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My Pursuit of a Ferrari

Why Ferrari?

Ferrari. What's the first thing that pops into your head when you hear that word? Ferrari as a brand is among the most recognized in the world. Everyone has heard of Ferrari, right?

My first encounter with the Ferrari brand goes back to college. The owner of the apartment building I lived in when I attended the University of Miami had a Dino of some sort. I don't know exactly what model. I recall a sloped nose and shark like gills in the hood. It sounded way cooler than the noise that came out of my '71 Opel Manta. He also had a Donzi or maybe two. It seemed like he used the apartment building to house his numerous beautiful women "friends".

Fast forward forty years and now I'm buying a Ferrari. At first, I didn't really know I wanted a Ferrari. I wanted a really nice, prestigious, fast, exciting car that I'd keep until they pried the keys out of my cold, dead hands. I really like the Mercedes cars, have two, and thought a good choice would be an SL63 AMG. The latest of these beasts feature a 577 HP engine with enough torque to burn the tires at 75 MPH. It's a computerized marvel. I bought a beautiful example, a 2017 model with only 2000 miles. Wonderful car, drove great, everyone loved it. One guy came up to me and called it "A work of art." It was.


Two big problems with the SL63, and pretty much any newer car.

One: Depreciation. These cars plummet in value with no real bottom. It doesn't matter what cool options the car had, when they reach about ten years old, their value is about the same as a similar aged Honda, with the Honda being a better deal.

Two: Complexity. How many different computers are in a modern car? Five? Ten? More? Each with proprietary software and custom chips and connectors. Each one requires some sort of tinkering to get them to talk to each other and the sensors. Engine control units, radar and sonar systems, cameras, infrared, lane keeping software, infotainment, the list goes on and on. How many of these systems are required to be operational? What happens when the warranty runs out? How long are spares going to remain available? What about their cost for installation, integration and alignment? How likely is it that a person with limited special tools can maintain and support such a thing?

While I loved my SL63, I saw it as a car to own only during the warranty period. After that, it becomes a potential bottomless money pit. I sold my beautiful SL63 and started a quest for the "right" car.

My first thought was a really fine Corvette. Perhaps a '67 in pristine condition. Stick shift, carburetor and no computers. Problem is that these cars don't really drive all that nicely. They are stone age compared to the SL63 and much less comfortable. I was never a 'Vette guy anyway.

I couldn't think of any other America car that would fit the bill, a car that was fun, exciting and mostly analog. That's what I wanted.

I briefly considered Porsche. Briefly, like about ten nanoseconds. I already had one of those in the past, a '73 911-T. I bought the car when it was sick with fuel injector flu. The used car dealer who had it couldn't fix the problem and he sold the car cheap. It was easy to fix up enough to be a decent car but I couldn't get rid of the hard starting issue when it was hot. The darn thing was as temperamental as a Diamond DA-20 on a hot day.

I fixed it once and for all by switching to a carburetor system. This was one hot car. Both figuratively and literally. It had no power steering, no A/C (plenty of heat!), crank windows and minimal interior. It also had a souped up 350 HP engine and would fly like a rocket. The high power combined with the spartan interior and equipment equalled amazing acceleration and handling. My fondest memory is the transmission. I regularly shifted the car without the clutch. It was so amazingly smooth.

On a trip from Vermont (to Florida) the clutch cable broke outside of Stamford, CT. After screwing around for four hours trying to figure out how I could get it fixed, I decided to continue the trip without a clutch. The trick to driving without a clutch is getting the car moving from a dead stop. The only piece of gear on a car that can move the wheels besides the engine is the starter. I found that second gear worked best. When starting in first gear, the car would lurch a lot once it kicked over and it was difficult to control. In second, it was smoother.

I counted eleven toll booths between Stanford and Washington. Each time I had to stop, I had to shut the engine down, pay the toll, then start the car in gear. I got lucky and the starter didn't fry. In Washington, I caught the Auto Train to Sanford, FL, which was about fifteen miles or so from my house.

I sold my 911 to a guy that wanted to track it. The shop that rebuilt my engine sent him my way since I had exactly what he wanted. We worked out a very good deal all around. I'm sure he enjoyed the heck out of it.

Jaguar looked intriguing. Their F-type is slick and can even be had with a stick. Still pretty computerized but some model years are nearing the bottom of the depreciation curve. Not many around my neck of the woods and there's even a Jaguar dealer in town. Good possibilities there. The basic problem with a Jag is that it's a Jag. Notoriously unreliable. Crossed off Jaguar, maybe unfairly, I moved on.

