I got my first E mail. Gary Cowan sent me the following message: "Mr. Niles, how could you have ever sold the Nembo Spyder? I’ve always thought it was the most beautiful automobile ever built. Sort of the 275 GTS/4 done right. The first time I saw a photo of it in Dick Merritt’s book, I thought I’d died and gone to heaven. What was owning that car like?"
Well, Gary, there are several answers to your question. First of all, I have to admit that the Nembo was certainly one of the most beautiful Ferrari bodies ever made, even if it wasn’t an original body. Even today, about 30 years after it was built, I can look at pictures of that car and wish I still owned it. So I plead guilty to male pattern stupidity.
But you have to remember that I bought that car in 1967. At that time, it was just another Ferrari, albeit a particularly handsome example. And I had borrowed the money for the purchase of the car, and the bank expected me to pay the loan off in 6 months or so. In retrospect, I would have been better off to have taken out a regular car loan, and the car would have been mine in three years or so. But I had one of those loans that said "all due in 180 days".
And the car suffered from some of those niggling little problems that one-offs frequently fall victim to. Such things as a top that was ill fitting and hard to work, seats that weren’t too comfortable, etc.
But the real killer (if I may be allowed to put it that way) was that the corner of the left side wind-wing frame was only 2 inches from the driver’s left eyeball. It was almost impossible to drive the car without thinking of hitting a small bump and (as mother used to put it) putting out my eye. (I always used to wonder where it was that I was putting the eye.)
In fact, I’d had quite a bit of difficulty selling the car for that very reason. Any number of prospective purchasers responded to my ads, and upon seeing the car, said "I’ll take it, how much?". Then they would sit in the car and this look would come across their face. I could tell, after the first two of three lost sales, what was going through their minds.
Eventually, I found a buyer who didn’t care about his left eye, and the bank, the buyer and I were all happy campers.
Now you, constant reader, may wonder why I’m writing all this in the Oldtimer’s Corner, rather than simply E-mailing my response. Well, the truth is, I am not on the net. Jeff Littrell had to fax me Gary’s letter. Until recently, I thought the net referred to something that trout fishermen used, or maybe something that was used by tennis and badminton players.
Now this embarrasses me a little bit to make these confessions for God and all to see. I have always thought of myself as a pretty hip dude. I have always tried, for instance, to stay abreast of current fashions, while eschewing the fadish items that won’t last more than a month or so. For instance, I never, in my whole life, owned white patent leather shoes with matching belt, or plaid trousers. Well, I did have a leisure suit (an oxymoron, if you think about it) but it was rather stylish if I may be allowed to say so.
Even at age 71, I know who Jerry Garcia was, and in fact, I own several of his neck ties. I bet you didn’t know that Jerry Garcia designed neck ties, did you?
So as painful as it is, I now confess that I’m digging in my heels at the idea of being dragged into the digital age. O.K., I have mastered programming the VCR, and I have a digital telephone answering machine that tells me how many messages I have and when they were received, and even tells me whether it’s going to save or erase. And my secretary and my wife both have reasonably up-to-date computers, one of which is equipped with sound and CD Rom and even a tape back-up. But I am not on the net. Yet.
I’m having enough trouble with the computers themselves. I’ve already bought at least 6. As soon as I get a "state of the art" model, a new one comes out. They sell computers the way we use to sell automobiles in this country: Planned obsolescence. We can thank the engineers for that. You know, the little engineers that are inside each computer?
Those damn little engineers are mean too. The other day, I was having trouble finding the "enter" key, and a message came on the screen: "I’m going to byte you and make you download all over yourself!" It was signed Chupacabras. You remember the Chupacabras: The red-eyed goat sucker that sucks all the blood out of the Puerto Rican goats? So, are they telling me that I’m the goat? The next engineer I see I’m going to rip off his pocket protector!
Sometimes my screen says, "please wait." Why can’t that tiny engineer just be honest and say, "I’ve gone to the restroom"?
I’m still learning the lingo. For instance, I always thought BBs were something that went into a little air rifle that every 12 year old boy wants to own. Now, I learned that BBs stands for bulletin board service.
I read recently that, if you have a sound card and speakers, you can actually converse as if by telephone, anywhere in the world, for next to nothing. I don’t understand that. If I use my modem to connect up with the telephone line, am not I using the telephone system? How can the telephone company let this happen? Surely they are not letting all of us with modems use their lines for nothing, calling all around the world!
And I read another article where it predicts that cash will eventually be passé, with all monetary transfers being made by passing the cyberbuck. Now I ask you: Are the politicians going to accept their bribes by cybercash? And what the hell is cyber anyway?
Another thing: What is this virtual reality? I have enough trouble coping with real reality. Get real!
Actually, I do have a friend in the office who is "on the net". I asked him to show me how the address system worked. Just for laughs, I typed in WWW.Enzo@theaven.com, and a message came on the screen. It said (translated from the Italian) "Not accepting messages now; having extended conversation with Jean Todt".
Well, that was a lot of silliness! And it had damn little to do with Ferraris. The truth is that I haven’t quite decided whether there is some benefit to being on the net, or whether it will just be another way to waste my time. Like watching TV. But I’m afraid that if I don’t get on the net soon, I might be put up against the wall by the hipness police. And we wouldn’t want that to happen, would we?
So this is me, on my way to sign up for the Internet class, humming, "some day my printer will come". Followed by that old Beach Boys hit, "Surf’s Up". In my next life I’ll ask for more memory!
Next month, back to the cars. Unless I’m busy on the net.
About the author: Ed Niles, a lawyer who practices in the San Fernando Valley, has been involved and active in the world of Ferraris since Enzo’s early childhood, for more than 35 years. During that time he has owned more than 100 of Maranello’s products and has met some strange and wonderful characters. During occasional moments of lucidity, he will share remembrances of cars and people he has known and loved.