Just Another Ferrari GTO

Story and photos by Stephen Mitchell

Ferrari 250 GTO s/n 3987Once upon a time, I received a call from an acquaintance Mario Tosi. He and I both owned Ferrari GTOs and used them as daily transportation. His had been for sale and I came close to buying it before finally purchasing 3987. Mario was calling to say that he had found a buyer for his car and wanted to say goodbye to the car by organizing a track day at Willow Springs Raceway. Would I like to come along, he wanted to know. Indeed I would! Some of what went on that day is documented in this footage filmed by Peter Helm to which I added a narration: See Ferrari GTOs at Willow Springs.

A day or so after this very special event, I found myself having dinner on the Sunset Strip with Matthew Ettinger who owned the Ferrari Breadvan at the time. Leaving the restaurant, we climbed into the GTO and accelerated away enjoying the sound of the engine with its timing chains and intake suction noises and the deep throated sound of the exhaust as it bounced off Nicky Blair’s facade. And then suddenly, the GTO made a sharp left turn without any input to the steering wheel. I stopped in the middle of Sunset Boulevard to take stock of the situation. Had I turned the wheel? No. Did we turn left? Yes. I started off again a little more gingerly and made a straight course until WHAM–we turned left again. Clearly the ZF limited slip differential was not happy about something!

Carefully and slowly, we made our way to Peter Helm’s apartment just off the Strip. He wasn’t home–when was he ever?–so I parked the GTO in his garage and Matthew and I found our way home in separate taxis that night.

Friend and fellow Ferrari enthusiast John Andrews volunteered his garage and skills in dismantling the GTO’s rear end. It took some doing but we got it apart and inspected the large crack in the unit which needed to be replaced rather than repaired. This prompted a call to the factory in Maranello. The operator there said no one would be able to help me until after the strike was over. Thoughts of weeks and months waiting for the strike to end passed through my mind. Somewhat hopelessly, I asked, “When might the strike end?” as if she would know. In fact, she did know. “The strike will be over in an hour,” she informed me. They do things differently in Italy.

When the two hour strike had concluded, I got through to someone who informed me that I needed to call ZF in Germany as there was no part number on the unit that I could cite. My next call to ZF in Germany confirmed that there was no part number on the unit because there was no such part (!!). ZF merely shipped a solid billet of steel Ferrari 250 GTO chassis number 3987to Ferrari and it was they who machined the part into existence. Another call to Maranello confirmed that they were out on strike again for an hour or so. In between strikes, I was finally advised to contact Luigi Chinetti, Ferrari’s U.S. distributor and proprietor of the North American Racing Team. He would know what to do about a broken ZF unit.

The people at Chinetti were extremely helpful and directed me to a machine shop in Greenwich, Connecticut, as I recall, where a replacement was made using the original as a model. To reinstall the part, the GTO was moved to Matthew Ettinger’s garage which it shared with the Breadvan–a great garage duo!

It took a couple of long evenings, but Matthew and I installed the limited slip, reassembled the rear end and buttoned everything up. A long job but worth the effort and we were more than ready for a test drive to enjoy the fruits of our labors.

The GTO had been backed into the garage so as Matthew opened the garage door, I started the engine and moved the gearshift into the dog-legged first gear. Matthew waved me out, I engaged the clutch and–the GTO went backwards!

Having installed the unit the wrong way around, I found myself the proud owner of the world’s only Ferrari GTO with five speeds in reverse and one forward. We should have gone to a local bar and made some bets. Instead, we gave up and corrected the situation the following day and 3987 became, once again, just another GTO.

[Source: Stephen Mitchell]

Show Comments (6)

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  1. My Dad was the guy who bought Mario’s GTO (3765) and in fact Mario damaged the rear end of the car that day at Willow Springs. My Dad was not very happy when he arrived to pick up the car and the rear was in primer! But after a little haggling he and my mom jumped in the GTO and drove it home to St. Louis. They did not realize at the time that 3765 was the 4 liter Le Mans and Nurburgring car. Years later Mario said that he never would have sold the car if he had known its history. You can see pictures of the car when we owned it on this link:


  2. So much happened that day at Willow Springs–like giving rides to people and the social aspect of the event–that didn’t make it onto film. Mario’s spin at Turn 2 was one of the events that was not memorialized on film though I witnessed it as I was exiting Turn 1 at the time he spun. All I saw was an enormous cloud of dust. As I passed him, it looked as though there had been no damage, but upon closer inspection…

    That’s a great Ferrari page, Cliff.

    1. I believe that Mario did know as he was, no doubt, informed by our mutual friend and all-around vintage Ferrari guru Ed Niles, but that is speculation. I wondered at the time why he would trade a GTO for a Ghibli regardless of history.