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The Tall Tale of Chassis No. 03278

John Cilmi

Volume 49 Issue 08

Apr 27, 2024

John Cilmi purchased a 246 GT without any attached history. How could this Dino not have any past? John began to uncover former owners and long lost paperwork. What he found was amazing.

    How does one start with nothing and end up with everything?

    This is a story about a 1972 Dino 246 GT, bearing the chassis no. 03278. When I found the car for sale, nothing at all was known about it. There was no provenance information, no Massini Report, no service records. The entire history of the car had been lost to time. But in a dramatic reversal of misfortune, between Thanksgiving and Christmas 2020, the entire history of the car was discovered. Every custodian was found and contacted, important provenance documents unearthed, all service records back to the beginning of time, compiled.

    Now, if you have no interest in the history of your Ferrari, read no further. And if you don’t like a really good story, toss this issue of the Ferrari Market Letter into the waste basket. Everyone else read on, because this is a tall tale you will not believe.

    Our story begins in the spring of 1972. An erudite and cultivated young professor has just received tenure at his university in Massachusetts. To commemorate the milestone, he drives down from Amherst to Greenwich and purchases a 1972 Dino 246 GT. He must be the only university professor in America at the time to own a red Ferrari. It’s the fulfilment of boyhood dreams. He is so smitten with the car that out of deference he always removes his shoes before entering the cabin. A year passes with him obsessing over the car before his then wife gives him an ultimatum – it’s either the Ferrari or their marriage. In epic fashion he chooses the car, and his obsession continues unabated.

    In due course, the professor falls in love again and, a few months after racing away from his wedding in the car, he lists the 1972 Dino 246 GT for sale in The New York Times. It is Sunday, October 3, 1976. A builder from East Hampton, New York is celebrating his 44th birthday on this date and, combing through the newspapers, he sees the professor’s classified advertisement. He has owned several important Porsches in his lifetime but is looking to acquire his first Ferrari.

    With $14,000 in cash, he drives up to Massachusetts with a son and makes the purchase. Over the ensuing seven years, he will drive the car more than 40,000 miles, always removing his shoes before entering the cabin. During that time, the car makes pilgrimages to Prancing Horse Farm for Ron Spangler’s annual gathering, it attends a handful of FCA events along the eastern seaboard, and also makes several road trips down to Sebring and Daytona. Closer to home, the car sees track time at the Bridgehampton Race Circuit, Lime Rock Park, and the Pocono Raceway. Ed Gilbertson would be proud.


                The 1972 Dino 246 GT at The Breakers 2024

    On a glorious morning in the summer of 1983, the second custodian is out for a drive to fuel up the 1972 Dino 246 GT. He pulls into a filling station in East Hampton and catches the attention of a young Wall Street trader. That man has just turned 25 years of age and resolves at once that the Ferrari must be his. He turns to his friend for affirmation and receives the nod. A Hollywood scene unfolds and a week later the young man cleans out his bank account to purchase his first Ferrari. The car continues to live in style in the Hamptons under this custodian, finding a home on Lily Pond Lane, spending weekends at the Meadow Club, enjoying spirited drives out to Montauk, and even captivating a certain Italian baroness. All the while, the third custodian preserves the sacred tradition of the gentlemen before him, always removing his shoes before entering the cabin.

    Some years pass and the third custodian sells the car to acquire a 1964 Ferrari 250 GT Lusso, the second of five Ferraris he would own while still a young man. Three more custodians enjoy the 1972 Dino 246 GT in the decades to come, including a banker from New England, a doctor from Vermont and the founder of Black Barts Emporium, who trades his Alfa Romeo 1900 CSS to acquire the car. The obsession with the Ferrari continues for each of them but, alas, the tradition of removing one’s shoes falls by the wayside. Each custodian has colorful stories to tell from their ownership, some too good to be true. All lost to time until I entered the picture.

    I first saw the 1972 Dino 246 GT on the day after Thanksgiving in 2020. This was an unrestored U.S. specification car that I found listed for sale in the Ferrari Market Letter. The seller described it as “an original example that runs and drives and is mechanically sound but...” A perfect candidate for the restoration project that had been sitting on my bucket list.

    Leading up to that visit in late November, I had called the selling dealer and was told they knew nothing about the car. There was zero documentation. I thought there must be some mistake. How can fifty years of history be lost? It seemed so sad that the car had fallen into such a state, with nothing known about its past, where its life began, who had enjoyed time behind the wheel, on what roads it had travelled, what stories it could tell.

    So, I fired off an email to Marcel Massini and to Cathy Roush at the Ferrari Market Letter. Marcel confirmed with me the original factory specifications, which was how the car presented. Cathy emailed me the names of prior custodians they had in their database. The spelling of several seemed questionable, and there were gaps in ownership, but I now had significant leads to follow.


                Tim Traff (left) and Dick Schmitter, the third and second custodians

    The second custodian’s name came directly from the Ferrari Market Letter. I got very lucky to find him still alive and thrilled to hear from someone who had found his first Ferrari. I got luckier still when he found the MSO in a box of memorabilia, safely tucked away for nearly five decades. That original document, in pristine condition, had the first custodian’s name and his home address, among other important facts. On the bottom of the MSO was the signature of the manager of Luigi Chinetti Motors at the time, none other than Richard “Dick” Fritz. The second custodian was literally trembling with excitement when he gave me the news. I had a feeling I was on to something special.

