Ferrari 250 GTO is widely considered the most beautiful Ferrari ever. Pictures: Sotheby's

Blenheim, Ontario - This is it, the world’s most collectable car, the creme de la creme de la creme of Ferraris, and one of the world’s most valuable automobiles. It’s up for auction at the Pebble Beach concours in Monterey, California, on 25 August, and is expected to fetch in excess of $45 million (R615 million).

It’s the third of just 36 Ferrari 250 GTOs that were built between 1962 and 1964, the last of the great street-legal sports racing cars. All of them are still in existence, and each is worth a king’s ransom. But what makes this one, chassis No. 3413 GT, so special is its history. It is almost perfectly original, has never been restored and, unbelievably, despite having competed in 20 world sports-car championship races in its early life, has never been crashed, dented or even failed to finish. More than that, every ownership, every one of its competitive outings and every bit of work ever done on the car is precisely documented, giving it an incomparable provenance.

I have never been privileged to see a 250 GTO; nobody I have spoken to has ever seen one running. But here, almost unbelievably, is a video of the car’s current owner, former Microsoft executive Dr Greg Whitten, driving it the way it was meant to be driven - fast! - on a circuit somewhere in Canada. Just to hear the snarl of its V12 engine and marvel at its effortless roadholding is a rare privilege. It is very unlikely that anybody will ever again drive a 250 GTO this hard, so take a few moments to watch the video before you read the car’s amazing story.

The GTO - Grand Turismo Omologato - was the final version of Ferrari's 250 series, named for its three-litre V12 engine (each cylinder had a displacement of 250cc) which was produced from 1953 to 1964, and just enough were built to qualify it as a 'production' car for the FIA's rather loose Group 3 Grand Touring Car regulations.

Widely considered the most beautiful Ferrari design, the GTO was also one of the most successful road/racing cars ever to come out of Maranello, finishing either first overall or first in class in almost 300 races worldwide. As Sotheby's car specialist Shelby Myers put it, "The GTO was essentially the last true road racer, marking the end of an era when drivers really got their hands dirty. This was the last car that you could park in your garage, drive to the track, win the race, and then drive home.” 

Chassis No. 3413 GT began life in 1962 as a Series 1 works machine, driven by Phil Hill as a test car for the 1962 Targa Florio road race. It was then sold to one of Ferrari’s favourite privateer customers, gentleman racer Edoardo Lualdi-Gabardi. He entered it 10 races during 1962, winning all but one (in which he finished second in class) and taking the 1962 Italian National GT championship.

On the strength of that, Lualdi-Gabardi received a second GTO for the 1963 season, so he sold the earlier car to Gianni Bulgari (yes, that Bulgari) who won his class in the 1963 Targa Florio; Bulgari then sold it to Corrado Ferlaino, who in his turn took Group 3 honours in the 1964 Targa Florio. By the time the Group 3 regulations were changed at the end of 1965, making the GTO obsolete, it had competed in 20 races and finished every one of them without ever being crashed.

Incredible as it seems for a racing car of any era, 3413 still has its original engine, gearbox and rear axle, as well as its factory Series II body, which was built by Scaglietti in 1964. Following its racing career, the car was looked after in an unbroken chain of ownership by some of the world's top Ferrari collectors, until being bought in 2000 by Dr Whitten, chairman of Numerix and former chief software architect at Microsoft, who has competed with it in vintage events around the world over the past 18 years.

But now, he says, it is time for the next generation to take over the care of this truly iconic motor vehicle.

IOL Motoring