Steve McQueen 1963 Ferrari 250 GT Berlinetta Lusso Sells For $2.3 Million At Christie's Monterey Auction

The man known most for piloting a Mustang just had his old 1963 Ferrari 250 GT Berlinetta auctioned off last night at the Christie's auction last night at the Monterey Jet Center, one of the many events that make up the hoopla surrounding this weekend's Pebble Beach Concours. The Ferrari, expected to go for somewhere in the neighborhood of $800,000 to $1.2 million ended up fetching $2.31 million. Although in no means is this a record of any sort (unless you count it as a record for a 1963 Ferrari 250 once owned by Steve McQueen) our estimates peg the selling price to have been...really high. Really, really high actually. The economy must still be doing well for some people, we guess. The full Christie's description of the car is below the jump.

The ex-Steve McQueen
1963 FERRARI 250 GT/L LUSSO BERLINETTA
DESIGN BY PININFARINA; COACHWORK BY SCAGLIETTI
Chassis No. 4891
Engine No. 4891

Marrone Metallizzato, Beige leather interior

Engine: V-12, 2,953cc, three Weber dual throat carburetors, 250bhp at 7,000 rpm; Gearbox: 4-speed manual; Suspension: front, independent with coil springs and tubular shock absorbers; rear, live axle with semi-elliptical leaf springs and tubular shock absorbers; Brakes: four-wheel discs. Left hand drive.

Perfection is approached progressively, in stages and steps.

For Steve McQueen the pursuit of perfection began in 1955 when he, along with some 200 others, auditioned for one of two openings in Lee Strasberg's Actors' Studio. He and Martin Landau where selected for those exclusive positions. The following years saw McQueen appear in several New York-based television productions before continuing his television career in Hollywood with roles like Josh Randall in "Trackdown". Creating characters, an acting style and a persona which would become legendary, Steve McQueen was on his way.

McQueen landed his first starring movie role in 1958 in the science fiction milestone "The Blob" while building his television reputation with the series "Wanted: Dead or Alive" which developed the John Randall character into a five-year series, from 1958 through 1961, totaling 73 episodes. With this role Steve McQueen became an instantly recognized acting celebrity, but the best was yet to come.

From the late 50's on McQueen managed parallel careers in television with "Wanted: Dead or Alive" and in film with movies and roles of steadily increasing significance. He achieved breakout success in "The Magnificent Seven" in 1960, an environment of unusual complexity, featuring a strong group of charismatic actors. Steve McQueen's presence on camera, although overmatched on paper by the accomplishments, reputations, billing and experience of established stars like Yul Brynner, Eli Wallach, Charles Bronson, Robert Vaughn and James Coburn, always drew the eyes and attention of theatergoers.

The McQueen legend was anchored in bedrock in 1963 with his role as Captain Hilts in "The Great Escape." Once again surrounded by a stellar cast including James Garner, (Sir) Richard Attenborough, Charles Bronson, Donald Pleasance, James Coburn and David McCallum, Steve McQueen's portrayal of Hilts, the baseball-playing loner American escape artist, combined dedication, bravery, determination and bravado with a motorcycle chase that set the stage for later McQueen driving/riding roles in "Bullitt" and "Le Mans".

McQueen was the king of cool, with a self-deprecating casualness that only enhanced his charm, capability and charisma. His fondness for automobiles, motorcycles, toys and generally anything mechanical permeated his life, both on-screen and off.

His career was on a roll in early 1963 when Steve McQueen and his wife Neile Adams walked into Otto Zipper's Wilshire Boulevard showroom in Santa Monica and left behind a check that made Steve's years at California's Boys Republic seem a distant memory. It was the deposit on a new Ferrari 250 GT/L Lusso Berlinetta, the car offered here.

The Ferrari 250 GT

Enzo Ferrari had begun his company's own quest for the perfect gran turismo in 1954, in a fitting parallel with Steve McQueen's 1955 acceptance into The Actors' Studio. Ferrari's vehicle was the 250 GT Europa. Powered by a development of the original Ferrari V-12 engine designed by Gioacchino Colombo, the first 3-liter 250 GT Europa with three Weber carburetors gave some 250bhp. Its chassis was Ferrari's first road car with coil spring independent front suspension.

For Ferrari the creation of the 250 GT Europa spelled commercial success. Although only thirty-six examples were built, it led directly to Ferrari's next series-produced gran turismo, the 250 GT bodied by Boano and its successor Ellena to a design by Pinin Farina. Built from 1956 through 1958, production of the 250 GT Boano/Ellena berlinettas amounted to some 130 cars. They established a pattern for future 250 GTs: voluptuous yet practical coachwork from the pen of Pinin Farina with Ferrari's race-developed and proven V-12 engine and refined parallel tube chassis with independent front and live axle rear suspension.

