Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Chapter 16 - A Mistress You Keep in the Garage Part II

Monday August 4 2008 with a generous dose of excitement someone exclaimed “wow how to get to Ferraris”. With what I expect was less excitement someone queried “boxberger vacuum”. I did the same. There were more responses than you might expect. My favorite was a page which contained both “boxberger” and “Image Analysis on Temperature Distribution within Lettuce Undergoing Vacuum Cooling”

A Mistress You Keep in the Garage Part II

The black silly putty in the Ferrari got stickier in the summer. I associate summer in Oregon as a wonderful time for growing things. Everything green is sprouting and growing, making the most of a fertile combination of rain and sun. I never assumed the Ferrari would react so vigorously to the season. Interior bits which looked great when the temperature was 55 degrees began to sprout a thin growth of lint at 85 degrees. As I spent more time in the car the sticky, furry bits and poor fit of the leather around the center AC vent began to get on my nerves.

I decided to remove the center AC vent in an effort to get the leather dash to fit better. This project was a nice size for me. It was also one of those projects that can be worked on for an hour or two and then put down without inconveniencing anyone. A three step project was required for sprucing up the dash. First, remove the vent. Second, peak under the leather, determine what was causing the little dent in the leather above the vent and treat the leather. Third, replace the vent, changing its angle slightly so it sat evenly from top to bottom.

The first part of the plan went well. If you like to take things apart Ferraris are great cars. I bet you could disassemble the entire car with only a few tools, most of which can be found in a kitchen junk drawer. The vent came out with only a few minutes work. Once out I realized how bad the gooey finish on the vent was and that it would not look appropriate once the leather was tidied up.

That’s the problem with fixing things. Perfecting one piece of the whole only makes the other parts look worse. It’s all or nothing. The goo had to go.

I checked Ricambi to see how much a new vent would cost. $433. Ouch! For 433 I will try refinishing it, if I screw up and it turns out looking worse I can buy a new one or have someone with more talent give it a try. While browsing the Ricambi site for the vent I ended up buying two trim pieces, the piece which houses the controls for the mirrors and a larger more complex piece which fits over the metal gate for the shifter and holds a number of switches. Compared to the vent they were a deal. Total cost for both pieces was less than $100.

The only component left to replace is the big kahuna of 355 sticky parts, the AC/Heater control module. Ricambi has them available – for $1,400. Luckily they also have a sticker which, with a bit of work allows you to use the internals of the module but rid yourself of the sticky top.

To remove the goo from the AC vent I tried first Goof Off. It did not do a good job. It made finish gooeyer. Next I tried Acetone. That did the trick. About half an hour later my garage was full of rags covered with goo. With the black goo removed I saw why Ferrari had coated the plastic pieces. The raw plastic looks like something out of a 80s Ford. I can imagine the conversation at Ferrari. “OK for the 355 we’re going to do something special. A stealth bomber matte black finish on the interior pieces.” The supplier having never seen a stealth bomber translates this to “It’s Ferrari, use the shiniest stuff possible” Ferrari folks get it back and say “Uhh that’s awful, spray it with some of the coating we put on the underside of the car.”

When it’s not scratched up or sticky the finish is actually very pleasant. It has a rich, smooth satin look to it. The finish of the new ashtray is very nice. To refinish the vent I bought three cans of paint to see if I could get a close match. I used the old ash tray housing to test the different paints. My first try was a rubberized paint. It had the right texture but was too shiny. Second try, too gray. The third, a flat black model paint made by Testor was the best. I found that if I sanded it with fine steel wool it was an almost exact match for the factory finish, except it was not gooey.

The diversion with the vent kept me from tackling the leather on the dash. With the vent removed and refinished it was time to get my project back on track. I had two steps left. First, repair a slight depression, visible under the leather that runs in a gentle curve from the one side of the vent opening to the other. Many 355s have a similar depression. I figured the depression was the result of a dent in the dash. Turns out the backing for the leather had shrunk or never reached all the way to the vent. I fixed it with a piece of backing cut to fill the space.

