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Coachwork by Pinin Farina
Formerly the Property of Marquis Alfonso de PortagoA World Record for an Early Ferrari 250 GT
Alfonso De Portago
Portago was not a great racing driver, although it is certain that he would have been, had he lived…He was not an artist, he left nothing of beauty behind him and nothing of use to the world. He moved no mountains, wrote no books, bridged no rivers. He saved no lives, indeed, he took innocents with him to his death…Yet it would be a flinty heart which did not mourn his death. At the very least, he was an adornment in the world, an excitement, a pillar of fire in the night, producing no useful heat or light, but a glory to see nonetheless. At most he was an inspiration…for he proved that if anything at all is meant for us, we are meant to live life…”
– Ken Purdy
The son of Spanish nobleman Antonio Cabeza de Vaca and a wealthy Irishwoman Olga Leighton, Alfonso de Portago was the 17th Marquis of Portago, heir to one of the most respected titles in Spain. Born in London in October 1928, he grew up in Biarritz, a chic seaside resort on France’s West Coast. With his noble heritage, ample means, and worldly background, “Fon” Portago was the consummate sportsman – a gentleman driver of aristocratic lineage who enjoyed nothing more than the thrill of competition.
As a young man, Alfonso de Portago displayed the bravado that would one day make him a successful racing driver. At the age of 17, he won a $500 bet by flying his plane beneath a bridge. It has been said that the width between the bridge supports was hardly wider than the plane’s wingspan. Before the age of 25, the sixfoot- tall Portago was twice crowned “champion amateur rider of France” and participated in Britain’s most famous horse race – the Grand National – on two occasions.
While living in Manhattan, Portago attended the 1953 New York Motor Show and met Ferrari’s North American distributor Luigi Chinetti. Evidently, Chinetti liked what he saw in Fon Portago and invited him to serve as his co-driver on the Carrera Panamericana in Mexico, widely regarded as the world’s most dangerous road race. A true daredevil, Portago was immediately hooked and began to focus his attention on motor racing.
The following year, Fon Portago bought himself a Ferrari, a Maserati, and an OSCA and was racing with excellent results. His talent even attracted the attention of Enzo Ferrari, who offered him a position with the Scuderia Ferrari works team. During his two seasons with Scuderia Ferrari, he achieved podium finishes at the British Grand Prix, the Sveriges Grand Prix, Nürburgring, and Buenos Aires. Driving for other teams, and with his own cars, Fon Portago captured eight overall wins including the 1956 Tour de France.
It was not long before he earned a reputation as a devilishly quick and equally aggressive driver. Fellow drivers described Portago as a “two-car man” due to the many burned-out brakes, clutches, transmissions, and wrecked cars for which he was responsible. Portago’s long-standing co-driver, Edmund Nelson, predicted that the Spaniard would not live to the age of 30 and famously stated that, “every time Portago comes in from a race the front of his car is wrinkled where he has been nudging people out of the way at 130 mph.”
Alfonso de Portago’s brief but brilliant career came to a tragic end at the 1957 Mille Miglia. For this important event, he was given the reins of Scuderia Ferrari’s new 335 Sport – a potent four-cam V-12 that was, far and away, the fastest car in the race. Before the start, Enzo Ferrari taunted Portago, saying that he would have to work hard to beat Olivier Gendebien, who was tasked with driving the works-entered 250 GT Berlinetta. Handicapped by lack of experience in the arduous Italian road race, Fon Portago drove harder than most, attempting to win by sheer determination.
In the words of T.C. Browne, “The inevitable happened when Alfonso de Portago stopped alongside the course, ran to the fence, kissed Linda Christian, ran back to his Ferrari and drove on to his destiny, killing himself, his co-driver, 10 spectators, and the Mille Miglia.”
Among the first 10 examples of Ferrari’s legendary 250 GT Berlinetta, 0415 GT is the forerunner of a long line of successful three-liter competition cars.
