My Ferrari Life And Buying Experience From Nicholas Frankl
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By Nicholas Frankl
Senior Editor & Motor racing correspondent
The Auto Channel
For many people around the world today and many generations before, Ferrari holds a mystical and magical place in their hearts and minds.
The vast majority have never actually ever sat in a Ferrari, driven a Ferrari, heard the noise of the sonorous engine or even seen a Ferrari in person and consume their passion through auto media, TV, movies, popular culture and the famous posters that dot many of our bedrooms, dorm rooms, studies and garages.
My own relationship with Ferrari started before I can actually remember as my petrol head parents, June and Andrew, the famous automotive doyen and Grand Prix editor of the Ferrari magazine, FORZA, took my twin sister, Annabelle and I to the British GP in 1971. We were 2 months old and hanging out in the pits with the famous Belgium pilot Jacky Ickx driving a 1971 Ferrari 312B.
Of course by age 4 we were having family quiz night and both of us could name the leaders of the championship (Hunt & Lauda) and the respective teams they drove for.
Wall paper was not a big affair in any bedroom I ever inhabited until age 30. Most, if not all, the space was covered by automotive and truck racing (my father established the sport in Europe at Donington Park in 1984, causing, according to the Guinness book of records Britain’s largest traffic jam to date), pride of place reserved for the framing quality CAR magazine prints of various Ferrari legends. Of course, instead of starring at the beauty of the Nick Masons 250 GTO I should have been forcing my father to mortgage the house and buy one!!
My father, who owned CAR magazine, ordered a new 328 GTS in 1987. Red with a black targa top and magnolia hide. It was awesome! It was also delivered late and, rather embarrassingly, when my father travelled to Italy to collect the car at the factory, the paperwork wasn't ready and he just had to sit in it and leave it there!
Eventually it was delivered and daddy not only skipped the waiting list (it was the crazy 80’s and 328’s and Porsche Turbo’s were commanding 5 year waiting lists and huge premiums) but also negotiated a 10% discount!
He took me through the beautiful green English countryside to my colleague, Hurstpierpoint, in West Sussex every weekend and parked out of site, away from the main entrance, so the bright red horse wasn't too conspicuous! He wasn't to know that his preferred spot was directly outside the headmasters window.
So much for keeping a low profile!
But one of the great events of the week was the traditional Sunday eve 7pm chapel drive-by which my father performed as he raced past a small gathering of my teenage friends on the rev limiter and into 3rd before braking hard for the chicane at the end of the 800 yard straightaway that ran parallel to the lush green cricket pitches. Top Gear for schoolboys with huge grins and massive enthusiasm to work harder that week and earn enough one day to buy one!
We covered 20,000 (trouble free) miles over twenty years with many memorable trips to the British GP, Wimbledon, Henley Royal Regatta, Bristol for sailing races, Brighton for tea at The Grand Hotel and down to Grenoble and through Route Napoleon to the Monaco GP in convoy with a Lotus Esprit, Diablo and AC Cobra (which just about made it to France and conked out).
In 1992 the 348TS arrived and we picked up the first one in the country from Maranello Concessionaires. Upon installing it in the newly constructed garage, next to the 328, we removed the black targa roof and sat back in the car, whereupon we found we were locked in! The doors had ‘sunk’ without the roof and we had to climb out, dukes of hazard style!
It cruised well and made for a great long distance tourer. Budapest (where it performed quite badly lapping leisurely around the tight & twisty Hungaroring), Monaco, Milan, Frankfurt, and racing for the Calais train were all amazing fun. It never broke down and always generated happy waves and smiles even with the French highway patrol who in 1991 escorted me and my rather panicked father (he was sleeping and I was cruising on the silky smooth peage around 120mph through the quiet champagne region) off the road to the nearest Gendamarie for some telling off and ticket writing.
