BIRTH of a GTO
Virtually every car that emerged from Ferrari's delivery room in Maranello was a memorable one - but few have reached the status of the GTO. In 1962, when you Autosport reporter Chris Nixon captured the birth of one of these legends on film, it was truly a Kodak moment.
Today, the Modena autodrome is a wasteland overgrown with weeds and waiting for development as a public park named after Enzo Ferrari. But in the Fifties and Sixties it was a busy military aerodrome and the home of the Modena Grand Prix. The 1.5-mile perimeter circuit also afforded Scuderia Ferrari and Officine Maserati a useful test facility not far from the center of town. It was there, on a crisp October day in 1962, that I saw a GTO being put through its paces by Giancarlo Baghetti (the sensational winner of the 1961 French GP) and his Belgian teammate, Willy Mairesse.
They were under the watchful eyes of Mauro Forghieri, the young man whom Enzo Ferrari had put in charge of his engineering department after the infamous walk-out of many of his senior staff late in 1961.
Forghieri and his mechanics stood alongside the Ferrari bans porter and listened happily as Mairesse threw the GTO intothe corners and blasted it up the straights in his usual exuberant manner, the song of the 3-liter V12 reverberating off the walls surrounding the autodrome. Then it was Baghetti's turn. The Italian was noticeably smoother than his teammate. but then of course "Wild Willy" could never resist an armful of opposite lock here, there, and everywhere.
Even then I was aware that I was in the presence of a legend, for the GTO had enjoyed a remarkable first season, finishing second overall in the Sebring 12 Hours, fourth in the Targa Florio, and second in both the Nurburgring 1000 K (a 4-liter car) and the Le Mans 24 Hours. GTOs had also won the Tourist Trophy and the Montlhery 1000 K.
Mairesse had done much of the testing with the prototype late in 1961 and had raved about it in the French sports paper, L'Equipe, saying that it was a monster. He meant this as a compliment, and the fulsome praise he lavished on the GTO immediately generated a mystique about the new car, which was considerably quicker than its predecessors.
Commendatore Ferrari then announced that it would be too quick for all but the very best drivers, which made it more desirable than ever, although it soon transpired thee the GTO was so well balanced that any competent driver could handle it without fear. Of course, it still took the best to get the best out of it.
By the time of the Modena test I witnessed, the GTO was well sorted and Mairesse and Baghetti were just fine-tuning a customer car, for the model was now in "full production." This would amount to a run of just 37 vehicles, which were built by Sergio Scaglietti.
A few days after the test, I paid the amiable Sergio a visit or his small bodyshop on the outskirts of Modena. The GTO was such a beautiful design that at first its styling was credited to Pininfarina, but it had actually evolved in-house at Ferrari in Maranello. Now Scaglietti's talented metalworkers were hammering virginal sheets of aluminum into shape and fitting them onto the wire frame The noise was deafening, making conversation a waste of time, but the craftsmanship needed no explanation.
As I recall, in 1962 a lucky few were able to buy a GTO for £5,000. Had I had the pres ence of mind (not to mention a few sips of vintage wine), I should now be feeling rather pleased with myself, as 25 years later these cars are changing hands for 1000 times their original price.
Hindsight can be a real pain in the butt. can't it?
Want more information? Search the web!
Search The Auto Channel!