Although the GT name was first applied by Alfa Romeo in the 1920s, the Lancia Aurelia B20 of the 1950s is generally
acknowledged as the world’s first true GT. Indeed, these well-designed, well-mannered, well-appointed and highly
proficient cars dominated their class at Le Mans and the Italian Grand Prix, beating the pants off, namely, Ferrari.
As a result, the world took notice and the golden age of the GT was born.
In terms of prestige and perception, the Italians reigned. Despite now legendary creations from the British (think
Aston Martin) and the Germans (think Mercedes-Benz), the GTs from Italy took a starring role and now figure
prominently in the very definition of a Grand Tourer.
Why is this important? I have long argued that a car is shaped, in large part, by its environment and its soul is
characteristic of its birthplace. Case in point are the GTs from Italy and, in particular, Emilia-Romagna.
This long valley in the north of the country has been the breadbasket of Italy since Roman times. It’s where
tortellini, lasagna, balsamic vinegar, Parmesan cheese and Parma ham originated. And this zest for the finer things
in life is manifest in the region’s others notable creations too, because it’s here where Ferrari, Maserati,
Lamborghini and Ducati are located. As a result of it being home to some of the world’s best food and automobiles,
Emilia-Romagna is ground zero for motoring gourmands.
Enzo, being a product of his environment, imbued this regional zest and the national trait of la dolce vita
into his company’s creations. Better still, his extreme desire to win at racing meant his creations were
fundamentally performance machines.
This ethos still guides the company today, which is an important distinction when one considers that Ferrari is now a
publicly listed company. Like all corporations on the stock exchange, profits typically dictate strategy, but
Ferrari has steadfastly resisted temptations to expand and dilute its brand and has stayed true to its origins. Ergo
the Ferrari Portofino. Built as the gateway Ferrari, meant to lure new converts to the Maranello church, this
$250,000 entry level model is a masterpiece.
By strict definition, it’s not a GT and it’s not a Spider, and this is a virtue. The Portofino’s hardtop can
disappear at the touch of a button making it more of a Spider and less of a GT. However, because of its two
backseats (a generous term since not even a Hobbit could accommodate), the Spider definition can’t apply (since a
Spider – the Italian term for a roadster – is a two-seat sportscar). Nuances aside, the versatile Portofino is
surely one of the finest convertible GTs in the world.