Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Chapter 11 - A Mistress You Keep in the Garage

A mistress you keep in the garage

Winter in Oregon is a cruel time to own a Ferrari. Before the car was mine I assumed I would drive it almost every day. Now the idea of driving it in bad weather has gone out the window. I know it won’t melt, I know nothing bad will happen but I have become uncomfortable with the idea of the car getting dirty.

I was not alone in not wanting to drive my Ferrari in the rain. Most of the folks I met who owned Ferraris, exotics, or other unique cars were loath to drive them in wet weather. Some keep their cars so clean that I understand their not wanting to drive in the rain due to the amount of effort necessary to return the car to such a state after a rainy drive. Most of them are like me, their cars are not that clean but they could not provide a good reason why they don’t want to drive in the rain. They just don’t. As a result the Ferrari sat in the garage for weeks at a stretch. On the few days when there was a chance of dry roads I always had errands at work which prohibited the use of the car.

There was another reason I did not drive the car. In hindsight it was a silly reason. I was scared I might damage it. That it would get a door ding or a paint chip. I rationalized my fear by saying “It’s a Ferrari. No one drives them in the winter.” If I could do it over I would drive the car all the time. What good is it to spend one year with a Ferrari in my garage?

Since I was not driving it I decided to spend time fixing small cosmetic flaws and buying the Ferrari trinkets. It is possible to spend the gross domestic product of Tokelau on a Ferrari. Not including the purchase price. If you include the purchase price and a track day or two you would have Tokelau’s Head of State, Queen Elizabeth, at the time this book was written, visiting the World Bank for a loan.

My spending on the Ferrari began innocently enough. I bought it some jewelry. I spent $41.00, plus $8.00 shipping, on four valve caps for a car I was afraid to drive. I knew it was absurd but I didn’t care. I knew $41.00 Ferrari valve caps will not make the car faster, handle better or look substantially different but I was developing a concrete vision of what the Ferrari needed to be and small details were important.

As valve caps go they were pretty nice. They were chrome with little yellow and black Ferrari logos. A small hex head bolt on the side locks them in place. They will not end up gracing a bike messenger’s fixie without putting up a fight. After I bought them they sat in my desk drawer for over one year. I thought I would only use them for special occasions. Special occasions? They are not cufflinks, they are valve caps.

There were a few other items on the Ferrari which were inconsistent with its overall condition. The first out of place bit I decided to tackle was the Ferrari badge on the engine cover. The badge is held in place by compression fittings on two pins which poke through the engine cover and had pulled up slightly on the right side. I thought one of the compression fittings had worn out or broken. It would be an easy task to replace the compression fitting if there were not a wire screen attached to the underside of the engine cover. I suppose the screen keeps leaves, birds, and small mammals from falling through the slats in the engine cover and into the engine. The screen is attached in several places and is about two inches below the engine cover. The screen made a simple repair significantly more complicated.

To replace the compression fitting I would have to remove the screen. Not hard but time consuming and risky since the screen looks like it would bend easily. Purchasing a new compression fitting would only set me back $1.95 but I don’t know how I can fit it in place without removing the screen. To replace the screen would cost $781.85 so I opted to leave it in place.

The engine cover is unlatched by pulling a handle between the driver’s seat and the door. The cover is amazing light for such a big piece of metal. It feels like it is made of balsa wood. With the cover open and my shop light blazing I could see that the compression fitting had not failed but had slipped down the pin about 1/6 of an inch. That should be easy to fix. I took a screwdriver and gently pushed the fitting back up the pin while holding the badge in place. It held. Total time to fix this problem, about three minutes.

I am a tinkerer. Like most tinkerers I am better at taking things apart than putting them back together. I am well aware of this but with the best of intentions I still take things apart. Buoyed by my success with the badge I decide to take on the trim around the ash tray. One of the nice things about mostly handmade cars is they are easy to take apart. By removing the part of the ash tray where one would put ashes a Phillips head screw was exposed. Remove the screw and the ashtray/lighter module came out. With ashtray module out of the way the electronic mirror remote and the climate control module can also be removed.

