Lusso became a lifestyle; one that I was very grateful to experience.

[Source: Stephen Mitchell]

Show Comments (20)

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  1. Great story. When I was seventeen in 1975 I was driving a 1968 Dodge Coronet 2 door hardtop that was rather rusty. I am envious.

  2. I had seen articles on the Lusso in the car mags in the 60s, thought that it, with the Ferrari SuperAmerica, was the most beautiful car ever built, and was amazed to just walk right up on one in Sausalito, CA, in September of 1970. I was really just speechless. The proportions of the Lusso are just perfect! A Lusso in high school would have ruined my life. I would never have been able to remove my head from my colon. Oh what a glorious challenge it must have been for the author.

    Oh, and BTW: The Jag’s reputation for unreliability “back in the day” was well-deserved. And for overheating at the drop of a hat. But on a cold day in New England, with the top down and the heater on: “Sweet!” doesn’t begin to come close.

  3. We Italians, are very hard to please, not because we are fussy, it is only a matter of good taste, my mom used to say”’ if you have to do it, put your heart in it and it will come out just perfect”’.
    Same with Italian cooking, it will cost the same to make a good meal or a spoiled one.
    Mr Ferrari was like that, if it was not perfect, he will never let it out of his loved ”’Bottega”’Work- Shop”’, he considered his cars as his sons, and his sons had to behaved in a proper manner and this is the final result.
    Congratulation Stephen, may you enjoy it forever and ever.
    God Bless……..Vittorio

  4. How can a high school student afford a Ferrari? I will admit I bought a GT350 in my senior year in high school, I bought the ’65 Galpin Motors dealer demo that was a year old with 4500 hard miles. $2800, $1000 more than a VW. I put 45,000 miles on it the first year. Thank goodness that was enough and I was over it.

  5. this was a fantastic story, it`s a pity about the jag E, this is an awsome looking car, but reliability is esential, hopefully the Ferrari will be more reliable, I have always said regular servicing by a very good mechanic is a requiement for any thorughbred car,

  6. It was always good for a laugh when I told people I sold the Jaguar to get something more economical to maintain–a Ferrari. 🙂

    To answer the obvious question: I was able to afford the car owing to some insurance money from an automobile accident in which I was a passenger added to the money I was making from buying and selling Bentleys and working in film.

  7. For six years, a Lusso and a ’66 E-Type coupe sat side by side in my barn. Both were beautiful, both (while I had them) were reliable, I drove both regularly. The Ferrari sounded better, but the Jag had more torque and was probably faster. The Jag’s stiff, independently-suspended chassis was far more sophisticated–supple ride, less unspring weight–than the Ferrari’s well-sorted but crude underpinnings, though probably the latter would be more predictable on a track. I now look back on the Jag with more affection. Both were sold to raise money for a Lola T70, which I love deeply.

  8. Hi Stephen,
    Lussos ARE beautiful. I had better luck with a couple 250GTE’s for comfort in ride and interior cabin environment. The Lusso’s I drove were hot inside and the seat not quite so comfortable – I am a big guy – Like you, I started with Road & Track and realized the Italians had it mostly right for beauty and performance proved by success on the race track. Now 54 years enjoying great cars, people & places/venues. Ferrari involement has opened many wonderful doors – yes !
    Thanks for sharing your memories and unleashing ours,
    Sam Smith

  9. Paul, it is interesting how subjective reactions can differ or perhaps it was the way the cars were set up. I always flet that the Lusso was faster. Perhaps I just felt capable of taking it further into the limits. Did you ever put a clock on the two cars on the same road or track? I had an acquaintance in the 70s who drove a Lola coupe as his daily driver, if you can imagine. Was yours a track car or did you use it on the street?

    Sam, I was very comfortable in the Lusso and the GTO that replaced it was much less so–but that didn’t matter…

    1. Thanks Stephen,
      The 1962 250GTO has been always my favorite car. I’ve had the pleasure of riding in 3223, 4219, 5575, 3387 & 5551 and a couple more whose numbers I can’t remember. I have also caught rides in several 250/330 2+2’s made over as GTO replicas some are VERY good copies. Even when I was younger and MUCh lighter it was always a tight squeeze. But if life allowed me just one pleasure it would be a 250GTO replica – no one calls you day and night offering $60 million plus pride and joy. Heck, the GTO Engineering boys and girls reproduce all the right bits. Let the fun begin.
      Again thanks for sharing, sam

    2. Hi Stephen,
      I’ve still got my T70, a roadster that won the USRRC at Riverside and Watkins Glen in ’66. I can’t imagine driving it on the street. The brutal Hewland, no visibility, and no ground clearance–each by itself would make the experience horrible. On the track, though, it’s a sweetheart.
      I too would probably feel more comfortable pushing hard with the Lusso. If the E-Type has original skinny tires it’s predictable but hasn’t any grip. With wider ones, it gets all weird. On acceleration, I think period tests give a slight advantage to the Jag. It’s insignificant on the stopwatch, but it’s done differently–the Jag with torque, the Ferrari when you wind it.
      Paul

      1. Yes, the Lola coupe was a brute on the road but what a ride it must have been. I’d see him often on the Ventura Freeway. Low end torque was the weak point on the Lusso so your comparison of the two cars is apt. For a time, I ran Firesone Indy racing tires until Steve McQueen told me he took them off his Lusso because they were loosening up the rear end.

  10. When I was 17 I sometime got to drive my father’s 1962 Dodge Dart and also a Ford Econoline Van on Saturdays to deliver groceries. But sometimes, when my mind drifted just a bit, they both could become almost Ferraris. Now it happen with my Miata but that becomes an XKE. Almost.

  11. The Lusso is of course a special automobile, but i’m not as excited about it as some of you others.
    I’ll take a swb California Spyder anytime over the Lusso.

  12. Notable sightings: The night I was introduced to Steve McQueen at the Chez Club, he had his Lusso with him. I saw Jill St. John in her Lusso driving on the 405 freeway pulling a cabin cruiser on a trailer (!!)…