FALL OF 1968, BRIDGEHAMPTON, CAN-AM
On a brilliant Sunday morning in mid-September of 1968, we were at the Bridgehampton race track out on eastern Long Island. There was to be a major Can-Am race that day. Amazingly the Ferrari Club of America had been invited to bring their Ferraris to the track for the day! (Whoever offered the invitation may have been hoping for Ferrari members who would conduct themselves in a manner befitting, say members of the Rolls Royce Club)
Now, here comes the . . . “couldn’t do it today . . .” part.
Prior to the Can Am race Sunday, the Ferrari owners were: invited to conduct a thirty minute “parade” around the circuit! Between Auto Enterprises, and a few “friends” we had six Ferrari’s in our area of the Paddock. As the morning progressed a few more Ferrari’s showed up. A bit later I counted twenty Ferrari’s in the Paddock enclosure; finally the count went to thirty some.
Greetings were exchanged, then there were several hushed gatherings. I wondered what was going on . . . What were they all so earnestly talking about?
At a point, Gene Mason came over, slipping on his driving gloves. He was on his way to putting 45 pounds of air in his Ferrari Lusso tires, and could he leave his luggage with us?!
All that for a parade?
It was looking like these guys might be planning more than a couple of well behaved laps of the circuit. I immediately pocketed the keys from two of our Ferraris that were on consignment sale. Their owners thought the cars might get good exposure at this event.
I didn’t want to be the one to tell anyone that only the undersides of their Ferrari’s were on display, as someone had put a wheel off in the notorious Bridgehampton sand and. . . “your Ferrari is on its head at the moment”!
Then Bill O’Donnell assigned grid spots for each car. “T” Grant was#8, I drew #23. Slowly we made our way out on to the race track. It seemed to take forever and a day to get our Dog & Pony show together!
It was, however, mighty impressive being in front of 55,000 people on the main straightaway!
A driver’s meeting was called over the loudspeaker. No one from the Ferrari Group showed! They must have assumed it was for the “real” drivers! But word filters back that after the pace lap all of us are to “Parade” in single file.
(. . . This may be a good time to mention that the Ferrari Club in 1968 was not the “stitched-up” organization it is today! We were a great group wh0 really knew how to have fun. Maybe three or four of the cars had seat belts, no one had a helmet, no roll bars, and yeah, maybe there were a few “open containers” in the Ferrari’s! . . .)
I relaxed a bit. David Penske was with me in the GTB/4. At the start I eased off with the others and we glided grandly over the hill at the end of the straight, wending our way around the circuit. The pace car has held the group to a sensible speed. As we came up out of the last turn, there were Marshalls motioning us into a single line and we motored toward a gently waved Green flag.
Law and order prevailed for something less than five seconds!
Suddenly a Ferrari 330 GT shot to the outside, passing everything and dove over the hill! Oh my God! It was Grant! I should have taken the keys out of his car! This is terrific, maybe Grant will spectacularly flip the Ferrari and then everyone will really know who Auto Enterprises is, I thought!
But Grant didn’t crash. He is driving like a million bucks, dicing mightily with one of our customers. Then everyone put the hammer down.
Meanwhile, I called my steely nerve and driving prowess to fore.
(. . . how’s that again, Kirk?? . . .)
I mashed the gas pedal of my 275 GTB/4 to join right in, doing quite well on the straightaway, well over 100 MPH. Into the turns though, I spotted a tatty 250 GT 2&2 with three guys in it driving like they were chased by the fires of Hell! I pushed harder at the throttle.
All three of them peered over at me, having plenty of time to look me over and wonder how the guy in a nearly new GTB/4 couldn't hold them off! They were clearly snickering at my driving ability. I'm sure I knew one of them from Jerome Avenue.
I reached up under the dash, like something had gone seriously amiss. It’s no use. The big ‘ol 250 barge trundled on by while David was wondering what the hell I was up to under the dash!
At the end of lap 2 David yelled to me that I’d taken a minute and twenty seconds longer to take a lap than Mark Donohue!
On lap three, I tucked in behind Gene Mason because he knew what he was doing. Grand old Jim Ferguson was the only one on the track behaving himself.
Lap 4 saw Black flags, Blue flags and red flags being waved mightily and our 30 minute “parade” was over in less than ten minutes! Then came the worst part. We all had to sit on the main straight and wait to be filtered back into our “playpen” as it were. As we have been very bad children we avoided eye contact with most everyone.
What followed was, and ever shall be: . . . “If I’d only had another lap . . .”
