“It was never a toy that was taken for granted, and I don't think I ever parked the Lusso without turning back to admire it before walking away.”
If you haven’t read about Stephen’s Ferrari 250 GTO, click here. Stephen’s stories are unique in the sense that he used to own very special cars when they weren’t as sough-after as they are today. This is one of his many anecdotes of driving and owning the Ferrari 250 GT Berlinetta Lusso in 1966.
Finding a good example
At Riverside Raceway, I saw the most amazing car being driven by Jill St. John. It was obviously a Ferrari, and later I learned that it was a Berlinetta Lusso. It was breathtaking and I wanted one. It did not occur to me that owning one might be difficult given that it was a limited-production item. Only 351 Lussos were manufactured during its production run from 1963 through 1964. I had staked my claim.
One of the first Lussos I looked at when my time came to buy one was a dark blue example owned by Haskell Wexler. Haskell had directed the film Medium Cool and would be the cinematographer on films like Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf, the original Thomas Crown Affair and One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, among others. As much as I was eager to acquire a Lusso, I didn't buy Haskell's car. When I visited his home in the Hollywood Hills to see the car, I didn't even ask to test drive it. I wanted one that was in better shape.
I looked at a couple more Lussos, which weren't that easy to find, and I wanted one that was in 'like new' condition if possible. Finally, I found one that met my requirements. It was silver blue with French racing blue leather and carpets. The owner, who lived in Las Vegas, Nevada, agreed to drive the car to Los Angeles so that I could take it for a test drive and have it inspected by my mechanic.
An immediate road trip
After the Lusso cleared the mechanic's inspection, I agreed to buy the car. It was arranged for me to drive to Las Vegas with the seller that same day to get accustomed to the car and then fly back to Los Angeles, leaving the car with him until I had arranged the wire transfer. I would bring the car back to Los Angeles in the coming days.
I looked forward to the brief road trip. My introduction to Las Vegas came at a time when I was very young, and though the city’s prime objective was always fleecing its guests, it seemed to me that there was an elegance to the manner in which the task was accomplished in those times. When I was no more than eight years old, I found myself staring at a casino cocktail waitress at the Hacienda Hotel. She was wearing high-heels and a diaphanous, baby-doll negligée and I was quite taken with her. I remember wondering how in the world I was going to continue being interested in my life until I was old enough to entertain such a creature. An odd thought for an eight-year-old, perhaps, but it was as true a sentiment as ever there was.
A forgotten Los Vegas
When I was in my late teens, I looked older than my age and often played blackjack at the Sands long before I turned 21. One afternoon, I was playing blackjack and flirting with the very pretty blond in her thirties sitting next to me when I heard some music that I assumed was of the piped-in variety, because the song was Strangers in the Night, Frank Sinatra's current hit. After about eight bars, I realized the song was not coming over the casino's sound system but was being performed by the Chairman himself in the lounge. Later that night, Sinatra's show in the Copa Room would be the hottest ticket in Vegas, but he took it upon himself to treat the customers to a free preview in the middle of the afternoon. Would this happen in Las Vegas today?
We left Los Angeles just before rush hour traffic got underway and there would be no Sinatra, Copa Room or lounge shows tonight. This would be my first long-distance drive in a Ferrari – straight to McCarran International Airport to hop a flight back to L.A. so I could be at school in the morning. The weather was cool and the engine sounded magnificent with the windows down. We bypassed a long section of the San Bernardino Freeway in favour of a tree-lined road that seemed to go on forever towards the I-15, and the sounds of the V12 engine echoed off those trees as I imagined they would along the Mulsanne straight at Le Mans. Compared to the E-Type, the Lusso seemed like a wild animal that had slipped its leash; it revved to 7,000 and the fenders stretched forward, hunting every nuance of the pavement in a predatory manner very different from what I had been used to.
Comfortably doing 120 mph
It stared to rain as we passed Victorville, and by the time we reached Barstow, a heavy fog had moved in. It made not the slightest difference, and the Lusso maintained a cruising speed at or near 100 mph the whole time. All I did was to turn on the fog lamps that are designed into either side of the Lusso's front grill. I felt as though a new world had opened for me.
A red 250 Lusso Stephen owned at some point.
At Baker, we stopped for gasoline and I let the seller take the wheel. As we went up the incline leaving Baker, I saw 120 mph on the speedometer, which is so extraneous on a Ferrari that the designer Pininfarina saw fit to put it on the passenger side of the instrument area. It wouldn’t to dip below that speed until we slowed to exit the freeway going towards McCarran and my flight home.
It was another two days before I took possession of the Lusso. I was still in high school (having missed a semester because of the accident) and it was not 'opportune' for me to miss any more school time. Realizing that I was impatient to have the car and not happy about waiting for the weekend to get it, my father offered to fly to Las Vegas and drive the car back home to me. I countered by suggesting that we fly up together but that didn't solve the problem of school.
A special experience
The following day, I was hoping to find the Lusso waiting for me as I came out of school. It was not to be. Not wanting to waste a trip to Las Vegas, my father spent some casino time at the Sands (as he and I would do on our subsequent trips) and it was almost midnight before I heard the Lusso coming down the street and turning into our driveway. At that point, the Lusso was mine!
I've heard people refer to Ferraris (and other special automobiles) by saying, "It's just a car". Nothing could be further from the truth. The Lusso formed a way of life for me that opened the door to special people and adventures I never would have otherwise known. It was never a toy that was taken for granted, and I don't think I ever parked the Lusso without turning back to admire it before walking away.
In retrospect, I would say that the Lusso became a lifestyle; one that I was very grateful to experience.
Written by Stephen Mitchell.