Many years ago I had a Fiat 124. It was a weird car with strange systems, like vacuum powered windshield wipers and cruise control that consisted of a way of manipulating the throttle with a hand control. It was a screamer and fun to drive. Hmmm. Italian cars. Ferrari. Yes, I like Ferraris! That was sort of a eureka moment in my pursuit of automotive tranquility.

Budget

This is probably the number one most difficult thing to establish. I had only so much money I wanted to spend on a fun car. I put the figure at around $100k. This is the amount that I could lose and not cause any distress in the household. It's a toy after all. No point in going into debt or inflicting pain on the family in the pursuit of toy perfection. For $100k, plus or minus $20k, I figured a nice car could be had.

What Ferrari?

What did I know about Ferraris at the start of my search? Zilch. I couldn't identify any models except for the "Magnum" (308/328) Ferrari and the Dino. The internet is an amazing thing. I found Haggarty and Ferrari Market Letter to help me decide what models fit my budget. They are excellent resources for comparison. The Ferrari forum "Ferrari Chat" is very active with thousands of people visiting and posting each week. Posts about all sorts of Ferrari information appear everyday. Some are silly, most useless but a few allowed me insight into the various models. After several months of study, I had a list of four models. 328, 360, 550 and 575M.

The 575M is a beautiful car. It has a very powerful V-12. Some 575M's have a stick but that option skyrockets the car's cost to beyond my budget. If I was to get a 575M, it would have to be an automatic. At the time, I wasn't rejecting automatic transmissions but they really didn't cut it when it comes to driving enjoyment. There's nothing so satisfying as shifting through the gears, and controlling the power curve. It's a more sensuous experience than just slamming one's foot to the floor and letting the car do all the work. I decided a manual transmission was a must so the 575M got rejected.

The 550 is another fine example that fit my budget. They come with a manual transmission, and a V-12. The 550 isn't as expensive as the 575 but since they all have manual transmissions, there's no cost penalty for the stick. The prices for 550's are all over the place. It's difficult to get a handle on what a nice example would cost but it appeared the really fine ones were over my budget. I really wanted a convertible as well, which was the final nail in the 550.

I really liked the 328 for its looks, simplicity and robust systems. Compared to a modern car, it was weak and slow but for me, it would be fast enough. Their average asking price was way under my budget and finding a good one should be possible as they are plentiful. I left the decision up to my daughter. She took one look at the 328 and called it a "Back to the Future" car. She said it was too boxy and didn't like it.

That left the 360, and specifically, the 360 Spider. The 360 has the distinction of being the first "modern" Ferrari. It's all aluminum, mid-engine and almost all analog. The only computer worth mentioning is the engine control unit (ECU). The programming for this electronic marvel has been deciphered and the ECU's can be reprogrammed for better performance and customization. That was a big plus for me. My daughter really liked this one. She said it looked fast and cool. My wife preferred the 360 too. Manual transmission 360's are at a premium but that amount didn't blow the budget to complete hell. That was it. My decision was made.

Maintenance

I really hadn't considered that maintenance would be an issue in a big city like Memphis. We have pretty much everything here. Turns out Memphis is woefully short of Ferrari anything. No dealer, no independent shops, nothing. There is one shop I found that claimed to work on Italian exotics but they also service Fords and probably Yugos. The shop itself is located in a semi-war zone near central Memphis and is surrounded by rough railroad crossings. I felt uncomfortable driving my Honda CRV down there. No way would I bring an expensive car with a low front end to that shop. It was loaded with junky cars of all makes out front and to the sides. It looked more like they were a legit chop shop than one that repairs exotic Italian automobiles.

Without a service option locally, I would have to either do all the work myself or ship the car out of town anytime it needed something more than an oil change. It sounds insane to ship a car to get service but this actually happens all the time. Have a Tesla? You're shipping the car to get any service unless you're one of the few who live in a city with a service center. Memphis is not a car city like Miami or Dallas. Very few nice cars tool around and even fewer of them can be classified as a sports car. Figure one in a thousand cars in Memphis qualify as one of those. An exotic car tech would starve here.

My only option was DIY. I spent the next three months studying the forum and reading everything I could about DIY maintenance and repair of Ferrari 360's. Plenty is available online in this subject, including detailed pictures, videos and post after post on Ferrari Chat. One of the threads on the forum included a way to download the complete workshop manual and supplements for the 360 Spider. Great info. Did I say the internet is an amazing place?

I have plenty of experience working on cars. Back when I was a poor college student, I couldn't afford to just bring my barely running car into a shop. It was fix it myself or take the bus. I can remember countless Sunday nights, out in the apartment complex parking lot, under one of our cars (my girlfriend and future wife and myself), trying to fix something important so we could drive to school and work the next day. That was kind of miserable but I kept them functioning. Later in life, I worked on cars as a hobby. I brought a '73 Spitfire back from a rusted hulk with a tree growing through the floorboards to a nearly perfect example with a new engine. I maintained my 911 for 15 years and did everything myself, except the engine upgrade. I sent that to a pro shop. I feel I can handle the complexities of the 360 Ferrari and look forward to the opportunity to really get to know the car.

