A couple of months ago, I was in Los Angeles visiting some friends and talking Ferraris. On my last night there, I had dinner with my friend Tom Wilson who runs the 250GTE Registry. He owns a GTE that has been in the state of restoration for many years, and made its public appearance at Concorso Italiano in 2015.
Although the car made the gathering of GTEs, the engine was still apart and waiting to be rebuilt. A borrowed engine was generously loaned, but the plan was to finish the engine rebuild and finally finish the car! Tom W. updated me with the progress, and commiserated with me about how long it was taking. Some of the delays were with the engine block where corrosion was extensive from having the car sit with coolant inside the block for decades, but the biggest problem was with the heads. They were sitting at a shop in the Bay Area of California not getting done for a couple of years!
With Tom Wilson’s engine block, he had to use some pretty talented welders to fix the corrosion, and the same care was given to the heads. Unfortunately, with talent, sometimes comes drama. It was clear something was wrong at the shop that was contracted to do the heads, and it was stalling the whole project. My opinion was if the head guy hadn’t gotten to the work in two years, he was never going to get to them. If there was a misunderstanding, or subtext to the problem, the only way to move forward was to get the heads back and find someone else to do the job.
Tom told me his machinist in the Bay Area was avoiding his calls, and was a hard man to reach. He had Tom’s crankshaft and flywheel, and was overseeing the head rebuild at a specialty head shop. I was so disappointed in hearing Tom W.s’ story, and heard myself offering to fly to the Bay Area to collect Tom’s parts and try to straighten this mess up! I knew some of the players in Tom’s story, and felt I could help mediate.
When I got back to NY, I started call the people involved with Tom Wilson’s project, and set a date to go out. Tom wanted to settle up any outstanding invoices, but we also wanted to absolve any responsibility for any unfinished work. I’ve seen shops stop working on a project for many reasons, and they will sit for years without any forward progress. No one wants these issues to turn ugly and go to litigation, so I felt my role was to try and solve this problem amiably. In this case, I felt it was more important to get the parts into the hands of a motivated rebuilder, and move forward.
The plan was to fly out to San Jose on December 8th, collect the crankshaft, flywheel, and heads. After my inventory of the parts, I would authorize a wire transfer of funds to settle the invoice for the work, and drive the parts to Los Angeles so Tom could continue with the rebuild. With about three weeks leading up to my arrival, I felt the individuals with the parts had plenty of time to collect the parts, invoice me for what was completed (or not completed) and I could take the parts away.
When I arrived, I met the machinist and got the crankshaft and flywheel. The next step was to get the heads from the head specialist, Mike. Unfortunately, there was no answer at his shop. When we finally reached Mike, he told us he was sent the the hospital the night before with a minor stroke! More concerned with his welfare, but astounded with the bad timing, we decided to give the Mike time to recover from his health issues and come back another day. My time in California was limited, so the machinist agreed to keep on Mike to get Tom W.’s cylinder heads back asap.
As I was driving south to Los Angeles the next day, I received a phone call from the Machinist telling me Mike died that morning! I was shocked, as I’m sure everyone else. What started as a job for me to get some parts back turned into a delicate position of dealing with an estate! We obviously had to give the family time for mourning and the business of the funeral, but it seemed even more pressing to not lose any parts. Mike owned and ran a specialty Cylinder Head Shop in the San Jose California area, and had dozens of heads if not hundreds of heads on site. I’ve seen situations like this before when owners scramble to the shop trying to repossess their heads, and taking others mistakenly, or intentionally. We really needed to make sure we got what was Tom’s!
I spent days on the phone checking in with my contact making sure he was first into the shop to put our heads aside. I’m sure Tom W. was just as stressed as I was, but it was such a relief when I was sent pictures of Tom’s heads in the hands of a mutual friend in the Bay Area that was keeping them for us until Tom could go and fetch them.
After a couple of months of planning, several dozen phone calls, a transcontinental flight, and road trip from San Jose to Los Angeles, I jump started Tom Wilson’s engine rebuild. This will end up a chapter in the story behind 250GTE 4247, but I was there living it! Crazy!
I want to extend my condolences to Mike Stimson’s family and friends. I never met him and was looking forward to meeting him on my visit to his shop. Rest in Peace.
For those who prefer to send a check through the mail, my mailing address is:
P.O. Box 36
Hollowville, NY 12530