Friday, September 17, 2010
GTO vs Breadvan
Reading through my friend Marc Sonnery's book Rebel, Rebel which deals with the life and times of the Ferrari Breadvan, I was taken back to a period of my life when I saw the car several times a week and, sometimes, drove it. During the time that I owned my GTO, the Breadvan was owned by my friend and fellow Ferrari Owner Club member Matthew Ettinger. One of the things we had in common was that we loved driving our cars--usually at a rate of speed higher than that dictated by posted speed limits.
It is natural to draw comparisons between the GTO and the Breadvan. They both sprang from the SWB berlinetta and both were Giotto Bizzarrini's vision of what the next generation of GT racer should be. I've heard it reported that, had Bizzarrini stayed with Ferrari instead of joining the famous and historic walk-out with Carlo Chiti et al, the next series of GTO would have been the Breadvan. That would have been an interesting development. The GTO64--or Series 2 as it is often called--was less an evolution of the GTO than a stop-gap when it was realized the 250LM would not be homologated.
The most notable attribute of the GTO relative to the SWB was the lack of leg room. Giotto had moved the engine rearward to make for better weight distribution and that severely limited the space to stretch out your legs. With the Breadvan, he moved the engine back even further and you sit with knees up and legs splayed. The Breadvan was lighter than the GTO and you have a sense of this just from looking at the car, but when seen side-by-side with a GTO, several aspects become apparent. The first is that the 'van has a lower roofline. The second is that the body of the 'van is leaner than that of the GTO. My guess is that both cars put out the same amount of horsepower as they had similar specifications. The GTO had a five-speed transmission whereas the Breadvan used the four-speed from the SWB. Aerodynamics on racecars was still a developing technology but it is clear that the Breadvan had a smaller frontal aspect and that must count for something in terms of efficiency.
On the road (or track) both cars are pure excitement. With little or no insulation, the sounds of the V12 with its timing chains, induction noises and exhaust made for a very rousing experience whether one was driving to the supermarket or flat-out on the way to Las Vegas. I found the Breadvan to be quicker off the line in first gear but beyond that, the cars seemed comparable. My GTO had tall gearing and I was usually passing the flow of traffic upon entering a freeway before needing to shift into second gear. On mountainous roads, the two cars made great companions--I could stay on the Breadvan's tail and Matthew could keep pace with the GTO. The sight of these two cars racing along the road was memorable, to say the least.
Late one night, Matthew and I were 'touring' with our good friend John Andrews in his Miura. We were booking down a mountain on a pitch-black night when I suddenly realized that the Breadvan's headlights were no longer behind me. I flashed my lights at John and we pulled to a stop. It was dead silent and the Breadvan did not catch us up. John and I reversed up the mountain fearing that Matthew had taken the Breadvan over the cliff. Several turns up the road, we hear Matthew's distinctive voice cursing his fate and a few other things as well. He had gone off the road dislodging the battery, which hadn't been secured, and disconnecting the cables in the process. The car stopped but an inch short of going off the cliff and into the abyss. John and I exchanged a glance of relief as Matthew, apparently oblivious to the near miss, dealt with the battery. Once the connection was re-established, we were off again as though nothing had happened.
I loved the GTO. I would love to have owned the Breadvan. What seemed normal and very much a part of our daily lives at the time seems extraordinary in retrospect. Could such an experience ever repeat itself? Which would I want today given the chance and all things being equal? There's no doubt in my mind—I’d take the...