The man’s wife, an actress who looked Scandinavian, called it “The Monster.”
“You’ve come for the Monster,” she said.
“Yes, I have,” I said. Meanwhile trying to figure out why she would call one of Pininfarina’s most beautiful Ferraris– the GTC/4– “The Monster.”
I say “most beautiful” but the Italians, with their ever more refined eyes for body shapes (both women and cars) called it “the hunchback with clown lips” because it had an ever so slight rise to the center of the rear deck lid, and up front there was a rubber bumper surround. Neither feature hurt the car’s looks but you know the Italians. They wanted things just right or they would find something to criticize.
I found out later on, once I took the car, it ate money. It wasn’t the cookie monster, but the money monster.
During its short-lived original heyday, 1971-72, the C4 was the more expensive cousin to the Daytona which shared some of the same parts, including the block. But the Daytona had its gearbox out back for better weight distribution and was more of a brutal sports car. The C4, with power steering and a gearbox connected to the engine, was I always said “a gentleman’s sports car” built, I imagined, “for the executive in Milano who wanted a fast sports car so when his secretary said she would go with him to spend the weekend in Lake Como he could get there in a hurry at 100 mph before she changed her mind. ”
But I am getting ahead of myself. First the joys of the discovery.
The way I came across the car is that I often visited a mechanic in West Hollywood named Al Axelrod. Axelrod had a lot of movie folk customers and one of them—a movie producer up in the Hollywood Hills–had brought this dark green Ferrari down from his hilltop house atop Mulhullond drive for its annual check-up.
Actually the guy never drove the car but periodically would get fired up to get the car going. And then it wouldn’t run because it was neglected for so long. Because it was a heavy car, you could get it down from the Hollywood Hills on gravity alone but if it wasn’t running right, it wouldn’t make it up the steep roads back to its garage.
I saw spider webs on it and asked ‘Is this car for sale?”
Axelrod said “I’m trying to buy it” and revealed he had been turned down in his first offer because the seller, a movie producer, wanted $25,000.
At the time a pristine C/4 was gong for around $45,000.
So I forgot about it. Then a few months later I am in Santa Monica, passing an exotic car lot and I see the same Ferrari out on the lot, while there are two pristine C4s in the showroom. The ones in the showroom are going for maybe $45,000 but, for the tatty green one out on the lot, they said “Make us an offer.” Well the first thing was that I knew what the owner wanted, and when they weren’t looking I copied down the owner’s registration info out of the glove compartment. (Hey, all’s fair in love and war…) I then wrote his office and they called me back in response.
“I want $25,000” the owner, a movie producer of those kinds of movies which feature scantily clad ladies and runaway slaves said. I replied, “Look they are treating your car terrible over there, letting it get all dirty while they shine up the nice ones inside. And I’d love to pay your price but the fact is I only have $16,000 so let’s say we split the difference and I pay $19,000?”
He went for it. The beauty of it was, that I had coincidentally sold my 308GTS a few months before for $29,000, so I had a lot of bargaining room left, which I didn’t have to use.
I went to his office right at the end of the “Strip” part of Sunset Strip and sat and looked at movie posters while waiting to see him. We talked and I handed him the check. I could tell, by the number of employees and the projects he was working on, that 19 grand would pay for expenses about up to lunch.
I went up to his house to pick up the car. That’s when the wife, who looked vaguely like some Swedish film star, said her famous monster line and pointed vaguely toward the garage. Now from past experience in buying cars, I knew before I even arrived that this could be one of those “you can have the car but we can’t find the key” deals.
This could happen because the owner had a lot of cars, or maybe even the dealer who last had the car on consignment made it get lost so the owner would sell it to them later.
Not to worry. Since I had been through this scenario before, so I arrived with a flatbed tow truck. I laid out the chain, attached it to the bumper and began to yank it out.
Now it turned out that the car had a steering wheel lock so, without the key to unlock the wheel, it began aiming the car toward the house. When it came to rest against the house, I kept pulling and the house began to cut a salmon colored groove in the car and the car began to cut a green groove in the house. Finally, when the car was about half way along the house, the Latina maid found the key and I unlocked the steering wheel. I was not about go give up on this treasure, fearful that at any moment the producer would realize, “Hey, all I have to do is detail this car and it’s worth twice as much.”
I took it down the hill to LeBrea Ave. where Bruno, my Italian mechanic, regarded it dubiously. I left the car and three days later Bruno called.
“Hey, it’s gotta no compression in two cylinders.” Bad news. I knew a four cam V-12 was one helluva expensive engine to rebuild. “But we try, we shim the valves, we work on it,” he said.
Two days later he called “We got compression. You come, and pick it up.”
Now these particular Italians ran things like in some back alley in Salerno. You didn’t get an estimate. You didn’t get a bill. You just left your car and when you came back, you fanned out some $100 bills and hoped they wouldn’t hurt you too bad as they plucked out of your hand the number of C-notes they needed.
Bruno wanted me to take it up and down LaBrea at speed. Now this is, you understand, a road full of traffic, with a stop light every couple blocks. But Bruno was a racing mechanic. He could only tell if a Ferrari was running right if he could hear all 12 cylinders in full song.
I dutifully I drove a couple blocks away, and ran it by their shop at 6,000-7000 rpm. I did this three or four times and finally saw him give me the OK sign. Go with God, my man.
I couldn’t stand the International Harvester Green paint for long and painted it Ferrari red. I kept the unique tartan cloth upholstery inserts because it was so contrary to what you expected in a Ferrari. I mean plaid—who was I, Jackie Stewart?
I drove the car for the next three years . It only broke down a couple of times, once when a throttle cable snapped. I managed to tie a wire to it and accelerate by pulling on the wire from the driver’s window. Once it overheated. And once, early on, it developed a profuse leak between two of the six sidedraft twin throat Weber carburetors whereupon I discovered a design flaw—when it had such a leak, it would drip gas on hot exhaust headers immediately below (I wondered how many C4’s had burned up with this arrangement).A Swiss mechanic at the same event merely spliced another hose to get a new section to replace the leaking one.
My wife at the time, who was only 4’10”, couldn’t reach the pedals so, though she liked the idea of driving a Ferrari, she never drove it.
The car left my life as many a good car goes-through divorce. She wanted it as part of her settlement and since I could sell it to her for the going price at the time—three times what I paid for it– and not have to pay taxes on the profit (no taxes between spouses) I went for it.
I think about that C4 sometimes. I miss it. In fact, it’s not hard to find, I just go on google and type in the serial number and there she is, on one used car lot or another. There’s those fond memories, like driving down PCH toward Malibu, taking those big sweepers at 100 mph. It had the best exhaust note of any Ferrari made for the street.
But I couldn’t own it now. Bruno closed his shop. Going to a Ferrari dealer of the present day and hearing prices like $100 an hour for labor would give me a heart attack. And parts? Hey, give me a break, they only made roughly 500 of them. There aren’t any body parts left over except from wrecked ones.
Fortunately the engine was used in the first 400GTs, when they were still carburetored so it’s theoretically possible to get engine parts from European dealers, the 400GTs never been legal U.S. models.
I’ll bet that movie producer misses it too. He told me when I brought the check to his office that he had he bought the car when he went to the Cannes Film Festival. He wanted something snazzy to drive around, up and down the Croissette, and down to St. Tropez.
He did that. His mistake was bringing it home…
Wallace Wyss is the author of ten car books, the latest of which is SHELBY: The Man, The Cars, the Legend
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