Another Icon has left us Edwin Kurtz Niles 27 Nov, 1924 - 3 Aug, 2021
Volume 46 Issue 18
Aug 28, 2021
Ed Niles, one of the original Ferrari Dinosaurs has left us to join Enzo. His 96 years on earth was well spent helping to save many Ferraris in America.
I am sorry to report the passing of Ed Niles, early Ferrari savior, former president of the Ferrari Owners Club, historian, and general all-round nice guy.
The number of Ferraris he imported, owned, and restored is impressive.
His love of the marque would help create the love we still feel today about Ferraris. His knowledge was vast and one of the few who knew these cars when the earliest models were still new.
I first met Ed in 1981 while working in California. We talked many times in the ensuing years. Always positive and upbeat he was quick to share and comment about any Ferrari.
In June 2014 shortly after I became editor of the Ferrari Market Letter, I requested Chris Roush to interview Ed to chronicle his life. That interview was printed in Vol. 39 No. 13. The full article can be found there.
Rather than attempt to add to Chris Roush’s excellent interview we felt it best to reprint it.
Enzo and Gerald Roush have been going at it. Dick Merritt has joined in. Now Ed Niles will help to fill in the blanks. R.I.P. JW
By Chris Roush
A short time ago, a group of Ferrari enthusiasts known as dinosaurs had shirts made up with a cartoon dinosaur on the front and a motto on the back that stated, “We remember real Ferraris…when Mondials all had four cylinders, GTOs all had 12 cylinders, and Testa Rossa was still two words.”
Dinosaurs are a dying breed. They long for the Ferraris that are now bought by collectors – and that many of them can no longer afford. They believe that true Ferraris were only made when Enzo Ferrari was alive, and some believe that true Ferraris were only made when the company was independent.
Edwin K. Niles is the biggest, baddest dinosaur left roaming this Earth.
He will be 90 this November <2014>, yet he still works five days a week at his Los Angeles law firm, and his mind is still clear with specific details from his nearly six decades of buying and selling Ferraris. He has owned more than 125 Ferraris in his life, with most of them built before 1970. He has owned one Ferrari at least five times, and he just earlier this year sold his most recent Ferrari, a 348. He has owned seven Lussos, eight 330s, seven PF coupes, nine GTEs, five 275 GTBs, and four 308 GTs – and mostly enjoyed every one of them.
“I liked the exclusivity,” said Niles in a recent interview with the Ferrari Market Letter. “I liked the wonderful sound of the V12 engine. I loved, with some exceptions, the beautiful styling. And I liked fixing things up. A lot of these cars needed help when I got them.”
The story of Ed Niles and Ferrari is one that helps illustrate the carmaker’s rise in the United States. When Niles first started buying and selling Ferraris, he often had trouble finding buyers because people weren’t all that interested in these strange Italian autos. Now, Ferrari dinosaurs such as Niles have all but been priced out of the market, particularly for older cars, because they now are so popular that they sell for millions of dollars.
“I regret greatly that my crystal ball was inoperative,” said Niles. “I had no idea what would happen” to Ferrari prices.
This is not a sad story, however. To hear Niles talk about his life in Ferraris is to relive some of the best times of his life, meeting friends that have lasted decades and memories that have lasted a lifetime.
He was born in November 1924 in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. His parents divorced when he was young, and at the beginning of the Great Depression, Niles and his mother moved to Phoenix for a year and then settled in southern California.
After graduating from Burbank High School, Niles was in the U.S. Army from 1943 to 1946 and was on a ship headed to the Philippines when World War II ended. “Talk about good timing,” he said. By that time, he had flunked out of the Army Specialized Training Program and had been sent to dental tech school. He spent six months in the Philippines and was never shot at.
After the war, Niles developed an interest in foreign cars. He bought a 1949 Volkswagen in 1951, and later owned several MGs, a Jaguar and an Austin-Healey. He was also attending races around southern California on the weekends, acting as a turn marshal at Riverside, Santa Barbara, Torrey Pines, Pomona and Palm Springs.
It was at one of those races, in the mid-1950s, that Niles saw his first Ferrari. It was a 212 Vignale Coupe, with chrome surrounding the hood opening. “It was just parked in the parking lot,” said Niles. “I said, ‘That is the most beautiful thing I have ever seen.’”
By this time, Niles was attending Southwestern University of Law in Los Angeles. After law school graduation, he was working in the city attorney’s office when he took a European vacation with his in-laws and his wife. Friends told him that he should look to purchase a car while there because they were cheaper.
On the last day of the trip, Niles found S/N 0331 EU, a 250 Europa Pinin Farina Coupe. He bought it for $3,000 and had it shipped back to the States. Several months later, he sold it for a $1,000 profit. Niles thought, “I can have fun and make money too! That was a lot of money in 1959 to a young punk just getting started.”
Niles knew someone in Rome who could help him. Roberto Goldoni had spent a year as an exchange student in Los Angeles, attending John Marshall High School and living with Niles’s in-laws. Niles and Goldoni struck up a partnership – Goldoni would find the Ferraris and have them shipped to California, while Niles would clean them up and sell them.