Luckily we just happened to be returning from the Monaco GP with lots of Ferrari press materials and publicity photos from the team who none other than French hero and World Champion Alain Prost was driving for! Several gifts and posing for photos with the car later the ticket had been reduced to 80mph and a modest fine! Today it would be impounded and crushed!
By the time the much needed and vastly superior F355 appeared in late 1995, we thought that owning 2 red beasts was enough and never upgraded.
Having started polishing and driving the cars age 14, both with and sometimes without my father’s knowledge (he didn't check the odometer and I only took them for cleaning and a quick spin around the beautiful country lanes wearing his red and black driving gloves and cloth cap) it was clear that Ferrari was already a big part of my life.
At the 1993 Great Ormond Street auction, attended by driver Emmanueli Pirro, I persuaded my father to bid for the top lot, Nigel Mansell’s 1990 641 bodywork. Shockingly we won! and celebrated with a free burger compliments of Rolling Stone legend Xxx at his joint off Kensington Highstreet. We didn't know what to do with the Scarlet red bodywork, as it was 13ft long and 5 ft wide. A dinner table I declared! But of course my mother already owned one of those…...
So it was loaned, for nearly 20 years, to the Ferrari Technical Center, in Egham, Surrey, and took pride of place on the gleaming new entrance wall. We finally sold it to a Ferrari enthusiast from Park City Utah, who also happened to have a world leader audio company David Weiner Ventures. Several drinks in the mountains later and some back and forth between us and then Ferrari chief Jean Todt and the factory approved “Ferrari Engine” by DWV was born using 16 custom speakers, billed from a single block of solid aluminum, carbon fiber and finished with Enzo factory paint. The final word in home and office audio and sold exclusively through dealers for $20,000 a piece and limited to only 1,000 for the world. http://www.dwv.com
My father’s love affair with the brand has continued through his 150 issue 15 year stint as Grand Prix editor of FORZA, based in San Francisco. For many years he has been popping in for coffee at Ferrari of San Francisco and just last year decided it was time for his first new Ferrari for nearly 20 years. A spirited 76 he now cruises around Belvedere in a beautiful black / magnolia California which is his pride and joy and recently performed admirably around the fabulous twisty Sears Point raceway.
Back to 1997 when Ferrari got really fun!
I was asked by Edward Asprey, Her Majesty The Queen’s royal jeweler, to manage the new Asprey / Ferrari F1 team $50m sponsorship deal. As I was already working for HYPE energy at the time, which sponsored Benetton and Williams over that period, I could only assist at the weekends. It was probably the best job ever in F1. They paid very well and I had the chance to see the team working up close at over 20 Grand Prix in 2 years.
Working in the pit lane garages and on the grid hosting uber VIPs like Prince Michael of Kent, Tom Ford, Jay Kay from the band Jamiroquai the Duke and Duchess of this and that and cool guys like Nick Mason from Pink Floyd, and working hand in hand with Jean Todt, Stefano Dominicali, Ross Brawn, Nigel Stepney (who sadly we lost to a traffic accident), Schumacher and Irvine was naturally an awesome experience and akin to interning in the Vatican or White House!
So that all brings us to 25 consecutive years at the Monaco Grand Prix and MY YACHT MONACO and our amazing events around the world which attracts many Ferrari owners.
Quite simply I thought it was time to be a member of the owners
I certainly didn't have the budget or much desire for any of the new flock as I really wanted a manual with a convertible or targa to blast around Mulholland Drive - that legendary ribbon that traverses the top of Los Angeles where the Hollywood “petrol head legends” James Dean, Steve McQueen, James Colburn, Henry Fonda and Dennis Hopper honed their driving and riding skills.
Never too much of a fan of the 360 and watching the 430’s steadily lose value I saw no other emotional or logical reason than the universally acclaimed F355.
