Karma has no shot clock
Volume 46 Issue 17
Aug 14, 2021
Luigi Chinetti brought Ferrari to America. The legacy of the first dealer in America continues with the current dealership in Greenwich, CT, Miller Motorcars. Tom Ferrara draws the line between the beginning and today.
No matter how long it takes, events come full circle.
The premise of this article is to trace the origin of the oldest and original Ferrari dealership in the United States, and it’s metamorphosis to Miller Motorcars of today.
With Luigi Chinetti, Sr.’s, success in racing for Alfa Romeo and Enzo Ferrari (LeMans 1932, 1934, and 1949) and his personal relationship with Enzo, like Queen Isabella dispatching Christopher Columbus to the New World, Chinetti came to America.
Though racing was the catalyst, it was exploring the opportunities to enter and expand the American sports car market on U.S. soil.
Perhaps the risks and challenges of racing were comparable to opening up America as a customer for Ferrari.
Any owner of a small business or startup can appreciate the risks involved. Unlike racing in the 1930s, it’s one’s financial life at stake, not their mortal one!
As with the other markets for Ferrari customer road cars, it was the intent to channel money back to Enzo’s insatiable thirst for racing and help cover the costs involved. Post-World War II America was happy and fun-loving; but most importantly, wealthy with money to spend.
Luigi arrived here as an Italian national in 1940 for the Indy 500. When World War II broke out, a return trip to Italy was out of the question.
Luigi married his wife Marion (who Luigi Chinetti, Jr., identified as “The most important person in the business”) on April 18, 1942, and made America his home.
An interesting sidenote about Senior’s naturalization. According to MotorSport Magazine and confirmed by Luigi Chinetti, Jr., just as Senior could be called “The Father of Ferrari in America”, his U.S. citizenship was sponsored by, arguably, “The Father of the Corvette”: Zora Arkus-Duntov. The latter also came to the U.S. from war-threatened Europe; Belgium, to be exact. A brilliant Jewish engineer and racecar driver forced into exile by the Nazis.
That connection years later would provide a conduit to GM with the North American Racing Team (NART) Corvette, and the GM Pegasus styling exercise. [www.GM heritage center.com/gm-vehicle-collection/1970_Pontiac_Pegasus_Concept.html].
In a conversation with Chinetti’s long time Parts Manager, Geoff Ohland, he clearly recalled the Pegasus being shipped from Detroit to Greenwich for work on its engine: a Daytona V-12.
A deal was made with Enzo, possibly through Luigi, Sr., for the Daytona engine to power GM’s Bill Mitchell Pegasus prototype.
What makes this more interesting is decades ago, from memory, one of the car magazines of the time revealed that GM, Pontiac in particular, granted Ferrari use of the then body-colored “Endura Bumper” technologies at no cost.
With its Daytona engine, and polyurethane body-colored bumpers (first appearing on the 1968 Pontiac GTO), the Pontiac Pegasus “flying” horse, became a stablemate to the Prancing Horse.
An early hybrid: Ferrari power, GM body.
Speaking of GM, their automatics also made their way into Ferrari’s transitioning to American tastes at the suggestion of Chinetti. Conversions being done in his Greenwich, Connecticut, shop.
Even today, the electromagnetic shock absorber system used by Ferrari is a GM licensed technology, first appearing on 2003 Corvettes.
The point is, the nexus between the two automotive entities of Ferrari and GM can reliably be traced back to Luigi Chinetti.
But I digress...
According to Terry O’Neil in his excellent tome, “N.A.R.T, A concise history of the North American Racing Team, 1957 to 1983”, Chinetti Motors began in 1954 on West 19th Street in Manhattan.
As stated in Automobile Quarterly, Volume 1, Number 1, by writer, Warren Weith, “The only indication the occasional uninitiated visitor had that this was Ferrari headquarters in North America was a small prancing horse decal that had been pasted to a square of cardboard propped in a corner of a window.”
It later migrated to two other Manhattan locations; West 54th Street and 11th Avenue, then 780 11th Avenue at West 55th Street.
Chinetti dealreship in Manhattan 1960s
Ironically, these locations are within walking distance to the current Ferrari Tailor Made Store on Park Avenue in Manhattan.
At some point around 1965-1967, according to Luigi Chinetti, Jr., the dealership was moved thirty-three miles northeast to Greenwich, Connecticut; 600 West Putnam Avenue (now a CVS).
Simply because it was closer to where the family lived at the time, on King Street in Greenwich! And, according to Dick Fritz, who was the General Manager, and wearer of many hats at the dealership (from Dick: he did “A little bit of everything”) and NART Team Manager, there was also an economic reason to move. It was less expensive than Manhattan.
Luigi Chinetti Sr. with Luigi Chinetti Jr. early 1960s
Most of the personnel made the transition to the country. From there, sales and NART continued.
A major move like that begged the question, how would it affect the customer base? Perhaps the “Field of Dreams” philosophy “If you build it, they will come” was Luigi’s motivation, as well.
And they did come.
The customer base was sustained and grew. Famous customers continued to walk through the doors.
There were financial backers as well, including George Ahrents, gentleman racer, as well.
As time went on, Luigi Sr. gave Maranello feedback on the American market tastes.
