Cal Spyders came in two distinct series, with around 45 long-wheelbase versions being made from 1958 to 1960, when they were replaced by the lighter, more sporting short-wheelbase model. Which is great unless, like me, you measure 6ft 3in or above. Because with 20cm less space between the wheels, I have to splay my legs either side of that fabulous triple-spoked, wood-rimmed Nardi steering wheel just to reach the pedals. But it’s no less gorgeous in here, with those inimitable Veglia clocks, acres of perfect red leather and that black-topped gearlever sprouting so invitingly from the transmission tunnel.
You turn the key through 180deg, then press it and the V12 fires in an instant. You can have your engine pretty much as you want it to be: GTO offers not just three different capacities but also eight different camshaft profiles, from soft road to full race. You could have an output of as little as 240bhp, or as much as 400bhp if you’re prepared to pay for it. This car is right in the middle, a 3.5-litre engine with 320bhp, which for fast road use seems about perfect. Remember too that it has only around 1050kg to carry, giving it a power-to-weight ratio similar to that of a brand-new Porsche 911 Carrera S. This is going to be no slouch at all.
At first, it’s all about the engine because it lays down one of the most cultured and fascinating soundtracks you could ever hope to hear with a steering wheel in your hand. Endlessly elastic, it’ll pull from idle in any gear, goes hard from around 3000rpm and probably won’t hit peak power until close to 7000rpm. Race motors go higher still. Given that the fundamental design of this engine stretches back to the 1940s, that is fairly astonishing. And it’s fast, not in that instantly gratifying wham-bam way of modern turbo motors, but with that inexorable feeling and rising crescendo only the finest multi-cylinder naturally aspirated units can provide.
The five-speed gearbox is one of the best of any kind I have used. You feel like you are moving the most precision-engineered cogs through a deep bath of thick oil, probably because you are. The shift is utterly precise and, because it’s quite heavy, shot through from the shoulder, as it should be for this kind of car. And were this really a 1960s Ferrari roadster, I might have had to stop there or start getting tucked into its many other dynamic limitations. But not with this car. Its additional structural rigidity is the gift that keeps on giving. You notice it first in the unpolluted response of the steering. Even on old-fashioned Michelin radials, you always know where the nose is going, the prancing horse in the centre of the wheel never blurring now that the scuttle shake has been largely eliminated.