Thursday, April 14, 2011

Chapter 7 - Barb drives a Ferrari

On March 29, 2009 someone mused about a “speedometer sitting at 10mph” What could that have to do with Ferraris?

Barb Drives a Ferrari

We have a tradition of making homemade pizza every Friday. We call it “Pizza Date.” We make the dough a day in advance and let it rise in the refrigerator. We use Italian bottled water. While I would never presume to say we have perfected pizza I would venture to say we make a pretty good pie. One of my plans for retirement includes opening a pizza restaurant in an interesting town and pursuing the perfect pizza.

Mom came over and after a slice of pizza and a glass of wine I asked if she would watch the kids Saturday morning so Barb and I could take a look at the 355.

It rained.

Not much chance of a test drive, I doubt Joe would worry about the car getting wet but I want to focus on the car not navigating a powerful sports car on slippery roads. It would certainly make for exciting reading but I don’t want a chapter describing my experience of losing control of the Ferrari and stuffing it into a muddy ditch while avoiding a family of ducks.

Rain or not Barb and I decided to take advantage of mom coming over and drove to Gran Prix. The folks at Gran Prix had been cleaned the 355 up. It looked much better.

Originally, silver was not high on my list. It seemed to me that silver was a non-color for a Ferrari. A color picked by someone unsure what color they wanted. Not flamboyant like yellow, classic like red, or menacing like black. Silver was an admission of indecision. This 355 is technically grigio titanio or titanium silver. The color has a liquid quality which does a nice job of highlighting the complex curves on the cars flanks.

Walking around the car I notice there is a spot in the interior where the leather does not quite cover a trim piece. The exposed bit of trim says much about the Ferrari. Ferrari’s goal was to craft a magical suspension and mate it to a fantastic V8 then cover the result with the thinnest veneer possible. It also suggests that quality control was not what it should have been.

Barb fit in the 355 better than I.

“I like it more than I thought I would.” Was all she said.

We are off to a good start.

Joe wants us to take it for a drive but you already know I am uncomfortable with that. While I plan on driving any car I buy in the rain I don’t think I can answer the questions I have about the car if I take it out in this weather. Further, I like to approach decisions carefully and Barb driving the car is a major step in any purchase. If she has not driven and approved of the car I will not buy it.

Yes, I am hiding behind Barb’s test drive, but by delaying the test drive I can postpone my decision and chew on it a bit longer. Joe is leaving on Sunday for a vacation and is gently pressuring us to put some money down or just buy the car. I’m not doing either. I don’t like extraneous deadlines influencing my decision making process and have not yet had the time to settle on this car. After all, it is the first 355 I have looked at and only the second Ferrari I have driven.

Before I decide to buy a Ferrari I want to look at others, talk with a Ferrari mechanic about the problems I can expect with a 355, 360, or 456, and find a shop to perform a pre-purchase inspection, PPI for short. Tonkin seems the obvious spot for the inspection but Gran Prix does not want the car going there as there is some bad blood between the two dealerships.

Turns out I was able to kill all three of those birds with one stone. A few days later, when searching for Ferraris online, I found a black 355 for sale just a few miles from my office.

I snuck out to take a look.

While the asking price is over $10,000 less, cosmetically the car was not in as nice of shape as the silver 355. I didn’t feel comfortable enough with the car to drive it. I had a hunch it would be pretty easy to spend $10,000 fixing cosmetic items on a Ferrari. Further, I suspect anyone who would neglect cosmetic issues would neglect mechanical issues as well.

The trip was not a total waste, after I explained my plan to the owner, he recommended I contact Dick Gutherie at ADT, an independent Ferrari shop, to do the pre-purchase inspection and serve as a resource to discuss Ferraris.

I called Dick when I got back to the office. He was wonderful to talk with. Of the cars on my list he liked the 456 the best, saying it was a wonderful car. Unfortunately, there are no 456s anywhere near me and I would like to limit my search to local cars to keep costs and complexity down. If I were searching for a rare Ferrari or had more specific requirements staying local would not be an option but as I am open to a number of models and color is not a sticking point I expect to be able to find a good car close to home.