As Steve McQueen managed parallel television and movie careers in Hollywood in the late Fifties, Ferrari launched the parallel development paths for the 250 GT with the 250 GT Berlinetta Tour de France, the 250 GT Short Wheelbase Berlinetta, California Spyder and the 250 GT Pinin Farina Coupé and Cabriolet.

The reputation of the Ferrari 250 was also to take a leap in the next few years with the introduction and development of the 250 Testa Rossa sports-racers, automobiles that would become ubiquitous in the hands of the factory and numerous private entrants and would dominate the podium results of every major international and national race and series for the next five years and elevate the designation "250" into the top ranks of automobile history.

Ferrari piled success upon success for the 250 GT, particularly with the 250 GT SWB and its successor the brilliant 250 GTO. Over 1,500 250 GT Pininfarina Coupes, Cabriolets and GTEs satisfied the market's demand for handsome, comfortable and satisfying to drive pure road-going gran turismos. Ferrari and Pininfarina, however, recognized that something more - more distinctive, more exclusive, more desirable - was needed to crown the 250 GT's history. Thus, late in 1962 at the Paris Show, Ferrari brought out the last of the 250 GT series, the 250 GT/L Lusso berlinetta.

The Lusso combined the best features of the 250 GT Short Wheelbase Berlinetta and the 250 GTO in one beautiful, refined, quick, responsive, luxurious package, wrapped in one of Pininfarina's most successful designs. Built on the short 2,400mm wheelbase chassis modified to place the 250hp 3-liter Colombo-derived engine and engine-mounted 4-speed gearbox between the front wheels for more cockpit room, the Lusso drew from the GTO its precisely located rear axle with semi-elliptical leaf springs and Watts linkage. Production bodies were executed in steel by Scaglietti following Pininfarina's design.

And what a design it was. Instantly recognizable as a Pininfarina-designed Ferrari, the Lusso was at once slim, svelte and sexy, a masterpiece of design which was matched by its aerodynamic refinement, the direct result of Ferrari's and Pininfarina's experience with the round-tailed SWB and the cutoff Kamm tail of the GTO. Slim, light pillars supported a thin roof and left abundant glass area. The sloping back window flowed gracefully to the short rear deck and small but effective spoiler above the Kamm-back cutoff tail.

"Lusso" means luxury and this elegantly designed Pininfarina creation was appropriately trimmed and appointed with thick carpets and soft leather. Its unusual instrument grouped the tachometer and speedometer in large pods at the dashboard's center and placed the engine instruments in a panel directly in front of the driver, giving the Lusso's interior its own hint of advanced design.

Like all Ferraris the Lusso was a driver's car, with excellent visibility and a seriously driver-centric grouping of instruments and controls that said, no matter how "lusso" the interior and seductively sculpted the Pininfarina/Scaglietti body, that the 250 GT/L Lusso was intended to cover large amounts of ground quickly. In production for barely eighteen months, 350 would be built and they are today one of the most appreciated and sought of all Ferrari's front-engined V-12 powered gran turismos.

This Car

The history of this car, particularly during its initial ownership by Steve McQueen, is particularly well documented in the memories and photographs of William Claxton, McQueen's close friend and a professional photographer who was at one time the Art Director of Motor Trend magazine. Its current owner, Michael Regalia, has connected with many people who knew Steve McQueen when he owned the Lusso or worked on it for him. It therefore has a particularly rich and variegated history to enhance its appeal to serious collectors.

McQueen took delivery in mid-1963 and he, Claxton and their wives immediately set out on a long road trip familiar to many attendees at the Monterey Historics and Pebble Beach Concours weekend. Starting from Los Angeles, the McQueens in their new Lusso and William and Peggy Claxton in their Porsche 356 SC took off up the California coast through Big Sur and Carmel to Monterey. From there they headed to San Francisco, then over the Sierras to Reno/Lake Tahoe, down through Death Valley and back to Southern California. Claxton has related in a recent Motor Trend article how McQueen would set up a rendezvous point then take off in the Lusso to arrive early "pretending to be bored waiting for us to arrive. It was a great time. He really loved that car."

McQueen and the Lusso got some track time at Riverside in 1965 when he was doing an ad shoot for TAG watches in a Lola. In between shots McQueen, no doubt loath to see an empty track with nothing on it, went out in the Lusso. Richard Freshman recalls seeing it with Steve and Neile at the 1964 Democratic National Convention in Los Angeles. Steve's love of the Lusso was famous. Famed Porsche restorer Joe Cavagliere, recalls working as a valet parker at the time and vividly remembers that McQueen always parked it himself, the only celebrity who wouldn't let Joe park his (or her) car.

