It was sensuous in design, robust in overall performance and its advanced technology set the bar for future models.
It was the perfect Ferrari, at least as far as the 1960s were concerned.
From the beginning, the stable of cars built by Enzo Ferrari was an absolute extension of the man himself. Whether constructed for the race track or as road machines for the pampered elite, each car reflected his principle that speed and beauty should never be separated and that together they give the automobile its soul. It was Ferrari's fusion of style and sinew that made his cars so desirable and made the Ferrari name so magical.
Unlike the focus-group and committee approach taken by today's mainstream manufacturers, Ferrari relied on skilled artisans to breathe life into his projects with little outside interference or consultation. From the company's earliest days, the Pinin Farina design studio (spelled Pininfarina after 1961) was responsible for most of the styling work. From that point, the Scaglietti firm would translate the finished renderings into sheetmetal, a process involving countless hours of bending, shaping and forming each aluminum body panel by hand.
For the 275GTB - the initials stand for Gran Tourismo Berlinetta (Grand Touring Coupe) - the combination of Pininfarina and Scaglietti were called upon as Ferrari's key collaborators. The result maintained the traditional long-hood, short-rear-deck look common to all of Enzo Ferrari's road machines. Also retained was the low-slung roofline of the GTB's direct predecessor, the 250GT. That model had been around in various forms since 1954 and helped put Ferrari on the map as a major exotic-car player.
However, it was the fresh details in the 275GTB that caught everyone's attention. These included the fastback rear window, flared tail and shark-gill-like air ducts that were sculpted into the fenders and behind the side windows. All of these cues would show up in future editions of other lower-buck sports cars, including the Datsun 240Z and Chevrolet Corvette.
The end product was a gutsy, no-nonsense appearance quite unlike some of Ferrari's cutie-pie cars from the same period, such as the 400 Superamerica and 250 Lusso. Still, the proportions were right and Ferrari afficionados embraced the GTB as the newest member of the family.
Despite its handsome looks, the GTB contained its fair share of flaws. Interior space was a tight fit for both driver and passenger and the small greenhouse and lack of rear visibility made the car a challenge to drive in traffic. The seats were also covered in vinyl, although leather could be ordered as an option. Then there was the matter of the gas cap location, which was awkwardly positioned inside the trunk so as not to clutter the car's lines (an optional outside filler cap came later).
Underneath the skin, the 1,130-kg GTB featured a fully independent front and rear suspension, four-wheel power disc brakes, a fully synchronized rear-mounted five-speed manual transmission and six twin-choke Weber downdraft carburetors.
Unlike the grand touring purpose of the 275GTB, the 280-horsepower V12 engine was originally built for racing. Displacing 3.3 litres (201 cubic inches), this single-overheadcam motor, first used in Ferrari's mid-engine 250LM competition cars, produced zero-to-100kilometre times in the low-sixsecond range and a top speed of about 240 km/h.
As new, the 275GTB was priced at $14,500, a hefty price tag in 1964. By comparison, a Jaguar XKE sold for less than half that amount and was almost as quick. But the Jag's straightsix was no match for the sirensong of the Ferrari's 12 cylinders, not to mention the cachet that came with the prancing horse logo on the trunk lid.
After two years and 450 copies (plus an additional 200 275GTS convertibles) the GTB received an engine upgrade in the form of dual overhead cams. Rebadged the GTB/4 and making 300 horsepower at 8,000 rpm, the car was quicker than ever with zero-to-100 times reduced to 5.5 seconds and top speed increased to 256 km/h.
Not surprisingly, a number of the 750 or so 275GTBs wound up on various race circuits throughout Europe and North America where the high-strung V12 could really show its stuff.
In 1968, the 275GTB/4 line ended, replaced by the 365 GTB Daytona, another ultra-fast "high-volume" model and one that also succeeded on agility and good looks.
For Enzo Ferrari, the 275GTB and GTS series reaffirmed his company's stature as a producer of first-class sports cars that, with their stirring mechanical sounds and captivating architecture, became the gold standard for the finest in no-expense-spared pure-bred supercars.
Malcolm Gunn is a feature writer with Wheelbase Media. He can be reached on the Web at www.shiftweekly.com by using the contact link. Wheelbase supplies automotive news and features to newspapers across North America.