While I hoped he would know the car, there are not that many 355s in town, Dick was unfamiliar with the 355 at Gran Prix but agreed to complete the PPI if I wanted to move forward with the purchase. He believed the most important component of the PPI on a 355 is a compression test to make sure the valves are in good shape. The PPI for the 355 will be about $250. He did not want to perform a PPI on a 360, too many electronic parts. He suggested I go to Tonkin for that. During our discussion he expressed some doubt regarding the long term reliability of the 360. His concern was the cars were still relatively young and have lots of complex parts that may or may not age well.

After talking with Dick and hoping for a sunny, or at least dry, day I scheduled another test drive. The night before the drive I decided to do a bit of homework, to be ready to wheel and deal with Joe if necessary. To check sales activity and recent prices on 355s I looked at completed eBay auctions. Yes, I know eBay is not a dependable source of pricing information for Ferraris. It’s a great venue for dealers or private sellers to get their car in front of a national audience but not an entirely viable tool for buying something as personal and complex as a Ferrari without seeing the car. I checked eBay to review the “Buy it now” prices of Ferraris. I think those prices are often more appropriate than bids from potential buyers.

Two 335s had sold recently, a yellow 1997 spider with 49,000 miles and a black 1997 spider with 24,000 miles. The yellow car went for $55,100 while the black car brought $60,000. There were several pictures of the yellow car and it looked to be in good shape but neither car had enough service history information to provide a good picture of its mechanical state.

After viewing the sold items I looked at the current crop of 355s for sale. The silver 355 from Gran Prix, the car I was supposed to drive the following day, was already bid up to $72,950, Gran Prix’s asking price. I planned to drive the car then make an offer in the high 60s, pending service history review and PPI.

I was frustrated.

Had a higher power dedicated itself to ensuring I never parked a Ferrari in my garage. Higher powers should have more important stuff to do.

There were two bidders chasing the 355. After reviewing their bids I felt better. The bid history was not consistent with what I would expect from someone with the intent to purchase a Ferrari, an Xbox and some video games. Huh? Seems like a big jump from Gran Theft Auto to a real life, full size, dents if you wreck it Ferrari.

Finally, I compared the price for the silver 355 to other cars currently for sale. The silver car is the most expensive 355 in terms of bidder activity on ebay. Based on the bid history, the other items the high bidder’s has sought, and the unusually high price relative to other cars I believe the bid is spurious. The higher power has pitted me against a pimply 12 year old in Peoria who at this very moment is bragging to his friends how he is buying a Ferrari.

I could be completely wrong. The bidder could be a local buyer, familiar with the car, who does not want to purchase directly from GP. The bidder could be someone who has always wanted a silver 355 with red interior and is willing to pay extra to get it. If either scenario was the case, I apologize. Please know I meant no harm. Enjoy the Xbox.

Spurious bid or not I was still frustrated and decided not to drive the car. If the ebay auction falls apart I can make an offer for the car. If the auction is successful I may have missed out on another car but there will be others and I will have some funny content for this book: Beaten to a Ferrari by an 8th grader.

I will know in three days.

I called Joe and told him I didn’t feel it was necessary to drive the car as they have already “sold” it for more than I am willing to pay.

“Come drive it anyway. No one is going to buy the car until you decide what you want to do.”

Flattering Joe. This is a tactic to get me back in the dealership and back in the car and I know it. It worked anyway. Minutes earlier I had resolved to let the auction run its course, to risk the opportunity to buy the car to see if the 12 year old was really a questing mid lifer. My internal critics were howling. “What are you doing? You just decided to stand on higher ground. Stay true to your decision.”

To placate my critics I thought, in my most reasonable inner voice, “I am not going to buy it or even place a bid. Barb and I are just going to drive it. It will give her a chance to drive a Ferrari. Where is the harm in that?” All the while the speaker (thinker?) was privately thinking “Tricked em. Now we can buy the car no matter what.”

