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
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
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
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.