Ferrari 250GT SWB and 275GTB/4: a lasting legacy

| 9 Apr 2024
Classic & Sports Car – Ferrari 250GT SWB and 275GTB/4: a lasting legacy

Not often do we get the chance to bring together two such special Ferraris as the 250GT SWB and the 275GTB/4.

They are, after all, cars that industry folk in colourful trousers would refer to as true ‘blue-chip’ models.

These are each particularly interesting examples of the breed, too, boasting fascinating and significant histories.

Classic & Sports Car – Ferrari 250GT SWB and 275GTB/4: a lasting legacy

The Ferrari 250GT SWB is superbly balanced and comes alive when pushed

Little things give it away.

Whenever you see one of these hugely valuable cars today, the chances are that it will be pristine and living a life of temperature-controlled luxury.

Look closely, however, and our featured examples wear the occasional mismatched dab of touch-up paint, as well as a stone-chip here and there.

They have well-earned patina and a lived-in charisma, and there is a very good reason for that: they have been used in a way of which even an old curmudgeon such as Enzo Ferrari himself would have approved.

Classic & Sports Car – Ferrari 250GT SWB and 275GTB/4: a lasting legacy

The Ferrari 275GTB/4’s alloy wheels

Both cars belonged to the late Richard Colton.

He bought the GTB/4 in 1974, before going on to cover almost 50,000 miles in it.

Two years later, he acquired the SWB and clearly enjoyed that even more, clocking up nearly 70,000 miles.

Bear in mind that, for more than 40 years, the Ferraris were part of a large and ever-changing collection of cars that Colton also liked to enjoy as much as possible.

While the others came and went, however, this pair stayed put.

Consider, too, that beneath the exterior scuffs they are mechanically spot-on – as they needed to be, because they were there to be driven, and not just in fair weather, rather than mollycoddled.

Classic & Sports Car – Ferrari 250GT SWB and 275GTB/4: a lasting legacy

The Ferrari 250GT SWB’s cabin is dominated by large dials for speed and revs in the dual-cowl dashboard

The Colton name will be familiar to anyone with an interest in hillclimb competition, and for many reasons.

For a start, Richard himself was a keen competitor.

Then he sponsored multiple British Hillclimb Champion Roy Lane via his footwear company Steel King – Lane’s Pilbeam carried on its rear wing the memorable slogan ‘Put The Boot In’.

Finally, and tragically, there was Richard’s only child, Mark, who competed at the very top level of the discipline and was surely destined to one day win the title himself, only to be killed in a crash during practice at Craigantlet in 1995.

As for the Ferraris, their stories are well known.

Classic & Sports Car – Ferrari 250GT SWB and 275GTB/4: a lasting legacy

The Ferrari 275GTB/4’s more modern dash lacks a little of the earlier car’s charisma

With the SWB, Maranello struck the perfect balance between a road car and a racer.

Here was a machine in which you could quite comfortably drive to the circuit, win and then drive home again.

It did a lot of winning, too, following its introduction at the ’59 Paris Salon.

During the early ’60s, it formed the benchmark in the GT category, with Stirling Moss famously taking two TT victories, among many others.

The berlinetta was a favourite of the British ace.

The 275GTB, meanwhile, first appeared in 1964 and, if it wasn’t quite the committed racer that its predecessor was, it had by no means gone soft.

Classic & Sports Car – Ferrari 250GT SWB and 275GTB/4: a lasting legacy

Ferrari 250GT SWB and 275GTB/4: two of the most desirable Prancing Horses

This fact was underlined by the introduction in 1966 of the GTB/4, with a four-cam, dry-sump derivation of Gioacchino Colombo’s V12 engine, fitted with six Weber carburettors as standard.

Both are special enough in isolation, but seeing them together reaffirms the seductive nature of 1960s Ferraris – as well as Colton’s supreme good taste.

They look sublime even when standing still, but their late owner would no doubt be looking down with thunderous disapproval if we didn’t fire them up and experience just a fraction of what he did over the course of more than four decades.

The SWB boasts a towering reputation as a fabulous all-rounder, and rightly so.

As was fairly standard for Colton’s cars – he was, by all accounts, an inveterate tinkerer – this one has been tweaked by way of being de-bumpered and given four-pot brake calipers, subtly flared rear wheelarches and an upgraded exhaust.

It features the more offset driving position of the two and rolls more under hard cornering, but remains seriously quick and is beautifully balanced.

