330 GT Registry

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You too can be mad and buy a used Ferrari, like George Bishop did. It was a happy but brief affair . . .


I am supposed to tell you in a few well-chosen words what it’s like to be a Ferrari owner, but I really need only two: bloody marvellous. My reign in the black hide throne ensconced in the Monza red shell was brief and inglorious but it is an experience I intend to repeat just as soon as the pound in my pocket improves in health and the other one I keep at the bank has fewer demands upon its substance.

My car was a 330GT, eight years old and not in perfect health, but it made the right kind of 12-cylinder music and laid broad black streaks on the tarmac and made me drool to look at even when the beast was standing still. It had, unfortunately, belonged to a pop group called the NBG5, or something like that, but the colour was right and the price was right and in a mad moment I plunged.

I had really set out to buy a house and came back with a Ferrari instead, which did not please my spouse too much, especially as we had to sell our thatched cottage and slip into something looser to keep the bailiffs at bay. The final blow fell when my employers decided that if I could afford a Modena motor they couldn’t afford me, although they were decent enough to mutter about “redundancy” instead of laying it on the line. Trouble is that Ferraris act like red rags to bulls on accountants.

To recap the how-it-was I used to run an ancient E-type and called in at the garage of the chap from whom I bought it. There stood the flame-red 330GT, and next to it the owner who tried to sell it to me. He nearly had me in tears at the price he had paid such a short time ago and how little he wanted now, but the idea was too absurd. Over the months I watched the ads and saw his price come down and down, but thought little more of it.

Then 12 months later, I went to a house auction and met the hapless owner of the beast. “How’s the Ferrari ?“ I foolishly asked. “Oh, I sold it to John Jordan and now he’s trying to sell it too,” he answered. Well, like a damn fool I went to look at the thing in the dealer’s showroom, and there it sat grinning at me and tapping its little foot in eagerness to get out on the twin-track high way outside.

The sales manager was on holiday and only an ancient with a duster was in charge, cherishing his Vivas and Cortinas. “You’re not lookng at that one, are yer?” he asked. Why, what’s wrong with it?” Pause. Grunt. “Well, it don’t half use some petrol.” Now tell me something I don’t know, Father Time. The whole operation was the textbook Soft Sell. He didn’t know how much it was. Nobody knew. It belonged to the governor, and he wasn’t there.

Well, after many telephone calls a fill-in part-time salesman was able to tell me from a notebook how much they were asking, and also most obligingly how much they had paid for it, which led him to think An Offer Might Be Accepted. They were slowly reeling me in. More time later I was even taken for a ride, on 50p’s worth of petrol, which must be the shortest Modena demo on record. I was asked to keep the revs down, and the owner—who also owned the garage and a few other businesses as well — volunteered that although he had spent a fortune on the brakes he still didn’t think much of them. All good sucker bait.

I offered 500 less than the asking price, always a good gambit with a dealer and, somewhat to my surprise, he accepted, give or take a few gallons of petrol. I don’t think they are the easiest vehicles to sell, especially out in the sticks. Insurance on anything amusing appears to be Group 7 plus 100 per cent. I had one quote for 690 less 450 No Claims, but then some more sympathetic soul came up with 100. Unfortunately this company is now out of business, so my next trick will be more expensive.

As I remember my first trip in the beast was to look at a house which it had become necessary to buy to replace the one in which I was living, for reasons which I do not need to explain. On the way we became involved in a traffic jam, and steam emerged from my red Snout. I decided that the electric fan was not cutting •in as Enzo intended, and felt very much like The Man Who . . . in those Bateman drawings you may remember, as the little tin boxes purred by with their faceless crews grinning at the funny old foreign car.

Not wishing to be caught with Egham on my face I rushed off to Maranello and had them fit a new sensor to make sure the fan came in at the requisite 190 degrees. This, of course, was nothing to do with the trouble but a quick way of getting rid of a tenner. I then discovered that the previous owner had hacked lumps off the cylinder heads when he found a holed gasket had blown a dimple in one head, and had visions of shifting chemises (liners to you) and other problems which would rock the lira.

Then Deo Gratias my good friend Frank Martin, who is a transmission repair specialist but has in his time tangled with Brian Lister, Archie Scott-Brown and such folk, walked round the car whistling and plunged his trusty right arm underneath and came out clutching the cap to the overflow tank to the radiator. The cap was old and diseased and not opening to allow air in so that the expelled water could go back, if you follow. Don’t tell Maranello or Modena, but a friendly Ford dealer produced one with the right psi.

It looked beautiful new, but a sorry sight after George’s “excwsion”

When we had cooling we had to find brakes, and confine the exhaust gases in the right places, and do something to the electrics, and just when all seemed right with the world and I was ready for 48 in first, 73 in second, 100 in third, 125 in fourth and hopefully 152 mph in fifth, I somehow contrived to leave the road for no good reason and go end-over-end, which is not kind to aluminium bodies. I remember tasting the earth coming in through the open window as we rolled and thinking: "Don’t tell me I’ve got to do gardening in the next world !"

But when the beast was rolling (I mean on its wheels) I had a foretaste of Paradise with the big boots biting and the revs rising and the whole damn orchestra singing from front to back and the little midget cars being swallowed like flies as they darted across my path, and it didn’t really matter how much it cost or how impractical it was or whether it was a blot on the environment or an anachronism or selfish or whether Barbara Castle didn’t like it or how much noise and stink it made because I was enjoying myself so much.

Since I don’t think I’m allowed any more words, I just hope you have received me Loud and Clear.

Motor week ending August 25, 1973