As documented by Gerald Roush in The Ferrari Market Letter, back in 1994 commenting on the death of Luigi, Sr., the 250 GT LWB California Spyder was a Chinetti brainchild, and the 275 GTB/4 NART Spyders are the most obvious evidence of Chinetti’s marketing skills.
Perhaps there could be parallels drawn with the Andretti family and their impact on America with racing.
However, clearly there’s a distinction. The Chinettis helped foster a greater interest in high performance sports car for the street (and track for gentleman racers).
The racing program started in 1958 and grew and continued successfully but eventually became financially strapped and ceased in 1982.
There reached a point in time where age made reared its ugly head and at age 76, Luigi, Sr., made the decision to pass the torch and sold the business to Thomas Parker of Greenwich around 1978-1979. That was short-lived with the business and cars going back to Chinetti for a brief time.
In 1978, a lawsuit ensued [Chinetti-Garthwaite Imports, Inc. v. Ferrari Societa, Etc, 463 F. Supp. 73 (E.D. Pa 1978)].
Ferrari was attempting to dissolve its business relationship with Luigi and his East Coast partner, Al Garthwaite of Paoli, Pennsylvania.
Claiming $700,000 in profits, Luigi and Al fought the termination which had been initiated by Ferrari’s Gary Rodriguez here in the U.S. on behalf of the factory. There’s no indication how the suit was resolved, or whether Gary was any way related to Ferrari’s racers, the Rodriguez brothers.
In the interim, the Ferrari dealership, post-Tom Parker/Chinetti 2.0, was moved to Bethel, Connecticut, under the care of Nissan racer and dealership owner, Bob Sharp.
That continued until 1987 when the Ferrari showroom came back home to Greenwich.
In 1982, the current Greenwich location of 342 West Putnam Avenue, is about half a mile from Chinetti’s original location. It had been occupied by Aston Martin. Working there was Herb Olson and Cyndi Miller. Keep Cyndi’s name in mind.
Richard Koppleman, an Aston Martin owner, decided to take over the Aston Martin dealership, and did so in 1986.
Miller Motorcars in Grennwich
He moved that dealership to 273 West Putnam Avenue, where it still remains today, as part of the Miller Motorcars family of prestigious offerings.
The dealership actually had already existed in West Hartford, Connecticut, having started in 1976, and moved to Greenwich in 1980. The “Miller” in Miller Motorcars is the maiden name of the aforementioned Cyndi!
With all due respect, a simpler and more elegant alliteration than Koppleman Cars.
Thus was the rebirth of Chinetti Motors as Miller Motorcars, Ferrari.
As can be seen, in the history of the dealership, not unlike Ferrari itself, there have been a variety of eras:
• 1954-1978 Chinetti era, 1.0
• 1978-1980 Tom Parker era
• 1980 Chinetti era 2.0
• 1980-1986 Bob Sharp era
• 1987 to present Miller Motorcars era
Today, the dealership is thriving and a national trendsetter carrying every exotic name one can think of: Ferrari, McLaren, Pagani, Bentley, Alfa, Aston Martin, Rolls Royce, and Maserati.
Housed in an historic stone building on West Putnam Avenue in Greenwich, it is a throwback to a classier era in the automotive world. No sterile international architectural design; rather, a style more indicative of European roots. Enzo and Luigi would be proud.
Of course, once inside, you enter the 21st century showroom. Beautifully displayed are not only Ferraris on the main floor, but a few steps upstairs are the not-so-distant cousins, Maseratis.
My personal advisor, Nick Unnold, provides a very personal and interested approach to the sales process. From car prep to established advisor, talent that has grown organically.
Half the “basement” is full of beautifully cared for and prepared pre-owned Ferraris on display. Behind closed doors, the other half of the basement is the prep area for delivery.
The shop is also on the main level as the showroom. It is beautifully maintained by the Service Manager, John Henkel.
From personal experience with both an F355 and F8 (one’s an appreciating asset, the other a depreciating asset), there’s been neither a “surprise” bill, nor unexpected repair over the seven-year relationship.
With John and his team of service consultants and techs, one is more pleasant than the other. John was personally very instrumental in the lengthy Classiche process for my F355.
The dealership also has a vast array of experience going back as far as Chinetti with Lee Stayton, who is the go-to on the older, more historic platforms. Recently, he was spied making adjustments on a Miura’s carburetor set up; no easy task.
As evidenced by the mechanical visitors to the shop, you’ll see anything from a 365 GTB/4 in for a full-blown restoration, to a LaFerrari in for service.
The parts area run by Gregg Mattison, is a terrific resource not only for standard ricambi auto for Ferrari, but sourcing more difficult pieces; to whit, a convertible top potentiometer!
Well stocked, well organized, and very accessible. Gregg’s career is also one that started at the dealership at a much younger age.
Miller Motorcars modern service area
In summary, the Chinetti karma continues in spirit. Yes, the ownership has changed, as has Ferrari as an organization; however the soul and spirit of Luigi and Marion, and their transatlantic connection with Enzo continues today.
One last comment and suggestion.
Over the years, Ferrari has honored certain of its historic dealers by connecting their names with a paint color. Charles Pozzi and Jacques Swaters are perfect examples. Maybe it’s time for Ferrari to bury the hatchet with Chinetti and the 1978 lawsuit and name a shade of blue after Luigi.
Wouldn’t that be the perfect honor?