Back in the heady, pre-economic crisis, days of 2007 I decided that it was time for me to realize the dream and buy a Ferrari. I’d had a 1981 Afa Spider which I’d sold in 2005 and I felt the need for another hobby car that I could tinker with and wash on Sundays. The Alfa had to go as I was losing the battle with rust and couldn’t face the pain of having the sills replaced again. Also, it had spent 2 years in my sister’s garage in UK while I was working away and those 2 years had not been kind. So they dragged the car out of the garage and took it away. Shame really, but by 2007, the memory had receded and I was ready for a new steed. And what better than a Ferrari, apart from a Lamborghini obviously, but I really couldn’t stretch to one of them.
To say that I was approaching Ferrari ownership with a limited budget is a euphemism. So with more optimism than cash or good sense I started browsing around UK ebay.
The first thing I realized was that there weren’t many Ferrari’s that were going to meet my budget. It really came down to the strange looking 1970s 308 GT4 designed by Bertone or a 1980s Mondial. The Mondial, designed by Pininfarina, has much more classic Ferrari lines, although there is something not quite right about it. It doesn’t photograph that well and looks better in the flesh. But if you line it up against other Ferraris it looks a bit cumbersome. I’ve had lots of time to consider this as it has been parked up in various garages awaiting spares and scary repair bills.
But all of that was in the future as I spent a few evenings on ebay considering my options. So it had to be a Mondial and I really wanted a coupe’ although my wife preferred a cabriolet. I finally settled on a yellow Mondial with a black hood. Yellow is not a popular colour for Ferraris in Italy and it causes many negative responses wherever it goes; which I greatly enjoy. I actually quite like the yellow. Red 1980s Mondials look particularly tired but yellow at least stands out. The car used to be blue and I guess I will eventually return it to its original colour, but right now I am strangely happy with the colour.
I collected the car from a bloke in exotic Grimsby and drove it immediately back to our home in Lucca, Italy. I carried out this memorable journey with my 81 year old father who didn’t really understand what the fuss was about, especially as we had crowds of people gathering round the car as we stopped at service stations through France.
Luckily the car, when it went, went very well. But it was not an easy journey. First thing, on the motorway leading away from Grimsby I tried to see how fast it would go resulting in a rear window lifting out and smashing on the road behind us. This was to be a source of regret as we hit rain and snow through Switzerland, and, along with the leaky black hood, gave my Dad something to do; baling out the car as made our way home.
The second problem we had was waiting in line for the Ferry. Apart from the window all had gone well except when we came to get on the ship and the car would not start. I was, of course, at the head of the queue and provided much entertainment as everyone else’s cars started and drove round us. We ended up on the next ferry after finally getting the thing to go. I kept the engine running for about an hour before we eventually got on the ship. I had Auto Club Italia (ACI) membership and called them for help. When I explained I was in a Ferrari stuck at Dover trying to board a ship ACI treated it as a national emergency and something that need to be resolved immediately to avoid national embarrassment. Which was fine by me. However once I got it started I called ACI back who were able to cancel the Italian Emergency services no doubt rushing to the rescue. My theory was that if we got to France and it didn’t start then the sailors would push the car off the boat and I could call ACI again with the chance of it being towed to Italy. But amazingly it started at Calais and we carried on our way. It was during this part of the journey that I began to discover why the car had had 15 previous owners and had covered only 45,000 miles. Each owner had presumably put up with the lottery of whether or not the car would start for on average 3000 miles before gratefully moving it on to the next owner.
Anyway, we made it back to Tuscany after our epic journey and I am glad it was an adventure I was able to share with my Dad. I then settled into daily Ferrari ownership with the randomness of whether or not I could take the car out that day and then, if it worked, the randomness of whether or not I would get back from wherever I went.
I took the car to Pampolini’s just over the Tuscan border at Massa. The elderly owner and chief engineer had worked on Fangio’s race team in the 1950s. They did some great work and sorted out some gear box and other issues. But they were unable to completely resolve the randon starting problem, diagnosing it as a faulty fuse box which are almost impossible to replace and very expensive should you find one. I remember when the car first arrived, Signor Pampolini gave me a list of work which he felt needed to be done. I queried the entry about painting the brake calipers explaining that this was not that kind of Ferrari and when he realized my limited budget he was very good about doing work and not charging me. For which I am extremely grateful and is a testament to his love of the cars.
By the summer of 2009 the car really wouldn’t start and, as required by the economic situation, it sat on the front path getting wet and rusty. Eventually I realised that if I didn’t do something about it then I would never get the car running again so I had it collected by Benedetti and Parducci of Lucca. Another excellent garage with great staff who carried on the tradition of doing work and not charging me very much. I think they saw it as a challenge, or perhaps just took pity. In all, the car was with them, and an excellent body shop in San Marco, for 18 months and has only just been released after numerous false starts.
So how is it now? Well it seems great. It has started every time although I am still very nervous when I turn the key and never put myself in situations were I have to rely on it, but so far so good. The body shop guy said I should sell it now while everything is perfect, and I am sure he is right. But after 6 years of ownership and much expense, in spite of everone’s best efforts, I think I will keep it. At least for a bit. When it goes it goes brilliantly. The Mondial was never an especially fast car and this one is no exception. A determined Fiat Panda Multi-jet driver will beat it every time. But the driving experience is really something. The car has amazing road-holding, the steering is unbelievably precise, all the controls are right where you want them and it makes a lot of noise. What more could you wish for? And the car gets plenty of attention wherever it goes, not all of it positive as I have already mentioned, but all of it friendly. There is a girl at a local garage who never speaks to me when I turn up in my Fiat Panda but who always chats when I am in the Ferrari! One negative, however, is all the BMW, Mercedes and Audi drivers who seeing a Ferrari up ahead think I want a race. I never do and I never accept the challenge, knowing full well that I don’t stand a chance. But that doesn’t stop them doing some really scary manoeuvers to get past me. There have been a few times when I’ve been waiting for the bang and the cloud of dust.
So was it worth it? In truth, probably not. Like the 15 owners before me I guess it was something I needed to do and if I was sensible I would take the advice of the man at the body shop. But I think I will keep it a while longer. I have the memory of the epic journey with my Dad and there are some moments in the car when it truly does feel like buying a cheap old Ferrari on ebay and driving it to Lucca, without even checking the oil, was not such a bad idea.
Enzo Ferrari summed it up best. He said words to the effect that you would have to be insane to buy one of his Road cars. Like with many things, I think he was probably correct.