Mechanically, 0415 GT is based on the type 508 chassis, essentially the same as that found in the 250 Europa GT that had been introduced in 1954. With coil-spring front suspension, the new platform was far superior to the earliest Ferrari 250 chassis, which made use of a transverse leaf-spring front suspension. The 250 GT gearbox was also greatly improved, utilizing Porsche-type synchromesh on all four forward gears.
The engine, a type 112 unit, is most similar to the V-12 used in the 250 MM, using many of the same internal components and the distinctive, front-mounted distributors. Perhaps the only significant difference between the two is the use of Weber twin-choke carburetors for the 250 GT in lieu of the massive, four-barrel carburetors used on the 250 MM.
With this thoroughbred sporting chassis as a foundation, 0415 GT was entrusted to Carrozzeria Pinin Farina in Torino for coachwork. The styling for 0415 GT owes much to the coachbuilder’s previous work on the 250 MM, 375 MM, and 500 Mondial chassis. The end result is a truly elegant and quintessentially Italian sports car – simple, purposeful, and ideally proportioned. Just four similar Pinin Farina 250 GT Berlinettas were built.
Constructed from lightweight aluminum, this 250 GT Berlinetta was designed purely for competition. Unlike other contemporary Pinin Farina Berlinettas, 0415 GT was never equipped with bumpers, side vents, or decorative trim. The pinned bonnet features a central air intake, three louvers toward the rear, competition quick-release latches, and leather straps. The rear section features a central outside filler, round 250 MM-style taillights, and a three-piece wraparound window. The interior is businesslike, with supportive bucket seats, sliding Plexiglas side windows, a painted dashboard, and exposed aluminum interior panels.
Finished in white with black leather upholstery, 0415 GT was originally delivered to Alfonso de Portago in November 1955, just in time for the 2nd Annual Nassau Speed Week in the Bahamas. Throughout the 1950s and early 1960s, the Nassau races were an ideal venue for manufacturers to test next season’s racing machines and privateers to enjoy some additional practice in the mild Caribbean climate.
On December 9, 1955, Alfonso de Portago debuted his new 250 GT in the five-lap race for production cars over two liters. Wearing race number 23, he placed 4th overall behind three Jaguar D-Types.
For the 30-lap Governor’s Trophy later that day, Portago entrusted the Ferrari to his friend, famed Russian sculptor and photographer Gleb Derujinsky. Evidently, Derujinsky’s artistic talents far exceeded his abilities as a racing driver; partway through the race, he lost control of the 250 GT and rolled the car into a ditch.
Thankfully, no serious damage was done to either car or driver, and 0415 GT was repaired in time to take part in the 60-lap Nassau Trophy on December 11th. In the main event, Derujinsky drove the 250 GT Berlinetta to an impressive result, finishing 17th overall and 7th in Class. Alfonso de Portago, driving his own 750 Monza, placed 2nd overall behind Phil Hill in a Chinetti entered 857 Sport.
In spring 2009, 0415 GT was displayed on the Ferrari Classiche stand at Techno Classica in Essen, serving as an ideal showcase for the factory’s acclaimed restoration and certification programs.
In its current condition, it would be quite a challenge to fault the overall presentation of 0415 GT. Finished in its original color scheme and fully restored under the supervision of the Ferrari factory, this early-production 250 GT Berlinetta has a visual appeal and credentials that would be difficult to improve upon. Given its desirable specification, period racing record, and important connection to the legendary Alfonso de Portago, this 250 Ferrari possesses qualities sought after by the most discriminating connoisseurs.
This sophisticated Pinin Farina Berlinetta is not only one of the most appealing early Ferrari 250 GT competition cars, it is also extremely authentic, thoroughly documented, and ideally prepared for the enthusiastic driver. A remarkably versatile machine, 0415 GT is a perfect candidate for an incredible variety of automotive events – everything from selective concours d’elegance to the most exclusive driving events. In the hands of its current owner, this Ferrari has proven itself to be more than capable, garnering admiration at leading European shows and successfully completing more than 20 vintage rallies and races.
Offered for sale for the first time in 20 years, this important 250 GT Berlinetta demands serious consideration.