History Repeats Itself
Volume 48 Issue 7
Apr 8, 2023
How did you learn about Ferrari? Remember when you knew nearly nothing? What is it like to find out you are now "The Expert"?
Much of my inspiration comes from the magazines and books here in the office. With years and years of Cavallino, Prancing Horse, Road & Track, Motorsport and many others, along with a library of Ferrari books covering nearly every aspect of Ferrari cars and experiences, there is a lot of information to draw upon.
Mixed in with this printed information are my own observations and experiences.
Am I a Dinosaur? Yes, no, well, maybe.
Back when there were Dinosaurs, I was a newbie to the Ferrari world. All I could do was sit and listen to the greats that were here before I came along.
Gentlemen like Gerald Roush, Dave Seibert and Doug Freedman would hold court during the famous Saturday FAF breakfast at the Old Hickory House.
This ritual was where FAF would provide free breakfast to anyone who wished to work a Saturday shift.
It was also a time for fellow Ferrari enthusiasts to gather around and see what might be new in the showroom or sidebar into detailed discussions on esoteric details or history.
The discussions could be informative or uninteresting depending on the amount of previous knowledge gained from experience or books.
These guys were there during the early days of Ferrari history; they had lived it. I was but the new kid with a large bucket to fill and little to put into it, yet.
Real knowledge was sparse. Like days before the written word, stories were told and rumors were turned into facts.
These stories were memorized and repeated until new, more accurate information came to light.
There was no database of collective information; hell, there weren’t even computers then. At least not any that could fit into a small room.
Ferrari books were nearly non-existent. A small shelf was all that was needed to hold the few books available. If your library held a Ferrari by Hans Tanner; Stan Grayson’s Ferrari, The Man, The Machines and Le Mie Gioie Terribili by Enzo himself, your collection was nearly complete.
This is why the Fitzgerald and Merritt Ferrari, The Sports and Gran Turismo Cars was so groundbreaking at the time.
Ferraris weren’t always known by their serial number. Sure, the serial number was important to the few, but most had a more intimate relationship with the cars.
They were known by the owners, races or drivers.
The discussion would go like this: “ You know the car that came in sixth at LeMans in 1962 was the Grossman car, it was then raced by Gammino. We think it is now in California.”
You see, the history of all Ferraris in the mid-seventies was still fairly new. The oldest Ferrari in existence was less than thirty years old.
Total production was just over thirteen thousand cars, including Dinos and competition cars. The pool was small, history was brief and the ownership was still very personal.
Which brings me to an article I ran across in the Prancing Horse. The March 1989 issue has an article called “Mr. Fred Armbruster’s Car Lives On…”.
The article describes how Mr. Armbruster purchased his 275 GTB/4, S/N 10821, in Rome and shipped it to the U.S.
He loved the mechanical complexity and sound of the engine. He enjoyed his Ferrari through 33,000 miles and when he died the car was auctioned off.
The car continues to live on and while other people have owned 10821, it would always be known as Mr. Armbruster’s Ferrari.
I would venture today the car is not known as Mr. Armbruster’s car; too many years and owners have followed. But it does bring up a point. In the early days many of these cars were known by the owner, not by the serial number.
Chinetti often would notate the name of a car by owner, not serial number. Even if the number had been placed on inventory lists it would have the owners name penciled in.
Even through the next couple owners, the Ferrari would be identified by the original owner’s name.
This came to light the other day while sorting through a box of old Chinetti checks.
The check was payment for a 275 GTS and made out to Jean Jacques Weber. I have run across other checks and paperwork with the same name and recognize this gentleman as a broker Chinetti often bought cars from in Switzerland.
Of course, there was no serial number on the check. An amount of $5,000 was listed as payment in full for a 1966 275 GTS, ex-Mr. De Toledo.
The check is dated April 20th, 1971, so it should not be too difficult to track down which of the two hundred GTS’s made was this one.
It would appear in roaming through the database we had three 275 GTS associated with his name. Mr. De Toledo either liked to buy multiple 275 GTS’s or was a dealer.
