Alain Delon California Spider
As the smouldering essence of everything that was chic in European cinema in the nineteen sixties it should come as no surprise that Alain Delon once owned, or might have owned, open Ferrari 250 Spyder California. Let me explain…
Even in the early sixties the link between Ferrari and the world of European film making was strongly established with enthusiastic owners like Roberto Rossellini, Brigit Bardot and Roger Vadim. John Frankenheimer, who filmed the classic motor racing drama Grand Prix, was another celebrity owner.
In America – the market this model was conceived for – the California Spyder is most closely associated with James Coburn. Alain Delon, delivering brooding sexuality through a thick smog of Gitane fumes, was really in a different league; lean, dark and devastatingly handsome he worked with great directors like Visconti, Goddard and Antonioni who recognised that, like his French Jean Paul Belmondo (much less pretty and with a cigarette eternally hanging from his top lip) Mr Delon could really act.
Having said that his CV throws up relatively few classics, Plien Soleil (the first and best version of The Talented Mr Ripley, filmed in 1959) and Borsalino (a high-grossing film that played to the French obsession with gangsters) being the two high points.
Off screen he was romantically linked with Romy Schneider – who starred with him in La Piscine alongside a Maserati Ghibli Spider – Nico and many other beautiful actresses that no doubt looked good in the passenger seat of a Ferrari.
Born in a suburb of Paris in 1935 Delon worked as a porter and a waiter before he was discovered, at the Cannes Film Festival, by David O Selznick in the late fifties. However, he determined early on that his future lay in French cinema and he made relatively few English language films. One such was The Yellow Rolls Royce in 1964 where he starred alongside Shirley McClain (and many others) in the story of a Rolls Royce Phantom and its colourful ownership history. An off-set publicity still shows Delon squiring Shirley McClain around the Riviera in a short wheelbase Spyder California registered 4452 on Monaco plates.
As I said at the beginning there is no record of Delon having owned a Spyder California yet he was photographed behind the wheel of this example on at least two more occasions. Here he is sat behind the wheel in a tweed jacket and slacks, hiding behind trademark dark glasses. There’s a stop watch mounted on the transmission hump and he’s doing a pretty effortless job of looking like he owns the car.
The third shot gives us a few more clues. It shows him sharing the cockpit with Jane Fonda with whom he was making a film at the time called Joy House. Two years later he featured with her in Histories Extraordinaires, a curious three part production directed by Louis Malle, Frederico Fellini and Jane Fonda’s then husband Roger Vadim. It was made in 1967, a year before Jane Fonda hit the big time in Barbarella. Interestingly in the segment directed by Fellini (Louis Malle directed Alain Delon’s part) an ageing American actor is persuaded to play a role in Vatican-funded film production by the promise of a new Ferrari as part of his fee!
The Vadim connection is interesting because he did own a California Spyder and famously lived in Saint Tropez, not a million miles away from Monte Carlo. In his memoir Don’t Tell Dad Peter Fonda recalls being driven around the Riviera in the Spyder with Vadim and his sister Jane, who was usually sat on his lap. One night after a good meal they were returning to Vadim’s house at Plage Tahiti when Vadim suddenly turned the wheel hard to the right crushing the bodywork against the wall.
There’s a theory that Delon owned a 250 Pininfarina Cabriolet but I can find no evidence of this, visual or otherwise. Another theory says that the Spyder California in the pictures is either chassis 3021 – sold new to the fast-living author Francoise Segan (who was actually much more famous for driving Jaguars) or chassis 3095, allegedly once owned by the playboy industrialist Gunter Sachs who is perhaps most famous for being married to Bridgit Bardot.
So even if he didn’t own the car Mr Delon’s Riviera jet-set friends were pretty relaxed about letting him drive around quite a lot. Whatever the truth is it’s a very cool picture.