A little known group of Ferraris came up for auction last week in Monterey at the Mecum Auction that belonged to my former boss, David Letterman. I left the Letterman Show as an audio engineer 18 years ago to pursue a new career working on Ferraris for a living, and Dave is one person I can blame for my crazy decision. Seeing his collection quietly come up for sale and dispersed into the world without much fanfare is what Dave wanted, but many of these cars had special meaning to me, and it all started with this DIno.
I was in my late 20s, making good money in television and really into Porsches. I was driving my ’72 911 at Porsche Club driver’s ed events, and having a great time learning how to drive this car on a race track. Every Monday after an event weekend, I would be expounding the virtues 911s, and how thrilling they were to drive. Although Dave owned Porsches, he was probably getting tired of hearing me go on about “Porsche this, and Porsche that…,” and one day he interrupted me, and asked, “Tommy, have you ever driven a Ferrari?” Of course, I replied “No.” Where would I get a chance to do that? Dave then said, “When you get a chance to drive a Ferrari, we’ll talk.” I shut my mouth about the Porsches.
The Late Show staff and crew traveled to Los Angeles to shoot a week of shows at CBS’ Television City in 1995. At the time, Dave Letterman had a few cars stored on the West Coast, and every day Dave would come to work with a different car. We had only been in town for a couple of days and Dave drove a beautiful Ferrari 246GTS Dino onto the back lot. The whole crew was outside admiring his car as he parked it in a space reserved for “Mr. Letterman.”
During rehearsal, Dave asked if I saw his car parked outside, and we chatted a little bit about the car. He then asked if I was interested in driving it. Caught by surprise, I blurted out, “well, um…Yeah!” He reached into his pocket and pulled out his keys. Realizing that I still had work to do, and my colleagues wouldn’t appreciate it if I left them to do the work while I went for a spin in Letterman’s car, I asked we could do it later. He agreed, and said, “Let me know when you’re ready.”
At the end of rehearsal, I had some time, so I told Letterman I was ready. I followed him out to his car, and quickly, a crowd collected. He handed me the keys, and I started the car. I tried to get into reverse in the gated shifter, but for some reason, I couldn’t get the reverse lock-out to disengage. Dave watched me struggle along with the twenty other crew members before he offered to show me how to get the car into reverse. He jumped into the driver’s seat and immediately got into reverse. Under intense crew mockery, I gave it another try, only to find the shifter refusing to go into reverse. I couldn’t believe my first and only chance in driving a Ferrari was going to be thwarted because I couldn’t get reverse! I was just about to get out and push the car out of the parking space, when I realized the trick to get the shifter to unlock. Dave knew all along that all you had to do was push the shifter down into the floor to get it past the lock out, but he was having too much fun watching me struggle!
I pulled the Dino out of the space, and asked Dave again to join me, but he refused. I slowly pulled away from the crowd, but was not sure how far I should go. I kept in first gear, and zipped around the parking lot. weeeEEEEEg g g g weeeEEEg g g…As I made a full circle, The Vice President to West Coast Operations was just getting out of his car with his wife as I howled past him. He immediately flagged me to a halt. In front of his wife, he decided to really lay into me. “WHO DO YOU THINK YOU ARE? I DON’T EVER WANT TO SEE YOU DRIVING THAT FAST THROUGH THIS PARKING LOT AGAIN! IS THAT CLEAR!” Now, I’m sitting in this tiny red sports car looking up at this man through the open top of the Dino, knowing I was wrong, so all I could say was, “sorry!”
After the berating, I rolled the car forward another 30 yards to where Dave and the crew were waiting. Having seen the yelling, Dave asked what happened. I told him I got reprimanded for driving too fast. I could still see the Vice President in my rear-view mirror watching us talk. I watched as his expression changed from anger to all smiles as he realized it was Dave’s car. Not wanting to upset the “client,” The Vice President was all smiles, calling, “Oh, Hi Dave!” Dave smiled back, but also understood what had happened.
I took this opportunity to ask Dave if I could “really” drive the car. I asked if I could take it out on the street. He replied, “Of course you can, that’s what I want you to do!” I then asked again for him to get in the car with me, but he angrily refused. I figured I better not lose my chance by pissing him off, and pulled away. I saw Wali Collins, the show’s warm up comedian at that time, standing near the stage and called to him. A little confused, he came over to the Ferrari. I told him to get in the car. When he asked why, I told him that I would need a witness if we got into an accident in Dave’s car!
I got the car onto Beverly Boulevard, and mashed the throttle. I zipped through three gears, and we were easily doing 80! Wally couldn’t believe we were driving around Hollywood in Letterman’s car. We laughed at the thought of getting pulled over by LAPD, and explaining that Letterman had lent an Asian and a black man his Ferrari to go for a joy ride!
Driving Dave’s Ferrari was an experience Ill always remember, and although in many Ferrari circles, a Dino is not actually a full fledged Ferrari, it made me fall in love with the company that makes these wonderful cars.
This picture was taken that day in California, and I don’t think I could have smiled any wider!
It was bittersweet to see the whole collection come up for sale, but things change, and people move on. We’ll never know why Dave sold all his cars, but I was lucky to have enjoyed some of them with him back in the day. Who knows where my life might have ended up if Dave hadn’t tossed me the keys to this little red Dino 30 years ago!