1 year searching later and with a plethora of great options and prices from $40,000 to $100,000 I found a navy Blue / Blue cab in Oregon. After the email trail reassured me that the car was in good condition and with a price agreed verbally with the dealer I agreed to buy it. I went flying in the Cirrus SR22 to Palm Springs and returned Monday to learn it was already sold to another guy – so much for a dealers word!
However, the search online had also discovered a titanium silver / black ’99 GTS at a Jaguar dealer called Methany Imports. I called and discussed the car with Andy, the salesman, who told me that they knew the car and previous two owners and that it was in great condition except a bit of dashboard stretch.
The local ‘specialist’ and ‘factory’ trained mechanic had inspected the car and is was ‘good to go’.
So stupidly they Fed Ex’d me the paperwork and I signed for it including the ‘As Is’ no warranty document. A word to the wise, that is the get out of jail docket for any car dealer, if you sign that and the car arrives in a thousand pieces in a box, good luck claiming against them. So by now, you know where this is going. After two weeks, the paper work and transfers are completed and the car finally arrives on Melrose Ave in Los Angeles. I start the car and right away there is a misfire, even the truck driver notices it.
I went for a 40 mile drive, thinking it needs a good run to clear the injectors etc. Wrong! Next morning it goes to Barry, my, and everyone else's mechanic at Rolls Royce Independent Service (+1310 854 6688) off La Cieniga in West Hollywood. He’s pissed off and tells me to dispute the charge on the Amex, only $5,000, but at least what it's going to cost to ‘put it right’.
After a year and numerous phone conversations and letters from authorized dealers supporting my case, Amex (bastards) side with the crooks from Jacksonville (official Jaguar dealer go figure) and all because I signed that damn ‘As Is’ docket without seeing the car and believing the phony paper work from their ‘specialist’ mechanic. Here’s the good news. Once fixed and boy, there were all manner of issues to resolve, the car is totally AWESOME.
Like all new owners I poured over the Ferrari owner club chat rooms seeking every morsel of info and learning from the experiences of fellow Tifosi. There are significant aftermarket industries built around every major or minor marque that tune, tweak and enhance the standard factory experience. Older cars require maintenance and with that the opportunity to upgrade to improved technology.
Right away the old Sony deck, garbage speakers and trunk mounted CD player needed changing.
At this point I turned to my dear friend and GM at Ferrari Beverly Hills James Del Pozzo for advice. He gave me a few trusted contacts. Keith (+1310 920 6408) who services all serious audiophiles in LA came around and inspected the car. I sourced what he recommended and bought the lot on Amazon of course. Sony 4100 Mexico deck, Pioneer TS-SEX25100 subwoofer for front trunk powered by Alpine MRV-500 300 watt amp, a Polk audio DB6501 speaker set & Alpine MRX-F65 4 channel amp.
Keith installed the lot and wired up the shelf behind my head if I wanted to add a sound bar later on. All in the parts and labor was $1,500.
Bain Mendoza from Dozadesigns (+1 310 613 3978) arrived next to Un-peal the old original clear, but now yellow protective wrap. It took him a 3 days with a hairdryer & broken finger nails, but he did it and applied a gorgeous new 3m protective cover. $750 and highly recommended.
Old pal Henrik Fisker (yes the innovative creator of Fisker Automotive and designer of BMW Z8 and Aston Martin DB9 amongst others) popped over for Christmas lunch and loved the lines of the car, (a car designers eye is very different from yours and mine) “but it needs spacers” he announced, as every car designer intends for the wheels to be flush with the wheel arches, he explained but always end up 15-20mm inside due to quirky crash regulations.
Online I searched the Ricambi forums Ricambi forums and found the 15mm spacers. They were expensive at $500/pair but give the rear of the car an even more musclier look and enhance the track and feel as the weight transfers to the corners under load. European front indicator lights, which are clear rather than amber, were sourced for $100 (half the US price) in London and installed, giving the front appearance a more blended and harmonious look.
