If ever a fleeting celluloid appearance both summarized a car's personality and seared it into the memory, it was early on in Norman Jewison's 1968 cars-and-crime showcase The Thomas Crown Affair. As he charges around the polo pitch on his pedigree pony, Steve McQueen seems to have it all: the looks, the smarts, the cars, the cash, the successful Boston heist behind him and a rosy future ahead. But then his world is turned upside down by the appearance of Faye Dunaway on the sidelines, effortlessly upstaging the King of Cool with her own determined yet laid-back savoir-faire. And how should this be manifested? By no more than perching on the rear deck of a highly exclusive, drop-dead-gorgeous car, and looking icily fabulous herself. The car in question was perfectly pitted to the role: Like Dunaway's character, it was impossibly glamorous and near unattainable and, like Dunaway's character, those facets of the burgundy Ferrari so impressed McQueen on-set that he had to have one in real life.
The car, of course, was a Ferrari 275 GTS/4 NART Spyder (or 275GT/4/S, 275/GT B/4, or even 275GTB/4*S, depending on which Ferrari document you are reading), the chopped version of the 250-succeeding 275 GTB/4. It was one of just 10 built—two of which were alloy-bodied—and, as the North American Racing Team (NART) tag suggests, the brainchild of U.S. Ferrari importer Luigi Chinetti. As the rest of the name confirms, the foundation for this spectacular drop-top was that last of Ferrari's hourglass-figure GTs before the more chiseled 330 and Daytona, the fully independently suspended 275 series. The curvaceous long-nosed, short-(Kamm)-tailed Gran Turismo started life as a Pininfarina-penned two-seater coupe surrounding a 3286-cc development of Giotto Colombo's captivating small-block V12 engine. It also introduced the combined rear axle and five-speed transmission that was to become such a staple. Launched in 1964, it was soon joined by a dowdy-in-comparison open-top effort, but the fireworks were yet to come. In 1966, the four-cam version of the engine—with a sextet of Weber 40DCN9s as standard—came into being, wearing a reworked, Scaglietti-built shell, but that still wasn't enough for a certain Stateside Ferrari specialist and racing team boss.
Chinetti, a trusted importer, Le Mans winner and, most importantly, an old chum of Enzo's, reckoned that people had been hungry for a proper-handling, proper-performing and, crucially, proper-looking front-engined convertible Ferrari ever since the 250 GT California ceased to be in 1962. You do have to wonder whether this sudden impetus was driven by the emergence of Tom Meade's stunning 250-based Nembo Spyder, an all-alloy beauty built by Neri and Bonacini (thus Nembo), the shape of which was close to a silhouette of the 275 GTB. Only four of the Meade cars were built and, had Chinetti waited to see how they performed sales-wise, he might have started questioning his certainty that there was the market he assumed for his own V12 convertible.
Waiting was not Luigi Chinetti's style, though, and neither was questioning his own instincts, so at his behest a limited run of Spyder versions was tabled. The paper trail suggests that 25 cars were planned—it was to be exclusive from the outset—but only 10 made it to reality.
Although there are rather more now! The NART Spyder—with few obvious panel changes—was unveiled at the New York Motor Show in April 1967, billed as being "produced for the United States exclusively" and floridly described as 'astonishing for its exceptional maneuverability [sic], enthusiastic for its instantaneous pickups, distensive for its docility. The price was a heady $14,400, against near-as-dammit $8000 for the Berlinetta, which also happened to be the price that Ferrari was charging Chinetti for each Scaglietti-converted car. The first and most famous of them, the Thomas Crown Affair car, was sold later that year and had a creditable Sebring history—with Denise McCluggage and "Pinky" Rollo, racing under the North Vermont Racing Team (NVRT) banner due to a NART entry problem following a fatal crash the previous year—before turning to acting, but all are immensely desirable and exclusive today. So much so that only one is believed to reside in the U.K.—if one assumes that Lord Laidlaw's spends much of its time in Monaco. And this is it.
Chassis 10749, the second-last car built and last to go to the States, has had a fascinating and multi-colored life. It was bought from Chinetti Motors for $15,500, with optional radio, by New York-based Dr. Michael Serman soon after its August 1967 build. Serman piled on an impressive 5000 miles a year during his ownership and his son, then 19-years old and another Michael, has fond memories of the car he was fortunate enough to enjoy: "What I remember most was washing the car by hand. It was a shape one never tired of just looking at—especially the rear aspect." He also recalls being left a blank cheque by one collector and being told to fill in whatever was appropriate for the NART. No deal.
After a series of U.S. owners—one of whom traded it for a Lamborghini Urraco, Maserati Ghibli Spyder and $35K in cash—it was bought by John Moores from Santa Fe, who at one point was custodian of a brace of NART Spyders. After Junior's House of Color restored the car to its original Argento (it had been previously been Giallo) and a Pebble Beach appearance in 1995, the noted philanthropist then made the extraordinary gesture of putting it up for auction in 1998 to raise cash for the Scripps Institute. A few further owners followed, including Pebble Beach doyen Sam Mann, before it made its way across the Atlantic to a new owner. In 2009, it was Best of Show at Salon Privé in London.
