Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Ferrari 250 GT Tour de France (Olivier Gendebien)

Petrolicious wants to know if we have a spare $11 million, to which I can only respond "I wish."  Google "Petrolicious Ferrari 250 GT Tour de France" if you want to see more photos.

Hype over the car's availability at auction gives me an occasion to write a few lines about Olivier Gendebien.  He is remembered in the States today, if at all, as Phil Hill's co-driver in most of Phil's endurance racing wins.  Like Hill (until Phil put his foot down), Gendebien was considered by Enzo Ferrari to be a second-stringer: a sports car driver not fast enough for a ride in his Grand Prix cars.

Gendebien was an open road race specialist and independently wealthy.  He learned to drive fast, and enjoy it, in Zaire, when it was still the Belgian Congo, right after World War Two.  When he returned to Europe he settled on a racing career.  He won most consistently in races like the Mille Miglia and the Tour de France's "special stages."  These were events that put a premium on being fast on long stretches of road that you hadn't been able to learn.  The key was to run at 8- or 9-10's into bends you didn't know, all day long, without falling off the road or overstressing the car.

Gendebien was superb at that.  Most of his successes were in the early Ferrari 250 GT's.  He won the GT class in the Mille Miglia.  In the late 1950's he owned the Tour de France, giving the superleggera 3-liter V-12 LWB car its unofficial name.

Aways a Groomsman, never a Groom: Gendebien with Enzo Ferrari, the Father of the Bride.  Although Gendebien won
major sports car races for Enzo for nearly a decade, he was never given a shot at a Grand Prix ride--except in his own
home Grand Prix of Belgium--as one-off drives.

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