at RM Sotheby's ARIZONA Auction - Offered on: Friday, January 18, 2019
$11,000,000 - $13,000,000
Chassis No. 0751 GT
Engine No. 0751 GT
One-off custom, built exclusively for Lilian, Princess of Réthy, the royal lady of Belgium
Retains its matching-numbers engine and gearbox
Displayed at the Ferrari 50th Anniversary meet, Cavallino Classic, and Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance
Comprehensive restoration completed in 1997
Current long-term 20-year ownership
Exquisite example of a unique coachbuilt Ferrari prepared for royalty
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BUILT FOR ROYALTY
Despite the fact that Ferrari utilized numerous carrozzerias during its first decade of production, early Maranello bodywork was usually determined by the factory rather than by the pre-war practice of selling rolling chassis to customers who then handpicked their preferred coachbuilder, a la Rolls-Royce and Bugatti. But certain preferred clients still retained input into their Ferrari’s final appearance, and accordingly some very special one-offs were built during this period for customers on the par of the Aga Khan and Gianni Agnelli.
One such client was the Princess Lilian de Réthy, a Belgian commoner who became entwined in the house of Saxe-Colburg and Gotha, the country’s royal family. Princess Lilian was born as Marie-Lilien Baels, the daughter of a prominent lawyer and industrialist, and in 1939 she was hired as a governess to the three children of King Leopold III, who was a widower following the Queen’s untimely death in 1935.
In what must have been a fairy-tale romance shadowed by the clouds of war, Miss Baels became a personal favorite of the King, but the family’s life was soon thrown into upheaval by the onset of World War II. Leopold was head of the Belgian armed forces and was forced to capitulate in the face of the German blitzkrieg (holding out long enough, however, to contribute to the now legendary salvation of the British forces stranded at Dunkirk). In 1941, while the royal family remained prisoners in their homeland, the King married Miss Baels in a private religious ceremony, and she was titled the Princess Lilian de Réthy (the title of queen was not permitted under the circumstances of her non-royal lineage).
Upon the resumption of civilian life after the war, King Leopold once again began to indulge his love for sports and luxury cars, and in 1953 he acquired a Pinin Farina-bodied Ferrari 342 America (chassis no. 0234 AL), which the princess undoubtedly drove, as well. The royal couple’s importance as preferred Maranello customers increased over the years, taking a big step with the King’s 1955 purchase of chassis no. 0488 AM, the last of eight 375 Plus examples built, and the only one finished as a road car with Pinin Farina cabriolet coachwork.
From the admiration later expressed in his book My Great Joys, it was clear that Enzo Ferrari held King Leopold in high esteem: “He seemed to me to be a man who would have made a good engineer, a man gifted in technique and who bitterly regretted not ever having been able to follow his inclination. . . . At the wheel, I found him courageous and able to confront danger with resolution and skill.”
The relationship between Il Commendatore and Princess de Réthy was truly sealed, however, during the 1955 racing season, when Pirelli unceremoniously announced that it would no longer provide tires to Ferrari. As Ferrari’s racing budget was not funneled from road car sales, but rather depended on materials from sponsoring suppliers, the withdrawal of the tire company in mid-season was nothing short of disastrous. To Enzo Ferrari’s great fortune, he happened to mention the scenario to Princess Lilian and she quickly made an inquiry with the Belgian tire company Englebert, which began sending fresh rubber to Maranello that very night. The relationship proved to be quite fruitful, as Englebert tires eventually came to be mounted on a great many of the era’s important competition Ferraris.
Given the Princess’s facilitation of a fresh tire supplier for the Scuderia, it was only appropriate that upon ordering a Ferrari coupe in early 1957 she was afforded something truly unique. The series coachbuild of Ferrari 250 GT coupes was at that time contracted to Carrozzeria Boano, so it was a singular choice to dispatch her car to Pinin Farina for one-off coupe coachwork, but the royal couple clearly had a predilection for the designer’s work.
THE PRINCESS’ SPECIALE
Chassis no. 0751 GT was the second of three Ferrari Speciales that the Princess eventually acquired. In early September the type 508 C chassis arrived at Pinin Farina’s workshop, and the coachbuilder soon crafted a distinctive body that employed elements of concurrent Ferrari designs while presaging the forthcoming series-built Pinin Farina coupe. The Speciale’s long nose featured covered headlamps like the 250 GT Tour de France racing berlinettas of the time, while the front fenders were notable for large chromed and louvered vents, reminiscent of those found on the California Spider. Further, bumperettes, nose, and hood scoop treatments borrowed touches from the recently released Series I cabriolets. The coupe’s overall proportions and stance, particularly the rear glass and fender treatment, would soon be integrated on the series-based 250 GT Pinin Farina coupes that went into production by the year’s end.