One thing different now than when I worked on cars in the past: YouTube. Virtually everything I would have to do is documented with a video. Typically, there are several DIY videos on every topic. Nothing like seeing it done to get a leg up on the process.

How to Buy a Ferrari

Do I use a private party or a dealer? Another big question.

A private party is likely to be more flexible and I could talk directly to the person who owns the car. The downside is that the private party has a vested interest in the car and could be hiding secrets of the car's past. It can also be tiring to sell a fancy car. From my own experience selling nice cars, it can be quite painful selling them. They attract "tourists" and "tire kickers". Many people shop for cars as a form of entertainment. This can get old and make the private seller grumpy, short tempered and unlikely to be cooperative unless they have a deposit.

A dealer offers a lot more than car sales. They offer support and a wealth of knowledge and service that can often be useful during the sales process. Their inventory is available to walk-in's and they're more likely to allow a test drive. The downside is dealer markup and their answers to questions about the service history and about the former owners leads to quizzical looks and feigns of ignorance. An unscrupulous dealer can also actively cover up problems and do the old "Lipstick on a Pig" routine.

A third option, one that's commonly used in the aircraft buying and selling business is to enlist a broker in the process. The job of a broker is to put buyer and seller together, grease the wheels and essentially make the deal happen so both buyer and seller are happy. We bought our airplane through a broker and it was a very smooth transaction.

During my months of study before making the purchase decision, I read many posts and advertisements from Mike of Yellow Compass Group. He advertised his services in a thread where anyone could voice their opinions and experiences with Mike. Some were put off by his flamboyance and use of flowery adjectives. Others doubted his sincerity. The people who actually had Mike involved with their transaction had nothing but glowing praise. When I was ready to move on to buying, I contacted Mike with my requirements.

Mike had a listing in the Ferrari Chat site for a really nice 360 Spider, Rosso Corsa (red) with a tan interior. The price was a bit over my budget. I decided to contact him. Mike's a large personality. He's very animated and full of energy. I found him quite refreshing for his lack of bull and straight talk. The red 360 had a fixed price. No budging. He did have another car coming up that hadn't been listed yet. An Azzurro California (light blue) with Creme (white) interior 360. Essentially the same car as the red one. Both had manual transmissions and under twenty-thousand miles. Both were in excellent shape and were being maintained by reputable shops. The light blue one's price was more negotiable and the car appealed to me.

Pre-Purchase Inspection Requirement

Buying a Ferrari isn't like buying a regular car. It's much more like buying an airplane. In the aircraft world, everyone gets a Pre-Purchase Inspection (PPI). An independent look at the aircraft to determine if it's airworthy and what needs attention. This is extremely important since even a little thing wrong with an airplane can kill people, or cost a fortune.

In the car world, very little that goes wrong is a death sentence. Things that are broken or about to fail in a car can certainly ruin your day. Generally, coasting to the side of the road swearing is not a high risk to life and limb.

When important things go wrong in a Ferrari, it gets expensive fast. Anyone can say their car is perfect and has absolutely nothing wrong with it. I can guarantee that a true Ferrari expert can find that something. It could be huge or a minor cosmetic. No car is perfect. Always get a PPI.

For someone who already owns a Ferrari, likely the best person to do the PPI would be their mechanic. I'm a first timer for a Ferrari, a virgin, and had no magical mechanic I could pull out of my hat to do the PPI. I wouldn't want to use the seller's mechanic. That's too close of a relationship. I would want a totally independent and qualified expert located near the car. Wow. Tough requirement there.

Mike advertises a PPI service with top notch mechanics. I decided to talk to Mike about his PPI service.

Seeing a Ferrari

Up to this point, I had never laid eyes on a Ferrari 360 of any type. Maybe I had but I wouldn't have known it at the time. I thought it important to do some physical research before pulling the trigger. My wife was nearly apoplectic at the thought of me spending all that money on a car I had never even seen. I agreed with her that it sounded insane. Not that insane sounding ever stopped me.

I talked to Mike about seeing a 360 and he put me in touch with his buddy Bruce Anderson of Maranello Autosports in Eustis, FL. I happened to be going to the Orlando area anyway so it was easy to sidetrack to Eustis to meet Bruce and see a few examples of 360's in person. He's got a really nice shop loaded with really nice cars. He had two 360 Spiders and a coupe there for me to peer at. One of them I got to touch and sit in was being refurbished for sale. Bruce graciously donated an hour or so of his time to answer my questions and many other things. I Learned a lot from our short interview and it built my confidence I was along the right path.

