The “Cal-Spyder:” a Ferrari of peculiar complexity
This is the universally beautiful Ferrari 250 GT Sypder California. To be excessively technical, this particular “Cal-Spyder” (as they are referred to) is a “SWB” version. So, to correctly label it, you’d need to say (in this order), “250 GT SWB Spyder California.” The letters “SWB” stand for short wheel base, likewise a “LWB” indicates a long wheel base chassis. What’s the difference between a SWB and LWB “Cal-Spyder” you ask? In a nutshell, one’s shorter and the other is longer as the answer is imbedded in the question — however there are other less obvious differences as well.
Arguably, the premier book published on this model is The Spyder California – A Ferrari of Particular Distinction. It is from that book that I found inspiration for this title. So, I need to thank its author — George M. Carrick. What follows is the realization of what a complex car the Spyder California really is.
The “Cal-Spyder” garnished public fame in the blockbuster 1986 movie “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.” Ironically, it wasn’t even a real Ferrari that was used in the movie but a replica created by Modena Design & Development in El Cajon, California.
The gamut on the words to describe these counterfeit Ferraris can run anywhere from “fake” to “tribute” or “awful creation” to “recreation.” Call them — or hold your opinion of them — as you will. Simply put, when a car is über rare and valued in the ten-million dollar arena — who can blame someone who desires one to search for other alternatives. Last time I checked, ten-million is out of reach for ninety-five percent (or more) of society and that makes duplication or copying far more acceptable to many.
After once seeing a fairly nice 365 GTB/4 “Daytona” Spyder replica drive onto a car show’s grassy field, a few owners of real Ferraris uttered, “Look at the phony piece of crap. Obviously that moron can’t afford the real thing!” Then there were little condescending chuckles and snorts. I replied, “Just how many people do you two think can actually afford a 1.5 million dollar car?” They noticed it was me asking and laughed (as if they didn’t previously mean to sound so pompous). So I believe the correct point was made. However, did that reality really set in to these very wealthy men’s elitist brains? It just seemed way too easy for those particular Ferrari owners to sit atop their high and mighty throne just to condemn a guy whose pride and joy was a “facsimile” of the sensuous “Daytona” Spyder. Can’t we all find our own automotive happiness without fear of such open snobbish scrutiny?
As grotesque as most Ferrari purists find these pseudo-Ferraris (as indicated above), I believe one must remember that imitation IS the sincerest form of flattery. As I close this debate, please don’t surmise that I’m on the side of the faux-Ferrari movement. Imitation Ferraris are exactly what they are, fictitious versions of the real thing — and that fact isn’t a large-scale problem for me. What is an issue — quite an irritating one — surrounds owners claiming these creations are REAL Ferraris! The misrepresentation of a non-Ferrari as the real McCoy is pathetic and actually fools some “so-called” experts and the general public alike.
Rest assured our cover car is a genuine Ferrari and a truly iconic model from a maker of countless celebrated cars. With approximately 104 cars made (Most have between 100 and 107 in their count, but to get to a universally correct number we’d have to start dealing more with how Ferraris are counted — and that’s a whole new article) My count has fifty LWB and fifty-four SWB models respectfully. Don’t even attempt to start counting the replicas!
“Cal-Spyders” are real Italian masterpieces. What may surprise most is just how American they are. The name “California” of course was chosen appropriately as Ferrari was made to see the need for an open air version of their Berlinetta version for wealthy west coast patrons who want to soak up the sun. They chose to produce the “Cal-Spyder” even though there was already an open air convertible Ferrari being produced — the Series I 250 GT Pininfarina (“PF”) Cabriolet. And to make redundancy issue even more convoluted, the “Cal-Spyder” and the Series I “PF-Cab” was very, very similar in appearance. So why two similar appearing Ferrari models being offered at the same time?
Simply put, these two cars were designed for a different clientele. The “Cal-Spyder” was more of a sporty high-performer whereas the “PF-Cab” was for the more business-like professional. This distinction was further established when Ferrari decided to give the Series I “PF-Cab” a facelift to a much more constrained, less flamboyant appearance, giving birth to the Series II “PF-Cab.” Not only was this revision good for the “PF-Cab’s” conservative customer, but it finally allowed the sportier “Cal-Spyder” to set itself apart forever.
The “Cal-Spyder” was always faster. This is due in large part to its power plant, derived from the likes of the legendary 250 GTO, 250 LM, and 250 P motors. Even upon initial release, when enthusiasts confused the Series I “PF-Cab” with the “Cal-Spyder,” speed soon left no one fooled for long. The “Cal-Spyder” would always out accelerate and reach a higher top speed than the businessman’s “PF-Cab”.
