By: Don Prieto
I guess it was around 1952 in my home town of New Orleans, when I first learned the word Ferrari, and it wasn't long after that I got caught up in the mystique that surrounds the marque. You see I read car books as a teenager: Speed Age, Sports Cars Illustrated, Hot Rod, and Road & Track. I became the practicing "car nut" I continue to be today. Practically every autograph in my high school year book makes some reference to cars. And my favorite pastime was standing around and shootin the shit about cars I had read about, like it was all first hand experience. I also hung around Knots Auto Service because the owner, Knot Farrington had the fastest car in the city of New Orleans. It was a 1939 Ford coupe with a 3/8 X 3/8 flathead with all the other goodies: Edelbrock heads and manifold, Stromberg carburetors, and an Isky 400 Jr. cam. God! it sounded good. He used to let me fire it up and move it around the shop; and I actually got high from the experience. It wasn't so much the driving or the feel of the car, but the sound that stoned me. Like so many other kids of my generation, I developed a tuned ear for something that has a powerful sound. Listening to the rump rump of a stout flathead V8, the crack of a 6 cylinder Chevy with a split manifold, a P51 Mustang as it bored through the air, the spitting rumble of a 40 inch Triumph Twin motorcycle and the smooth purr of a Lincoln V-12 really grabbed me.. My pal Jack Lagarde had a friend who used to come over to his house driving a 1939 Lincoln Zephyr coupe, complete with a flat-head V-12 and a set of straight pipes. "Straights," as they were known are exhaust pipes with no mufflers at all, They were loud. Louder than a Chevy 6 with 10" True Tones. I would hear that Zephyr coming for blocks and I would even stop in the middle of supper and run over to Jacks house just sos I could listen to that V-12 fire up, and drive away. My folks thought I was nuts. But the sound of that engine stirred my soul.
As I said earlier, shootin the shit about cars was my favorite activity and I would eventually move the conversation toward Ferrari. Now you must understand that none of the guys I hung around with had even heard a Ferrari much less actually seen one, including me. But I read every word that guys like John Christy, Steve Wilder, Griff Borgeson, John Bond, etc. had written about Ferrari and I knew what they sounded like even though I had never actually heard one.
It wasn't until 1956 that I experienced my first real Ferrari. I went to a Delta Region SCCA event, in Shreveport, and there big as life was Roy Cherryholmes and the most beautiful 4.9 roadster imaginable. When it fired, the sound assaulted my consciousness like a five pound framing hammer assaults a sixteen penny finishing nail. All other activity kinda faded away, I was mesmerized. The rampant horse, the wire wheels, the red paint, the sumptuous curves, the egg crate grill, ah yes, the egg crate grill. Sunavabitch-this is where Chevy got the idea for the 55 Bel Air grill, I thought to myself. And look at all them gawdam carburetors, A small amount of blue oil-smoke emitted from the two huge exhaust pipes and I stood in the cloud. The Castrol "R" Racing Oil fumes engulfed me and the rumble of the idle pounded my chest. I glanced around to see if anyone was watching as though I were shoplifting or something because I felt so elated that it was like getting away with something akin to stealing.
As the giant V-12 clicked and clattered up to operating temperature, I stared. Cherryholmes slowly brought the r's up to about 3000 and then ripped the throttle open --- instant seven grand. "Now that's some kinda throttle response," I thought as there was much ripping and thrashing each time he gassed it. A nod from Cherryholmes and the mechanic closed the hood securing it with the leather strap. As he let the clutch out to drive it away, it quit. "How embarrassing," I thought, All these people gawking and he stalled it. I immediately shot back to the first time I was gonna be cool with my friend Knots 39 Ford. All the guys were watching me as I attempted to move the car out of the shop, I stalled it, How stupid, I got embarrassed for Cherryholmes and looked to see if anyone had noticed my blush. No one cared. This time he gassed it and tossed rocks on my penny loafers as he spun the huge Engleberts and departed in a cloud of oil smoke. Ol Cherryholmes won the race that day, beating Charlie Brown's black "D" Jag plus a host of C-types and assorted specials; and he did it on a flat tire that he acquired on the last turn of the last lap. "Someday," I said to the guy standing next to me. "Someday I'm gonna have me one of them V12 Ferraris."
At this point in the story a giant locomotive is shown full frame, flat out, with the pages of a calendar double exposed over it, peeling back and it's almost 30 years later.
My friend Earl Gandel is, at the time, the owner of the 1969 model 365 GTC you see on these pages. He is being transferred to Australia, he tells me, and he's gonna sell the car. He wants some advice! I suggest to him that he ship the car to me in L.A. and I'll do some work on it, "he he". He went for it after I told him that the market was better on the West Coast and a lot of other lies. I felt comfortable with this as the car was a known quantity to me. I had driven it around Bridgehampton several times over the years during the time when Earl and his partner were the track operators. I knew it was mechanically sound but it needed some massaging cosmetically and I was fully prepared to detail it for the opportunity to drive it and have it in my garage for a while.
After the arrangements were made, it took two weeks to arrive. I was on pins and needles as I slid behind the giant Nardi wood-rimmed steering wheel. I paused, took a deep breath and plugged in the key. The first thing I noticed when turning it over was that the sound of the starter is not like the cranking whirring sound of your ordinary starter. No, it's more like a stirring sound that barely drowns out the clicking sound of the electric fuel pump. It sneezed a couple of times and came to life, I imagined 330 little black horses limbering up as the Webers hiss despite the presence of the giant air cleaner. The clutch is heavy but the gear shift lever is nimble and quick to locate 1st gear in the rear mounted 5-speed transaxle, I hark back to Cherrholmes stalling that day at the races, so I give it lots of throttle and the silver hood rises in front of me as I launch out of the garage in a cloud of XWX smoke. I'm alone at last with the noises and the unique Ferrari leather smell as I head up on the ramp to the freeway .... and I'm in another world. Through the gears using only about 5000 rpm (don't want to wind it too tight 'till it warms up), I glance at the speedo just before the 3-4 shift, 150 KPH. Better cool it! I cruise toward the house deliberately past some glass store fronts and do a little profiling .... Nirvana!
"Thou shalt not covet thy neighbors' goods", is one of the commandments I learned as a child in catechism. I wasn't coveting any goods I was lusting! That's another sin altogether. While it was housed in my garage for several months, I massaged practically every part of the car. I put new leather seats in it, detailed the engine compartment, charged the A/C, polished the chrome and aluminum. Occasionally, I even drove it.
As it happened, Earl and his family came in to town on vacation and I presented it to him to drive to a party given in his honor by our mutual friends. He was dazzled at what I had done to his "baby" and he gave me full credit when his long-time friends commented that his car never looked so good, I was moved.
Alas it came time to sell it. I placed an ad in the L.A. Times and the first call I got was from a Gary Taylor. He said he would like to come and see it right away, Well, within a week his wife was taking pictures of me handing over the keys to him ("Just for prosperity", she says) and he was delighted. "Gary, before you leave, tell me why you want to spend all that money on a 69 Ferrari, when the same money would get you a newer 348". "Well", he replied without hesitation, "I just had to have one of them V-12s."
( Editors Note: Don Prieto is obviously a Car Guy whose company The Prietive Group in Torrance, processes and maintains press cars for most of the major manufacturers. His garage is a sight to behold.)