My Ferrari

Mike and I had several long back and forth conversations about the Azzurro California and Rosso Corsa models he knew about and we decided to work out a deal for the Azzurro California car. A few days later we had a nice deal that both myself and the seller could live with. Mike drafted a bill of sale, and the owner and I signed it. I made a deposit by wire transfer and that was it. Deal made. A PPI would be performed at the soonest opportunity by an independent tech. We agreed on picking the car up around the middle of September.

My PPI

Mike selected Alfonso, or "Fonzie" as he is known, of J. Scuderia Automotive in Rockaway, NJ to do the PPI. He was available within a few days and made a personal visit to the car at the owner's home.

The PPI turned up some interesting findings. The good news is the car passed for most everything on the list. A couple of minor things turned up that the seller agreed to fix and a few cosmetic things I decided to pay for. Mike had the car delivered to Fonzie's shop to make the repairs and as a bonus, I'll pick the car up from Fonzie instead of the owner. Being able to pick the brains of a master mechanic with my car sitting there is going to be priceless. My plan is to perform my own maintenance and basic repairs so anything I can learn about the process now will yield dividends later.

The issues are being addressed right now and by next week, should be done.

Making Plans

The date was set for me to pick up the Ferrari as September 6th. I found a non-stop flight to LGA on the day before, September 5th, around 2pm. It will probably take two hours to get from LGA to Fonzie's shop, maybe more. I'll do a personal inspection, check the VIN, do a test drive and if all is as it should be, buy it. Unfortunately, by then, the banks will surely be closed so I'll have to spend the night and pay for it the next day by wire transfer. Then, it's off on a hundred mile drive to my sister's where I will pick up a car trailer and truck and drive back to Memphis. That is the plan if everything goes perfect.

Friday, August 30

Dorian, a huge hurricane is bearing down on the US as I write this. My plans of picking up the car on Friday at first looked like maybe not such a hot idea because of the storm's track from the coast of Florida, sharply north and it looked like it would hit the New York area on the 5th of September. Luckily for me and unfortunately for an entire country, the storm stalled over the Bahamas. It looks like I'll be able to complete my trip as planned as I will have come and gone by the time the storm is even close to my destination.

In the meantime, the few items picked up by the PPI are being addressed and should be finished by the time I arrive. Parts have been ordered and should be at Fonzi's shop in time to install them. It's been a bit of a roller coaster with the storm trying to dash my plans but at this point, I feel relatively confident that things should execute as planned and I will take possession of the car on schedule.

I'm also taking this opportunity to have a couple of other things addressed on my dime, such as having the seats resprayed and the fenders rolled. The seats were pretty nice already but showed some signs of wear. Mike hooked me up with a world class leather guy who handled it nicely. The fenders may be a problem as the body shop that would do it may not be able to get to it in time. No matter. I'll just have to "roll" with it.

Tuesday, September 3

Got the bad news today about the fenders. Not going to be able to do it this week. The process of "rolling fenders" turns the sharp "L" shape of the inside fender into a "U" or a "V" shape. The inner lip is rolled up and the result is the sharp part of the "L" is out of the way of the wheels and tires. Typically, this is done when a car is lowered or wider tires are used.

I called around a few body shops in Memphis and nobody knew what "Roll fenders" meant. Memphis isn't a car town. Maybe one out of a thousand vehicles is a sporty two door in good condition. Probably a lot less than one in a thousand. Very few vehicles in Memphis are customized either. I might be able to find a shop if I keep looking. On the other hand, the equipment required is about a hundred dollars and the process looks to be one I can probably handle. I might go that route and practice on one of my other cars first.

I did some research on fender rollers and one from a company called "Eastwood" appears to be well favored on YouTube. It's one of the more expensive units, priced around $80.

Two other key pieces of equipment are required to roll a fender. A heat gun and a 30mm rubber mallet. I have a heat gun, along with a really cool infrared camera from Flir that can tell me how hot the surface is. The key is to get the surface hot enough so the paint is pliant but not so hot as to bubble it. One video showed 160F as the target temperature. This issue will have to be taken care of rather quickly or I risk damaging the fenders even more. Right now, the damage is slight.

A fender that needs rolling shows an area that has interfered with the tire or wheel and appears pulled down. Extreme tire damage can result from this interference but since the body is aluminum, the tires may be less subject to damage than the sharper steel fender of a regular car.

The "capote" (soft top) part, a hydraulic ram, is due on Wednesday.