SPRING OF 1969 . . .
It was developing that the opening of Auto Enterprises, the elaborate newspaper ads, and getting the Newsletter underway, had brought forth an untapped group of vintage car people.
Some of these people had cars, others might just be interested in the older European automobiles, others were sellers . . . we always kept a sharp eye for the ones who might wish to buy a great old car.
For example, a wonderful young couple from the Bucks County area, the Duseks, came in and spent some serious time with me. They were considering buying one or two additional older “important” Ferrari racing cars for long term investments. They had driven by Auto Enterprises and seen the Prince Bernhard Ferrari berlinetta. The Duseks knew a good deal more about the Prince Bernhard Ferrari than I did! I had very little knowledge of what constituted an “important” Ferrari in their mind’s eye. In spite of their quite young ages, they knew exactly where they were going in their pursuit of the top Ferraris.
THE NEW YORK INTERNATIONAL AUTOMOBILE SHOW
All sorts of amazing things happened very quickly at Auto Enterprises in the beginning of 1969.
The New York International Auto Show was the “big time” for the boys from Flourtown, Pennsylvania. Luigi Chinetti had somehow garnered us an invitation. It was expensive as all get out and very hard work. You were exhausted at the end of the show days, but boy did we gather in a number of prospects. And, we published a fancy Newsletter to celebrate our presence as exhibitors.
375 MILLE MIGLIA SPYDER (#0382)
Someone telephoned in the spring ‘69 and said they had an old Ferrari sports racing car that had belonged to a guy named Parravano; would we be interested in selling the car for him?
It was a V-12, and he said he’d get it running; it had been sitting for a long time . . .
“Sure, bring it over,” we said, and one afternoon a character pulled up with a rundown pickup truck and a rickety trailer rig. He released the winch on his rudimentary trailer, and down rolled a tired, what would be called today, “barn fresh,” Ferrari 375 MM roadster.
Mean lookin’ sucker; nothing inviting about the car. But, it looked like it was more or less, all there.
The man who brought the car seemed to know very little about it, but he regaled us with tales of this Tony Parravano character. At that point in time we heard that Parravano had literally disappeared, despite the repeated efforts of the IRS to get him rounded up. Parravano, though, was still talked about in mythical terms. He had come and gone quickly in the world of racing Ferraris and Maseratis.
The guy said he wanted $3,000 for the Ferrari, and left some vague ownership documents with us, and a telephone number.
(No . . . I didn’t have a clue at the time as to what the serial number was; it wasn’t important in those days. The vast histories that have been tediously compiled today of these great Ferraris didn’t exist in 1968.
We were purely getting by with Hans Tanner’s book, and the newly published “Fitzgerald / Merritt” book.
Frankly, we weren’t really using those books to any real degree. If an important history of a given car literally slapped us in the face, we might utilize it to sell one of these “used cars”. . .)
After our character of a consignor departed, I decided I’d give the car a drive to see what it would be like on the road.
The old warhorse was sitting there in what appeared to be factory original racing red paint. The body looked like it had been in more than a few hard races. The 17 inch wheels were painted, outside laced, wire wheels with elderly Engelbert tires.
It was right hand drive, just to spice things up.
I squeezed my way into the cockpit. The tall shifter was to the left of me, hooking through to the massive transaxle in the rear. I reached for the key which was the old peg style. Turning it to the right produced the parking lamps first, then the headlights! Turning it back and pushing the key in engaged the electrical system and a dim orange lamp lit inside the starter button. Fortunately there were marked twin switches for the magnetos and one for the extremely noisy fuel pump. Two pokes at the accelerator and I hit the starter.
Hoo boy, the sucker lit off like a fucking bomb! I let the engine warm a bit, pushing lightly at the throttle. This Ferrari is one mean son of a bitch, I thought, and I hadn't even moved it an inch. The engine was hugely responsive; it felt like it had massive torque, and power.
I’d not even lifted the hood. Had I done so, I certainly would have been struck by the physical size of the V-12!
At that point in my Ferrari life, I had no idea what a Lampredi engine Ferrari was!
(Enzo Ferrari had had Aurelio Lampredi step in during the early fifties to design larger displacement, naturally aspirated engines, seeking greater reliability under racing conditions. The previous Columbo designed one and a half liter supercharged F1 engines had suffered intolerable reliability problems.
The big displacement Lampredi engines were tremendously powerful, and won many races for Ferrari . . .
The displacement of this Lampredi engine was 150% of a Columbo 250 GT engine!!)
