0421 GT REBORN
BY THE EMINENT HISTORIAN
A Ferrari returning to its original ownership, after more than fifty years,
Once upon a time near Zandvoort, in the Netherlands, a stockbroker named Nico Koel whispered into his elder son’s ear, Nico (then ten years old): “Can you keep a secret? I am going to buy a Ferrari.” Nico, Jr. had never heard of a Ferrari, nor had Henk, his six year old brother – only three Ferraris had been sold in the Netherlands so far.
Nico Koel, Sr. had placed an order with Ferrari through the Messrs. Maasland, who at the time represented Ferrari in Holland. Simon Maasland was the technician, and his wife ran the business. They were established in Voorburg, a suburb of The Hague, not far from the famous circuit of Zandvoort, in the dunes of the North Sea, where their son, Hans, and also their daughter, Joke, were familiar.
The Ferrari that Mr. Koel had ordered, after having owned a couple of Jaguar saloons, was a 250 Europa GT. The model had been introduced at the Paris motor show in October of 1954, about a year before. It was a good mix between the current sports models, and the more refined concept of the road going “Gran Turismo” car. It was, incidentally, the first Ferrari to display the “GT” suffix. Although its Pinin Farina’s design wasn’t a complete departure from the 250 Europa which it replaced, there was an evolution underneath, in the chassis as well as in the engine.
The reason why “Europa” was maintained, however, in the designation was unexplained… and misleading. The shorter wheelbase of 2600 mm, instead of 2800 mm, implied a completely redesigned tubular chassis, with an internal designation of tipo 508. The main members were now curved in order to run above the rear axle, whereas on the previous Europa they were straight and running under the rear axle. This new layout allowed an improvement in the positioning of the drive train. In front, another improvement was the double wishbone suspension combined with helical spring, which replaced the transverse leaf spring, for better independent operation. (Nevertheless, the older set up remained applied to some of the earlier examples.)
The 20 cm reduction in the wheelbase (from 280 to 260 cm) also improved Pinin Farina’s otherwise unchanged body design, with a now slightly shorter front end. This resulted in a car which from the side was much more balanced. And that was obtained without reducing the passenger space inside, since most of the gain came from the engine bay.
The engine, indeed, was a complete departure from the first 250 Europa, which had featured a fixed head, long block, V-12 of Lampredi design; in fact, a rebored version of the 375 America, hence its large dimensions. Indeed, this heavy Lampredi three liter never really made sense, since its long block had been originally conceived to reach larger capacities which the original Colombo units wouldn’t permit. The Europa GT’s tipo 112 three liter engine was a detuned version of the 250 Mille Miglia unit, i.e., a short block V-12 with detachable heads of the original Colombo design. With three Weber carburetors (instead of three four barrels of the MM), it developed around 216 bhp at 7,000 rpm on the test bench.
The four speed gearbox and multi-plate clutch were taken over from the 342 America. At the time, its performance figures were compared with the contemporary Mercedes 300 SL Gullwing, but in reality, the Europa GT, although undoubtedly a road car, was the real forerunner of the Scaglietti bodied 250 GT berlinettas that were soon to dominate, not only the 300 SL, but also GT racing for many years to come.
Production started in the winter of 1954-55, with chassis being sent to Turin to be bodied in the old Pinin Farina workshops in Corso Trapani. It lasted less than one year, totaling twenty eight cars. Mr. Koel’s car, s/n 0421 GT, was actually the next to last Pinin Farina bodied 250 Europa GT.
At this point, Pinin Farina modified the bodywork to a more angular, and indeed, a less attractive, design. Only seven “pre-production” units of this model were bodied in Turin. Due to a lack of space in the old workshop, until the opening of the new plant at Grugliasco, the new 250 GT, although designed by Pinin Farina, was manufactured by Carrozzeria Boano, hence its familiar designation of “Boano.”
As part of the purchase, it was also arranged that Mrs. Maasland would accompany Mr. Koel to take delivery of the Ferrari at the Factory, and back. At Viale Trento Trieste, in Modena, the birthplace of the former Scuderia Ferrari, it was Enzo Ferrari himself who handed the keys of the brand new car to his proud Dutch client. Mrs. Maasland, under the pretext of the definitely wintry weather, chose to fly back to Amsterdam, but her customer was not offended, and he drove the 1,250 km with a new passion. And the Koel family also soon discovered the sound of that V-12. Incidentally, s/n 0421 GT was the second 250 Europa GT to arrive in Holland, the first one having been delivered to Prince Bernhard a few weeks earlier.
Of this first encounter, Nico, Jr. remembers: “I found it quite a nice motorcar, but not more than that.” His father, however, loved his two toned gray Europa GT, with the red leather upholstery, and he drove it as everyday transport to his office in Amsterdam. He called it his “thoroughbred.” Upon its arrival in 1955, it was road registered “GZ 9942 I”, using the older system with distinctive letters for each province – GZ applying to the province of Northern Holland. Soon afterward, the present system was adopted for the whole country, and Koel, Sr. managed to secure “TP 66 66”.