Wednesday, September 4

The part came in today and Fonzie can start working on fixing the top. It's a fairly complex looking system with a dozen hydraulic rams and probably as many microswitches, not counting all the rails, tubes, fabric parts, and locking mechanism. One of the rams leaks, so needs to be replaced. Cost to me: $0. Cost to the owner: A lot. I'm guessing around three grand. He was unaware of the problem as the top did work. The PPI found the reservoir low in fluid and Fonzie figured out why.

Mike warned me that the top might not be done by Friday afternoon, but that was the target for completion of the work. I'm not worried as Fonzie's a master tech and it's all basic disassembly and reassembly. Some of those little micro switches might need adjusting though and that's incredibly time consuming. All I can do is just continue along my intended path until something upsets the apple cart. I have no hard and fast return time so if it bleeds into Saturday I should be able to absorb it.

Tomorrow I leave for Laguardia (LGA) on a non-stop from Memphis. There are ridiculously few flights leaving from Memphis. It is very unusual to get out of this city by air on one leg. According to the AA website, the flight is scheduled to be on time.

Thursday, September 5

The flight to LGA was uneventful and arrived on time. Laguardia is an old, odd airport. The plane, an ancient example of 1980's tech, pulled up to an empty space on the tarmac and disgorged us into a bus. It was standing room only as we travelled a short distance to the terminal. The last time I walked out in the open at an airport was back in 1975 when I flew a Braniff 727 to Brownsville, Texas. We walked out the built in back ramp that day.

Finding an Uber in the chaos was a trick, made easier by simply following the other ants to the car service area. A legion of Uber drivers making less than minimum wage waited for us in the crumbling parking garage. My ride was in a very dirty and rather unkempt Toyota Corolla driven by a very quiet man who seemed to have trouble keeping the car on the road. It had a terrific vibration, probably from a bent part from the numerous potholes. He managed to get me to the hotel in one piece at a cost of nearly two hundred dollars, with tip.

I got in touch with Mike and he told me the car would be ready for me to see it at 5pm. He'd contact me a few minutes before arriving and we'd go take a look. The car had no license plate so no test drive would be possible today. Tomorrow, Mike would have a dealer plate to use so I could finally drive my car, and coincidentally, have my first drive in a Ferrari.

I have never driven a Ferrari. I had a chance to have a long look at several examples and actually sit in one when I visited Bruce Anderson's Maranello Autosport in Eustis last month. Being able to test drive a Ferrari is a difficult thing.

Back in May, while visiting the Bay area in California, I took the time to check out the cars at Ferrari Silicon Valley. The salesman that kept an eye on me there was courteous but uncooperative when it came to even sitting in the cars. I managed to talk him into unlocking a California T sitting in the dealer showroom and he even started it so I could hear the engine. That was it though. I guess one has to show a suitcase full of cash before a test drive can be arranged. He made the right call though. I was a tire kicker and wasn't going to buy his car.

I finally met Mike a bit after 5pm and had a nice drive to Fonzie's place. Mike is an interesting and knowledgeable guy with a wealth of information on many topics and particularly, Ferrari's. I'd already spent several hours cumulative talking to him on the phone and texting over the preceding weeks so had a good idea what he was going to be like in person. When we pulled up, I saw a bluish 360 Spider parked out front and both Mike and I thought it was my car. I felt a bit disappointed in the color as my impression of Azzurro California was that it had more spirit, more "pizazz". Then we both noticed it had a black top. Not my car. It was one Fonzie was working on. My car was buried at the back of the shop, behind a beautiful Dino.

It was a Dino that got me interested in Ferrari's to begin with. My first knowledgeable brush with exotics was a Dino. Way out of my price range, way, way out.

My first impression as I approached my car was amazement. It was absolutely beautiful. The Azzurro California color is metallic. My first surprise. All along, I thought it was just a color like the typical Rosso Corsa (red) Ferrari. Azzurro California is a deep color that changes depending on the light. In the shop, it looked much darker than in the pictures I had seen before. The interior, Creme (cream) set off the exterior color exquisitely.

I dared not touch it for fear it would either crumble into a pile of ashes or burn my finger as it appeared to be very, very hot. Mike and I walked around it while Fonzie rattled off a hundred things I should have paid close attention to.

At one point, Fonzie asked "Are you going to sit in it?" I gushed a loud "YES" and he proceeded to brief me on the method one should use to mount this stallion. Fonzie made it clear that the driver has to enter very carefully and avoid scuffing up the bolsters. I could see it would be a trick to climb into this low slung beast without somehow buffing the leather surfaces with my rear. Fonzie admonished me from wearing denim or other rough fabrics as they will shorten the life of the leather. My first attempt was clumsy and uncoordinated. I'd do it better in the future.