It was late in the afternoon, and I thought I’d sneak the Ferrari out to the country roads and shake it down a bit.
The mechanical noise of the big Ferrari was overwhelming. The car seemed to be all around me. It had an awesome presence. Everything about the Ferrari was big and powerful. The cockpit was raw as hell; the clutch was very heavy, and had a noisy throw out bearing.
The transmission sounded like all of its components were made of broken cast iron pieces. This 375 MM was one heavy handed Ferrari. I engaged the clutch and snicked the gearshift lever into first gear.
I don’t care who you are, that monster could not be moved away smoothly. Don’t talk to me about “in/out” boxes, this hyena was like slamming two gears into each other to get the drivetrain underway.
Finally, after pushing in too much throttle I burned away from the curb badly. What a hullabaloo!
This baby was almost impossible to manage. The steering was viciously heavy, the throttle response was wickedly quick, and the gearbox was never going to give me a clean, smooth change, up or down.
The suspension was industrial at best.
By the time I got out to behind Flourtown, I was nearly in tears. Back in those days that area was very rural, and good for exercising a big powerful car . . .
I thought: “Thank God, we didn’t write a check for this donkey; nobody’s going to want this untamed savage!
I brought the Ferrari to a dead stop on the road, (the brakes were really heavy and dicey!) I took a deep breath, and said to myself:
“OK, this fucker was winning races 15 years ago; time to get your act together, Kirk, and drive this automobile, now!”
The Ferrari was now well warmed up. I engaged first gear let in the clutch, and the piece of junk stalled in a fashion that sounded, and felt, like the entire drive line had fractured!
I repeated the process with the same result; I’d then done it twice . . .
That damn diabolical multi-disc clutch must have had diamond saw teeth on the clutch plates.
Okay, at that point, I no longer cared about that Machiavellian beast; I revved the engine to 4,000 RPM, literally dropped the clutch, and hammered the throttle . . .
The Ferrari shot down the road with the revs climbing rapidly, just as smooth as glass. At 6,000 RPM, I shifted for second, double clutching as I did, and the car snicked into second as cleanly as you please. At well over 100, I was out of the throttle, easily shifting up into third and fourth.
The guy who delivered the car said one of these 375 brutes had been clocked on the Thumgarten straight outside of Mexico City at 197 miles per hour. Sure, they were Mexican clocks, but what the hell . . .
The Big Lampredi V-12 sang, and the entire car had gathered itself up, and was back in an early fifties Targa Florio, hurtling down the roads of Sicily.
Regardless of your speed the handling remained really edgy, and the brakes needed hours of advance notice.
I repeated the whole process two more times, and returned to the agency, a somewhat smarter boy than when I left.
The early big engined Ferrari sports racers had to be taken by the scruff of the neck, and manhandled. Those behemoths were not to be driven like a Lusso!
(August 2011 : With lots of pre auction press "our" 375MM was sold for a staggering amount of money. Following the sale Joel Finn wrote a great account of his experiences with the car.)
I haven’t really told you very much about Carl Bross.
Carl and I became friends almost from the moment we met. He was in his early forties, very successful, and exceedingly well spoken. Tall, slender, bright intense eyes that looked straight into yours, sandy hair and a very patrician demeanor.
Almost immediately after he had purchased the Prince Bernhard 250 GT from us he invited me to come to his home for lunch in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan just outside Detroit . . . that’s right, for lunch.
So, shortly thereafter, I left early one Saturday morning for my luncheon date in Detroit.
Carl and Susan Bross’s home was large, yet understated, and the grounds were lovely. The collection was absolutely stunning. The automobiles were largely important Maseratis and Ferraris. Each automobile in the collection was exquisite, and totally correct. Bross preferred wonderfully preserved automobiles.
Carl went over each car with me, why he had it, where it fit in with his collection, and why the car was important to his interests.
We had a quiche for lunch. I had never heard of quiche, let alone tasted one; I thought it somewhat unusual that I had traveled to Detroit for a slice of a “pie” for lunch, along with a bit of green salad. But this was Detroit, maybe that’s the way they did things out here, and the luncheon was quite delicious.
At lunch Carl again brought up the idea of my having my own place. I had aired with him the fact that my vintage car purchases were often not quite what my present “company” had in mind.
“T”, and even Tom Conte on occasion, were more and more interested in pursuing the field of factory franchised new car sales and the selling of “sensible” used automobiles.
As we’ve already reviewed, many of my “wooly” acquisitions had been a struggle. They had all made money, but it seemed, almost without fail, that everyone in the agency was holding their breath until the moment when someone, equally as mad as I, had lurched through the dealership door, and purchased whatever car was scaring everyone to death at the time.
