So Brad Pitt is set to play Steve McQueen in a biopic? Here’s the car he’ll have to master: McQueen’s 1963 Lusso. Some say it’s the most beautiful Ferrari ever built.
But a Ferrari in chestnut brown?
As far as I recall, these were my first words when I heard the news that Steve McQueen’s first Ferrari, chassis number 4891GT, was set to go on the auction block. While far from being a rosso corsa purist and nurturer of a great soft spot for midnight blue 612 Scagliettis, brown sounded all wrong for a Ferrari. Think brown and what’s the first thing that comes to mind? A UPS truck, no great friend of high-strung V12’s.
Little did I know that two years later, I would be looking at McQueen’s Lusso beneath the namesake for its paintjob—a chestnut tree—and realize that in person, it’s shockingly beautiful.
Not that it hails from a particularly hideous age of car design. Modena in the early Sixties was a proper Golden Age. The Lusso was the last act in Ferrari’s first great play, the 250, a ten-year-old construction by the time they introduced the Lusso in 1962. Since the first prototype had been tested in 1952, 250’s won everything there was to be won in road racing, to transcend mere cars and become the sort of objects car geeks approach with a visible trembling of the knee.
Most 250’s are beautiful but the Lusso—Italian for
luxurious luxury—stands out even in that crowd. As the name suggests, it was designed by Pininfarina as a grand tourer, with an eye on stylish, high-speed motoring as opposed to racing. There is ample luggage space behind the two seats swathed in beige leather, and the engine is set forward to allow for more legroom.
Beneath the aluminum and steel skin however, it’s a pure racer. The Lusso’s Borrani racing wheels, disc brakes, suspension and all-aluminum engine come from none other car than the 250 GTO. And the Lusso itself was more than suitable for racing: at 2,200 pounds, it weighed little more than a Miata and was in turn powered by the last version of the 3-liter V12 used in all 250’s, sucking air through three twin Webers to produce around 250 HP.
But forget all that. Though lovely numbers the Lusso has, they are not what make it interesting. What does is that the Lusso and its contemporaries—like the 250 GTO, the Breadvan or the Miura—stand out as the first generation of supercars to which we can relate to as proper cars. Pre-war Bugattis and Alfas are awesome, but they look way too fragile and old to be appreciated as actual cars as opposed to very nice objects on wheels.
Look at a Lusso instead and what you will feel is pure petrolhead lust. To fire up that V12, to motor out of wherever it’s parked, and to shove the go pedal right through the floor.
I wouldn’t be surprised if Steve McQueen drove it like that. Back in the 60s, when roads were sparsely populated, gas was ultra-cheap, and people knew how to party in style.
It almost makes you forget that these cars had live rear axles. Like Mustangs!
Photo Credit: Natalie Polgar and the author. Note: unfortunately, the owner of the Lusso was not around to pop the hood for us. The engine you see in the gallery is that of a Ferrari 250 GT SWB, very similar to the Lusso’s.