Naturally the interior required some TLC. The black leather dash
was re-stretched and a combination of Lexol & Zymol leather food applied to
soften up materials baked in the Florida sun. For exterior polishes I
exclusively used the Swiss wax Zymol and applied it by
hand. It really is a sensuous bonding experience and you truly get to know
your car and every nook and cranny. All useful stuff when you're cruising
on the I10 highway to the new Thermal raceway in Palm Springs for some hot
laps in the Desert sun.
The famous ‘sticky bits’ in the center console were changed out in easy swaps and I replaced the bright chipped chrome 6 speed gear knob with a more subtle brushed aluminum piece for $70.
New floor mats were next and through http:http://www.estwindeuropean.com I designed an elegant black carpet with large silver horse and silver trim with red stitching to accent the exterior and brighten up the black business like and monotone interior.
There are very few engine upgrades that appear to work, in fact when the Ferrari challenge series started and factory guys went to work to enhance the performance, the engine and even air boxes were left largely unchanged. Suspension could be tightened, brakes upgraded (they aren't the best but pads and rotors can be easily changed) and slick tires added for track use.
The one main area of engine improvement to the unique 5-value / cylinder V8 was the removal of the catalytic converters and addition of a high performance exhaust.
As luck would have it I was with my father at Maranello a month after I purchased the 355, visiting the factory to drive the new F12 versus the Aventador. One of our favorite stops is to visit our friend and FORZA magazine fan Luca Fornetti who owns the coolest Italian car emporium, shopping Formula 1 (www.SF1.it), right opposite the famous factory gates and where we always meet with the Lamborghini as they won’t let it park any nearer to the factory.
The sight of two of Modena’s newest warriors always draws an appreciative and snap happy crowd of tourists who can barely believe their luck. This year it was a group from Taiwan who seemed to have raided the local electronics store and had every imaginable gadget. I explained to Luca about the new toy and he immediately suggested connecting with an ex-factory race shop just around the corner called X-OST who specialized in hand made racing systems, arguably the best in the world.
Owned by former F1 and factory sports car driver Domenico Schiattarella and his family, Luca advised these were the pro’s and not to bother with some of the more advertised brands. 6-weeks later and the custom exhaust with test pipes was installed by Barry in LA. Naturally, it didn't quite fit and we had to tweak it a little, but once shoehorned in (the 355 engine bay and exhaust system is a tight and twisty work of art) it transformed the character of an already exuberant teen, light and agile unblemished by 15 years of development (read bodybuilding) that has seen all modern sport cars expand proportions, weight and nanny systems, which now makes side by side comparisons between a 328/355/911 and their modern counterparts laughable.
The engine is always alive in the 355, burbling beautifully, the V8 building a high pitched and instantly definable scream as the revs rise above 5,000 and run all the way to 8,500. The car feels fast, faster than I thought and has a beautiful lightness and balance combined with a go-kart like intimacy that I find the newest flock from the Raging Bull and Horse stables is missing. It weighs only 2850lbs versus 3200lbs for the new 458.
The 355 is a happy V8, it doesn't have that low baritone flat plane crank drone that came along with the 430 and has, in my opinion gotten worse not better. Much has been written about the glorious “F1 pitch” of the engine note and why the 355 has it and none before or since do. Talking to the experts it appears that the 355 benefits from the use of two points of difference, a Y pipe in the exhaust and Individual throttle bodies as used in F1. The 348,360,430 all have only two throttle TB’s (one per cylinder bank) and my car has eight! It's more expensive and temperamental but clearly worth it.
I tested the 458 Speciale last year. It's very fast, very angry and very mean. It's also pointless on anything but a race track, or the Isle of Man TT course, (where it proved to be a very effective weapon) and sure would lap Fiorano 10 or more seconds faster than the ’99 car, but it possesses none of the character or poetry of the diminutive 355. For sure it makes “the everyman driver” feel like Alonso, but deep down it leaves me a little hollow, unless you disengage the safety net you're not really in control of the car, an Intel processor is. If I had the money, I wouldn't buy one, promise.
