"You've got rocks in your head," says Dick Guthrie. It's one thing when your wife says so, but it really hurts when your mechanic points it out.
Guthrie is the owner of ATD, an independent repair shop in Portland, Oregon, with a large Ferrari clientele. He used to work on my beloved Lotus, doing it out of (expensive) charity and a love of automotive purity. First and foremost, however, he's a Ferrari specialist, one of a rare breed of independent mechanics who know the ins and outs of Ferraris from the 1950s on. (Most mechanics at Ferrari dealerships only service the newest models.)
I was thinking about buying an older Ferrari. You know what Dick said. Of course he's right. But who loves cars and doesn't lust after a Ferrari? I've never met a car lover who couldn't see himself tooling down the autostrada -- or just the local interstate -- in one of Enzo Ferrari's ineffably sleek, magical machines.
"Remember, it's just a car," cautions Gerald Roush, editor and publisher of Ferrari Market Letter, a 26-issues-a-year bible of Ferrari lust. I called him because when you're looking to buy or sell Ferraris, his newsletter (www.ferrarimarketletter.com) is where you look first.
Feeling the splash of cold water yet? Both Guthrie and Roush know Ferraris. And they also know that they're not your ordinary, quart-of-milk-down-the-block vehicles. Like plastic surgeons, they feel professionally obliged to tell you not to expect too much.
Still, you can't keep Ferrari lust hidden forever. I tell them my fantasy: an older, affordable Ferrari that's the real thing. "Not one of those Ferrari-for-the-masses that Tom Selleck drove on ¿Magnum, P.I.,'" I say snobbishly. (It was a Ferrari 308GTS.)
"Actually," says Roush, "a better choice would be the Ferrari 328, which was really the final glory of what began as the 308 series. It's quite a good car and is selling for a pretty reasonable price at the moment, typically around $60,000 or so."
As it happens, Guthrie also mentions (unprompted by me) the Ferrari 328. "As Ferraris go," he says, "the 328 is the pinnacle of the ratio between performance and low maintenance. It's about as maintenance-free as a Ferrari gets."
That's great, if you like the way the Ferrari 328 looks. Unfortunately, I don't.
"What about the old Ferrari 246 Dino?" I inquire. Now there's a car I always thought looked cool. When it first appeared in the early-'70s, Ferrari snobs (they abound) sniffed at the 246 Dino because it was only a six-cylinder.
Real Ferraris, you see, are 12-cylinder machines. Also, there
was a distinctly déclassé connection with Fiat, which made part of the car for Ferrari. "Pish," I said then and now. It's one helluva racy-looking, mid-engined beauty. I couldn't afford one back then, but maybe today I could.
"Perhaps," says Roush, doubtfully. "But keep in mind that a good-condition 246 Dino Spider [with a detachable roof] now sells for $75,000 to $80,000." That was a little more than I had suggested.
Like some cautionary Greek chorus, Guthrie puts the kibosh on my 246 Dino fantasy. "People who have 246 Dinos have more money than mechanical brains," he says bluntly. "Typically, they fall out of love pretty fast. With a 246 Dino they have to learn throttle control. And they have to learn how to handle its flatness on curves. It's not a creature-comfort car."
Well, neither was my Lotus -- but I don't say that. I keep respectfully quiet. You don't disrespect true Ferrari experts.
I keep plugging away. Gerald Roush says that in addition to the 328 series, I should check out the Ferrari F355, which, he admits, is definitely more expensive. This is one stunning Ferrari, especially in the convertible version, sometimes called the Spider, depending on who's talking. Introduced in 1995, a good used model starts at $120,000. It's a real scorcher, even by Ferrari standards. At zero to 60 mph in 4.6 seconds, you'll fear lung collapse.
Here we reach a fork in the road: Do I want a historical Ferrari -- the 246 Dino, for example? Or do I want the greater refinements provided by newer Ferraris?
I ask Guthrie what he thinks of the Ferrari F355. "Really nice," he replies. For him that's saying a lot. Any vintage Ferrari he'd recommend?
He pauses for what seems forever. Finally, he says, "I'd suggest the Ferrari 330 GTC, built in the mid-1960s. They're really nice on the road. A real pleasure."
I can't recall the 330 GTC, so I look up some photos on the Internet. Sure enough, it's a classic all right; a powerful, almost lunging Ferrari with a honking 12-cylinder engine that puts out 300 horsepower. Back in the '60s, that was muscle. They made only 600 of them. Cost today? About $80,000.
Rarity matters to Ferrari types. It's striking how few Ferraris are made, considering their fame. Roush is a fan of the Boxer series, which he considers an excellent buy among older Ferraris. He can rattle off the numbers like a baseball fan. "There were only about 2,000 Boxers built," he begins. "The 512BB had 929 cars built. The 512BBi had 1,007 made. And the 365 Boxer saw 387 made."
I ask about the famous Testarossa, one of Ferrari's most futuristically beautiful designs, an icon of the 1980s. "It is beautiful," agrees Roush. "But it will never be a collectible. They made a ton of them: more than 7,000 Testarossas. Prices are in decline and they'll probably keep declining."
Guthrie also admires the Testarossa design, but cautions that its interior is "claustrophobic." It's tricky to drive, he notes, because it's so wide. "But golly, it's got some nice swoopy power." You can get a good Testarossa for $60,000 to $70,000.
What do you look for with any older Ferrari? One thing Roush and Guthrie wholeheartedly -- even heatedly -- agree on is the false allure of low mileage. "A lot of people place a high premium on low mileage," says Roush. "They're wrong. A lot of the servicing on Ferraris is more time-sensitive than mileage sensitive."
"People are obsessed about low mileage," grouses Guthrie. "It's nonsense. You want a car that's been driven. You want service records that show that the owner attended to all sorts of little details, not just an engine overhaul."
Roush puts it succinctly. "Condition, condition, condition," he declares. "You want service records. Clear, provable, diligent care. Never mind miles."
So what should I buy? If the pocketbook permits, I'd say the top choice is the Ferrari F355. It has it all: comfort, speed and undeniable stylish elegance. The Testarossa is a deal, but no investment.
And what about my longed-for Ferrari Dino? Never mind.
Matt Kramer is a columnist for Wine Spectator magazine, Cigar Aficionado's sister publication.