It is featured in a number of photo shoots by William Claxton, including several with his wife Peggy, a professional model, and particularly a shoot with Steve McQueen and Peggy for Cosmopolitan. Serviced initially at Zipper's, McQueen later took it to Hollywood Sports Cars. It was repainted for McQueen by Lee Brown - who in recent years remembered the car and even retrieved a small can of carefully preserved (but now dry as a bone) touchup paint marked "McQueen Lusso." McQueen owned it for many years but eventually parted with the Lusso, perhaps in late 1967 when he acquired his Ferrari NART Spyder after experiencing one during the filming of "The Thomas Crown Affair." In 1973 it was with Charlie Hayes at Salon Ferrari in Santa Ana and it was there that Tom Sherwood purchased it in July 1973. Sherwood drove it to San Francisco where it was, to all intents and purposes, stored and unused for the next 24 years until it was spotted by Michael Regalia, past president of the Nethercutt Collection and the guiding light behind many of J.B. Nethercutt's concours-winning restorations, in 1995. Regalia calls it, at the time "the nicest, unmolested Lusso that needed a restoration in the world. Cosmetically it was not great, but it ran very well." It took him two years, until November 1997, to convince Sherwood to let it go.

The Lusso's Steve McQueen history was undocumented at the time but shortly thereafter Mike Sheehan obtained and sent to Michael Regalia a copy of Luigi Chinetti's order from Otto Zipper showing the original color, Marrone, and the ultimate purchaser as Steve McQueen. Subsequent research throughout Southern California, aided by Steve McQueen's and Neile Adams' son Chad McQueen, introduced the owner to William Claxton, painter Lee Brown, and others who remembered the Lusso from Steve McQueen's ownership.

Restoration was begun in late 2000. Mike Regalia disassembled the Lusso himself and stripped the body to bare metal which revealed completely rust-free and undamaged sheet metal and chassis. The engine and drivetrain were disassembled, found to be in excellent condition internally, then carefully rebuilt and reassembled by Mike Regalia. Doing all the metal work, disassembly, reassembly, chrome trim metalwork, suspension, mechanical work and detailing himself, he took his time and proceeding slowly until late 2004 when a call from Pebble Beach Concours d'Elegance co-chairman Glen Mounger inviting the McQueen Lusso to the 2005 Concours accelerated the project. Tom Ryan and Prestige assisted with the paint and upholstery during the push to complete but with those exceptions - and of course specialized subcontracting like plating and machining - the entire restoration was done personally by Michael Regalia.

Completed in time for the concours, additional work followed which resulted in earning Platinum Awards at the January 2006 Cavallino Classic and 2006 Concours on Rodeo and Best in Class at Amelia Island in March. It has subsequently been displayed at the Petersen Museum in Los Angeles and was invited by Ferrari to be displayed at the recent 60th Anniversary Concours in Maranello.

In addition to the classic feature article in Motor Trend, the McQueen 250 GT/L Lusso is the subject of a feature article in the August 2007 issue of Robb Report and will be the subject of an in-production segment on television where it is driven by Chad McQueen.

Its show awards, including standing up to the intense scrutiny of the expert judges at Cavallino Classic, demonstrate the high quality of its restoration and preparation by Michael Regalia. Presented in all respects in as-new condition, it comes with extensive documentation including a copy of the original order from Otto Zipper to Luigi Chinetti for Steve McQueen, Lee Brown's pint of touchup paint, various documentation and copies of photographs from William Claxton and even Steve McQueen's original California license plates. The rear plate is restored while the front plate - which the owner does not use because it detracts from the beauty of the Lusso's Pininfarina/Scaglietti lines - is still original and unrestored.

Even when called "Marrone Metallizzato", Brown does not convey the particular appeal, attraction and distinctiveness of Steve McQueen's choice of color for his 250 GT/L Lusso. The rare chosen color beautifully complements the coachwork. It is instantly apparent that this is a very special Lusso, and instantly recognizable as the distinctive, appreciated, beloved possession of Steve McQueen, the king of cool.

It is an example of the highest, best and most refined development of Ferrari's 250 GT series, the closest to perfection which the combined talents of Ferrari, Pininfarina and Scaglietti could bring this singularly important series of automobiles from Maranello. It will be an enthusiastically welcomed participant at any of the many exclusive events for which it is eligible. Now carefully restored, thoroughly and unquestionably documented and thoughtfully presented in impeccable cosmetic and mechanical condition which would have made the ex-mechanic in Steve McQueen proud, the McQueen Lusso's history is just beginning to unfold.