I placed a towel on the garage floor and soon had a small pile of Ferrari pieces arranged on it. It did not look good. What would Barb say if she walked into the garage? It would have been difficult to explain why, after nine days of ownership, I had taken the Ferrari apart. Luckily my tinkering went undetected.

The interior of the 355 is a combination of leather, aluminum, wool, and silly putty. I expect when the car was new the silly putty was plastic covered with a coating which gave it a matte finish. Now it is black silly putty.

The ashtray is covered with silly putty. When compared to the steering wheel column or the door handles the ash tray was in great shape, but it had cracked and a one inch long piece of the trim was missing. I noticed the crack when I test drove the car but at that time the piece of trim was just cracked not missing.

The missing piece was in the most likely place, between the passenger seat and the center console. Two drops of super glue fixed the trim but I discovered another crack in the frame of the lighter module that I was not sure how to fix. The crack was not visible but it caused the entire assembly to sit at a slight angle in the center console. I was going to have to replace the whole works if I wanted it to look perfect.

With the components of the center console out of the car I decided to remove the 10 years of dirt that had collected in various cracks and crevices. I took a cloth, dampened it with rain water, really, I did not have any Pelligrino handy and you don’t expect me to clean up a Ferrari with tap water.

After cleaning the interior I decided there were four trim pieces I wanted to replace. The ashtray/lighter module, the mirror control, the door handles, and the lower covering for the steering column. That sounds like a lot of components. Saying I want to replace all those parts makes it seem as if the car’s interior was in bad shape. It was not, the interior was in fine shape. However, it was not consistent with my vision of what the Ferrari should be.

A new ashtray for the Ferrari is $375, pretty steep, especially since I don’t smoke. Let’s say you wanted to replace the ashtray in your Toyota Matrix. $15.24. Your Lexus LS 430 $86.40. For $499 I can buy a complete motor for an Isuzu Pup.

I decided to buy the ashtray anyway.

On a lark I looked on eBay. Someone was selling a new ashtray for $149 with a “buy it now” price of $300. Worse case I save $75. I decided to risk it, live on the edge and not take the “buy it now” option. The auction closed on Friday morning at 6:05. I waited until 6:03 and put in a bid for $301. I won, spending $270 for the ashtray.

When the new ashtray arrived I decided to see if I could recoup some of the $270 by selling just the lid from the old ashtray. It sold to a guy in France. The new ashtray came in a nice yellow and black box that said “Ferrari Original Parts” all over it. To give the new owner a treat I put the lid in it. I took the box to the Post Office, filled out the customs sheet and went to pay.

“An ashtray?” asked the postman.


“A $60 ashtray?”

“Yes, and what’s worse it is from a car and just the lid.”

“No kidding. And a guy in France wants it?”


“What kind of car?”

“A Ferrari.”

“Don’t they have other Ferraris in France; did you sell it on line?”


Then the postman gave me a high five.

“Way to go. $60 for an ashtray. Go figure.”

I noticed that the ashtray bins were being offered on ebay for $175. That is totally insane. It is about seven cents worth of plastic. Plastic that will turn to silly putty if you insult it or look at it wrong but I have an extra that no one has ever even said the word “smoke” around. It sold for $40.

While taking it apart was certainly fun there were things I wanted to do with the car which involved driving. Things I thought needed to be done to have a proper Ferrari owner’s experience. Before buying the car I made a list. Take the Ferrari on a road trip, take it to the track, and let my Father drive it.

In addition to the standard stuff I thought it would make interesting reading if I took the Ferrari on a fly fishing trip and used it for a ski day. Aside from the obvious issue of a Ferrari being the wrong tool for either excursion I clearly had not thought about the logistics. Where would I put my waders or skis? Using the Ferrari in this way appealed to me before I owned it because they seemed rebellious and anti typical Ferrari owner. With the car in my garage they seemed foolish.

Without a doubt the best part of my Ferrari experience, was driving the car on the track. Over the course of my year with the car I participated in three track days. I have had no driving instruction, other than self-inflicted learning opportunities, for over 25 years since Dad taught me to drive in a little yellow pickup. It was a Mazda or maybe a Datsun, I can’t remember which. We called it the Bumblebee. Any surface which was not already bondo was in the process of losing a battle with rust.