And now it is here in Essex, on an autumn day with a personality disorder, undecided whether it wants to be summer or winter, and we are just marveling at it. At first it is difficult to get near the NART because photographer James Lipman has gone into one of those rare camera frenzies, darting all around the car, cooing to himself and trying to capture every nuance. If ever we needed confirmation that what we are looking at it is a bit special, this behavior is it. It's easier to stand by while he goes into overdrive and just take in those curves. Golly, it must have been a simple chop for Scaglietti. Only the rump appears to have changed at all – even that kicked-up tail feather remains. Okay, so you lose the sensuously tapered roof of the GTB, and the front-rear balance of aggression and speed that it gives the car, but the rear deck and trunklid meld seamlessly between the hips. It is exactly the sort of bench worthy of Faye Dunaway, then recently catapulted to superstardom by Bonnie & Clyde. The front is unchanged from the second-series ('65-on) GTBs, with the longer, furrowing snout and hood bulge. Overall, no one would ever question the over-the-top beauty of the NART, but you do start to wonder whether it is quite as well resolved without its roof. The answer is yes.
With no sign of Lipman calming down and the weather closing in, it is necessary to force my way into the driver's seat, keen to be on the road but forced by the sheer splendor of the surroundings just to pause and take stock. The bucket seat in deep, lustrous Rosso is surprisingly well padded, the detailing and splashes of chrome a wonderful counterpoint to the relative austerity of the stark black dash. Grip the wheel and feel that familiar, almost triangular wooden warmth, two of the three spokes sprouting west and east with just thin enough a waistline for you to curl your fingers around either side of them for performance driving. Then reach down to the right—but not too far—to rest a hand atop that long, delicate, wand-like gear lever with its chunkier, finger-grooved knob and a kink just above where it enters the open dog-leg five-speed polished gate. Casting your gaze further you will notice delightful footwell vents, the footwell-mounted handbrake and the surprisingly honest-for-the-era 180-mph speedo.
Fire it up and that reassuringly familiar V12 beat suddenly sounds all grown up. It is still deep-throated and mesmerizing, but it is less raucous, more civil and, for want of a better word, mellow. On the move, the vast difference an extra pair of cams makes is all the more obvious. Coerce that gear lever into first and you undramatically ping away on a wave of torque. Ping? Well, waft doesn't capture the power and crispness, and charge suggests an unseemly struggle to put down the power that just doesn't compute with the refined NART. Not until you have slick-changed your way up to 5500 rpm, anyway, when the engine comes on cam(s), bursting out of its steady power curve as if it has caught a second wind. From there, it screams all the way to the 7700-8000-rpm redline and gathers pace with unruffled but alarming alacrity.
So far, so Ferrari. It is therefore on other occasions that the four-cam characteristics start to chime, that it establishes its individuality within the breed through its astonishing flexibility. You can pull from near standstill in a high gear and work up to speed as smoothly as spreading soft butter on toast. The upshot is that such a progressive and less brutal demeanor doesn't encourage you to explore the understeer that can be found when you really press on in an otherwise gorgeous-handling car. Other than that it is surprisingly well planted and solid for a convertible, not to mention largely free from scuttle shake—testament to its weight and balance, its short wheelbase, and the quality of Scaglietti's work. Plus, there are constant reminders of the NART's pedigree, with its low clutch take-up and narrow-spaced pedals built more for jabbing with racing boots than caressing with loafers.
All of this may read as if the driving experience is slightly schizophrenic, but it is quite the opposite. This is a self-assured car, extremely aware of its duties and capabilities. Why the NART Spyder was met with so much apathy in its day, therefore, is hard to fathom. Perhaps it was the price—though there is evidence to suggest that Chinetti accepted significantly lower amounts to shift his obligation. Whatever it was, the lack of interest was so pronounced that the final car was never even shipped to the States and remained in Europe. Of course, such paucity of available cars has had a huge impact on values today. Ferrari expert James Cottingham of DK Engineering reckons that one would set you back as much as $7-10 million. [Or $27.5 million, . —Ed.] "They were built to be exclusive in their day," he explains. "It was the car that everyone wanted but no one could have, and that still holds true. Their rarity adds hugely to their values and means that the differential between a 275 NART Spyder and the closed car it was based on is far greater than on similar Ferrari open and closed pairings.
"There is also the fact that very rarely do Ferraris, or any cars, look quite so equally delectable as GTs or convertibles. The balance is absolutely perfect. But then, the balance is what sets these cars apart, not just aesthetically but in including all of the latest engineering—the five-speed transaxle, disc brakes, all-independent suspension et al—in a very traditional performance car that has as much power as you could possibly want, but not so much that it becomes bulky or nose-heavy like some later cars. To my mind, it's an incredible shame that they didn't build more of them because, thanks to that four-cam engine, it is the absolute embodiment of the gentleman's road Ferrari, the ultimate incarnation of what a 1960s sports car should be."
Of course, that valuation reflects not just the rarity, but also the quality of the car. This was no homebuilt chop-job, it was a bona fide factory conversion (though factory records bemusingly suggest that some cars were sold as converted, others as scratch-built) that offered something the Ferrari range was conspicuously lacking. With that smoother, more docile four-cam V12, it may not have quite the wham-bam sporting credentials of the fiercest 250-series drop-tops, or even the closed GT it was based upon, but it is a world away from the contemporary 275 GTS so often dismissed, perhaps harshly, as a boulevardier. Here was a Ferrari that you could seriously hustle, race to second in class at Sebring even, as it was—or simply cruise with a gentility that no previous Maranello offering could match. In fact, as an all-rounder, from a time when Ferrari's output was still terrifically polarized between road and track cars, the NART Spyder might just be the best of the best.