More complexities surround the “Cal-Spyder” due to the typical confusing nomenclature used by Ferrari. 250 GT Spyder Californias were mislabeled as spyders. If they were true spyders, they wouldn’t have a retractable top. Having a folding top makes it, by definition, a cabriolet or convertible. So I surmise that this usage of the word “spyder” by Ferrari was just a way to distinguish it from the aforementioned 250 GT PF Cabriolet. It would have really convoluted the scene if they were both called cabriolets. Ferrari simply chose “spyder” as a clearly distinguishable moniker. Now this is just my speculation for choosing the wrong word in the naming of the Spyder California, other theories may prove as plausible. Sadly, the 250 GT Spyder California naming perplexities don’t stop there.
Enter an age old debate that is embedded in the 250 GT Spyder California’s name — Ferrari used a “y” in the word “spyder”. Now we re-open Pandora’s Box regarding the spyder/spider controversy. Many within the Ferrari community will argue the use of a “y” instead of an “I” or vice-versa. So the real question is why do I so strongly believe there should be a “y” in “Spyder California”? Simple answer, because a world renown Ferrari historian — the late Gerald Roush — taught me to.
His rule was simple. All early Ferraris through the 365 GTB/4 Spyder would utilize the “y” and everything after would be spelled with an “i.” When someone in the Ferrari world with the stature of Mr. Roush is indignant that we should follow a protocol — who are any of us to disagree? His rules were not flexible nor was he. However, there are those who clash with the late, great Gerald Roush and insist we all should spell “spyder” with an “i”.
As it was reported in 1924, the National Federation of Body makers (Milan, Italy) declared “spider” correct. It is believed, and often pointed out, that the use of the “y” in “spyder” came from England before the turn of the century. It is in this era of Italian history that Mussolini and the National Fascist Party took hold of Italy. So it would be safe to presume anything English was unacceptable during that period. On the other hand, “spider” with an “i” was believed to be of German origins, which were certainly a much better match for the Italian idealists of that era.
Therefore, the use of an “i” should have been the rule for professional, cultural, and political reasons — but it wasn’t. Later proof of Gerald’s edict was in the form of many old Ferrari factory sales brochures which refer to these particular Ferraris models as “spyders.” I have personally seen original sales brochures for the 250 GT Sypder California that utilize a “y”! It was clear as day, using ink, in print.
To completely confirm Gerald’s theory, later brochures (during and after the 348 series) all use an “i” for “spiders.” And if that’s not enough, yet further reaffirmation of Gerald’s exact edict was established when I was shown the factory press release for the introduction of the Ferrari 348 Spider. I cannot swear by the exact wording, but this official document’s point was undeniably clear — the new 348 SPIDER was the first to be produced since 1974 when they ceased production of the 365 GTB/4 “Daytona” SPYDER.
As peculiar as this next statement may sound, you’ll just have to trust me. Please do not let the Ferrari factory be your current source as to what they said or did previously. As histories and insiders know, the Ferrari factory’s all encompassing influence has them rewriting history from time to time. For evidence of this, just reference what’s currently on their website. Ferrari.com now simply calls what once was the 250 GT Spyder California just the “250 California.” But it goes deeper — if you read on then you’ll see it plain as day. Ferrari now spells “spider” with an “i.” This just wasn’t the case when the cars were new. Thank all that’s Holy that we have documentation that can back up when and where to use spyder or spider respectively.
I haven’t even mentioned the reality that there’s not even a “y” in the Italian alphabet! Many use this single fact to support their notions — you know the type, someone that chooses one singular fact to supersede the many other facts that would contradict their viewpoint. But alas, Italians do use the ”y” but only when spelling foreign words which do not have a direct Italian translation. In Italy you’ll see words like yogurt, Yankee, Yugo, yo-yo and the such. All of these words were simply borrowed from the language they came from. Yogurt is yogurt and there’s no Italian translation. So if spyder came from England with a “y,” and there isn’t a straightforward translation, then the Italians used it. They may have rethought their approach in the last few years, but the Italians USED the “y” in “spyder” for at least twenty years. Ultimately, the big question is why has the Ferrari factory “corrected” history?
So henceforth, I recommend we use “spyder” for all Ferraris through the “Daytonas” and “spider” for all Ferraris beginning with the 348 series —not just because Gerald Roush told us to, but because history deems that method the correct one.