Certainly the Newsletters we were publishing showed plenty of very “exotic” cars in stock, but I was the one that kept stepping out of bounds and going for the really far out, edgy old racers, etc.
Carl Bross, though, was a real visionary; he really thought that Jurist, Gephart, Gould, Grossman, Barrett, and the others were launched on the right track with antique, classic and vintage automobiles. He believed my dealing in the vintage European racing cars was a viable business plan, and that it was a largely untapped resource.
Yes, the postwar significant cars were only five to just over twenty years old. But there were so many fantastic racing cars engineered and built since World War II that would never be duplicated again. Just the mechanical and aerodynamic changes over that span of time were simply amazing.
Taking the example of Ferrari’s sports racers for instance: in 1954 that brute of a 375 Mille Miglia roadster you just read about could well have been your weapon of choice, and here in 1969 the Ferrari 512S was your cutting edge competition car!
In the area of touring sports cars, Ferrari had gone from the 166 to the 365GTB/4.
Jaguar had advanced from the XK120 to the C and D types and on to the beautiful XKE . . .
The 1953 Corvette advanced in the late sixties to the L-88’s and the Grand Sports . . .
Mercedes Benz from war torn rubble to the 300 SL and world beating 300 SLR’s . . .
All of the great automobile makers had made tremendous gains.
The great gains extended to all fields of special interest automobiles. Take the racing cars of all kinds: Indianapolis, land speed record cars, Formula 1, Rally cars.
But, I’m getting ahead of myself here . . .
The photographs above were sent to me by Carl, along with two or three more after our luncheon, meeting merely to keep my mind on his cars and his needs.
TURNING UP THE FLAME
As we published the March 1969 Auto Enterprises Newsletter, (our New York Automobile Show issue), I was bloviating about having eleven competition Ferraris in stock, two of which were GTO’s that had come through the door so quickly they almost stumbled over each other!!
In that Newsletter, I related my first face to face meeting with Luigi Chinetti, Sr. I’ve forgotten who arranged the meeting, but when I was eventually ushered into Chinetti’s modest office, I was urged to sit down in an uncomfortable low chair. After an inordinate period of utter silence with Luigi staring straight into my eyes, he merely said to me: “You must stop selling new Ferraris!” (. . . Don’t they all come through you, Luigi?? . . .). After that stern admonishment, the two of us gradually settled into a comfortable visit about the older racing Ferraris. Luigi warmed to the subject of the old racing cars and we spent the next two hours wending our way through his vast shop area. It was a hugely wonderful experience for me to absorb the vast knowledge and tales spilling from this great three time Le Mans winner.
I called Ivo Brillo the following morning to inquire about two wonderful old Ferrari racers that were way in the back of Chinetti’s Greenwich facility.
In his broken English Ivo said: “What is it you Americans say?” “. . . you have cooked your own Christmas goose!” After you leave yesterday, Luigi say none of the older racing cars are any longer for sale!”
FERRARI 250 GTO (#3387) AN-EYE-OPENER!
Bernie Keller was an avid and very knowledgeable early Ferrari collector, who had come to see us almost as quickly as we had opened our doors. He was a really down to earth guy, and he had some great old Ferrari racing cars stashed away in Mansfield, Ohio. He drove them enthusiastically and did his own mechanical work.
Bernie called one day to say that a friend of his, also named Bernie, had a Ferrari GTO (serial #3387) that he wanted to sell, and that a Mr. Stayman would be calling me.
Stayman did call and say that, yes he had a 250 GTO, and it had been raced up through 1966. He told me the car had been in dry storage since the end of the ’66 season, and he needed $7,000 for the car. He volunteered to bring the car to Flourtown.
At that juncture, I knew just enough about Ferraris to realize that very few of the GTO’s were made, and that they were very slick racing Ferraris. That was pretty much the extent of my knowledge!
( . . . Don’t be out there slapping your forehead over my ignorance. At this point in time, nobody had really picked up on the desirability factor of a GTO. You’re lucky I can give you a serial number!. . . )
I told Mr. Stayman to bring it on in and we’d try to buy it.
The car arrived after lunch one sunny day in early February. Bernie had brought it out from Ohio on an open trailer, dragged by a pickup truck.
They’d hit some rainy weather, and then must have encountered a construction area as the car had a good deal of mud spattered all over it. The car was actually filthy.
Boy, oh boy, was it ever a tired old gal . . .
