250 GT SWB BERLINETTA HISTORY AND SPOTTERS GUIDE

Jim weed

Volume 43 Issue 26

Dec 23, 2018

The Colombo designed V-12 engine came of age with the 250 GT SWB Berlinetta. If there is one thing that helped to define Ferrari it must be this engine.  Fortunately Ferrari did not give up on his dream of a V-12 engine.

    The Colombo designed V-12 engine came of age with the 250 GT SWB Berlinetta. If there is one thing that helped to define Ferrari it must be this engine.  Fortunately Ferrari did not give up on his dream of a V-12 engine.

    Initially designed in 1946 by Gioachino Colombo the first Ferrari V-12 engine would displace 1,500 cc. This engine, the 125, would power the first racing car and would be used in both supercharged and non-supercharged form.

    While the engine was fragile, the concept was sound; it needed further development to become the engine of which legends are made.

    Soon the engine was expanded to 2-liters displacement and was called the 166. This engine powered many of Ferrari’s Barchettas to early victories. One of the first wins as a Touring-bodied Barchetta was the 1949 Mille Miglia with its reliability and power, henceforth to be known as the 166 MM in honor of the victory.

    This was followed up with wins at LeMans and Spa with both cars driven by Luigi Chinetti. It was these victories that helped put Ferrari on the racing map.

  If the increase from 1.5-liters to 2-liters (125 to 166) could be managed, then another increase might be possible. The 1950 racing season used a 2-liter engine expanded to 2.3-liters (195).

    Again, by expanding the displacement, the V-12 engine was now a full 2.5-liters (212). By 1951 the 212 engine was being put into the Touring Barchetta. Again success followed with wins in the Tour de France and many other venues.

    The racing season for 1952 would see another increase in displacement from 2.5-liters to 2.7-liters (212 to 225). As with each previous increase of displacement, the engine became a winner.

    From 1947 through 1952 the originally designed Colombo V-12 engine brought Ferrari from a manufacturer of race cars to become a manufacturer of high-performance street cars. While his heart was with the technological improvements racing creates, the need to be able to fund and expand brought luxurious models that could mirror the customer racing cars.

    Often, finely trimmed and chromed bodies from the best coachbuilders of the day adorned Ferrari chassis. Meant for sedate or spirited street driving, many of these cars would end up on racing circuits.

    It would be the dual-purpose of these cars that would continue to expand the Ferrari legend.

    So far I have described a series of engines that all began with the Colombo design from 1947. Each engine is described by the cubic centimeter capacity of one cylinder. A 1.5-liter total displacement equals 125 cc per cylinder, so a 166 is a 2-liter and the 225 is a 2.7-liter.

             Young Dino Ferrari and proud father of child and motor - 1947

    Five years of testing and improving the original design was about to pay off. The next big step in this engine’s development was to bring the capacity up to a full 3-liters. This would increase the single cylinder capacity to 250 cc and thus the 250 GT engine was born.

    Extensively raced in 1953, 1954 and even well into 1955, this engine was used in several different configurations. Most often with three 2-barrel carburetors, but sometimes with three 4-barrel carburetors. Camshafts could be mild to wild grind and along with high compression pistons these engines could and did win races.

    The first non-competition cars were the 250 Europa GT first made in 1955. Thus began the semblance of series production. Built into 1956 the 250 Europa GT would comprise roughly forty automobiles.

    By 1956 the model line-up would begin to have complementary models, a civilized street touring car and a more aggressive dual-purpose competition model. The 250 GT Boano, and later Ellena series, would satisfy the civilized role and the 250 GT LWB Berlinetta would carry the fight to many sports car races.

    The Berlinetta could be driven to the track and with few modifications be raced and then driven home. In mid-1957 the 125 Colombo V-12 had been in competition for ten years. Even though the engine had grown in displacement and reliability there were still some weak aspects that needed to be improved.

    Up to this point all the Colombo engines had a crankshaft main bearing diameter of 55 mm. The increased power made the crankshaft fail so there was an improvement made to increase the main bearing diameters to 60 mm. The former engine designation was Tipo 128 B and the new designation would be Tipo 128 C.

    The updated engine would still typically have three carburetors, dual distributors, and spark plugs on the inside of the vee. Intake ports were siamesed and there were six individual exhaust ports.

    The next upgrade to the engine was an improvement to the connecting rods to a stronger design, still angle cut. The angle cut rods were originally designed to facilitate removal through the bores when the piston size was small. By the time the engine had grown to 3-liters a rod could be removed if it was cut in a conventional manner. The new engine was designated Tipo 128 D. All the previous characteristics remained the same.

