In 1992 I had a son. My days of traveling through Asia, Africa and South America seemed destined to end. Two years later, after a summer weekend trapped in New York City with no rental cars available for a spur of the moment trip to the beach, I decided we had to get a car of our own. I was attracted to the 123 body (mid 80's) Mercedes wagons as none of my friends had cars and I would then be able to carry two families. Plus, it was wonderfully anti-cool cool. The buying of this car and the dawning of the age of the internet unleashed in me an incredible car jones that had lay recondite since I was 11.
On a business trip to the UK in 1996 I happened to pick up the October issue of Classic Car Magazine. The lead story was "Affordable Ferrari's." I fell in love with the four headlight configuration of the Ferrari 330 depicted. That fact that there was something wrong with the water pump (hence they really didn't get to test the car) did nothing to dissuade me. On the contrary the 19,000 pound price was a red tablecloth to me - acting as the bull. Up until then I always thought Ferrari's were more in the $250,000 range.
The magazine also had some ads for US car dealers among them a certain Garry Roberts. He had a four headlight 330 in the low 30,000s for sale and I called him up to ask questions like "How far do you feel comfortable driving the car?" He told me "Oh the car is great, we've been to Santa Barbara and back." Now I imagined him to be in L.A. and the little I know of California geography, I know the Santa Barbara is only an hour or so away from L.A. This didn't give me great confidence. Furthermore I wasn't really ready.
After a couple of years of me casually checking out ad's in magazines and hearing my wife say "Why are you always looking up Ferrari's on the internet, you're not thinking of getting one I hope." I started to feel I should get more serious and I subscribed to the online version of Ferrari Market Letter, $35 for six months. After a month or so of issues I came across an ad for a four headlight car for $30,000. That seemed about the right price. I called the number and a machine at a lawyer's office answered it. I tend to deduce all sorts of things from the slimmest of clues and so I figured someone had died and this lawyer for the estate was selling off things like the fellow's Ferrari's. Wrong. Turns out the car (s/n 5431 ) was for sale by the lawyer in question, a certain Mr.B. He told me he had bought the car in Virginia, he had no records for it but wanted to buy a Lamborghini 400 four seater and needed to sell this car to do that. It certainly wasn't a grand slam, this is the car to get story, but I had a friend who had just moved out to LA and I figured I should ask some more questions and then have my friend look at it. Well Mr.B, true to his lawyer's background seemed totally equivocal on some issues...not letting on any downside to the car but not totally confirming it was in tip top shape. If there had been many cars to choose from I may have bowed out of chasing this one. However my only other option was a car in Chicago that had a cosmetic restoration ten years earlier and had been in storage ever since. That scared me a bit plus the price was a very firm 42,000. A bit high for me.
So I asked my friend if he would give Mr.B a call and check out his
car. Well for some reason Mr.B seemed very elusive, never showing up for
meetings and not always calling back. It was all very frustrating and not
a great thing to put friends through. Eventually he did get to go and check
the car. Being the prickly sort that he was Mr. B wouldn't let him drive it, but none the less they told me it looked beautiful and I sent a deposit as he had someone else coming to look at the car any day now.
I had read on the web about someone in the LA area who did Ferrari pre-purchase
inspections and I called them up and arranged for them to look at mr.B's
car. The only thing was it was too far for Mr. B. He wanted to take it
to a closer Ferrari shop. So I called those folks up, and they seemed on
the up and up, so after much ado Mr. B took the car over there. I still remember how shocked I was when I got the call from the owner of the shop telling me the car was junk. Such junk that he didn't even think it was worth doing a compression test. Yikes!
Mr. B was pissed, disparaging the shop left and right and wouldn't return
my deposit. I was stunned and depressed as I thought my search was over.
A few weeks later my LA friend saw Mr.B's car being towed. A few months
after that I went out to LA and called Mr.B to have a look at this car
for myself. Once again, after a lot of balderdash, he finally told me the
car was in a local British car garage to fix the overdrive. I went to have
and see what I missed. What is that saying, "50/50" a car from 50 feet away or going by at 50 miles an hour. Anyway, what was my friend thinking!! With a paint job that looked like it was Krylon spray paint, rust so bad you could see through to the ground if you looked under the spare tire, bubbles in the metal dash, yikes! Onward.
During this time I had noticed a reoccurring ad in Hemmings: 330GT in trade for a 1965 or older Jaguar. Hmm I thought, maybe this guy would just take the cash and find his own car, so I called. No, he was serious, had to be a pre 65 Jag. He bought this 330 from a Pennsylvania man who had a collection. "It runs well, no rust that he knows of, over all decent, but not spectacular shape he says." Hmm, my cousin is a British car mechanic maybe he can help me out here. As it turns out he knew of a restored Daimler 250, sort of a proto Cobra (but ugly) could that work? The guy in Pa. was sort of interested as long as it wasn't right hand drive, it wasn't, or white, it was. Hey this is ridiculous I thought. To hell with him.