Either way, I could find out if any, or all, of these cars came to America and in what time frame.
Yep! They all came to the U.S. and best I could tell all were in the 1970s. Pulling the individual files for each serial number I found importation paperwork from the Bureau of Customs dated March 12th, 1971, with the declared value of $5,000.
Our database had the car in Connecticut as of 1972. Its sale to that owner was probably the date of the check when Chinetti paid for the consignment to Mr. Weber.
When the original entry into the database had been made it would have been on a 5x7 card by a typewriter. A check without a serial number or any other way to identify a particular car would have to be filed into the unknown box and forgotten.
Today the database is electronic and between the computer and the files much information can be searched and new details discovered.
Which brings me to this: recorded information may not always be true or factual. Only when we identify a scrap of paper and relate it to a specific time and place, and corroborate that information with other facts, can we assume the history is correct.
Even then, the history is only what we make of it until further facts are uncovered. Uncovering and recording those facts are easier when there is a serial number attached.
In the early days of FAF, service files were stored alphabetically by name. This would be a great system if every car worked on returned and the new owner knew his records were under the previous owners name.
One of my early projects at FAF was to convert the service files from alphabetic to serial number.
The dealership felt it would take away from the personal feel not looking up records by name.
I felt there were records missing under other names and all the vehicle’s history could be captured in one place.
Of course, multiple records were found throughout the files and brought together creating a thorough service history of each car.
The value came when sales wanted to purchase the car and needed to know the service history.
Having the records in one location and knowing that it didn’t matter how the car showed up at our door, the history could remain complete.
But history is fluid.
Ferraris transcend ownership. People who bought and owned these cars sold them or passed on. As has been proved time and time again, owners come and go but the Ferrari remains.
We have progressed from oral history to written history. We have collected information and gleaned details of each Ferrari.
The pool of Ferraris grows daily. When Gerald typed out his 5x7 cards there were thirteen thousand Ferrari made. Not per year but total produced!
Today, Ferrari is making nearly thirteen thousand per year. Attempting to keep up with the sheer volume of information is overwhelming.
Gathering this data is all-encompassing. The internet, Facebook, Instagram, dealers, auctions all have information to record.
What do you keep? How do you decide? What if you missed some important tidbit in all the noise? Once missed, will it come back around to be recorded later?
These are questions we wrestle with every day.
Research takes time and sometimes it is all too easy to fall down the rabbit hole in an attempt to come up with an answer to a question.
Everything is not known about the history of each car and while we continue to uncover new information about vintage Ferraris, we must also continue to record information about new Ferraris.
One day this new Ferrari will be old and the data we collect today may help some future collector fill in the blanks of their Ferrari.
The job is never done and complete, there is always more to do.
I was just a newbie, listening to the greats, and learning all I could from them. The stories and lore of races they attended and the Ferraris they saw. The yearning to discover the history, the twists and turns of tracking down ownership and finding answers to unknown questions.
This is how I was introduced to Ferrari. By Dinosaurs spending time enlightening a youngster with a passion to learn. We have traveled together on this journey, learning all, and yet, still not knowing everything.
Most of the Dinosaurs are gone. Their knowledge has been passed forward and what could not be passed forward has been lost to history, hopefully to be rediscovered again.
The torch was passed to me, and I have willingly or unwittingly accepted to be the keeper of the information.
This was brought home to me at this year’s Cavallino Classic. I was with a customer, describing the differences between the various 250 GTs on the field. Some early LWB cars and other SWB cars.
I was relating the feel of driving the various cars, how well they brake or handle. The differences in the engines and other aspects of history on each one.
While I was doing this for my customer, I realized there was a small group of others gathering within earshot. My knowledge and information was being transferred to others.
Suddenly I realized, I have become the Dinosaur.
It the age of the internet, most think all the answers are right in our hand. If you don’t know, Google it. But there is still much out there to learn.
Who will take my place?
It would be good to find a young mind who would like to learn everything about Ferrari, their history, the cars and be able to add to the history.
Our future depends on it.