    The pure competition cars benefited from continuous improvements which filtered down to the street cars. One of those improvements was spark plugs on the outside of the vee. This change allowed individual intake ports allowing for better air flow into each cylinder. Valve springs which previously were “mousetrap” style were now double coil springs and the cylinder head was held down with four studs per cylinder instead of three studs.

    The lessons learned in the heat of competition during 1958 and 1959 were to be incorporated in an all new street version of the 250 GT.

    Up to this point the 250 GT LWB Berlinetta had shouldered most of the gentleman racing load. The long wheelbase car was strong and reliable. And a winner with over 200 outright wins according to our database.

    1959 was a year of transition. Competition was getting tougher and technology was getting better. More powerful engines would be needed and disc brakes would provide better stopping power. It was time to bring a completely new car to market.

    The small tail fins of the LWB Berlinetta that would define a fifties-era car would give way to a new decade of cleaner lines. Ferrari had Pininfarina design a new shape.  The front and rear had less overhang and the fenders ended in more of a droop, being more rounded without the crisp front fender line of the LWB Berlinetta.

    A change in Italian lighting laws required headlights not be enclosed behind Plexiglas covers so the lights were moved to the front of the fenders. The nose was blunter with a larger grille opening. The bumper went from full width to separate bumpers protecting the corners with a wide split between them.

    At the rear two pair of taillights arranged vertically separated the brake/running lights from the turn signal function. A full width bumper protected the rear.

    While the shape is a prediction of what is to come, these cars were built on the LWB chassis and are now called ‘interim’ cars. The seven interim Ferraris built look like a standard 250 GT SWB Berlinetta but they have an extra window, a quarter glass, behind the door. Only these seven cars have this feature. So don’t be fooled.

  250 GT LWB Berlinetta "interim" - Note the small quarter glass behind the door

    While sporting the new look, these cars still had drum brakes although several of them came with a modified outside plug engine.  The engine was also transitional. Not quite a Tipo 128 D and not yet a Tipo 128 F. This was a Tipo 128 DF with many features of the inside plug engine with outside plug heads.

    The latest creation from Ferrari was shown to the public in October 1959, at the Paris Salon. Now in its full glory the new 250 GT SWB Berlinetta contained all Ferrari had learned.

    The chassis had been shortened from 2600 mm (103.3 in.) to 2400 mm (94.4 in.). This helped cornering speeds. The brake system now was fitted with Dunlop disc brakes both front and rear. Telescoping shocks made by Koni replaced the lever Houdaille shocks.

    The engine was based upon the interim series outside plug Tipo 128 DF now called a Tipo 168. Other differences were oil filter location and generator placement now belt driven instead of being driven directly from the timing cover.

    The body could be ordered in alloy or steel. The steel bodied cars typically were more luxurious with leather dash padding, plush seats and carpet; door panels completed the interior.

    Alloy cars could be more spartan with crackle painted dashboard, hollow doors with sliding windows, and no glovebox.  Competition cars could have higher tuned engines and other lightened components to reduce weight.

    As with most things Ferrari, especially in the early days, variations and customization was common. Customers could ask for an endless array of changes and Ferrari, always keen to keep up with the latest edge on the competition could, and would, make running changes.

    During this same time Ferrari was also producing 250 GT PF Coupes and Cabriolets, 250 GT LWB and SWB Spyder Californias and 250 GTEs. From 1960 all of these models shared common mechanical parts. Similar brakes systems, transmission components, rear axle components and engine components.  The ability of Ferrari to build a wide range of models all based upon similar components helped further the company.

            250 GT SWB Berlinetta

    The 250 GT SWB Berlinetta experienced many changes to the body during the production run. Built in 1960 through early 1963 the three years of production can be identified by various differences as the model evolved. The following descriptions and details are taken from various publications but mostly from Jess Pourret’s excellent book Ferrari 250 GT Competition Cars.

    The details are presented here to help guide you, the reader, through the variations of this model. The Cavallino Classic is celebrating 60 years of the 250 GT SWB Berlinetta and the following should help you enjoy the many to be displayed.

    Designed by Pininfarina in mid-1959 the compact SWB was built in the Scaglietti workshops. Alloy cars would be hammered out by Scaglietti from sheet aluminum and the steel body cars had external sheet metal supplied by Pininfarina.

    I suspect due to Pininfarina’s capability to stamp sheet metal it would have been easier for them to form the shapes in steel, where Scaglietti could easily shape the aluminum.

    According to Pourret, 1960 production can be divided into three distinct parts. Cars made up to May, cars made from May to August, and cars made from August to December 1960.

    Cars made up to May 1960 did not have front or rear fender vents. No side markers lights on the fenders. The trunk lid did not have any provision for mounting a tag and there were no rain gutters attached above the windows. There was an air vent made into the rear window with an aluminum cover. The doors had sliding windows and there were no vent frames. In addition, the front brake ducts were not sleeved.