How can one part of my brain conspire against other parts? How is it that at least some of these different parts seem aware of their skullmate’s intentions but are unable to resist his manipulation?

Did Joe know about this when he made his offer?

I assumed my test drives would take place on warm, sunny days. On the day of our second attempt at a test drive, it was raining lightly at our house. In Wilsonville the weather was worse; it was 37 degrees and trying to snow. It did not fit my mental image of what a Ferrari test drive should be.

The first car I noticed upon walking in was not the 355. It was a red 360 Challenge Stradale. It was the most impressive 360 and one of the most impressive Ferraris I had ever seen. If you are unfamiliar with the Challenge Stradale it is a performance oriented 360, as if ordinary 360s are not performance oriented enough.

Folks in the know call it a CS or just a Stradale. The Stradale is Ferrari distilled, a Ferrari with all the extraneous stuff boiled out. The interior has just the creature comforts needed to make the car bearable. The seats are a carbon fiber shells covered in Alcanthra. There is no carpet and not much trim. The floor and other guts of the car are exposed. There is a carbon fiber center console with a big red “START” button. Generally, I dislike the idea “START” buttons in road cars. “Start Buttons” seems silly, especially if you need a key in addition to the button, but I am going to give Ferrari some leeway in the case of the Stradale. Engine output is increased to 425 bhp and the more powerful motor is mated to an even faster F1 gear box.

Ferrari added some significant but unobtrusive aerodynamic modifications and a stiffer suspension to take full advantage of the power. This car is fantastic. With the exception of the $230,000 price tag this Ferrari would be perfect for my project.

The 355 was hiding behind the Stradale. Even with a big red bow on the roof it looked pedestrian and uninspired when compared to the Stradale. Barb and Joe were out first. After about 15 minutes she was back and it was my turn. “Easier to drive than our Porsche” was her only comment as we changed places.

Joe’s crew had found and fixed whatever had caused the odd noise coming from the engine. The car sounded great with no out of place or worrying noises what so ever. I told Joe I wanted to take a longer test drive to get to know the car better. Joe suggested a route with some nice stretches of road and good curves. As we were driving he mentioned there was a dip in the road where he became airborne with a fellow during a test drive in a 911 turbo. I kept the Ferrari on the ground.

The car performed flawlessly on the wet roads. It turns out that Ferrari’s have windshield wipers which work just like windshield wipers in regular cars. It did not leak, the glass did not fog up and the paint was not water soluble. During the drive I tested the clutch for slippage by putting the car in 6th at about 45 miles per hour and flooring it. The car accelerated smoothly as the RPMs rose.

Why was it OK to test drive a Ferrari in the rain this time when I did not think I would learn what I needed by driving the car in the rain last week? Don’t know. It might have had to do with the car being “sold” on ebay. It might have had to do with my realization that I wanted this car and if Barb did not drive it I would miss the chance to buy it.

This is the Ferrari I was going to buy. I knew it before the drive but never admitted it to myself (or you). The car has a solid service history with all the services documented in a binder. Also included is the original window sticker, pictures of the car being delivered and a receipt for a $250 model with a color scheme with matches the car ordered by the previous owner. The service history reveals that the valves were replaced during the 30,000 mile service which was performed about 3,000 miles ago. Unfortunately the model does not come with the car.

If I am going to buy this Ferrari or any Ferrari eventually I will have to make an offer. I hear myself telling Joe I would like to buy the car in the mid 60’s around $67,000. I was removed from this, like an out of body experience. Joe responded that he already has an ebay bid for $73,000 and they have high 60’s in the car. I countered by asking what they want for the car. Yes, I know that’s a dumb question but negotiating is not my strong suit. Closer to $73,000 was his reply.

On the drive down I had set my high offer at $67,000. I felt that if I could buy the car for $67,000 I would be getting a great deal and have a good chance of breaking even on the car. When I did not know the service history $67,000 gave me a bit of wiggle room. I now know the service is up to date but do not want to offer a higher bid without reflection and consultation with Barb. I told Joe I would be in touch and we left to pick up Max.

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