If any clever chap challenges this with, “What do we call the Dino Spyder/Spiders?” You can simply reply, “We refer to the Dino NOT as a spyder/spider but only as “GTS.” Problem solved. Here’s yet even more valuable information on how to talk “Ferrari” without sounding too terribly novice.
Back to our handsome cover car which appears on countless lists as one of the all-time great Ferraris, yet I remember being told by one collector that it’s really not a spectacular car to drive. Sure all vintage sports cars lack technology and we all expect that. But the “Cal-Spyder” may disappoint some— as I remember — due to a peculiar seating position. As I once was deemed lucky enough to sit in one, I gathered that it wasn’t bad for me personally, but noted that some may well find it ill-fitting. The good news is there is hardly any two “Cal-Spyders” that are identical as that was just the way these were ordered and built. So being that I sat in an earlier model, many later “Cal-Spyders” may well be very comfortable drivers.
The “Cal-Spyders” were built by Carrozzeria Scaglietti and may not be as meticulously put together as those by the skilled hands at Pininfarina. Remember, the “Cal-Spyders” were designed by Pininfarina and built by Scaglietti.
This introduces how such Italian coachwork studios received engines and chassis from Ferrari and built the cars around them. One fact about vintage Ferraris is that the factory didn’t build them like folks expect they did. Ferrari was far from the “American” way of automotive manufacturing in the old days. I cannot wait to get into an article about these companies (referred to as coach builders) that designed and built the cars that rested on the famous Ferrari’s chassis. Just note that in the old days Ferrari didn’t make their cars — only the engine, drive train, and chassis.
What a complex Ferrari, this 250 GT Spyder California. Conceived by a Californian (Jon von Neumann), backed by Ferrari’s United States Importer, Luigi Chinetti (who was one of the few to have Ferrari’s ear), designed by Pininfarina, built by Scaglietti, and designated to end up back on the sunny streets and weekend racetracks of California where it was envisioned. It’s an Italian car built for Californians and maybe it’s this special combination that makes it so very desirable.
With all of the complexities that surround the 250 GT Spyder California — what none of us can dispute is its aesthetic beauty. How could this car not reach the tops of so many “I want” lists? The 250 GT Spyder California is a blend of all that’s California and all that’s Italian — possibly the best combination of those worlds.
Make mine a SWB with a hardtop and open headlights, then let the mooting begin. Some will disagree with me and go with the LWB version, but the majority clearly prefer the covered headlights (covered headlights simply have an aerodynamic Plexiglas cover over them and an open headlight has no cover).
Chad Eric Ensz was at the Ferrari Market Letter for seven years, where he served as both editor and art director. Mr. Ensz has been in the automotive industry professional since the late 1990s. Chad specialty is Ferraris-gathering data and composing analytical yet creatively captivating articles about these fascinating machines is his passion and calling,
Black Tie Motorsport Magazine is totally independent and is not afflicted with Ferrari S.p.A., Ferrari North America, any Ferrari club or other Ferrari venture.
By Chad Eric Ensz
In my last article (Black Tie – 2014 Spring Issue) I introduced myself and tried — in my earnest — to convey to readers some insight into what Ferrari culture is all about. Absolutely no single article can successfully break this complex world down as the idiosyncrasies run long and deep. Yet the basic premise — I do believe — was introduced.
An attempt was also made to convey how Ferraris fortuitously landed atop the automotive pecking order. Ferraris’ mighty place on the throne of the automotive kingdom warranted this publication’s concentration on articles that work towards prying the curtain back to allow all of us a peek into this alluring world. Fundamentally, this prose must appeal to Ferrari “newbies” as well as charming even the most discriminating collectors of Maranello’s finest.
It’s important to mention that the trends set by Ferraris can, in fact, have a bearing on everything automotive “beneath” them. Understanding Ferraris, and the market they control, can thus aid in making other collectible car markets more coherent. That said, we will also discuss other cars of interest, cars of passion, cars that boys and men have always dreamt about — cars that end up on posters. But ultimately, Ferraris are the head of the snake and therefore command the majority of our focus. So although my articles will be Ferrari intensive — have no fear — we will not forget to tie it all together for those who simply just love cars in general.
In this issue, I wanted to specifically address what I feel is unquestionably the most unique culture characteristic attributed to the Ferrari world — the phenomenon of researching, tracing, tracking, and recording of Ferrari’s serial numbers.