I got a short and important briefing on engine startup. Fonzie explained that most people with 360's do it wrong. The immobilizer, the bit of electronics that keep the car from being started without the key fob, is a kind of a painful item that many have deleted from their cars. My car has a functioning unit so I would have to deal with it each time I started the car. The trick is to first turn the key to the ignition on setting, then press the magic button on the key fob. Most people do it the other way and it is more subject to failure that way. I filed this important information away safely. Key first, then button. Got it.

I started the beast in Fonzie's shop. Wow! What a sound. It was super sweet, smooth and all I expected from eight cylinders of high compression madness. Frankly, my first impression was of an aircraft engine. It sounded and smelled just like a Lycoming IO-360. That was actually comforting in a weird way.

I got another two hours of briefing on every system in the car, retaining maybe a quarter. Damn, I should really have recorded the entire session. Hindsight.

We left the shop, met up with Mike's wife and had a wonderful dinner at a local Chinese restaurant. Excellent food, excellent company and overall, a wonderful day.

Friday, September 6

I had a terrible night. I doubt I slept two hours. Too many things were running through my head, such as the fact that I'm about to buy a nearly twenty year old car for way more than my first house and that I had never even driven a Ferrari before. Jeez. Sounds like my wife is talking. She's very cautious.

Then there's the issue about driving a hundred miles from Fonzie's shop to my sister's house without a legal tag. That one was a tough call. There's no drive out tag in Tennessee. People just scrawl "In Transit" on a piece of cardboard and stick it in the back window to get a private purchase car home. It's pretty relaxed and non-confrontational in Tennessee. I didn't know how the police in New Jersey and New York might react to my self-registered vehicle.


The alternative was for me to pay for the car in advance, go to the DMV and register it. I really didn't feel comfortable paying for a car I haven't actually seen. My wife wouldn't stand for that either and if I went against her for something like this and it turned into a mess, I'd be hearing about it until the day I die. She's right too. I believe in the old Russian proverb "Trust but verify." Most people attribute that quote to Ronald Reagan but in reality, it's of Russian origin.

I was also worried about driving a car that most likely hasn't driven a hundred miles in a single jump in perhaps a decade, maybe more. The Carfax report showed very little mileage from the last two owners. I was going to get in this unfamiliar high performance vehicle and drive off into the vortex of insane traffic on a Friday afternoon. What could go wrong besides everything?

I finally decided to leave my bed around four am. No point in lying there any longer. I had a very long wait. Mike was going to pick me up around noon for the all important test drive. I kept myself busy with the mundane details of normal working life until Mike called.

Mike met me a bit after noon and we drove to the shop. My palms were sweaty and my heart hadn't dropped below 140BPM since I got out of bed. Luckily, it was a beautiful overcast day, dry and cool. Perfect weather for testing out a convertible. When we pulled up to the shop, my car was sitting outside and ready to go. Mike went over the details and we agreed that Mike would drive it first to demonstrate the shifting points. We'd stop at a gas station, fill up and then I'd take over.

Mike drove the car expertly, shiftly smoothly and catching all the gears just right. He stressed to me the importance of careful use of the clutch and that being foolish with that bit of kit would wear it out quickly. I knew from my briefing with Fonzie that there's thirty five percent clutch life left. At first that alarmed me but then, it took seventeen thousand miles to burn off sixty five percent so if I'm careful, I should get another ten thousand miles before the clutch is toast. Or twenty careless miles.

We stopped for gas and then it was my turn to drive. I adjusted the seat and mirrors, then successfully started it as Fonzie described, then off on my first clutch engagement.

CAREFUL! Mike screamed as I used up enough clutch to literally raise a stink. Wow. Gotta watch that. Mike had already demonstrated a proper go. First gear is very low and just letting the clutch out with the engine at near idle is good enough and causes an insignificant wear on the clutch. I think I was just way too nervous and screwed it up because of that. I have another manual shift car, a really nice SLK320, that is also a bit touchy on the clutch. My second start was perfect. Mike relaxed a bit.

I drove the car maybe twenty miles, around town, in traffic, on the expressway up to speed and back to the shop. Everything worked as expected. I accepted the car, made all the final arrangements and after about an hour, hit the road towards Kingston.

It wasn't more than five minutes on the road before my first terror attack happened. I passed two police cars watching traffic and not a moment after, they tore off in my direction, lights and sirens blazing. They already had me after five minutes! Damn, going to spend the night in a New Jersey jail. That would have been a new experience for me. They got right on my ass and then passed me. Whew! Not after me. It took about ten minutes for my heart rate to drop down to 140 again. I was sweating profusely and uncomfortable in my wet clothes at this point.