I climbed up on the trailer, and popped my head inside the driver’s window. It seemed to be all there, but dirty beyond belief. The body was tired, tattered and the paint was the original, old, quick, “factory” squirt of red. When I went to have a peer at the engine, I noticed that the left front fender had broken away from the body, just forward of the windshield.
Just a giant fatigue crack . . . no, better make that a full blown split in the aluminum! I didn’t mention it right away.
The car started and ran, after a fashion, smoking, crackling, and the valves clattering away, more than a bit out of adjustment.
I motioned Bernie over to have a look at the split.
“Bernie this poor old lady is split in half.”
“No it’s not, it’s just a crack in the sheet metal,” he said.
( . . . I wanted to wheel out Dickie Stern's smart ass remark: "Which half of this thing do you want me to buy?" . . ., but I would have been the only one laughing.)
After much back and forth and I bought the car for $5,400.
“T” was out of town, and Larry was holding down the fort. I sent the car over to service to get the fluids checked and the road dirt blasted away. Since it was a nice, quiet, spring like day, I decided I would drive the car home to see what a Ferrari GTO was all about.
That was the joy of the late nineteen sixties. The GTO, at that point, was simply a not very old $5,000 Ferrari race car, no big apples. Deciding to endure the crudity of the damn thing, I just got in, and drove the damn car home!
This old gal literally behaved as if it hadn’t been out of the barn in years. The Ferrari was balky, sputtering, kicking back, covering the ground, but not very willingly, very cammy engine, with little interest in doing much of anything below 3,500 RPM. The carbs spitting back sounded like a distant Fourth of July fireworks!
But once the pertinent needles came off their pegs, the Ferrari began to return some real response. As I worked my way over the back roads toward home, the whole experience started to really come together. I caught a long red light at Gulph Road.
While I sat there waiting for the light to change, something settled over me making me keenly aware of the magic of this car, and I absorbed as much of the experience as I could before the traffic light changed.
When the light flashed green, I gave the throttle a mighty poke and the Ferrari shot across the intersection with smoking rear tires, right there in high rush hour! The GTO powered up a long, gradual, curving hill with a stunning amount of push. When the motor hit 4,000 RPM, school let out, and the car just rocketed forward. Once in the power band the engine turned like a turbine; it was unbelievably smooth. Pulling it into the next gear piled more power at you. The car was utterly phenomenal.
At that point I was less than two miles from the house, and I started turning down every side road I could find to keep me out on the road for a while longer. I didn’t want this magic to end.
Finally I pulled into our driveway, shut the Ferrari off and sat there taking in the whole experience, listening to the faint crackling of the various heated metals.
I was completely captivated by the GTO.
AN EXCEEDINGLY VIVID MEMORY FOR MY SON, CHRISTOPHER . . .
I came through the back door of the house still stoked by the whole experience and the first character I came across was my son, Christopher, standing in the kitchen, wide eyed, obviously in the midst of executing a well thought out cookie theft.
Chris was five years old at the time. Spunky, adventurous little guy . . .
“Chris, want to take a ride in a really neat car?”
He nodded enthusiastically. All three of the children loved to ride in the old cars. The other two were nowhere to be found and I didn’t want to get into telling his mother that I was going to take our five year old out for a high speed spin in an old Ferrari race car that was uninsured, unlicensed, uninspected, and all the other proper things that normal people concerned themselves with.
I sat him in the passenger seat, laid the heavy competition seat belt across him and buckled him in (. . . after a fashion).
(What’s that?? . . . Oh, you’re asking about the child’s safety seat. Well, in those days we didn’t have that sort of thing and truth be known, in 1969 the little tykes generally had the run of most any vehicle . . .)
I got in the driver’s side, and Chris looked up happily. He then carefully eyed the very sparse amenities, and the general lack of everything that he was used to in an automobile.
When the engine fired Chris sat bolt upright with eyes the size of half dollars and tried to take in all of the racket that was going on all around him. From his perspective he was probably certain whatever this old contraption was, it was surely going to explode and take him with it!
His crass father started to verbally unload on Christopher his newly discovered enthusiasm for this old rattle trap Ferrari.
“Chris, wait till I get this sucker up on Upper Gulph Road. This Ferrari is the fastest thing you’ve ever ridden in! You’ll see!!”
Less than half a mile from the house, I turned on to Upper Gulph Road, scanned the mirrors for a rear view of the road, checking what was coming our way. I slowed down to a near stop, and brought the big shifter over into first gear.
“Here we go buddy,” . . . said dear old Dad, and we took off hard.