Classic & Sports Car – Ferrari 250GT SWB and 275GTB/4: a lasting legacy

The Ferrari 250GT SWB has painted Borrani wire wheels

It also has a gloriously tactile gearchange that, in these examples at least, is superior to that of the 275GTB/4, which was the first Ferrari to be fitted with a transaxle.

The later car does, however, feel even more urgent in a straight line, with a sense of long-legged thrust that is superseded only by the gathering crescendo from the mighty V12 – a soundtrack that it shares with its sibling.

From inside the cockpit, it is wonderful; from outside, following closely behind as the occupants simultaneously open the throttles before disappearing in a cloud of dust and 24 cylinders’ worth of noise, it’s even better.

You also have the advantage of being able to better appreciate two of Pininfarina’s finest designs, from the pugnacious, ‘muscles and intent’ SWB to the longer, leaner, more sophisticated 275.

Colton ticked a number of boxes over the course of his car-owning life – Porsche 911 Carrera RS 2.7, Jaguar E-type and XK120, and so on – but he retained a passion for the Prancing Horse.

With Mark he restored a 212 Inter that he’d discovered as a wreck, and in it the father-and-son team completed the Mille Miglia retrospective.

Classic & Sports Car – Ferrari 250GT SWB and 275GTB/4: a lasting legacy

The Ferrari 275GTB/4 has a well-resolved Kamm tail

That sort of project gave him an enormous amount of satisfaction.

He was the kind of man who knew exactly how he wanted his cars to be, and he didn’t mind paying for it.

While Colton could clearly afford to indulge in such a way, he apparently wasn’t one to throw money around.

His house, for example, was a 1960s bungalow that he’d bought new and to which he’d hardly done anything since.

First and foremost, he was a genuine petrolhead who would much rather invest in his cars than, for example, a new kitchen.

Visiting the Colton residence would invariably involve discussing the past few Grands Prix by way of small talk.

Classic & Sports Car – Ferrari 250GT SWB and 275GTB/4: a lasting legacy

Both cars use a derivative of Colombo’s V12, with three carbs for the Ferrari 250GT SWB (pictured) and six for the 275GTB/4

Few knew him better than Charles Denton.

During the 1950s, Charles’ father, Hugh, raced Morgans with Colton, and the latter would go on to become Charles’ godfather.

“They were both members of Northants Sports Car Club,” recalls Charles, “and I’ve got notes from when they organised events. They even competed in the 1954 RAC Rally together.

“Richard hillclimbed Morgans, and my first memory was of that marque.

“I was into them as a boy and went to the factory in Malvern, where I met Peter Morgan.

“Sally [Colton’s second wife] had a Plus 8, and the first time I travelled at 100mph was alongside her.”

Classic & Sports Car – Ferrari 250GT SWB and 275GTB/4: a lasting legacy

The Ferrari 275GTB/4’s 300bhp, all-aluminium, 3285cc V12

One day, however, the young Charles went back to the Coltons’ house and had his eyes opened to more exotic machinery.

“The 275 was on their driveway,” he recalls, “and Sally had to start it to move it. The noise was mesmerising.

“After that, I switched allegiance from Morgan and started to collect books on Ferrari.

“Richard helped me with that, and he and Sally took me to events.

“Not long after that my father told me they had a new car.

“We went around there and the SWB was parked rear-on in the garage.

“I knew exactly what it was because I was a 10-year-old geek by then!”

Classic & Sports Car – Ferrari 250GT SWB and 275GTB/4: a lasting legacy

Richard Colton’s Ferrari 250GT SWB visits the Nordschleife on a European jaunt

For a young enthusiast who was rapidly falling in love with all things Maranello, being around Colton at this time was manna from heaven: “I can remember him having a 250LM that was road-registered, although he used to enter it in hillclimbs and sprints, too.

“Also, at one point my father wanted a Daytona and Richard had one, so we went out with me as a passenger alongside Sally in the SWB, chasing him and my father, who were in the Daytona.”

A huge number of cars passed through Colton’s hands, but the 275 and SWB became old favourites.

“He drove them,” says Charles, “that’s the thing. They’ve travelled Europe rather than being stuck in a museum. He said that the SWB got better the more he used it.”

Classic & Sports Car – Ferrari 250GT SWB and 275GTB/4: a lasting legacy

The Ferrari 275GTB/4 on a Highlands tour, one of this car’s many long-distance trips

Colton would often remark that no amount of money would part him from the two cars – not that it stopped people trying, and a glance at their respective histories shows why.