The next hurdle was the toll booth for the NYS Thruway. Would some sort of high tech license plate reader throw a code that would alert an officer standing by? No problem there. The person handing out tickets didn't even look up. I settled into the ride and felt more or less calm. My heart rate dropped and my clothes dried out. I didn't dare go more than the speed limit at first but since the entire world was going seventy five or eighty, I had to keep up. No problem in my fancy Ferrari!

I got about seventy five miles into the drive and about ten miles from my exit when I heard something unusual coming from the car. It sounded like gravel in the transmission. It could have been road noise or something else. I had been droning along at three thousand RPM's for a long time and Fonzie told me the car really likes to run at high RPM's, above four thousand. He mentioned a corrective technique called "An Italian Tuneup" that consisted of running the car up to redline to clean out the various parts so I decided to give that a try.

I dropped into fifth gear and floored it in a clear bit of road between a plug of semi's plodding along and nearly instantly hit one hundred MPH and six thousand RPM's. That should do it I thought. When I tried to shift back into sixth, I couldn't get it out of gear. It was stuck in fifth. OH CRAP! I killed my car already.

I followed standard aircraft procedure which states to slow to "best glide" and work the problem from there. In fifth, at what felt like a minimum of stress on the car, I was going fifty now. Cars and trucks were flying past me like I was standing still but I was still moving towards my exit. The last thing I wanted was for the car to die along I-87 with this murderously heavy traffic. It would be hours before I could get a proper flatbed to me and during that time, I would probably be killed by a mom in an SUV texting her kids she was going to be late. I didn't want to try again to get out of fifth. If I couldn't shift back into gear, I'd be dead on the side of the road. Best to just do best glide and work the problem once I'm safe.

Six miles to go before the exit now. I went over the likely scenarios that could happen as I approached the toll booth. I had two choices. Either sail through the toll booth and stop somewhere as close as I can, run back and pay the toll, then worry about it, or stop in the toll booth, cause a huge traffic snarl and the ensuing anger and yelling from everyone. I decided if it looked possible, I'd sail though and tell the attendant as I passed that "I'll be right back."

I exited I-87 and slowed carefully. One booth had no cars so I targeted that one. It was on the far right and I'd have to swing to the left to get out of traffic. I was prepared for the worse. I got down to about twenty and tried the shifter again. Miraculously, it came out of fifth and into neutral. THERE IS A GOD AND SHE LOVES FERRARI'S!! I exclaimed out loud. I pulled up to the booth, fumbled with my wallet and paid the $2.25 toll. I had no problem pulling away and off I went for another ten miles to my sister's house. Funny thing… the toll booth had an arm. I would have had to stop.

Once I got to my destination, I tried calling Mike but my sister lives way out in the sticks and has no cell service. I had to walk to the end of her driveway, about a quarter mile, to get one bar. I got Mike on the phone and described the problem. He conferenced in Fonzie and we discussed it. The consensus was for me to stop on my way back to Memphis at the shop and Fonzie could take a look at it. If anything needed fixing, I could leave the car at the shop and have it shipped. A hugely expensive drag but it would be better than taking a broken car back to Memphis. The shop wouldn't be open until Monday, so I'd be spending an extra day with my sister.

Needless to say, I was kind of bummed that I bought a car and it has a problem on the first day of driving it. Oh well, it's my car and my problem. No sense crying over spilled milk. Whatever the problem, the car was operating normally now. I drove it through all the gears on the way to my sister's and the car sounded great. No CEL's or weird graphics in the little LED window.

The plan was to combine a trip to my sister's to pick up some items from my father's estate. One of them, a two hundred year old organ, was too fragile to ship and others, several bronzes, were quite heavy and cumbersome. I'd rent a UHaul truck and a car trailer to kill two birds with one stone. The biggest potential stumbling block with this plan was getting the car on the trailer.

UHaul has some peculiar requirements for using their car trailers. First, you car has to be on the list of approved cars. Not many are. My mother's Toyota Camry wasn't on the list at one time and I had to use a tow dolly instead. Oddly though, the Ferrari 360 was on the list and the only Ferrari to boot. Whatever their criteria, the 360 met it. The car has to be loaded at the UHaul dealer too. They won't let you just take the trailer empty. I'd been warned that it could take an extraordinary effort to get this car loaded safely and without damage. Just another thing to nag me during the early mornings of the previous week.

My sister and I took the maybe five mile drive to the UHaul place to make our four pm appointment. She loved the car and raved about how comfortable the Daytona seats were. They are quite comfy.

When I first talked to the guy at UHaul, I questioned what level of effort they would expend before giving up on loading the car. He assured me we would get it loaded safely. It's on the list so it can go on the trailer. I was impressed with their confidence and "Can DO" spirit. It's really unusual to see people with enthusiasm at their jobs anymore.

