Experience D’Orth


Enthusiasts who are contemplating their first (or fifth) Ferrari often ask which would be their better choice-an older, vintage model or a much newer example.   An outsider would wonder at the sensibility of the question, assuming an older car would be in such a different price bracket that the choice would be self-determining by the buyer's finances.  Such is definitely not the case with Ferraris-and many other specialty cars-where a thirty year-old Daytona commands the same price as a late model 355.  In fact, let's use that comparison to illustrate the two sides to this question.

          Assuming the individual has available the roughly $100,000 necessary (give or take twenty percent for individual cars' variances) which does he buy?   We'll get to the cars in a minute, but I have always felt that the most important factors are what the new owner will expect from his car and what his attitude is toward helping the elderly.  For example, if the individual plans to take extended drives, like our Region's upcoming Fall Colors Tour, he should be considering the reliability and comfort limitations of an aged exotic car.  This can be mitigated by an ability to perform roadside diagnoses and repairs, and a cavalier attitude toward air conditioning and such sybaritic pleasures.  A person who admits to limited mechanical inclinations and a preference for peace of mind and body would most likely be happier with a newer, more modern car. 

          However, an enthusiast with no technical ability can certainly plan to enjoy a vintage car...if he has plenty of money.  With that advantage, he can purchase a very well cared-for example AND pay a professional to anticipate as much as possible its on-going needs and to correct them with expensive labor hours and pricey hard-to-find old parts before he ventures forth.  It must be further realized that this mechanical attention will never be 'over.'  Every single component on the car has been wearing out for thirty years, so even though you have rebuilt or replaced a lot of them, there's plenty more ticking away.  So, one will need not only deep pockets, but also a charitable attitude toward attending to his car's persistent needs.

          The good news, however, is that such cars have very few components that can't be fixed.  They're not full of solid-state Electronic Control Units that operate everything from the ignition and fuel systems all the way down to the climate control.  If one of these sealed boxes decides to fail while out on the road, you're dead.  Vintage cars' points-and-coil ignition systems and mechanical carburetors can be taken apart and fiddled with out in the boondocks and often made to resume function (If you can find, or are, someone old enough to know what to do!).  If a modern car's engine management ECU fries itself, you can swear at it for hours, but its like trying to discipline a cat-it doesn't do any good. 

However, today's technology has made these units amazingly trouble-free and the likelihood that one will leave you stranded is considerably less than the mischief potential inherent in old cars' systems even when they were new.

          OK, Daytona or 355?  Well, the older car has tremendous panache; it makes incredible 12-cylinder noises, is pretty fast and is an absolute aesthetic knockout.  At car shows, there's likely to be several 355s, but you may have the only Daytona, and the ego strokes are substantial.  You can enjoy studying the life story of your car, thinking about where all its been and that now you are the caretaker of this tangible, important piece of history.  Having owned a few vintage Ferraris, I can say that the rewards linger long after the car moves on.  Knowing that you kept a special old car in good health until it was time for someone else to take over feels good, and when you occasionally hear or read about where it is years later, its like getting a post card from an exchange student you once hosted. You can also run up three-hundred-dollar phone bills looking for some rare piece of trim that fell off somewhere along the road.  You will hold your breath every time you press a power window switch, wondering if you have finally hit the finite number of lifts in the motor, while the switch gets hot under your finger.  Cable-driven tach and speedo needles quiver and wobble across an inch of dial and vapor lock is never far away on a hot day.  Then there are the oil leaks, that Mike Dopudja or Dave Helms will tell you can cost thousands to fix...or you can learn to live with 'em.   Air conditioning on a hot day?  Forget it!  It didn't work when the car was new!  All this and more can be yours if you choose the 30-year-old Daytona behind door number One.

          Our modern alternative, the 355, is a very good car.  They're just about as fast as a Daytona, have substantially better handling and brakes, A/C that works, modern fuel injection, air bags, power steering, seat belts that you don't have to slip your shoulder out from under to reach the ignition switch and readily available parts.  They are quite reliable, also make great sounds and flatter their owners with considerable adulation from the masses.  Lenders and insurance companies aren't frightened by them, they rarely leak and have modern safety and security equipment.  Owning one is not going to be an on-going restoration project and should be relatively painless...but 'everybody' has one.  It is not a historic icon---never will be-you won't remember its chassis number years later and a modern car is most certainly a depreciating asset.  However, it IS  just a four or five year-old vehicle that you can take on a jaunt down to Santa Fe for a weekend with strong expectations of a trouble-free trip.  So, how do you choose?

          Again, you are the real factor, and how you can relate mentally to each of these two scenarios should weigh most heavily in your decision.  If you're a fast moving, get-things-done-right-now kind of guy who is used to modern things, a nearly-new Ferrari is probably a better choice.  Altruistic, reflective and mechanically talented enthusiasts make the best companions for our vintage cars.  Which are you?


--  Bill  Orth  --