Experience D’Orth

 

THE MATH LESSON   by bill orth

                       

            I bought my first Ferrari, a 1964 330 America (#4995), in 1972 after it had been traded in at the Mercedes-Benz dealer in Orlando, Florida.  I was friends with the dealership’s management and was allowed to buy it wholesale, as-is.  It was complete and running, but smoked plenty and had a few other issues that I attended to.  Myrla and I drove it to Colorado that fall with our new 6-month-old tied into her child seat in the back. The whole trip was quite an adventure, but served to illustrate that a new family did NOT need a cranky old Ferrari for routine transportation, so it was traded even-up a year later for something much newer and more sensible.  Eight years went by until the still-festering sickness returned.  By then we had a couple dependable cars and could rationalize another venture into Ferrariland. 

            Now with two children, a 2+2 was still a necessary given, both for practical considerations as well as the far lower price of admission.  Some snooping around turned up a 330GT Series I project car at Bob Cressman’s Ferrari dealership in South Florida.  (Bob had been one of Luigi Chinetti’s first dealers in the US and by 1980 he was thinking of retiring.  Sometime in the early ‘80s he sold the business to the Shelton brothers, who moved it to their present location in Ft. Lauderdale)  This car, #6425, had lived a rough, colorful existence including several years being owned by the captain of a tramp steamer, who carried the car aboard ship with him so he could buzz around the various ports-of-call he visited around the world!  This led to many minor dings and scrapes, not to mention a good case of rust damage throughout the bodywork.  The car was eventually traded in at a Miami Chevy dealership for a more durable plastic-bodied Corvette and wound up being sold cheaply to Cressman’s dealership.   One of Bob’s employees took on the challenge of rehabilitating the old girl, but ran out of steam (and money) before long and it was pushed, partially disassembled, into Bob’s big storage garage across the street from the dealership…waiting for a fool.

            I showed up a year or so later and everybody got happy:  Bob got rid of his bucket of rust and problems and I got my second (!) Ferrari.  I trailered it home and the project that would consume over a year commenced in our garage.  The nature of a sweat-equity project is that a starry-eyed enthusiast with more energy than money can—by dint of sacrificing all of his free time—have a wonderful exotic car that would be otherwise unaffordable.  The expenses were spread out over the months as the work progressed and, like the legendary phoenix, #6425 emerged from its ashes of disrepair into the Florida sun once more, polished and beautiful.  At least, as beautiful as a four-headlight 330 ever gets.   We enjoyed its 12-cylinder rumbling on several trips up and down the Eastern seaboard until the day (after returning from a fast all-night run back to Orlando from Maryland) it swallowed a valve while pausing at a toll booth on the expressway.  A flatbed  returned it to the garage and the door went down for another couple of months while I took the engine apart.

            After making a list of all the parts I needed to rebuild it, I called Bob Cressman to see what he had.  Bob liked the fact that I wasn’t a gold-chain dilettante and did my own dirty work, so he offered me access to his trove of old-stock 330 stuff in that same storage garage.  I drove down on my next day off to dig through the gold mine.  While his able employees looked after the busy dealership across the street, Bob sat on a stool and chatted while I pawed through boxes of unmarked pistons, valves, gaskets and stuff to assemble a do-it-yourself 330 rebuild kit.  He reiterated that he was painted, with a dirty tan interior.  I mean, really dirty—it was full of grass and dirt that had come in through tgettin’ older, was planning to sell out and put his feet up for a while and ought to get rid of all the “junk” cluttering up the garage.  This junk included a vintage fire engine, some 1930s cars, a 166 Berlinetta and a couple of 250 Ferraris that could be discerned through the gloom.  Throughout the conversation were sprinkled questions about what Ferrari I might like to have after moving on from the 330, queries to determine just how dedicated to the marque I was and moments of rumination.

            When I had what I needed, he asked a fraction of what of what all that stuff was worth and we started to leave the garage, but apparently having made a decision, he stopped at a covered-up car close to the door.  Pulling off the dusty cover, he said “What do you think of this?”  It was a Daytona coupe, in that nasty gray-green some of those cars had been he windows when it had been rolled over on a misjudged expressway off ramp.  From the looks of things, it had slid down a grassy bank on its side and gently went bottom side up, making a parallelogram out of the windshield posts, cracking the glass, denting the roof and scraping the tops of the front fenders.  The knocked-off door mirror and bent radio antenna were lying on the seats and the drip gutters were full of sod and weeds.  It was a mess, but really wasn’t very badly hurt.  Bob leaned on the roof, eyed me for a minute and said: “You ought to buy this car.”  He added: “I didn’t want it, but gave an insurance company a really low bid, never thinking I’d get it, but no one else bid for it, so here it is.”  When I protested that I couldn’t afford a Daytona, even a wrecked one, he held up his hand, saying, “I’ve only got $15,000 in it; you can have it for that,” as though that would settle the matter.

            “Bob,” I said, “I’m a car salesman who could only afford an old 330 because I could fix its problems myself…and its engine is now spread all over my garage floor. I’ve got two kids, a working wife and a $40,000 mortgage!”  I realized he was making me a hugely generous offer, but no amount of fevered rationalizations could justify borrowing—in whatever fashion—that kind of money for another project Ferrari.  Unmoved, he said, “I understand, but this is something you should do; it’ll be an easy fix; you could even cut off the damaged roof and make a spyder out of it.”  He offered to give me time to put the 330 back together, sell it and then buy the Daytona, as long as I gave him some money to hold it.

            But, I did the math.  The 330, all fixed, was worth maybe $14,000 at the time and it could easily take months to sell one of those.  My friend, Tim, and I could do mechanical work, but this 365GTB/4 needed little of that. We weren’t body men, so the metal work and paint would all have to be done professionally, and even though I had connections to get such work done wholesale, it would still mean writing checks that would eventually double the initial investment, even if I repaired the twisted roof and pillars.  A spyder conversion would cost twice that again, as the car would have to be shipped to one of the few specialists who were competent to do the job.  At that time, a nice Daytona coupe was a $60,000 car…but we were living in a $50,000 house (with a swimming pool!) and the numbers just couldn’t work.  The most important numbers; that first, basic equation we all learn when we’re five, is 2+2 and that was critical to the Ferrari question:  Our kids were still too small to be left home alone, so a two-seater car was simply out of the question for another several years.  Oh, well; having a back seat isn’t so bad, as long as it’s in a Ferrari, I consoled myself.  Bob told me to “Think about it.”

            Before I had driven half the distance home that afternoon I had concluded that the project was impossible and contented myself instead with the warm realization that someone of Bob Cressman’s stature had been impressed enough with my dedication to Ferrari that he had wanted to help me have a car that was otherwise only a dream, and I have always appreciated that. 

A year or so later, I did get a 365, however.  I had found a really nice 365GT 2+2 (#11461) that was nearly perfect, except its damaged engine was in a collection of oily boxes, and I was able to buy it with what the 330 brought in a hurry-up sale.  Tim and I rebuilt the engine and it served us well until the kids were in high school…and we could finally start buying two-seater Ferraris!

 

                                                                                                 -- Bill Orth –