As I was playing with the car I had time to reflect about the different aspects of the car and their appeal to me. There is much about the car which appeals to me. To me the 355 represents the result of a very direct, very pure focus on building the most wonderful road car possible. It can be argued that there is bit more luxury than is strictly necessary but when compared to most other sports cars all aspects of its design represent a dedication to driving that is difficult to match.

Why does this matter?

In my opinion it is not possible to achieve something special, something great, without an uncompromising focus on a clearly defined goal. The more pure the goal and maniacal the focus the better the result. Life is the same way. The goals of young life, to learn, grow, and have fun are later obscured by needs, real or self imposed -work, houses, cars, big sofas, storage closets, new drive-ways, landscaping – all of which smother the original goal. Our time here is so short, so precious why do we spend so much of it doing things which are of low value or not to our liking?

I think the idea of a good use of time has been corrupted. A good use of time does not always mean a productive use of time. With caveats a “good” use of time is time spent in pursuit of an activity you find pleasurable or rewarding.

Having fun is a good use of time.

Within the context of the Ferrari a good use of time was taking the driver’s seat out and conditioning the leather. Did it need it? Probably not but it was an excuse for Max and I to spend a few hours in the garage together.

Originally, I planned to take out both seats but the passenger seat was stuck in the furthest back position and I could not get to the bolts which hold it in the car.

I was disappointed to find nothing more than 53 cents and some plastic sheeting under the driver’s seat. I was hoping for some shell casings, a passport, something interesting. Before I sell the car I will hide something in it for a later owner to discover, hopefully they will find it interesting.

With the seat out I rubbed a bunch of Leatherique into it. It noticeably darkened the leather. The leather looked better, fresher. Before the treatment it looked more Burgundy than Bordeaux. With the best of intentions I wrapped the seat up in plastic wrap to let it sit overnight before I wiped off any residue and put it back in the car.

That evening, while putting the seat back in the car I got to thinking about Ferrari maintenance, the horror stories I have heard, and sticky interior plastic bits and without a shred of scientific evidence, conjured a theorem out of the ether as I was putting one seat back in a Ferrari. A Ferrari in which one seat refused to be removed.

My theorem is Ferrari owner’s complaints related to maintenance peak when the Ferrari is between 3 to 15 years old. Further the greatest numbers of complaints are from owners of starter Ferraris and these complaints are seldom generated by the original owner.

I think people buy these Ferraris with a few miles and years on them expecting the maintenance to be more or less like the Porsche or Corvette they were driving. Sometimes it is. The same stuff breaks or wears out. The big difference is the rate of failure and the cost of parts. Ferrari stuff wears out quickly and costs more to replace. So many owners gripe about the maintenance they are deferring and sell the car just before it implodes.

Let’s face it, for many owners, myself included, had to stretch to afford a Ferrari. When it comes time to maintain it spending $4,000 or more every year plus any other incidentals along the way can push them over the edge. I don’t recall hearing anyone complain about the maintenance on a 288 GTO. My guess is it costs a good bit more to maintain than my 355. I hear very few 430 owners complaining about their cars but I bet in a few years the next owners of those 430s will be whining about clutch prices, F1 gear boxes, and carbon brakes.

Ferrari does not care.

Ferrari did not build the 355 for me. They built it for the guy who bought it new. He drove it for a few years and sold it. He never dealt with a belt change, sticky interior bit or cat ECUs.

Back to the seat.

I know I was supposed to wait overnight or even a few days to allow the Leatherique to soak in but I couldn’t. I am sure it would have made the leather even softer but patience is not one of my virtues. I peeked under the plastic wrap and decided I had not used enough Leatherique. So I pulled the plastic off, cleaned the seat and put it back in the car. Unlike the passenger’s seat which did not want to leave the car once liberated the driver’s seat wanted to remain free. Two of the bolts which held it in place refused to thread properly so I left them for the morning. It was too late to deal with finicky Italian bolts. I treated the passenger seat in place and left it to sit overnight.

Why am I trying to make the Ferrari look new? It’s not new. I know it’s not new. Why is the patina of age not as beautiful as a pristine new car? In many things patina adds character, texture, even beauty. Maybe it is because the car is in that phase between being old and new. If it survives to 100 I hope the 355 has a nice patina.

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