This year for the annual father son pilgrimage to the Ferrari factory, which is traditionally straight after the Monaco Grand prix and where we are always welcomed with open arms by old friends from both the factory, F1 team and Maserati, my father and I drove the top of the line V12 FF.
It’s a fantastic engineering four wheel drive long distance triumph for luggage, kids and skies. Its prodigious speed and agility belie its 7- series proportions and the fit and finish of the baseball glove interior is up there with Rolls Royce. If I had the need, I would probably buy one, but to be frank, a Porsche Cayenne Turbo or even Cherokee SRT8 are within a few tenths of the performance, half the price and way more practical for ski trips.
When Top Gear tested the 355, Clarkson was smitten. He raved about it and in the end bought a red 355. He still has it, still loves it. Yes, it has a silly timing belt design that requires an engine out $7500 change every 5 years. But if you're married to a classy and classic super model, rather than the latest YouTube sensation (think Claudia Schiffer v Miley Cyrus) you wouldn't grumble or begrudge a little maintenance from time to time, would you?
None other than my old dear friend, the late great, Phil Hill described the F355 as one of the top ten most beautiful cars to ever leave the factory and he won his F1 championship in the legendary 1961 ‘Shark Nose’.
The 355 offers the enthusiast a pure and beautifully rewarding driving experience, it's been 100% reliable since its initial delivery issues and there isn't anything quite like blasting down Pacific Coast Highway, parking at the beach and admiring it with smiling and appreciative passersby young and old male and female commenting on “what a beautiful car”, even the Mexican valets in Beverly Hills, who are famously snobby about which car gets to park where, position my car at the front because, “that's a real Ferrari” they smile.
Thank you Enzo, you continue to bring a lifetime of happiness to my family and to millions around the world and that cannot be said about many men.
About Nicholas Frankl
Nicholas Frankl has attended more than 250 F1 Grand Prix in the past 30+ years (1st race age six weeks). He has been writing for The Auto Channel since it started in 1995/6. He managed the Asprey/Ferrari partnership from 1996-99 working closely with Todt, Irvine, Schumacher and Stefano Dominicalli. Visiting the Ferrari factory annually he has a deep insight into the inner workings of the team. He is also an three time Olympic sportsman, having qualified and driven a two-man & four-man bobsleigh in Lillehammer 1994, Nagano 1998 and Salt Lake City 2002 Winter Olympic Games. He has raced cars in the UK and USA, competed in the Cannonball, Gumball and Bullrun rallies, is a certified private pilot and member of both The Royal Automobile Club and Automobile Club of Monaco. Throughout his life he has visited the majority of F1 tracks and shared drinks and many fun times with many of yesterday’s legends and todays hero’s.A Word from Nicholas:
Well, that's me. Gilles Villeneuve I may never (unfortunately) be, but the next best thing (I'm told - and in fact can vouch for) is Formula One on ice. 1994 saw me competing as driver of the first Hungarian bob team in the Winter Olympics in Lillehammer, Norway, and then onto two more Olympic Winter games. Why am I telling you this? Well, if for no other reason than that you'll at least understand how I gain some insight into the sport we love. Strangely enough, the F1 boys have a real respect for their ice cousins; the speed, G' forces and exhilaration are quite similar. This, however, is only my "off season" hobby. The reason for this intro is to allow me to say HI, From here on I hope we’ll become firm friends, as I follow the F1 circus around the world and you get to pick up all the details. Not just the results, but the gossip too and the first-hand natter you just don't get from the usual sources.Thanks to my father, whose stories you'll also be reading, I've grown up in the world of motor sport and cars - in fact instead of a birth certificate, I think I was born with a pit pass. It's the sort of life that if you enjoy our sport is tough to beat, so I thought this would be a good way of sharing the fun.