Seated in a low-backed leather bucket, a huge steering wheel in my hands, I feel like an actor in any number of old Hollywood movies where car scenes were filmed in front of implausible back-projected images.
The 1957 250 GT Berlinetta Tour de France, a racing car built by the then still-new car manufacturing company set up by Enzo Ferrari, belies its age in a number of ways, though – principally an urgent three-litre V12 engine that thrives on revs and bootfuls of throttle.
But it also revels in the purpose that won the type the first three places in a challenging race held on 3,000 miles of open French road in its inaugural year – and 250 GTs went on to win the event three years in a row.
Those and other victories marked an early winning streak for the Italian company in an era when the road and race cars of the top factories were often much more closely related than today.
The car I am driving is one of 72 built between 1954 and 1959, when the model was superseded by a short-wheelbase version. This one was raced extensively from October 1957 – when it was delivered – to 1965, and this history helps give it a value of around $4.5m, according to James Cottingham, acquisition consultant at UK Ferrari specialist DK Engineering.
It is one of the rising stars of the historic car scene, in which the prices of Ferraris have risen more than 150 per cent over the past 10 years. The Tour de France models’ value might be eclipsed by their early 1960s successor, the 250 GTO, an example of which sold for about $32m this year, but a sympathetic restoration may serve to increase their value.
DK Engineering has rebuilt the mechanical components but has left intact evidence of the car’s competition life, including patches where the original paint has been rubbed off by racers hurriedly climbing in and out.
My time behind the wheel gives a flavour of what those drivers experienced. Up to 250 horsepower feels like it could still launch the car from rest to 60mph in five seconds, and take it to a top speed of 150mph. The brakes, however, should be treated with caution. Big drums all around, they warm up unevenly, so each application has the car initially darting across the road.
But the smooth changes afforded by the gearbox help offset that – important in a marque and type that is often used on public roads and even city traffic, in spite of the cars’ value.
Modern Ferrari road cars cannot hope to scale the heights of appreciation as quickly as their road/race forebears, but they do illustrate one of the enduring aspects of owning examples of the marque.
A 458 Italia, in yellow some shades distant from shy, attracted huge attention from other road users. More surprising was how positive the response was. The Maranello-based brand has an almost unequalled power to seduce people into accepting its single-minded pursuit of driving pleasure.
With that in mind, it is fitting that the two-seat 458 is at ease on the road, despite its 570bhp and a relatively emaciated dry weight of 1,380kg.
Increasingly, milking a car’s performance potential can only be done in safety on the track. Yet the 458 Italia is an exception. Not only does it turn into corners with the tautness and precision of a race car, but the engine and exhaust produce an aural accompaniment to entertain at low speeds. And by allowing for enjoyment at pedestrian speeds, it is a profound contribution to road safety.
That is a quality shared by its 1957 cousin. Whether a $4.5m venerable racing veteran that is at home on the road, or a £173,000 modern road car (bumped up to £250,000 by entirely reasonable optional extras) with technology taken from the track, the point on the speedometer dial marked “driving pleasure” is much further down than these Ferraris’ top speed.