Finished in Grigio Fumo Max Meyer and trimmed with naturale Connolly Vaumol leather, the one-off coupe was delivered to the Princess de Réthy at her Waterloo home in January 1958, and registered with Belgian diplomatic tags. Nearly 10 years later the Princess ordered a third coachbuilt Ferrari based on a 330 GTC, and in consequence she sought to bequeath the 250 GT Speciale to a worthy successor.
As part of her charitable work around the country Princess de Réthy sponsored a cardio-vascular specialty hospital, and on one particular visit to the establishment she met a visiting American surgeon named Michael De Bakey. Dr. De Bakey’s brother Ernest (another doctor who received much more attention a decade later for performing surgery on the Shah of Iran) happened to be visiting as well, and when it became known that all three were Ferrari enthusiasts, the Princess insisted that Dr. Ernest De Bakey accept the 250 GT Coupe Speciale from her as a gift.
Despite Dr. De Bakey’s attempt to politely refuse the gift, he found a bill of lading waiting for him upon return to his home in Mobile, Alabama, and by the end of 1967 the Ferrari was unloaded at port in New Orleans from the freighter Witmarsum, as depicted by a period photograph. In 1968, the doctor sold the 250 GT to Dr. John Ochsner, the founder of an eponymous clinic in New Orleans, and he modified the wheels to 15-in. units, and installed disc brakes.
In 1970, the Pinin Farina coupe was acquired by the well-known dealer and collector Kirk White of Philadelphia, and by the end of the year he sold the car to John Delamater of Indianapolis. Briefly passing to Ken Hutchinson of Tower Lake, Illinois, the Speciale was re-acquired by Delamater, who then began a restoration in conjunction with Alan Powell of Mishawaka, Indiana.
In July 1973, the Ferrari was sold to Norman Silver, the owner of Silver Craft Furniture, at which point the body remained unpainted and the engine required some work. Shortly thereafter, Silver sold it to Powell in January 1974, and he in turn sold it three years later to John Wilson Clinard of Farmington Hills, Michigan.
Mr. Clinard’s ensuing seven years of ownership marked an upturn in the car’s fortunes. An executive for the Ford Motor Company, Clinard initially undertook a cosmetic freshening, repainting the exterior in rosso and re-trimming the interior with beige leather. He also retained the esteemed marque expert John Hajduk to rebuild the engine as needed. The owner was a fixture in the Ferrari’s documentation, as well, eventually connecting with owners past and future to help establish a written record of the car’s ownership history.
In 1984, Clinard sold the 250 GT to John Carmack of Carmel, Indiana, who retained possession through the end of the decade. In 1996 the Speciale was purchased by Gregory Noblet, son of the better-known French racing driver Pierre Noblet.
Noblet sold the Ferrari to following year to the esteemed Philippe Lancksweert, a former partner of Jacques Swaters at the Garage Francorchamps in Belgium, and he commissioned Bachelli & Villa of Bastiglia to conduct a full cosmetic restoration, including a high-quality refinish in grigio metallizzato (metallic grey) paint, and re-appointment of the interior in beige leather. Autofficina SAURO in Bologna was retained to perform much of the mechanical refurbishment. Following completion of this work, the Speciale was presented at the Ferrari 50th Anniversary meet at Rome and Maranello in May 1997.
By the end of 1997 Mr. Lancksweert sold the 250 GT to dealer and enthusiast Todd Morici of Clifton, New Jersey. After displaying the Ferrari at the Cavallino Classic in January 1998, Morici sold the car to the current owner, where it continued to be domiciled in the U.S., even being presented in the Pininfarina class at the 2001 Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance.
Now offered for the first time in 20 years, this phenomenal 250 GT Coupe Speciale offers extreme rarity and the illustrious provenance of ownership by royalty. As such a unique and significant one-off, the car has been featured in numerous factory journals and enthusiast books, including Angelo Tito Anselmi’s Le Ferrari di Pininfarina, Stanley Nowak’s Ferrari – Forty Years on the Road, Antoine Prunet’s Ferrari Legend - the Road Cars, Gianni Rogliatti’s Ferrari Ecurie Garage Francorchamps, Keith Bluemel’s Ferrari – The Road Cars, and individual issues of Forza and Prancing Horse magazines.
Accompanied by a tool kit and documented with period photos, former owner’s correspondence, restoration invoices and photographs, and various articles from the media, this unique Coupe Speciale offers a premium level of coachbuilt elegance on the 250 GT platform. It is eligible for near all events worldwide, and would make a superlative acquisition for any Ferrari enthusiast.
The legend and brand of Ferrari was initially built in the 1950s on both its racing success and the sale of its special road cars to royalty and the business titans of the era. This is a truly unique opportunity to acquire one of the most significant road cars of the 1950s and it is sure to draw attention at marque events and major concours d’elegance for its important one-of-a-kind royal coachwork.