But after months of still not seeing anything for sale in the four headlight variety I decided to take a drive out to see the car. People in different parts of the country live quite a bit different then those in N.Y. City that's for sure. In a beautiful, middle of nowhere, (well near Crystal Cave) one street small, town, Phil Wright had a barn like structure with one Ferrari and about five or six Jaguars!. What the hell does he need another Jaguar for? Turns out he works at a Jaguar restoration shop in Pennsylvania and that is the car his dad had and what he loves. Mostly he works on XKEs and he only likes the Series 1s.
Well his car (s/n 7137) was gold with a cloth interior! Never thought
I'd see a Ferrari with cloth. He felt it was worth about $25,000 but only
wanted to trade. It did look like an honest car, though it smoked a lot,
the exhaust looked a bit rusty and the paint was old. I probably could
of kept bugging
him until he found a car and sold me this one, and I did like the gold color but the cloth interior and overall kind of wornness about it shied me away.
Around this time I found myself out in L.A. again. I happened to amble into collector's car emporium called Heritage Classics that had some stunning cars. After looking around I asked the fellow there whether he knew of any four headlight 330s for sale. Turns out he knew of two that might be for sale. One owned by a Porsche-file and the other by this guy who was always taking the car apart and putting together so that it was always perfect. Hmmm how about that perfect one I thought.
Well the guy with the perfect one never seemed to be around but the Porsche-file guy was interested in selling to get a different car. Again I go out to LA and armed with the appropriate details drive out to see the seller on this incredibly beautiful drive that ends up in a one time farming community about an hour and half up the coast. In a bucolic suburban setting and dwarfing a smattering of Porches, sat a smart, light blue four headlight 330, (s/n 6363). The guy who owned it, Sam, seemed like a great guy, totally honest with a wonderful family life around him. After a short while hanging with his kids and playing with an electric scooter, (that was fun), Sam asked if I wanted to take a drive. Fact is, after all this time I had never driven one of these cars.
So amongst a lot of squirrelly, empty, paved farm roads we put the car
though its paces, well not really much on the paces part, as Sam told me
one of the two brake boosters wasn't working properly and I shouldn't really
press hard on the brakes???! So we cautiously drove around. On the positive
side I found the un-boosted steering surprisingly light and supple, on
the negative, there was a lot of gas smell and heat in the cabin. Since
I knew my wife wouldn't care for that and since someone had restored the
car whom I felt had removed a lot of the personality/history (and used
a lot of gaffers tape!?) I was unsure if I should get this car. I thought
there is still that restored car in Chicago. If Sam's car isn't screaming
buy me I better check that one out. So out to Chicago I go.
I was met at the airport by Jeff Lefavre major domo for a certain Mr. Knauz of Knauz Motors, one time Ferrari dealer who still sells Mercedes BMW, Panoz and a host of other marques, plus a big time car collector. On the way up to the Lake Forrest garage Jeff tells me about how in the 80s he had a restoration shop. Knauz had bought a Ferrari from Europe, Jeff had restored it and in the boom boom years, Knauz had sold it for a tidy profit in the tens of thousands. Hoping to repeat that experience Knauz bought the 330 I was going to look at (s/n 5601) on Long Island N.Y. and had driven it back to Lake Forrest. He then spent $100,000 with Jeff on a cosmetic restoration of the car. Turned down a $97,000 auction bid for it before the bottom dropped out of the market and has had the car in storage ever since. Ten years later here I am.
I don't really know much about cars but I learned a lot looking for these cars over the past year or so. I learned Ferrari electric windows are untrustworthy from seeing the emergency manual window crank found in a cars glove box. I learned to look under spare tires and the bottom of doors for rust. That every car for sale has something wrong with it, and in this case, after a ten-year-old restoration, it's about time to be restored again. The car looked beautiful, the prettiest car I had seen. It was an incredible sea blue, with French spec yellow headlights and a fresh red leather interior. The rubber though was all worn. Jeff said the when he painted the car you couldn't find many parts like widow gaskets and so he just re-used the old ones, ooo, not good. Plus looking under the car the suspension rubber also looked like it had about had it.
We went out for drive, the brakes were poor (again) and the suspension was ox cart rough. It was beautiful though. Ok maybe if I get it inspected I will be swayed by the technical condition. I went back to New York and the car was driven over to Lake Forest Sports Cars, the current local Ferrari dealer. Well I did get to a leak down test this time, unfortunately it was not a stellar report with some cylinders showing leakage of 40%. Still looking.
After much cruising on the web I found a seller of interesting cars in Holland, called VSOC. I emailed them and asked if they had any Ferrari 330GTs and, as it turns out they did know of one for sale. The car was not in their possession but at a garage not so far away. According to Alex of VSOC, the engine and body had been restored. He said he would get some pictures and records together and email them to me.