Glorious mechanical music and shrieking V-12 exhaust completely enveloped the cockpit. In an instant we were at 6500 RPM, and I snared second gear.
With a huge grin, I turned to see how Chris was loving this incredible experience!
Christopher’s face was a brilliant scarlet. His mouth was open the size of a baseball. He had to be screaming in terror for his little life. I couldn’t tell, of course, because you couldn’t hear a damn thing in that hell hole of a conveyance.
I pulled over instantly. We had big hugs and kisses; and we were never, never, ever, going to do anything like that again!
We headed, right that minute, to get the biggest, best, ice cream treat ever!
While we were enjoying that ice cream, we talked earnestly about how, maybe, we could skip this whole episode when we got home. I was persona non grata enough of the time; we didn’t need that incendiary incident thrown into the mix!
(No, wait . . . , I totally agree! Wretched, selfish, foolish, awful parent endangering the life of his child in an old wreck of a Ferrari that wasn’t even licensed for the road!! Vile bastard!)
Yeah? Well that endangered child Chris went on to become a champion motocross motorcycle rider, and has owned any number of high performance automobiles. And, my Grand Son, Max, is twice the motocross rider his Dad ever was!
And, yes that is Chris in the photograph , being strapped into the Marathon Ferrari 365 GTB/4 for a spin around Summit Point in 1991.
The following morning I drove the GTO back to the agency. By the time I got there, I was fully re-stoked about the awesomeness of that car. It was very early, so I parked the car almost out in front of the place.
Everyone came in and the day was underway. “T” arrived mid morning. He had returned from another meeting relative to securing an additional new car franchise, and discussing possibly a new agency altogether. Recently I had been eased out of the loop on whatever the “new” plans were.
He spotted the Dealer tag on the back of the GTO, and went around the car. It was plain to see that he was quickly acquiring a distinct dislike for the car.
You don’t need to hear it all again; I was laid out big time, and again, probably justifiably.
This time though, I seemed to be quietly repeating all the barbs to myself as he went along . . .
“. . . these Goddamn junkass old Ferrari’s! . . .”
“. . . This is not the kind of car I want in this place . . .”
“ . . . I don’t know who in hell is going buy a piece of junk like that, but if it isn’t out of here in: . . . (fill in the blank) . . . days it’ll be your car, Kirk!”
“. . . The fucking left front corner is ripped off the car, for God’s sake.”
Well, he hadn’t really said a single thing that wasn’t either correct, or potentially correct.
After the tirade, Larry McManus slid into my office for a cigarette, and, possibly a brief episode of his treasured narcolepsy. As he eased into the chair he quietly said:
“You’re going to leave aren’t you . . .”
It was a soft statement not a question.
“If you do something, I’d like to go with you,” Larry said.
To close it out, GTO #3387 sold for $11,000 to the first call I received after having been dressed down.
Luckily for me that first call was from my good friend Kit Wilkes. He took pity on my sad tale and bought the Ferrari GTO. Then, Kit was lucky, as he had a great tenure with the GTO and moved it on to Steven Griswold for an unheard of figure of $25,000!!
TURNING UP THE FLAME
Shortly thereafter, I got a telephone call from Ed Jurist at the Vintage Car Store telling me come and take a look at a very unusual Ferrari.
It was a 275 GTB in Ferrari’s racing red, and it was right hand drive! It had the thinnest alloy body I’d encountered, outside laced competition, painted wire wheels, cloth racing buckets, a full dash, carpeting, an inside the trunk fuel filler (??), steel bumpers, plastic electric windows (!!) and finally a radio and heater! The mileage was quite low.
I lifted the very light hood and peered in at three puny twin choke Webers. I started the engine and the cams were as mean as anything I’d heard in a Columbo V-12.
“This car had to be built during a factory Friday afternoon party.” I said. “It’s an endless compilation of contradictions; how much is it?”
“I stole the car. You can have it for $6,300; it’s a factory competition car you know. . .”
“No, it’s not, it’s an ‘empty the parts bin mish mash’; I’ll pay $5,000 . . .”
The car gave every indication that that Ferrari had a wealthy customer who wasn’t qualified to drive a competition Ferrari competently, but wanted a “factory” race car for his garage, hence the mish mash component mix.
“Your car,” said Jurist. (Whoops, that went too quickly. . .).
Both of us knew the car would need another “poseur” as the next customer.