The trick with loading a low slung car is to fill in the bottom of the track the car drives onto with 2x8's. That way, the car sails over the big angry, hungry looking metal knives aiming their hurtful blades at my car.


The guys at the UHaul store in Ulster, NY did an excellent job loading my car. It took a while to get it on securely. It was done and that worry was put to rest.

The ride back to my sister's house was easy. I have a lot of experience towing things around the country so wasn't at all concerned about this trip. We had a forty-five foot motorhome towing a car for ten years and travelled to dozens of states in that time. I had some scary moments with that machine and it had burned all the road fear out of me. I did know it wasn't going to be a cakewalk. The trailer wallowed like a garbage scow over fifty MPH. At that speed, it would take a lot longer to get home and I would be a literal target for every texting turkey on the highway.

Finished the day at a nice restaurant with my sister. I actually slept well that night.


Weekend

I helped my sister with some carpentry tasks she had to finish before closing a building permit and that helped pass the time. We had a good visit and I felt a lot more rested. Heart rate returned to normal.

On Sunday, I checked the tire pressures on the trailer and they were totally whacked out. One was at forty-five and one was at sixty. The others were in between. The document from UHaul recommended using the tire pressure on the sidewall. That was sixty-five. I thought that might be the best for a car weighing two tons or more but my car was a shade over three thousand. A lighter car should probably have lower tire pressure for optimum handling. At least that's my logic. I decided on trying sixty PSI as a starting point and adjusting if necessary. The truck had electronic tire gauges and they were within spec.

Monday, September 9

My sister was off to work before I awoke. We had said our goodbyes the night before. I managed to sleep pretty well and felt up to the task of a potential ten to twelve hour drive. At fifty MPH, it would take three days of ten hour drives. I was ready for a long grueling trip. After getting gas, I hit I-87 South towards the shop and home.

I hit fifty and the trailer was still running straight. Sixty, still good. Tested it up to eighty and it held true but at speeds higher than about sixty eight, I had to maintain a rock rigid hold on the steering wheel to keep from starting a pilot induced oscillation in the trailer. It would have been easy to do except the truck had a slight pull to the right that forced me to keep a correction in at all times. That certainly added to the stress. I hate vehicles that pull. If it were my truck, it would be in the alignment shop getting fixed.

I managed to keep up with the traffic the entire way to the shop in New Jersey and arrived around eleven am. Mike was already there and met me as I rounded the corner. He looked a tiny bit nervous but was still his bubbly self. Fonzie stopped what he was doing and looked the car over. In seconds, he had the answer.

During the test drive, Mike noticed the mat in the front wasn't attached to anything and getting in the car caused it to bunch up towards the pedals. This is actually a notorious problem with these cars and has been known to cause people to damage their car. It's a total rookie issue that I guess has to be learned about the hard way. The mat had bunched up under the clutch. It was just enough at the moment in my trip that it caused the shifter to appear jammed. Everything was normal. It's not supposed to come out of gear unless the clutch is pushed or the gears are matched perfectly with the engine torque.

I felt a bit foolish about it as I had been warned and forgot it. Jeez. The entire episode felt like when my one and only child was fresh from the womb and I was taking care of her by myself. Every minute I thought I must be killing her. Every second I expected her to stop breathing and die on my watch. It took me a couple of weeks to realize that babies are simply not that breakable. They survived millions of years without hospitals and doctors. Still, that feeling of impending doom and helplessness lives on in my fear of my Ferrari. I know I'll get over it eventually.

In fifteen minutes I was on my way again. I felt much better that I hadn't in fact killed my newly out of the womb Ferrari. I was on my way and with any luck, no fool would kill me in the next few days.

Epilogue

I drove during daylight only and arrived back in Memphis as the sun set on the second day. The first day was a lot of traffic and mostly hell but on the second day, once I got away from the East Coast, was a lot easier. Less traffic, open roads, long stretches where I had no car in sight. I kept to the speed limits and the truck ran fine.

Getting the car off the trailer was a lot easier than getting it on. We live on a private road that has a rather sharp incline immediately adjacent to the public road. A hazard for low slung cars for sure but not bad if approached at an angle. I backed the trailer up to the incline with the trailer wheels in the gutter of the public road. With the ramps extended, they were nearly level with the trailer bed. The trailer and ramps were slightly at an incline off the trailer so I just had to give it a tiny bit of juice to roll it off and parked it in my garage. Totally anticlimactic.

Now I have my Ferrari. Is it going to be the best thing since sliced bread or is it going to be one of those "Careful what you wish for, you might just get it." scenarios?

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