The SWB is chassis 1995GT, and was one of two cars that Colonel Ronnie Hoare secured from Enzo Ferrari in order to set up Maranello Concessionaires.

It was the second right-hand-drive example and featured a steel body but a Competizione engine, with high-lift cams – Colton kept them, but fitted Lusso items for road use – a raised compression ratio and uprated carbs.

It also boasts ‘Comp’ suspension. Woe betide anyone who described the car as Lusso specification.

As well as a pile of period paperwork, including the build sheet, the history file contains a number of letters written by Colton explaining that 1995GT – like 1993GT, the first right-hand-drive SWB – may have had a steel body rather than aluminium, but in pretty much every other respect it had been supplied by the factory in Competizione spec.

Classic & Sports Car – Ferrari 250GT SWB and 275GTB/4: a lasting legacy

Snow and salt didn’t stop play in the Ferrari 250GT SWB

The 275 was also delivered new via Maranello Concessionaires.

Chassis 10177 served as the firm’s demonstrator in late 1967 and was finally sold to former ERA racer TC ‘Cuth’ Harrison.

It then had a busy few years during which it went to a Mr Renton, who ran a prep school in Ascot; a Mr Cook, who traded it in for a Daytona; a Mr Horne who, according to correspondence, ‘spent a considerable amount of money on the car’; a Mr Cooke; and a Mr Curtis.

Originally silver, it had at some point received a respray in red, which is how it was when Colton bought the car.

In 1979 he had it stripped to bare metal, all the necessary welding was carried out and the whole thing was returned to its factory hue.

The files for both Ferraris tell you as much about Colton as his cars.

Classic & Sports Car – Ferrari 250GT SWB and 275GTB/4: a lasting legacy

The Ferrari 275GTB/4 returned to its Maranello roots with Colton

He did very well out of a Bentley Speed Six that he owned (paperwork suggests he got £17,250 for it in 1976, when the SWB was worth less than half that), but then there are the MoT certificates covering each year of his ownership, plus endless photos confirming that he would take any excuse to drive them.

In each was a ‘travelling kit’ of spares – oil, belts, plugs and the like – so they were ready to go wherever needed.

The SWB, for example, is pictured all over the Continent.

One trip clearly involved a tour of race circuits, because it’s proudly parked at the Nürburgring and Zandvoort.

Brilliantly, it’s also shown being driven in the middle of winter, on a gritted road, during a snowstorm.

Then there are evocative shots of the 275GTB/4 in the Scottish Highlands – just the car and a deserted road winding off into the distance – plus others showing Colton competing at, among other places, Prescott.

Classic & Sports Car – Ferrari 250GT SWB and 275GTB/4: a lasting legacy

The different profiles are clear, from the muscular Ferrari 250GT SWB to the sleek 275GTB/4

His passion for these cars shines through, and it obviously rubbed off onto his godson.

“The first Ferrari I drove was Richard’s 550,” recalls Charles, “and I now own a 456GT that he helped me find.

“I’ve had a Morgan Plus 8 since I was 21, too, and it’s all through him – it’s because of that history.

“I moved to the same village as him over the past five years, and as he got older he became more interested in modern cars.

“In his 80s, he got into Maseratis and did a few events. He was still always travelling.”

Which brings us to the final chapter in the story of Richard Colton and his two prized Ferraris.

Late in life, he could have sold them and found a way to spend the small fortune that would have come his way. But he didn’t.

Classic & Sports Car – Ferrari 250GT SWB and 275GTB/4: a lasting legacy

The Ferrari 250GT SWB has cooling vents in the rear wings

“He knew the value of these cars and was astute with money,” says Charles.

“He’d never have paid current prices for the SWB! After his third wife Caroline died he had no immediate family, but they’d already sat down and decided what to do.

“Richard had completed an RNLI tour with Ecurie Ecosse and had immense pride in what that charity does.

“So they thought: ‘What can we do to create a lasting memory?’

“I was an executor to his will, and he told me the cars would be going to the RNLI.

“He hoped that it could purchase a Tamar-class lifeboat that would be named Richard and Caroline Colton.

“At the time, a Tamar was £2million – which is what the cars were then worth.”

Classic & Sports Car – Ferrari 250GT SWB and 275GTB/4: a lasting legacy

Driving any Ferrari 250GT SWB is a special moment

The only stipulation was that the Ferraris had to be offered at public auction.

Richard suggested a shortlist of companies in his will, and not surprisingly they were all keen to handle the sale.

In the end, the cars were placed with H&H, which presented them at a sale at the Imperial War Museum Duxford in October 2015.

