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April 28, 2005    
George Ruhe for The New York Times


The Workingman's Ferrari


Published: April 29, 2005


FOR car aficionados, the name Ferrari evokes exotic styling, supercar performance and a rare exclusivity epitomized by a snarling exhaust, the Prancing Horse symbol and a stratospheric price tag.

There are only 17,000 Ferraris in the United States, said Maurizio Parlato, the chief executive of Ferrari North America, and last year only about 1,400 new ones were sold here. The cost of the lowest-priced new model, the F430, hovers at about $180,000, and vintage models can fetch prices in the millions. "The typical Ferrari buyer has a minimum household income of $500,000 to $800,000," Mr. Parlato said.

But there is another group of Ferrari owners, people who don't have megabuck incomes or boardroom seats. With patience and persistence, they seek out used Ferraris - distinct from the vintage variety - 20 to 40 years old. And they buy them for as little as $20,000.

"There are new Ferraris, rare vintage Ferraris - and Ferrari used cars," said Wayne Carini, who owns F40 Motorsports in Portland, Conn., where he repairs and restores Ferraris and advises Ferrari seekers. "The used-car Ferraris don't have a racing history and are not the rare ones," he said. "But they're Ferraris."

There are those who contend that any Ferrari is a mechanical marvel and a work of art, some just more so than others. David Letterman, a Ferrari fan and owner, summed up the appeal in a telephone interview. "Why Ferraris? Because they're so ridiculous," he said. "It's a visceral response. They're beautiful, sensual. They smell great: the leather and the smell of the oil they inevitably leak. The sounds of the engine, exhaust and transmission are just so mechanically obvious. And who needs a car that can do 180? They're fabulous."

From another corner of the of the great fraternity of Ferraristi, Art Suckewer, 34, an engineer from Franklin Park, N.J., agrees. The 1965 model he bought for about $25,000 in 1997 is, he said, "artwork on wheels."

Although the Ferrari signature engine is a V-12, there have been models with four, six and eight cylinders. "Generally, the eight-cylinder cars of the mid-70's to the late-80's are very affordable," Mr. Carini said. These include the 308, the 328 and the Mondial.

For many who venerate Ferraris, only 12 cylinders will do. But even for them, there are used cars to buy. Mr. Carini identified some "affordable 12's": the mid-60's 330 GT 2+2, which is the model Mr. Suckewer owns; the four-seater 400i built from 1979 to 1984; and the 412 from the late 1980's.

"I wanted a 12-cylinder Ferrari from the Enzo Ferrari era, before the Fiat merger in 1969," Mr. Suckewer said. He bought his, metallic blue with a tan interior, in 1997. "It's no show car," he said, but "the sight of it makes me smile."

The car, with about 65,000 miles now on the odometer, is one of 1,099 that were made. It has the same basic mechanical underpinnings as exotic Ferraris like the Superfast coupe of 1964 to 1966, of which 36 were produced, and which today can sell for $400,000. (Mr. Letterman owns one of those.)

Mr. Suckewer has spent thousands on his car. He budgets about $1,500 a year for regular maintenance - tuning, oil changes and other minor matters. But he said, "I have to budget $5,000 for restorative work every other year," and after the restorations, "I wouldn't take less than $65,000 for it."

GLEN PITRUZELLO, 37, of Middlefield, Conn., is another 12-cylinder diehard. "The V-12 is the essence of Ferrari," he said. Mr. Carini showed him used Ferrari V-8's for years, but they wouldn't do. Then, driving home one day this year after having a root canal, Mr. Pitruzello swung by Mr. Carini's shop and found that the right V-12 had come in: a 330 GT 2+2 from 1964, with four headlights, rarer than two-headlight models. "I bought it for $32,000 on the spot," Mr. Pitruzello said.

"The 2+2 cars are overlooked gems with racecar engineering technology but without the premium," he said. His is red, shows 60,000 kilometers (37,000 miles) on the odometer and has a worn black leather interior and a couple of rust spots. "I'll replace little things as I go along," Mr. Pitruzello said. Asked about maintenance, he laughed. "I don't plan on piling lots of miles on," he said. "We'll drive it on weekends and take the family to get ice cream."

Service costs are an issue.

"The major service for a V-12 each 15,000 miles can be between $5,000 to $9,000," said Gerald Roush, publisher of the Ferrari Market Letter, which tracks asking prices. "You can buy a model 400 2+2 V-12 for $25,000 to $45,000. How do you justify that service for a $25,000 car?"

He suggests: "Don't buy the Ferrari as an investment but as something to be enjoyed. It's a used car."

On the plus side, a used Ferrari usually has low mileage, said Dave Friar, 56, a West Hartford, Conn., architect and former Porschephile who became a Ferrari owner eight years ago with his wife, Fiona. They now have three, and he is a director of the New England chapter of the Ferrari Club of America. "People tend to drive them 3,000 miles a year or so," he said, and for him, at least, maintenance costs are part of the reason. "Major service is five years or 15,000 miles, and on some models the engines have to be pulled out to change components," he said. "After a major service, I rotate driving my cars. I couldn't afford two major services in one year."

Not everyone is quite so conservative. Christian and Anna Scott of Chester, N.H., drove their 1980 308 GTBi, an eight-cylinder model, well beyond the average. After Mr. Scott, 30, "built a Ferrari library all through college" and "borrowed through the family bank" to buy his car for $20,000 in 1999, he wasn't willing to let it sit in the garage. "We put 12,000 miles on that car in two years," he said. "It was dead reliable and a joy to drive." He defrayed his servicing costs by helping the mechanic with labor. The Scotts sold the car in 2002 to finance a house purchase, but they still run the state chapter of the Ferrari Club. "As long as you share the passion, you're accepted," Mr. Scott said.

Phil Tripoli, 55, an engineer in Redondo Beach, Calif., is another fan who was imprinted with Ferrari at a young age. "What started me were the car trading cards that came with bubble gum when I was a kid," he said. He was 24 when he bought his first Ferrari, a 1960 model 250 GT Cabriolet, spending even his rent money. "Some friends had a garage, and I slept next to the car in a sleeping bag," he said. Now he owns a 1986 412m four-seater that he bought a year ago for $39,000. "Off the showroom floor, a Ferrari is better than any modified performance car," he said. "The V-12 makes a sound like nothing else."

Finding the right used Ferrari involves a lot of variables. Factors that affect a model's value can include aesthetics, engine type, body designer, numbers produced and racing history. "In general," Mr. Carini said, "the 2+2 cars cost less than the two-seaters, closed cars less than the open." But there are many exceptions. "I have a rule called Roush's rule of racecars," Mr. Roush of the Ferrari Market Letter said with a laugh. "The more a Ferrari looks like a racecar, the more it will cost." It might also help if the car looks like the one Tom Selleck drove in "Magnum P.I.," the 1980's television series. Magnum had a red Ferrari 308GTS. "That car represented Ferrari to a whole group of fans," said Mr. Parlato, the Ferrari executive.

Mike Simonetta of Wethersfield, Conn., 35, was one of them. "I never missed a 'Magnum' episode," he said, and in April 2000 he bought a Ferrari like Magnum's: a 1985 red 308GTSi, with 12,000 miles, for $33,000.

"It was a cool show," Mr. Simonetta said. "And the car was the coolest. It was Ferrari for me."

Copyright 2005 The New York Times Company