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August 10 2019
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The Ferrari 250 GTO Berlinetta.

This spring, Jeff Koons’s stainless-steel Rabbit made headlines in all the respectable papers when it was hammered down at $91.1 million at a New York auction house. But when a Ferrari 250 GTO—the crown jewel of the classic-car world—reportedly changed hands in private for $70 million, it didn’t make The New York Times. After all, it’s not art; it’s just a … car. Italian courts beg to differ.

The Ferrari 250 GTO was born of conflict and a light dose of fraud. Enzo Ferrari—known in Italy as il Commendatore (the Commander), though he preferred l’Ingegnere (the Engineer)—was a demanding boss. After a stint on the Italian front during the First World War, Ferrari drove race cars for Alfa Romeo in the years between the wars, eventually building his own team. By 1948, Ferrari’s group—now its own marque, separate from Alfa Romeo—was winning the world’s biggest races. All of that success, in the face of fierce odds, must have gone to il Commendatore’s head; he pushed his drivers relentlessly. (After one of them crashed during a 1957 race, killing spectators, Ferrari was tried for manslaughter. He was found innocent.) But it was his wife Laura’s involvement in the company that caused dissent within the organization. In 1961, when one of his engineers objected to being ordered around by the boss’s wife, Ferrari fired him—and thus began what was known as “the great walkout,” which saw a cascade of defectors who went on to create Automobili Turismo e Sport.

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