Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Chapter 4 - Finding the Right Car

On Thursday, February 19 2009 someone sat at a computer and typed “nasty new ferrari” into a search engine. Actually two people typed that phase on the 19th or perhaps one person typed it twice.


Finding the right car

I began my search simply enough, I looked at cars online. Pretty quickly I decided a 360 was the right car for me but before I got too spun up it seemed like a good idea to see if I would fit in a 360. I was lucky, there were two dealerships in town which regularly had Ferraris; Ron Tonkin Gran Turismo (aka RTGT) and Gran Prix Imports. Ron Tonkin is the oldest Ferrari dealership in America. Go figure, America’s oldest Ferrari dealership is in Portland, Oregon. I had a strong predisposition to buy the car from Tonkin due to their reputation and dealership status. When I checked their website Tonkin had several 430s but, unfortunately no 360s, 355s, or 456s.

Grand Prix had a different vibe than RTGT. Nice espresso maker, fancy floor, and a F1 car mounted on the wall. Hip where Tonkin is old school. I checked Gran Prix’s web site, they had two 360s and one F355 spider. This was good because I wanted to see if I would fit in both models but bad because the 355 was a spider.

My process of buying a Ferrari proceeded in discrete steps. First, I decided I was going to buy a Ferrari. You could argue that the first step was discussing death with Alex or riding in a Ferrari when I was a kid. After deciding to buy the car I told friends what I was planning to do. I did this to create a consequence for inaction. If I did not get a Ferrari I would have to make excuses to family and friends.

Next, I started researching Ferraris, a step which could have gone on forever. Eventually, I would have known everything about the marque except what it was like to own one. If I was going to buy a Ferrari I was going to have to go to a dealership, kick tires, and deal with sales guys.

Walking into the Ferrari dealership would be the third step, and as luck would have it I ended up at Tonkin first. I had been to RTGT before but with the intent to drool not buy. Now I was walking into a Ferrari dealership as a customer. It was scary. I was giddy, and felt like I do after too many cups of espresso.

There were three F430s on the floor. Two spiders and a coupe. Wow. What great looking cars. I did nothing but stare at them for a several moments, I did not drool. Why feign disinterest when there is no other reason to be there? Eventually, I went over to talk with the sales guy.

“Do you have any 360s?”

“Coupe or spider?”

“Coupe.”

“Not on the floor but we have a red one that just came in.”

“Is there any interior room difference between the 360 and 430?”

“No, they are the same size and you will fit fine.”

“Can I sit in that coupe?” Gesturing to the yellow 430 on the floor.

After giving me a long look, “OK, but it’s a new car”

“I promise not to hurt it.”

Good news, I fit in the 430. I fit perfectly in the 430. For anyone reading this and over 6’4” rejoice. You can buy a Ferrari, do not have to attend Yoga classes to get in and won’t have to tilt your head to the side when you drive. Now for the bad news, I sat in a 430 and will now be disappointed with the 360 or any other car, ever until the end of time. Not that there is anything wrong with 360s, they were my Ferrari of choice until one instant before sitting in the 430, but the 430 has a knob on the steering wheel that can be dialed too ”RACE”.

The interior of this 430 is absolutely stunning; a combination of black leather, polished aluminum, and carbon fiber. I felt like I was sitting in an alien space craft, a thing designed by an intelligence not bound by traditional ideas of what is acceptable in a car. When the aliens were done with the design they employed an army of gnomes, not scary alien gnomes but the cute ones from Scandinavian forests, whose only purpose was to perfect the blending of leather, carbon fiber and aluminum. I was unprepared for how perfect, in both design and execution, the interior of the 430 would be.

Next surprise, when I turned my head, as if I were backing up, I can see the engine. There it was. I could see it in the rear view mirror. Inescapable twin red intake covers that say “FERRARI” down the top. Ferrari did absolutely the right thing in making the engine visible it is the heart and soul of the car and should not be hidden.

Sitting in the car I was glad I decided to buy a Ferrari. Deciding to buy the car was not a lark. Why had I waited so long? After meditating in the car for a few minutes I realized that at $230,000 this car is beyond my budget and I should get out. I didn’t want to but I couldn’t think of any plausible excuse which would keep me in it longer. Doing my best to hide my excitement, I coolly asked to be contacted when the red car was ready to see and drive.

The red car at Tonkin sold before I had a chance to drive it.

My first chance sit in a 360 came at Gran Prix. GP had two 360s, one in red, one in silver. Joe Hermes, the salesman, was very helpful. Even answering my question of how much I would lose after driving it for a year then selling it back to him with the glib but 100% honest answer of “Depends on how much I makes selling it to you.” I told Joe I was interested in both cars and would like to drive them. He said to pick sunny day next week.

That was easy.

I thought it would be harder to test drive a Ferrari. I understand I was looking at used cars and the best way to sell them is to get people to drive them but it still seemed too easy. Shouldn’t I have had to take a test or provide last year’s tax return? Frankly, I expected to jump through a few hoops prior to test driving a Ferrari. I did not drive to the dealership in a fancy car, I drive a Toyota pickup. That was too easy, almost disappointing.

With a test drive immanent it was time to figure out how to pay for the thing. To stay true to my goal of driving the car for about one year and only paying the minimum I needed a clever way to keep my cost of money low. My research told me I needed to budget about $140,000 for the purchase price of a 360, $80,000 for the 355, and $65,000 for 456. I called Scott Goldstein, a friend who is the chief investment officer at a local bank.

“Scott, I need you to lend me some money so I can buy a Ferrari.”

Long pause…

“Hmm, ok we can do that.”

I shared my plan of driving the car for a year and writing a book about the experience. We discussed the best way to finance the car, best defined as the way which would cost me the least. After a couple of false starts we decided a line of credit as the best option because it is cheap money and I can write off the interest. The ability to write off the interest should result in a savings of between $3,000 and $4,000 for the year, assuming I get a 360.

It was hard for me to accept this option as being the best choice. I am fundamentally opposed to debt. None the less, the line of credit seems to be the best way to finance the car. My plan was to take out an interest only loan trusting I had done my research and picked a good car. With the interest only loan my monthly payments would be low. Further, getting a one year loan enforces my goal of only keeping the car for one year as additional action would be required to keep it longer.

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