Goldoni was fond of telling Niles that the Ferrari he had found was in “overall good condition.” Niles quickly discovered that description “didn’t mean squat,” so he made a checklist for Goldoni to follow – engine, transmission, rear end, brakes, suspension, etc. “It didn’t help,” said Niles. “Sometimes they were beautiful, and sometimes, like S/N 2689, that car was a mass of dents from one end to the other. And it had three different-sized wheels.”
The early 1960s may have been the beginning of an interest in Ferraris in the United States, but the cars were still often a tough sell. Niles advertised the cars in the Los Angeles Times, but if a car lingered, he might take out an ad in Road & Track. A line in the February 1968 Road & Track simply stated: “Ferrari California Roadster. 1958 but you’d never guess it. Extra sharp with new paint and chrome. Outstanding mechanically: 55lbs pressure at an idle! $3995. Ed Niles.”
“Some I kept longer than others because I couldn’t find buyers for them,” remembered Niles. “It was such a different time. People today can’t understand how difficult it was to sell a Ferrari back then. A lot of people didn’t want to buy them because they didn’t know anything about them, or their mechanic didn’t know anything about them and it was difficult to get parts.”
It was during the early ’60s that the Ferrari Club of America was organizing in the Midwest. In California, Niles was part of a group that formed the Ferrari Owners Club. He later became membership chairman, then vice president and president, and then membership chairman again.
The cars were not cared for like today. Goldoni shipped the Ferraris on ships, and they often sat on the decks, unprotected, allowing the salt water to freeze the carburetors. Niles often showed up at the dock with just a can of gasoline and some tools.
As Niles bought and sold more Ferraris, he began to grow fond of his favorites. One was S/N 0515 GT, a Zagato-bodied 250 GT that he purchased in 1960. He later owned another Zagato-bodied Ferrari, S/N 0537. “I just thought they were extraordinarily beautiful,” said Niles. “Not everyone agreed.” Niles loved to drive them up through the Hollywood Hills during lunch every day. It was the first Zagato that Niles ended up owning five times, last selling it in 1986 right before prices began to skyrocket.
Another favorite was S/N 0012 M, a 166 Barchetta that had raced in the Mille Miglia. “By the time I had it,” said Niles, “it had a Lusso engine and had skinny wheels and tires. You could put that car sideways in any gear with no effort at all.”
There was a Dino 206 SP, S/N 002, that Niles owned from 1971 to 1974. After installing the correct engine, Niles entered it in the Virginia City Hill Climb twice. He was rained out once, and wrecked the other time. Other favorites of his were the 250 GT Nembo Spyder S/N 1777 GT and the 400 Superamerica S/N 3097 SA.
In 1976, Niles put up five Ferraris for sale -- a 166 MM Vignale Spyder, S/N 0272 M; a 225 Sport Vignale Berlinetta, S/N 0170 ET; a 1958 Testa Rossa, S/N 0716 TR; the aforementioned S/N 0012 M; and a 1954 500 Mondial Pininfarina Spyder, S/N 0434 MD. For the two 166s, Niles asked $26,000 apiece. He wanted $27,500 each for the Vignale and the Mondial. As for the Testa Rossa, he didn’t list a price but noted that it had a Drogo body and a 250 GT engine.
In the ad, Niles wrote, “Folks, the above cars, along with my 330 GT Michelotti Convertible, are just too much for me to handle! They are all the sort that are starting to take off in value, and I have priced them cheap to move at least 2, preferably 3 of them.”
Niles doesn’t regret selling the cars for those prices even though now none of them can be purchased for less than $1 million apiece and some of them go for much more. “I never thought I would get out of debt,” said Niles about all of the Ferraris he owned. “I owed so much money.”
In a 1979 letter, Niles wrote that he could make money easier buying and selling Ferraris than practicing law, and “have a great deal more enjoyment in the process.” But he declined to identify himself as a Ferrari speculator or as an enthusiast. “Perhaps ‘fixer’ or ‘trader’ would hit it more accurately. I really get a kick out of taking a car that is badly run down and bringing it back to proper condition.” At the time, Niles was in the process of restoring a Lusso, a short nose GTB and a GTB/4.
There are just two Ferraris that Niles says he regrets purchasing.
One was the Michelotti Convertible, which had a canvas top and was purchased from a real estate broker. Niles’ wife Phoebe warned him not to buy the car, which was a bright orange yellow with a black stripe down the side. “It had a bad case of the uglies,” said Niles. “The car needed paint. It needed interior. I did save the wheels by buffing them out. When I got all done, I painted it a dark metallic burgundy, and it looked a bit better. I thought that was going to be another car I was going to die with.”
The other was S/N 0131 EL, a 212 Vignale Coupe. By the time Niles purchased the car, it had a Chevrolet engine. “It shook and rattled and carried on,” said Niles. “It was just a bad car to drive. I sold it to a guy dumber than I was.”
As for his most recent Ferrari purchase, and subsequent sale, Niles said the 348ts that he sold earlier this year was purchased from Ferrari of Beverly Hills. The car had been stripped to allow customers to see if they wanted to join the Ferrari Challenge. Niles purchased it for $18,000, which he thought was a bargain, and owned it for about a year.
“When you get to be my age,” said Niles. “Nostalgia gets to be pretty big. I just can’t let go of the idea that I am a Ferrari trader.”