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Auction-bound Ferrari Lusso: It's a daily driver

Wed, 23 Feb 2011

What are we driving today? How about a a magnificent red 1964 Ferrari 250 GT/L, better known as a Lusso.

Somebody pinch me.

The idea started out like this--since auction companies need to get the word out on the cars they're going to sell, and since we need interesting cars to write about, why not combine the two and make everyone happy?

"Love it! Let's do it!" said our contact at Gooding & Co. when we asked. Gooding has an auction coming up on March 11 at Racquet Park at the Omni Amelia Island Plantation. The auction is held in conjunction with the Amelia Island Concours d'Elegance, March 11-13 at the Ritz Carlton in Amelia Island, Fla. The Lusso is one of the lots that will cross the block at Gooding.

Ah, yes, the Lusso.

Back in the early '60s, Ferrari needed a car that bridged the gap between sports and luxury cars. The GTO was the race car supreme, the Superamerica was the powerful luxury gran tourer. The Lusso was the link between luxury and sport.

Introduced at the 1962 Paris motor show, the Lusso was designed by Pininfarina with coachwork by Scaglietti. It shared many components with the all-conquering GTO. The chassis was tubular steel held up by wishbones in front and semielliptic leaf springs and parallel trailing arms in back that located a solid rear axle. The Lusso had a steel body with aluminum hood, doors and trunk. Power came from a 2,953-cc V12 longitudinally mounted in front, driving the rear wheels through a four-speed manual.

To make a little more room for the occupants--more room than the GTO, that is--designers pulled the engine forward a few inches and added some sound-deadening material. There even were crank windows. The basic running gear was shared with the mighty GTO, but the 12 cylinders were fed by only three Weber 36DCS carbs and the engine used slightly milder cams, making a total of 247 hp.

Even though it was intended as a gran tourer, two of them were entered in the 1964 Targa Florio and the Tour de France.

Restored and ready to roll

The car we got to drive was the 271st of 350 made and was in superb condition. While we are not concours judges, we couldn't find anything wrong with it. The dash, the seats, the quilted luggage space behind the seats--it all looked unblemished. On the outside, the paint was perfect and the body was smooth. You wouldn't have to do anything to this car except bleed the brakes and drive it.

The estimated hammer price when it goes on sale is between $600,000 and $750,000. An owner could be forgiven for keeping it under a glass globe in a subterranean bomb-proof bunker. Yet there was owner Glenn Doshay, smiling, happy, and handing over the keys.

"You have to drive them, they're cars!" he said.

We love this guy.

On our first jaunt we asked him to drive, just to get familiar with the car and to get his story.

"I'm not a new-car guy," he said.

He has some newer stuff but he prefers old cars. A good part of his collection is American iron of the '50s and '60s. In the garage behind the Lusso was a Studebaker President and a Ford Galaxie convertible.

As with most of us, it was Doshay's dad who got him into cars.

"My dad used to rebuild Morgans and MGs. He had a TR3 that my mom hated."

Hey, a lot of owners hated their TR3s, at least sometimes. The family car was 1968 Ford Ranch Wagon. His dad had bored the wagon's V8 out to "470 or something ridiculous."

It was when he got his driver's license and asked to borrow the family station wagon that he first got hands-on experience in solo mechanics.

"My dad was an engineer. He believed that you had to know how everything worked. So the first time I asked to borrow the car he said, 'Sure.' I went out to the garage and the spark plugs, the plug wires and the distributor were all laid out on the fender next to the keys."

He had to put them all back in before he could drive off. He still works on cars.

"I mess them up then hand them over to the real mechanics," he said.

The Lusso is cared for by a real mechanic, respected Ferrari specialist Rod Drew of Francorchamps of America in Costa Mesa, Calif.

"There are a lot of guys who work on Ferraris," Doshay said, "but not a lot of good guys and not a lot of honest guys."

Drew is both, he said.

The car was restored before he bought it, and as we said, we couldn't find any flaws with it. Doshay got it from his friend, the noted Ferrari enthusiast Charles "Skeets" Dunn.

"Skeets is maniacal about caring for his cars."

Doshay related a story about Dunn seeing him driving the Ferrari while a friend rode in the passenger seat eating an ice cream. Dunn pulled them over ("Literally forced me off the road"), regaled them for this dangerous act (dangerous to the interior, anyway) and made them swear never to do it again.

With that we set off.

A delight to drive

The key to the Lusso was on the left, just as in a Porsche. Doshay turned the key and pushed it in and the V12 came to life. There's no sound like that of a Ferrari V12. You think you can almost hear each of the 12 250-cc cylinders (246.1 cc to you purists) reciprocating in their 60-degree dance.

"That's why there's no radio in here; you want to listen to the engine," he said.

But there was a hiccup. The car hesitated just a little off idle.

"It has a cam from a GTO," Doshay explained, "so most Lussos wouldn't have that dead spot in the power band."

Indeed, once the car got free of suburban congestion and the revs climbed above 4,500 rpm, the engine came alive. Redline is somewhere above 7,000 rpm.

"It's much better passing from 50 to 70 than it is launching from a standstill," he said.

All four of the forward gears are synchromeshed, so there's no trouble engaging them. Going from third to second requires a barely noticeable dogleg, Doshay said, but not much. Reverse is all the way right, past three and four, then up.

"Remember, this is not a five-speed," he said.

And with that, he climbed out and handed over the keys.

The seats are buckets, with low backs and some lateral support. They adjust front to rear, and we found there was plenty of room for long legs to operate the pedals. The pedals themselves pivot up from the floor and are just right for heel-and-toeing. The longish-throw shifter operated with no ambiguity. Most Ferrari gearboxes of this era are noted for their rifle bolt-precision, delightfully "mechanical" to operate.

Our first clutch engagement was awkward, and it felt as if the engine was lugging. Subsequent clutch engagements, done at higher revs and more quickly, were much more efficient. Shifting was far easier than in other cars of the era--we remember an otherwise wonderful Aston Martin DB2 many years ago that had trouble going into gear. Blipping the throttle on the Lusso made gear shifts even easier and was really fun. Nothing responds this quickly to throttle inputs, certainly nothing we've ever driven from this era.

Standing on the throttle was a joy. The car surged forward with a mountain of V12 torque, the exhausts blabbling away behind. At about 80 mph, the only inconsistency was some wind noise at the left A-pillar. There are no outside rearview mirrors to create wind noise or to intrude on the car's perfect lines, but with thin roof pillars and hectares of glass, visibility was not a problem. Spinning the skinny wooden wheel through turns on Doshay's favorite eastern San Diego county roads made us feel a little like Steve McQueen, who also famously owned a Lusso.

The brakes needed just a little tune-up--they pulled right when applied and needed a little pump to get full pedal pressure--but once full, they gave a feel you just can't get in a modern system with ABS and all kinds of other electronic controls.

We drove quite a ways, maybe 30 miles in all. When we were back at Doshay's driveway, we stopped for a second to look under the car, not wanting to drip anything onto his immaculate driveway. Nothing was coming out. The engine was not overheating. There was no smoke. It was impressive (perhaps more so to us, having been raised on British sports cars).

The Lusso could easily be used as a daily driver. There were no funny tricks needed to get it going or to keep it in gear. You just drive it, as Doshay said you must if you own one.

And as we said, you can own one, too. This particular Lusso goes on sale at Gooding & Co.'s Amelia Island auction March 11. You could spend a lot more than the expected $600,000 to $750,000 sale price and get a car that is not nearly as much fun to drive.

By Mark Vaughn