About seven years ago, after beginning a career with the legend himself — the late Gerald Roush — I asked why he drives British and American cars but didn’t own, nor have any desire to own, a Ferrari? I went further to insinuate that he didn’t like Ferraris based on my initial observations. He sharply replied, “I’ve owned a few Ferraris and they were my favorite car at one time in my life. Today, unfortunately I despise many of the owners and dealers — because of that I no longer love Ferraris but will always love the numbers that are stamped on each and every car!” Indeed, he spent the majority of his adult life recording Ferrari numbers. If simple Ferrari numerics could fully satisfy such a highly intelligent man’s pursuits, then this was a business I wanted to learn.
I cannot mention Mr. Roush without giving ample credit where it is due — he collected Ferrari numbers before collecting Ferrari numbers was cool! Gerald was one of the originals, one of the pioneers, and his guidance was a real blessing for my career. I wouldn’t be here writing this article if not for the tutelage Gerald Roush provided me.
This act is called many things — “Ferrari Serial Number Chasing” or “Ferrari Serial Number gathering” but is best described as “Ferrari Serial Number Train-spotting” condensed down to the elementary — “Ferrari-Spotting.” The actual practice of train-spotting was — and is — used in the world of the railway. Train-spotting properly defined is the hobby of watching trains, notating their numbering and usually doing this over long periods of time; by extension, any hobby or obsession with a trivial pursuit.
The single word in the above definition that speaks the loudest is “obsession,” as these type of pursuits usually lead directly to mania. Anytime a Ferrari-spotter obtains a Ferrari Serial Number or VIN (oftentimes called a chassis number), it MUST be recorded along with other pertinent information like colors, mileage, condition, ownership, license plates, and location of the vehicle.
The numbers are initially unassuming for those who partake in this painstaking process, for after the information is gathered the craze is just beginning. Next one has to properly organize all of this data. Because of the tediousness of the hobby, there are only a handful of top-shelf Ferrari serial number databases on the planet. These collections of information are often times multiple decades in the works. This is why there are far more information gatherers than actual database administrators. In fact, the steps are so demanding, many Ferrari-spotters streamline or specialize within the Ferrari marque. For example, I have shared much information with a European who only deals with the Ferrari 275 GTS model. Many stop short of the 365 GTB/4 “Daytonas in their Ferrari-spotting,” for after these the production numbers proliferate like never before. You could also go on to say that almost all Ferraris made beyond the aforementioned “Daytona” are less collectible, less valuable, and less sought-after.
Even though the average Ferrari owner isn’t into this toxic hobby, everyone knows one isn’t worth their druthers if they don’t know the serial numbers of each and every Prancing Horse they ever owned. Basically, we all know the chassis number defines the Ferraris. You don’t name your Ferrari something clever — you know your Ferrari is simply a series of numbers assigned it by the factory. She’s not your “Red Beauty, or anything else, your Ferrari is “12345”. So any Ferrari owner who doesn’t know their chassis number isn’t considered real and bona-fide, period.
For hard-core Ferrari-spotters, the ways to seize these numbers can be carried out in many ways. You’ll find most Ferrari-spotters at a local car show, or a prestigious concours, but often it can happen by happenstance. In fact, I still have a few Ferrari buddies that will record some of Maranello’s masterpieces in some not so proud moments — while they await repairs at either a body shop or service center. Damaged or problem Ferraris are extra special notches on the bedpost for Ferrari-spotters. Once we know a Ferrari has been flubbed we can then scrutinize any owner’s claims of “never being wrecked” or “it’s a no stories car” which may infuriate a dishonest seller but protects the vast majority of Ferrari owners and buyers.
The internet is yet another way to gather Ferrari chassis numbers, although I will worn you that the world wide web is a perpetual time-suck for any Ferrari-spotter. There’s just naturally more information than any mortal man can collect all at the touch of a few buttons. eBay listings have proven to have chassis numbers on most the Ferraris offered for sale. Many sites that sell salvaged cars after the insurance companies have written them off provide Holy Grail information on Ferraris that oftentimes end up back on the street when they should have been parted out. Yes, totaled Ferraris DO end up being sold for top dollar after the welding and painting is done. So here’s where a careless buyer can dig a really deep hole for himself.
The good news is most of these nefarious Ferraris cannot completely escape AutoCheck or CARFAX after the insurance companies are finished with them. but what’s more alarming are those Ferraris that have seen anything from light bruising to totaled where NOTHING shows up on these national automobile reports. Why you have to ask? The answer is simple — many Ferrari owners have the financial means to get their cars repaired and just pay “out of pocket.” The next logical question is, “Why would someone bypass their insurance company and pay for the damages on their own?” Usually it is one (or both of the following reasons. The owner simply wants to keep his premiums in check and avoids filing claims. But usually it’s because the value of the fixed Ferrari is now so battered that it’s a “wise” financial decision to keep the history reporting companies from knowing anything has ever happened to the vehicle. All one has to do is take their wrecked exotic to an independent repair facility that doesn’t use the chassis numbers in their documentation and “Voilà!” no one is the wiser — especially the next guy to own the car. Luckily all authorized dealers track repairs and service by using the VIN, but always remember that places like Joe’s Italian Car Emporium usually do not report their activities. Further, these places know well how to get parts without providing VINs from the damaged vehicle.