    As produced, these cars would have clean lines unadorned by vents or frills. All alloy and destined to be competition cars, they were purposeful tools to take to the racetrack.

    The May to August production would see the addition of front and rear fender vents. Small teardrop lights would appear on the front fenders and provision for a rear license plate was made into the trunk lid. Windows could be either Plexiglas sliding or Plexiglas roll up but still without vent windows in the door frame.

    Production from August to the end of the year had all the same modifications of the second series with the addition of moving the air outlet from the rear glass to a cutout in the roof. Cars with wind up windows now got vent windows in the door frame.

    Common to all the 1960 cars was the absence of jack holes in the lower rocker panel. The fuel filler was located on the left hand side externally within an area cutout from the trunk lid. Another key detail to identify an early SWB would be the door window frame had a downward kink at the rear.

                                              250 GT SWB Berlinetta -

     Note 1960 Style with small front fender light and 'kink' in rear door frame

    The engine in the 1960 cars was a Tipo 168. This engine was a variation of the ‘interim’ cars of 1959. Similar to the Tipo 128 F engine used in the 250 GT PF Coupe and Cabriolet, the 168 engine is identified by several common characteristics.

    Both engines started with the same block and heads. The external identifiers for these engines are individual exhaust ports so each pipe is has its own gasket. Headers can be a full six-into-one style or two three-into-one manifolds. The black wrinkle valve covers have sixteen studs holding them down. You can quickly see if there are six studs along the top or bottom row.

    What makes the engines different is the front timing cover. The Tipo 168 has a horizontal oil filter protruding through the fan belt area and a high mounted fuel pump driven off the left front camshaft. A cooling fan driven from the upper pulley drive could be electrically controlled or on some competition cars this fan could be completely eliminated.

    Roughly sixty cars were made in 1960.

    As production moved into 1961 the detail changes slowed down. The cars still had some modifications but after these changes there would be no more major differences.

    The front grille was enlarged slightly and the nose became flatter and less pronounced. Side marker lights were changed to the long teardrop style. Jack holes appeared on the rocker panel. The rear window got a little larger.

     1960 Rear treatment with notch                1961/62 Rear treatment without

  trunk for fuel filler and no provision          notch trunk, fuel filler on fender and

                         for tag                                                   provision for tag

    More noticeable differences were the rear fenders got a little more pronounced and the fuel filler was moved out to the left fender. This allowed the trunk lid to be symmetrical or have a full unobstructed opening. The other key change was the straightening of the door window frame so now the top of the frame went straight back and had only one bend at the rear.

          1961/2 Long teardrop marker light and straight door window frame

    As with all Ferraris of this era differences between cars can be numerous. Alloy cars generally had plastic side and rear glass, sometimes sliding, or most common, windup door windows. Trim would be aluminum.

    The steel body cars would generally get glass all around with the trim made from steel or brass that was chromed. Also street cars could have the fuel filler inside the trunk with no exposed fuel cap.

    Starting in 1961 the engine was updated again. The Tipo 168 engine was changed to a Tipo 168/61 and the other cars would be changed to a Tipo 128 E. Internally the block had four head studs to hold down the cylinder heads. Because this required new heads they were updated also. The change to look for is on the exhaust ports. Now the ports on the ends were single gasket style and the center pair were together using a double gasket with three studs. Headers would all be a pair with three pipes each leading down to a pair of downpipes.

    The valve covers are another simple way to identify the later engine by having fourteen studs. The top and bottom rows will have five instead of six studs. The oil filter would now be mounted vertically.

    Roughly 100 cars were built in the 1961/1962 years. Total production was 164. Scaglietti made the vast majority of those cars but several chassis were clothed by others.

    Bertone made two cars, S/N 1739 GT and 3269 GT. Pininfarina made five: S/N 2429 GT, 2613 GT, 2643 GT, 3469 GT, and 3615 GT.

    Drogo has also rebodied several chassis: 1965 GT, 2053 GT, 2067 GT, 2209 GT, 2445 GT and the most famous of all, 2819 GT ‘Breadvan’. One Nembo Spyder was made from 3771 GT.

    The 250 GT SWB Berlinetta was very popular with the sports car racing crowd. Quick and powerful, fast but tracktable, it could be driven to the track and raced all day and then driven home. It was the last of the true GT cars.

    Yes, the GTO that replaced the SWB could be driven on the street, and some did, but the SWB was truly at home cruising down the boulevard as it was being thrashed around the racetrack. This is why, even to this day, so many are still seen at racetracks around the world.

 

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