This really sounded like it might be the one. Alex sent me photos a few days later and we talked about price. He emphasized that the condition of the car was very good. It was currently getting a carburetor rebuild at the garage. For once it seemed like a car that had been driven and maintained and not just parked. Plus the idea of a car restored in Europe, closer to the Ferrari homeland and with what I imagined to be easier access to original parts it was all sounding good. Not to mention thanks to the strong dollar it seemed to be priced within my reach, if I could just figure out the shipping.
In the late summer of 1999 I went to Berlin on business with a stop
in Holland to look at the car. It was still at the Daytona Garage and looked
beautiful. We took it out for a drive and it had none of the problems I
felt the other cars I tested had. The suspension was supple, the engine
didn't heat the passenger compartment, there was no smell of gasoline either
in the trunk, in the car itself or even under the hood. Everything seemed
to work as it should. Even the paint was new and a beautiful metallic.
And as someone who owns another car that is 15 years old, it was great
for me to note that
all the rubber around the windows and doors looked new and correct. The one wrong thing was the overdrive didn't seem to work.
I asked VSOC where I should get the car inspected just as I had asked
Mr.B in L.A. and Jeff at Knauz in the past. They told me Daytona Garage
was a trusted mechanic for them and they had used him for many years. I
said isn't that a conflict of interest? No, they said. He is a mechanic
trusted. Well the car looked good and in the past all of the recommended inspectors told me not to buy the car so not having any other ideas I went with their suggestion.
Of course the car tested out great, the compression was even and everything
looked good, but indeed the overdrive did not work. So I asked that the
seller VSOC was brokering for pay for that to be fixed. After some dickering
he did. I also talked to the owner, a Mr. Estie, who had bought the car
France where it had gone through a restoration after being in a museum. He said the only problem he had with the car was the radiator started blowing water all over the car when he was driving it one day. And in fact Theo at Daytona Garage had told me he had recently rebuilt the radiator. He also told
me it had even come in second in a Dutch concourse. I bought the car.
(Since some of the car shipping dramas was covered in Tom's site I will skip all that. Let me just say that dealing with Bill at Sea Expo was a fantastic experience. I had expected the New York area port system to be an absolute nightmare but SEA Expo made it just about invisible. All I had to do was pick up the car from Horseless Carriage who had picked it up from the docks and were storing it.)
When it did finally come in Bill called me and said, you know something is wrong with your car it is leaking oil and blew the oil filter. Bill had called the shippers in Holland, who he had dealt with on other cars, and they told him the car was fine when loaded. So Tom and an angsted up me when out to see the car in January 2000 at the Horseless Carriage warehouse.
Well there it was, with a pool of oil under it but still looking pretty. After some checking around about why the car would blow off its filter, I called VSOC to tell them about the problem and to ask what kind of oil was in the car. They called Theo at Daytona Garage who said "50 weight, and that sometimes the oil pressure valve gets stuck." He had this happen on a Dino recently. Uh oh I thought, a little too smooth that Theo with the check the oil pressure valve idea and 50-weight oil. Sounds like a covered up problem to me. But no said VSOC, Theo says he always uses straight 50 weight in older Ferraris.
Well since it was winter in New York and the thick oiled car had just
had a long sea voyage, maybe a new filter would cure its ills. So armed
with a filter Tom and I went back out to the warehouse and put it on. Nope,
blew the filter again. Ahh thank god for AAA plus, my first experience
with a flat bed
tow truck. We took it up to Wide World of Cars, the local Ferrari dealer. They reported that indeed the oil pressure valve had been jiggered but the car looks good otherwise. So "repaired," I picked it up some week or so later.
Of course you know where this is going. Tom and I drove up towards François get the car checked out and the radiator started leaking when we stopped for gas. Hello AAA plus, flat bedded again this time to François. Anyway François gave the car a thorough going over and told me "someone spent a lota money on that car" (said with a French accent.) However he also said something was wrong with the oil pressure when the car was fully warmed up after an hour or so and the bottom of the engine had to be rebuilt. Ca-ching.
VSOC and Theo of course don't own up to any malfeasance at all, or even knowing about the oil pressure problem. So I recommend you stay away from that crew. And that's my story about buying a Ferrari, (the short version). Next time I'll have to write one on owning a Ferrari.
For those who want to know:
This was the break down for shipping in container shared with another
from Holland to the Newark docks and on to Horseless Carriage. SeaExpo
Ocean freight 835 (split with another
car in container)
Terminal Handling Charge 250 (split with another car in container)
Container Dray 140
Unloading Charge 100 (Horseless Carriage)
Custom Clearance 150 (Bill's bill)
EPA & DOT Forms 50
Single Entry bond 135
Merchandising Processing Fee 56.70
Harbor Maintenance 33.75
Plus 2.5% customs duty.
Back to other Ferrari Stories