    The fifth custodian’s name also came directly from the Ferrari Market Letter. He had long since passed away, but his widow was happy to hear from me and excited about the research I was doing, and that led me to Peter Markowski from RPM, up in Vermont. It turns out that Peter had a long association with chassis no. 03278, selling the car three times and maintaining it for ten years for the fifth custodian. For those of you who don’t know Peter, he’s very old school, so he had saved a file on the car for 25 years after it had left his care. In it was not only RPM’s service records but also bills of sale and old titles. More pieces to the puzzle.


                Dick Fritz with the original MSO he signed on May 17, 1972

    Among Peter’s records was a name that appeared nowhere in my research, including in the Ferrari Market Letter database (one of those gaps I mentioned previously). As it happens, the fourth custodian owned the car for under a year, and Peter had saved both his bill of sale and title, so I had ownership dates and odometer readings to fill in some blanks. More importantly, the fourth custodian connected me with the third custodian, whose name was misspelled in the Ferrari Market Letter database and who I couldn’t find anywhere. In one of the most remarkable twists in the story, the third custodian grew up in Minnesota with a good friend of mine from New York, and they were still in touch. When all of this came to light, I knew fate must be on my side.

    The sixth and most recent custodian’s name was also listed in the Ferrari Market Letter records. I was cautious in my initial conversations with his widow, having learned that her husband had recently passed away. But she got comfortable with me soon enough and began to tell me old, heartwarming stories, at one point saying that the car was her husband’s mistress. In one of my communications with her before I took ownership, she told me that if I did come to adopt the Dino, she would send me some files she had for the car. On the day I signed the bill of sale, I received a package in the mail from the widow. It was bulging at the seams. In it were service records, bills of sale and appraisals for the car going back five decades, all the way to the second custodian. Over a hundred pages of original records that she had kept for safe keeping, not knowing where her husband’s mistress would ultimately land after she sold it. The selling dealer had no idea the file even existed. I was at a loss for words.

    Among the questions raised in my research was whether the 1972 Dino 246 GT had been delivered new with a radio. With a proper restoration in the offing, that would be important to ascertain. I reached out to Cathy Roush to see if she could assist. She could not, but suggested I speak with her colleague, Jim Weed. I phoned Jim one afternoon and, after we got acquainted, he asked me the chassis number of my car. I heard some papers shuffling around in the background and then Jim dropped a bombshell. The Ferrari Market Letter had a file on my car. It was my lucky day, yet again.


                Peter Markowski from RPM

    After a short conversation about how the Ferrari Market Letter came to acquire the file, Jim began turning the pages. In the file was an inventory sheet from Luigi Chinetti Motors, dated April 18, 1972. My car was listed on that sheet with two dozen other cars and a radio was not an option. Jim turned the next page to a factory invoice for my car to Luigi Chinetti Motors. THE factory invoice. The following page was the bill of lading, showing that the car had been transported from Italy to America with a dozen other Ferraris aboard a vessel named the Savonita. Jim turned the page again to the tire warranty from July 1972 listing the first custodian and his home address, just like the MSO I had found earlier in my research. At this point, I was in a state of shock. These were original provenance documents for my car that had been squirreled away for many decades, without the knowledge of any prior custodian.

    While I was catching my breath, Jim says to me, I also have a service record for the car dated April 26, 1976. My jaw dropped. I told him that the first custodian’s widow had told me a story about how they had driven from Massachusetts to Connecticut to have a service performed on the car. She couldn’t remember the year, but she remembered the drive, waiting at Luigi Chinetti Motors while the work was completed and she even remembered that it cost nearly $500. There was a long silence on the phone. I asked Jim the amount of the invoice in his file. After a considerable pause, he read the amount to me very slowly. It was $467.34. Sitting in a dusty old file at the Ferrari Market Letter office was likely the only missing service record in the long life of my car. That it was an original document from the first custodian made it all the more significant.

    In January of 2024, fresh off of an exhaustive two-year restoration at Motion Products, the 1972 Dino 246 GT debuted at the Cavallino Classic in Palm Beach. On the Friday before the concours, I met the car on Coconut Walk where it had been delivered, removed my shoes, and drove it onto the esplanade near the Ocean Lawn at The Breakers. I had invited a small gathering of people who’d had some prior association with the car to join in the celebration. Among those in attendance were Dick Fritz, Peter Markowski, Matthias Bartz and Dustin Wetmore, from Motion Products. Of course, Cathy Roush from the Ferrari Market Letter was there, too. And reuniting after 40 years were the second and third custodians (now 91 and 65 years of age, respectively). It was a spectacular event with friends and icons in the Ferrari world, all sharing stories and lavishing attention on this very deserving car. The following day at the concours, the most recent custodian’s widow showed up with a bag of old trophies for her husband’s mistress. A poignant and fitting conclusion to a very special weekend.



                Jane Bartel, the widow of Bob ‘Bart” Bartel, the sixth custodian, at the Cavallino Classic 2024

    How does one start with nothing and end up with everything? By now you know the answer. Cathy and Jim are eager to hear from you. 


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