Time for a change, however, came after a year and a half, as Mr. Koel purchased a Mercedes 300 SL Gullwing, and the Europa GT was sold to fellow countryman Count Charles de Pesters. The Count was a keen enthusiast who took great care of the car, on the road as well as on the track, in racing as well as at Concours d’Elegance. He once wrote this sensible report on the car, one of the very few contemporary written papers on this model: “Personally, I used the car mainly for long distance touring, took part in one or two hillclimbs, and raced it once in a sports car meeting at Zandvoort, finishing practically dead heat with a Mercedes 300 SL. The axle ratio was 8/32, and the top speed was 137 mph at 7,200 rpm. Acceleration was 0-100 mph in 17.3 seconds, and the standing quarter mile (400 m) was in 15 seconds. First gear was much too high for a fast getaway, and one really missed a five speed gearbox. Steering was heavy, and tended to understeer. The brakes needed enormous pressure.…”
Nico, Jr. remembers that it is when he saw the car raced at Zandvoort that he started to miss it very much. That was also the starting point of his growing interest in Ferraris.
The third owner, in 1962, was an Englishman, L. J. Roy Taylor, President of the Bugatti Owners Club, who later gave birth to the Ferrari Owners Club. Count de Pesters had by now changed the paint two times. The first time he had the top repainted the same gray as the rest, and later on, the car was re-cellulosed in black with a white top. Roy Taylor could not resist changing it again, for the unavoidable “Ferrari Red.” This was probably due to a rumor at the time which hinted that the car had been used as a spare car for the Mille Miglia… which was nonsense. (It is a matter of fact, in return, that Olivier Gendebien gained his first significant result in the Tour de France – third overall in 1956 – with a similar coupe painted red… but with a black top!)
With its next two owners, English also, John J. Virr in 1965, and Peter G. Palumbo in 1968, the Europa GT continued the quiet life of a collector’s car, under its UK registration of “838 WVT” (from 1962), only changing color one more time, from red to black.
Then things turned into a nightmare with the sixth owner. Charles Nall Cain, third Baron Brocket and a member of the House of Lords, was 28 years old when he acquired s/n 0421 GT, in 1980. At the same time, he was involved in a generous restoration of Brocket Hall, the family’s historic estate of 57 acres near London, which soon became a world renowned conference center. But extravagant expenditures, and the 1990s slump in the collector car market, in which he had made large investments, soon combined and drove him to attempt an insurance fraud. Several wonderful cars, including s/n 0421 GT, were reported stolen, and in an attempt to justify the subsequent claim, the Europa GT was dismantled and scattered, its bodywork cut into pieces and dumped.
Much previous to this, Nico, Jr.’s initial Dino 308 GT4 had been joined, and then replaced, by several 275 GTB/Cs. But in the meantime, he had vowed to recover his father’s 250 Europa GT. He had located it with Lord Brocket, and even went to see it. It was lightened now of its bumpers, and repainted red like an F50, with even larger “SF” shields on each side, but now in plastic. Nevertheless, the emotion was still there, intact. Koel tried to purchase the car several times to no avail, until 1997 when he came across this ad from a well known London dealer in the bi-monthly Ferrari Market Letter:
“Ferrari 250 Europa GT, S/N 0421 GT. 1955. No body. Rolling chassis includes brakes, suspension, steering, wheels, pedal box, handbrake, fuel tank, radiator, etc. English title. 17,000 pounds. Engine and gearbox available by negotiation.”
The sad fact was that s/n 0421 GT had, by now, been dismembered, and the long list of bits and pieces implied an even more impressive list of missing parts, but a deal was done. By good chance, the Ferrari scene had changed a great deal since the pioneer days of the Maasland family. Holland is enriched, because for a long time now, it has had some incredibly skilled craftsmen working on the older motor cars. Another chance was that, although the ex-Prince Bernhard example had left for other shores, Holland had welcomed two other Europa GTs, as indicated in the accompanying chart. And they were available for comparison information.
So Alwin Hietbrink of Haaksbergen was able to fabricate from scratch an exact replica of the original Pinin Farina body; Piet Roelofs in Rheden near Arnhem took care of the complete mechanical revival; while Fabio Calligaris in Milan supervised the paint job (cellulose), electricity, instruments, upholstery, and cosmetic finishing.
On June 16, 2002, s/n 0421 GT made its second birth in the Koel family, strictly identical to its initial appearance, including the registration plate of “TP 66 66”. “Actually, I should have caught the virus when my father bought his Ferrari,” concludes a realistic Nico Koel.
Antoine Prunet has written many books on Ferrari, and Pininfarina. The Ferrari works are seminal – one could say bibles. He also has been the long time Editor of the classy French magazine Automobiles Classiques, and he was one of the founders of the famous Bagatelle Concours d’Elegance in Paris. He also judges, and has written for Cavallino.
Copyright © 2005 Cavallino Magazine.