By: Ed Niles
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I call this column "Strange Car No. 1" because I have had a number of strange cars. Some more strange than others.
Up through the 70s, when almost all Ferraris were powered by a V12 engine, we all gave lip service to the notion that we were driving our Ferrari because of that great V12 engine. But in truth, we all wanted to be seen driving something different. We wanted to be the only kid on our block with a Ferrari!
And for some, it wasnt enough just to drive a Ferrari. It was extra slick if we could drive a Ferrari like none other!
So it became popular in the 50s and 60s to re-body a Ferrari that might have had some unfortunate cosmetic event. Around 1967, the famed East Coast importer of Ferraris, Luigi Chinetti, commissioned two similar cars to be re-bodied by Michelotti, a small body builder in Italy. If you were at the Los Angeles Grand Prix Concours dElegance, you saw the very interesting Michelotti 330 GT owned by Gary Thieltges of GT Motors. Gary had done a masterful job of restoring this interesting one-off Coupe, and it caught everyones eye.
But did you know that there was a sister car? With a convertible "targa" top? Yes, this car was another of my "children", and bore Serial No. 6109. The convertible or Targa version of this body design was originally painted yellow and black, and was pictured in the landmark book by Fitzgerald and Merritt, "Ferrari-The Sports and GT Cars". This interesting Ferrari eventually found its way to the Los Angeles area, where it lived for a number of years. A real estate broker (lets call him "Jerry") had owned the car, still in its original Gawdawful yellow and black colors, when it was involved in a serious front end-rear end collision. Jerry had the car repaired, and painted in pretty much the same combination as before, but the yellow was replaced with what I can only describe as a pearl chartreuse color!
It was early in 1976 that I received a phone call from Jerry, asking me if I would like to help him sell his car. He was calling from Newport Beach, and we agreed to meet "half way", in Long Beach. I had no intention of buying the car, as I was, at the time, sitting on 5 or 6 other Ferraris. I needed another car like I needed the proverbial hole in the head. But Jerry, true to his craft, was a salesman par excellence, and when I left Long Beach, I had written Jerry a check for $1,000.00, with a promise to pay another $11,000.00 in the next few days.
Let it be said that Jerry was not a car nut. He had enjoyed the car only because it attracted attention, but had fallen down miserably in the maintenance department. Before I got the car home, I had compiled a mental list of defects, small or large, that needed attention. As soon as I got the car home, I started attacking the many problems of the car. Every electrical system, and sub-system, needed attention of one kind or another. The paint had started to fade, but I had already decided that the car would look much better in a conservative paint job of one color. The interior also needed to be replaced, and the valve guides needed replacement a well.
I ended up painting the car Rolls Royce regal red, a dark metallic red, one of my favorite colors. The interior was replaced with light tan leather and matching carpet throughout. I spent an entire weekend scrubbing the wheel hubs and spokes with my favorite bathroom degreaser/deruster. Three different electrical experts worked on various problems with the electrics of the car, at one time or another.
At the end of the year, I had a pretty decent looking car; much more pleasant to look at than when I had acquired it. But it still had its share of problems. Not the least of these was the fact that it had been built on a first-series 330GT 2+2 chassis, not one of Mr. Ferraris all-time hits. The overdrive on these early models almost never work, and this car did not make the exception to the rule. There were still various electrical failures, some of the intermittent kind that are the bane of every electrician.
As 1976 wound down, I had been advertising a number of my cars for sale, and was getting desperate, with the bank knocking on my door. I decided to take the interesting 330, along with a beautiful 225 sport Berlinetta and an interesting one-off 166MM Spyder that I owned, to the Scottsdale auction. I enlisted the help of Steve Tillack and Tony Krivanek as co-drivers, and we set off for Arizona, a good 8-hour drive.
Unfortunately, Ferraris had not yet become the darlings of the auction circuit, and not one of the three cars sold. To make matters worse, we were caught in a veritable downpour returning to Los Angeles. It was a toss-up which car was the worst in the rain. The 166, being an open car, was guaranteed to drench the driver. The 225 was not much better, as the holes around the pedals created artesian wells within the car. But the 330, despite the fact that the top was installed, was probably the worst. It leaked everywhere. The carpets were sodden by the time we got home, to say nothing of yours truly, the driver.
As 1977 arrived, I was forced to pour more money into the car as a result of drenching the Ferraris electrical systems. By then, I had invested well over $17,000.00 in the car, and, in despair, sold it to a friend of mine, Orthopedic Surgeon Stuart Baumgard, at a substantial loss.
So far as I know, this was the only legitimate 4-seat Ferrari convertible until the Mondial Cabriolet arrived on the scene, and is certainly an interesting car. I wonder if Dr. Baumgards wife is still driving it?
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 Maranellos 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.