I was 13 and spending the summer with Dad in Hawaii, later that year my new found skills were put to a test when I drove my Grandmother’s farm truck 60 miles through the Missouri countryside. We were taking a rafting trip and needed a second car to ferry my uncle, cousin, and sister back up river to where we put in. At 13 I was the oldest of the kids and probably taller than my uncle so I drove the farm truck. Maryann and I drove behind my uncle so we would not get lost. The transmission on Grandma’s truck was not as forgiving as the Bumblebee’s. I ended up leaving the truck in second for the entire drive. This strategy got us home but irritated my uncle and most other drivers, especially when we were on the highway.

I miss cars like the Bumblebee. Cars where closing the door too hard will result in parts falling off. This truck had a garden hose in the engine bay. You could shift it with or without the clutch. There are not enough old junkers on the road these days.

Since that I learned most things the hard way, through experimentation. If you enter a corner too fast and hit brakes you usually exit the corner backwards and not in the line you would have chosen. If you are parked in tall dry grass, do not turn the car on and let it idle.

It took an incident, on Saturday February 16, 2008, to render with perfect clarity the fact that the Ferrari was more car than I was able to handle. Fortunately I did not hurt anyone learning this lesson. Unfortunately, I learned it leaving the Ferrari Club’s annual celebration of Enzo Ferrari’s birthday.

You read that right, no reason to review that last sentence.

All over the United States, possibly the world, Ferrari clubs gather to celebrate Enzo’s birthday. I joined the Ferrari Club of America during my search for the car. I wanted the opportunity to ask members questions about maintenance and gain insight into what to look for in a car. The Enzo dinner was the first local event of the year and as newbie member I thought it would be polite to attend and possibly provide some interesting people watching.

The Portland celebration took place at an Italian restaurant not far from our house. Before leaving Barb joked that she should wear tight white pants and a leopard print top. I did not know she had such an outfit and while I am sure she would have looked nice her comment shed some light on her expectations of Ferrari owners, or more specifically owner’s wives. I countered that it was the Ferrari club not the Camaro club then asked what her comment said about Ferrari owners and their wives.

“They like fast cars and fast women.”

“So… I own a Ferrari does that make you a fast woman?”

The dinner was fine, uneventful, but fine. It was exactly what one would expect of a dinner to celebrate the 16th anniversary of Ross Perot announcing he would run for president on the Larry King show except people were talking Ferraris not Perot.

No trophy wives, no outlandish outfits. No one danced on the tables. I was disappointed.

When dinner was over we dutifully sat in the parking lot letting the car warm up and then followed a black 430 out of the lot. The 430 took off with a significant amount of gusto. So that’s how you are supposed to leave Ferrari club events. I tried to follow his example. Before I knew what was happening we were facing back into the restaurant parking lot. Unfortunately, our path would have taken us over the curb, across some grass, through a low hedge and then into the lot. I over corrected and let off the gas, a combination which resulted in the Ferrari suddenly gaining traction and reorienting itself about 135 degrees to the left.

I had turned right out of the lot so I was now pointing across the street at the other curb, luckily the street was wide and there was no traffic. It is cliché to say time slowed down. Time was oblivious to my little stunt. What I do know was that while part of my brain was rapidly shouting commands to my hands and feet another part of my brain was considering how embarrassing it would be to re-enter a parking lot full of Ferraris through the shrubs and yet another part of my brain was calculating the cost of a new air dam, wheels, and alignment. Finally, a fourth part of my brain determining how to best explain all this to Bart, our insurance guy. For the parts of my brain not charged with coordinating hands and feet the incident seemed to take about five minutes not three or four seconds.

Smack dab in the middle of my pirouetting Barb calmly said, “I’m not looking.”

In those three or four seconds I learned something about the Ferrari. Make a mistake and it will kill me. Ferraris do not suffer fools lightly. The experience did more than convince me I needed some driving instruction prior to driving the car on a race track, it convinced me I needed some driving instruction right away.

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