It was hoped that with the proceeds the RNLI could secure either two Shannon-class lifeboats – the Tamar having been discontinued – or one plus a very useful investment in the charity’s manufacturing facility, the All Weather Lifeboat Centre in Poole, Dorset.

In the end, the pair helped to fund a new boathouse in Pwllheli, Wales, plus two lifeboats.

The no-reserve sale raised £8.5m for the RNLI – the single largest bequest in the charity’s history.

Classic & Sports Car – Ferrari 250GT SWB and 275GTB/4: a lasting legacy

The Ferrari 275GTB/4 is less overtly sporty, but it handles well and feels quicker in a straight line

Denton reckons that Richard would have loved the technology in the RNLI’s latest vessels, which, along with featuring the latest onboard gizmos, are the first to be propelled by waterjets.

This improves their agility and enables them to be used in shallow waters.

His will be a lasting gift, too, with each lifeboat having a 25-year lifespan, after which it can be refitted and go on for another 25.

The RNLI received an enormous windfall from the sale, but other charities benefited from the rest of Richard’s collection, which was also sold at auction.

There was his ex-Patsy Burt fixed-head Jaguar XK120, which was bought as a wreck, modified and restored; a Brian Wingfield-built Lightweight E-type recreation, made especially for Colton for fast-road and rally use; a 28,000-mile Ferrari 550 Maranello; a Mercedes-Benz C43 AMG; a Maserati Ghibli; and a 2007 Aston Martin Vantage.

“What a wonderful legacy,” reflects Charles. “He was shy and not easy to get a conversation going with, but he was a genuine person, and with this he’s done the right thing.

“Richard was a true godfather to me – my father died in 1979 – and while the Ferraris gave good memories and great drives, most importantly in your hour of need he was there.”

Images: Julian Mackie

Thanks to: Damian Jones at H&H; John Sykes at TR Bitz. Richard Colton’s Ferraris went under the hammer in October 2015. The 250GT sold for £6.6m and the 275GTB/4 for £1.93m

This was first in our October 2015 magazine; all information was correct at the date of original publication


Classic & Sports Car – Ferrari 250GT SWB and 275GTB/4: a lasting legacy

Ferrari 250GT SWB

  • Sold/number built 1959-’63/158 (88 steel-bodied, 70 aluminium)
  • Construction steel chassis, with steel or aluminium body
  • Engine all-alloy, sohc-per-bank 2953cc 60° V12, three Weber DCL6 or DCL3 carburettors
  • Max power 240bhp @ 7000rpm
  • Max torque 183lb ft @ 5500rpm
  • Transmission four-speed manual, RWD via a limited-slip differential
  • Suspension: front independent, by double wishbones, coil springs, anti-roll bar rear live axle, semi-elliptic leaf springs, radius arms; telescopic dampers f/r
  • Steering ZF worm and sector
  • Brakes Dunlop discs, with Bendix servo
  • Length 13ft 9in (4200mm)
  • Width 5ft 8in (1720mm)
  • Height 4ft 2in (1270mm)
  • Wheelbase 7ft 10in (2400mm)
  • Weight 2318-2649lb (1051-1202kg)
  • Mpg 14
  • 0-60mph 6.3 secs
  • Top speed 144mph
  • Price new £6666 17s 2d (1961)


Ferrari 275GTB/4

  • Sold/number built 1966-’68/c280
  • Construction steel chassis, with steel or aluminium body
  • Engine all-alloy, dohc-per-bank 3285cc 60° V12, six Weber 40DCN carburettors
  • Max power 300bhp @ 8000rpm
  • Max torque 217lb ft @ 5500rpm
  • Transmission five-speed manual transaxle, RWD
  • Suspension independent, by unequal-length wishbones, coil-over dampers, anti-roll bar f/r
  • Steering ZF worm and roller
  • Brakes discs, with servo
  • Length 14ft 6in (4420mm)
  • Width 5ft 6in (1676mm)
  • Height 4ft 2in (1270mm)
  • Wheelbase 7ft 10½in (2398mm)
  • Weight 2490lb (1129kg)
  • Mpg 12-15
  • 0-60mph 5.5 secs
  • Top speed 163mph
  • Price new £7063

Enjoy more of the world’s best classic car content every month when you subscribe to C&SC – get our latest deals here


Ferrari 250GTE: Enzo’s roadgoing winner

Aston Martin DB5 vs Mercedes-Benz 300SL vs Ferrari 275GTB: million dollar babies

20 of the greatest ever Ferraris