But, more importantly, following my impudent purchase, Jurist and I went off to have lunch and ended up spending most of the afternoon talking about my breaking away and possibly starting my own place. Jurist was very intrigued with the idea, and immediately brought up the thought of my opening a Vintage Car Store in the Philadelphia area.
I thought it was a stupendous opportunity, and leaned in to listen up.
That evening I excitedly telephone Carl Bross and told him of Jurist's offer.
Bross said it would kill the whole idea of being on my own, and that Jurist would never shares and inch of his fiefdom.
"He merely wants you as an employee. managing a branch store of his; you'll never have an ounce of autonomy. Your hands will be tied forget it . . ."
. . . And the line went dead!
I rang back; "I think we got cut off, my line went dead"
"We didn't get cut off; that was the end of my thoughts on the matter." Bross said!
"So you just hung up?"
Carl responded: “Yes, at this point we know each other well enough. Think about the amount of time people waste with inanities at the end of almost all telephone conversations. I simply don’t engage in the practice.
Click, he was gone again . . .
From that point on Carl and I enjoyed “fencing” via telephone, with unwritten rules, competing to be the one who made the final definitive point in any conversation, and immediately issuing a quick. . . “Goodbye.”
I, of course, attempted to revisit the Vintage Car Store “branch idea” a few more times with Bross, as it seemed so much easier to attach myself to an established entity, if I was going to break off on my own.
Finally, in a conversation, Carl said to me:
“Look, I’m coming to New York next week. Make yourself available the evening of the 23rd. I’ll arrange a dinner with Jurist, you, and myself, and we’ll talk about it, Goodbye.”
We met in a quiet restaurant just south of Nyack. Over brandies Carl began to surgically hone in on Jurist regarding our joining forces. Bross went at it one step at a time, covering exactly how this new arrangement would come together, and how I would fit in. It steadily became abundantly clear that all buying or selling decisions, advertising etc. would remain solidly in Jurists hands.
To make it quick, after pushing and pushing at Jurist, Carl had him to the point where he said to Ed:
“On a day to day basis what do you see Kirk doing?”
“Well, any number of things . . .”
“Say some . . .” said Bross.
“Well, writing letters, things like that, I suppose . . .’’ Jurist stammered.
Carl glanced at his watch. “It’s after ten; the wait staff will want to close. It’s been good seeing you both.”
In the parking lot we said our good nights. As we got into our cars, Bross quietly said to me over the roof of his car:
“You’re welcome,” . . . He smiled, ducked into his car, and drove off.
In the ensuing days, Carl Bross and I were having daily, often twice daily telephone calls, albeit with our competitive quick endings. They were all centered around my getting the show on the road and branching out on my own!
Others, too, had said: “Cut loose,” “Do these spooky cars on your own.” (. . . yeah, that’s what we used to called them. . .) I had meetings with two or three people who were willing to get involved. Bross said he’d send a couple of cars in on consignment, etc., etc.
And frankly that “poseur” 275GTB I’d bought from Jurist was a real factor in my choosing to move on.
Everyone at Auto Enterprises was thrilled that the beautiful 275GTB had been purchased so cheaply and it was gorgeous and had very low mileage!
Only I knew the car was a crazy quilt of components, to say nothing of having right side drive! And it was so cammy that it wouldn’t roll up onto a power band till after lunch tomorrow! The car weighed on my mind, and finally I caught a dealer who proposed a trade that would put two good Porsche 911’s and a 1965 XKE roadster with Auto Enterprises. Those cars would sell easily and profitably. I was so thrilled that after work I drove that damn Ferrari to Atlanta myself, getting a good dose of those competition cams. They made a hell out driving the car below 3800 RPM.
Late in May, it appeared that “T” was heading toward obtaining a Mercedes Benz franchise, and Tom Conte was very rarely around anymore. “T” was getting serious about his road racing, and was putting together some pretty sophisticated racing programs.
Late in May 1969, under the best of conditions, I resigned from Auto Enterprises.
My last day was a good one as Tom Conte did come by at the end of the day. He had just acquired a euro spec Mercedes Benz 300SEL 6.3 sedan from a character we dealt with named Larry Bronson who lived in Northern New Jersey. Larry was often on Jerome Avenue, even though he was also attending law school full time!
If a high performance, “European spec only,” car came out yesterday anywhere in the world, Larry would have one landing in Port Newark by the end of that same week. He was amazing at sneaking killer cars into the US.
We had only read the sketchiest of reviews about these awesome 6.3 litre beasts, and Tom showed up with one at the end of a Thursday, like you could buy them anywhere! Tom came into the place with that wild-eyed half smile look he’d get after blowing someone, somewhere, straight in to the weeds.
He hailed “T” and me, and we went for a ride in the beast. We couldn’t believe it; I’d never been in a Mercedes sedan that literally reared back when you hammered the throttle. All on the formal a long wheelbase!
After the ride, we exchanged quick “see ya’ soon’s,” and I was on my way.
In leaving Auto Enterprises, I was incredibly thankful for the opportunity that “T” Grant had afforded me, and all these stories aside, the tremendous latitude “T” had allowed me.
We were stone rookies when we opened the place. Auto Enterprises had been, by and large, a terrific experience.
KIRK ...uh, F. WHITE MOTORCARS
Bross was pleased that I’d actually broken off to be on my own. I believe he thought that I’d never actually do it.
As I left Auto Enterprises, I had, essentially, nothing in place for any new venture of any kind. Not a thing: virtually no inventory. Just promising prospects for some few cars . . . hopefully.
But, just a bit of money . . .
No office . . .
No showroom . . .
No service . . .
No stationary . . .
No telephone . . .
No business plan . . .
No name . . .
Carl Bross telephoned me early the first morning of my new . . . uh, “...business.” I was in the midst of setting up my “executive desk,” which was masquerading as a card table.
Carl wanted to make sure I used a name for the business that he felt would be distinctive. I had always loved David Scott Moncrieff’s “Purveyor of Horseless Carriages to the Nobility & Gentry.” And, I had a few equally elaborate, drawn out names that incorporated every buzz word I could come up with.
Bross, ever the believer in “lean is mean” said:
“Use your name.”
“Are you joking? If you say ‘Kirk White’ it sounds like an awkward burp. That’s nonsense! Besides, people always, always, get it wrong; Curt, Kirt, Bert; it’s ridiculous!”
“Have you got a middle name?”
“Finch, but I’m not using that under any conditions!”
It was a heated debate, back and forth. Finally I settled on Kirk F. White Motorcars, and Carl, having gotten his way, fired an abrupt “good bye” at me.
At least I had a company name, even though its recognition factor was non-existent.
The news of my starting my own deal was greeted with a high degree of skepticism at our home. We had moved from our tiny colonial house to a larger home in Radnor, certainly not a neighborhood that would encourage or tolerate a transient vintage car operation.
Kirk F. White Motorcars First Office!!
Regardless, the next morning I dutifully returned to my card table at seven AM. I had placed it diagonally in one corner of the small library area of the house, plugged one of the house phones in to a nearby jack, got a fresh tablet, and my pen, and peered across the small library at my domain.
With all of that in place, I was open for business.
After thirty minutes of nothing, the phone rang. It was Larry McManus wanting to know when he should be over to start work.
“It’s Friday, be here Monday.” I said.
Perfect. All of the above notwithstanding, I’d just hired a salesman!
I wrote all new ads for The New York Times. Bross called. He was sending in a Porsche RSK spyder on consignment, along with a marvelous four cylinder Ferrari TRC. A few more cars surfaced, and the weekend came.
(Just say it: used car lot! Jerry Haskell’s words came back to me:
“So, Koik, whata ya’ got? . . . a lot or a place. Ya’ sell anything new . . .??
Uh, this time Jerry, I’ve got a card table . . .)
Bross wasn’t kidding, the very next day a truck arrived and the two cars were there at the house.
You guessed right, our purely residential neighborhood was on its way to becoming an exotic car Mecca for one and all to enjoy. Our attached two car garage had one side filled with “stuff” and the 275 GTB/4 was on the other side; plus we had our family car to deal with in a driveway that was about 100 feet long.
Ok, so we had to put the TRC in the garage, the RSK was at the top of the driveway with a tarp, behind that was the Ferrari 275 GTB/4.
And, if nothing else, the family station wagon always had to be free to go at a moment’s notice. You can see where we’re going with all of this, and as time went on it would become laughably worse. But we all made do, one way or another.
From the New York Times ad on Sunday, Malcolm Pray, the owner of Pray Porsche in Greenwich, Connecticut called and bought the Porsche RSK, Bing, bang, quick as that. A Maserati Ghibli that a customer had asked me to sell was sold quickly at a tidy profit a day or two later.
(. . . In the nineties my son, Chris was taking delivery of a new Audi at Malcolm Pray’s agency in Greenwich. Somehow Malcolm found out he was my son, and stopped him on the way out to say hello, and said to him; “Tell your Dad, thanks again for the RSK” . . . Bross had wanted $2,500, and I had sold it along for $3,700!! )
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