Many Ferraris have been parted out — yes it is hard to believe but indeed true — and even more distressing is when a previously parted out car is offered for sale some years later as 100% original! It is in those circumstances that the Ferrari-spotters come to life. Ferrari-spotters KNOW the parts that originally came on a donor car have been scattered all over the country, or even the world, after the parting-out process was completed. So how does a parted-out car become complete again? It never really can the large majority of the time, but someone inevitably has enough parts and builds a car around those parts. Never forget that there was a time when some of these million dollar dreams were considered used cars that were worth more parted-out than face the expense to restore them. We have a term for these cars built around all of these parts — it’s a “bitsa” Ferrari — made from a “bitsa” this and a “bitsa” that.
I once found a vintage Ferrari engine block for sale on a particular website. I contacted the sellers and requested detailed photographs to be emailed to me. From these images, I could determine the numbers stamped on the block. This led me to discover the actual car it once belonged to. Oddly, that particular car recently sold for top dollar at a very major auction house. The auction company’s online and catalog description stated the car was authenticated by an expert and retained its original engine (a claim that I just discovered to be unquestionably false). What a discovery it was! Best of all was then deciphering the engine that improperly resided in the car and learning what car it actually belonged to exposing what is now a multiple-layer mess that needs to be sorted out where cars can be reunited with their original engines.
So it is easy to see why so many Ferraristi rely on Ferrari-spotters to aid them in the process of finding the right Ferrari — or avoiding the wrong ones.
We also record the mileage on these cars. Once I watched a super Ferrari drive from its enclosed trailer to the lawn of a prestigious concours. After admiring all of the car’s glory I jotted down the mileage and the other countless numbers I habitually collect. After the show I happened to catch it being driven back into the trailer to go back home. I saw the same car at a few other events and even knew it participated in a parade of collector cars so imaging my surprise to see that the mileage NEVER changed, ever. Those old speedometers/odometers are all to easy to simply disconnect. How many miles were on this Ferrari? No one knows, but we all DO know that what the odometer stated was NOT correct.
Ferrari-spotters can also tell if a car has been raced and abused. Many times results from an event may be published and state that the car finished fifth in a race to the top of a hill in Spain fifty-five years ago. We gather this information oftentimes by purchasing vintage periodicals that post results and pictures from automobile racing events worldwide. What usually happens is the car is listed as well as the driver and includes the previously mentioned results form the competition. From that information we can usually determine the serial number and peruse previous database entries to see if, in fact, the car did reside at some point in Spain during that time period to validate that it was indeed raced.
A more sinister outcome is generally with vintage Ferraris that still exist today but were at one time wrecked severely. Remember, these were the days of lap belts (if there were seat belts at all) and non-collapsible steering columns. These steering columns were far stronger than the bodies that were thrust against them in the event of an accident. It is in these moderately common accidents that drivers (or the occasional passenger) were killed. To see one of these “death” cars today all shinny and restored at a national concours, you’d never known it hit a tree and the steering column met the seat belt-less driver with fatal consequences. Potentially very eerie, eh? Is that something you’d want to know before buying your million dollar vintage 1950s Ferrari? Well, A Ferrari-spotter’s database may well have this sordid fact documented to a particular chassis number.
As mentioned earlier, this collection of chassis number history is only effective if one has a reasonable way to organize it. For about seven years I was paid (among other responsibilities) to attend events and document Ferraris. I used two methods for recording, one was a simple spiral notebook on a clipboard, the second required a digital camera or a camcorder. After the event (or even following a phone conversation), I’d transcribe all of my collected information into the Ferrari database owned by my previous employer. Years later, I still have a healthy stack of these spiral notebooks in my basement. Given that I used my own personal camera equipment, I also have countless pictures burned to countless CDs and DVDs of now documented Ferraris. I am currently amidst the painstaking process of organizing this data into my own personal database that I continue to collect information for.
Luckily, I have a few respected friends in the Ferrari community that I trade information with so we can all grow our databases at alarming rates. Clearly, my Ferrari database is one of the smallest in existence, but you have to start somewhere and I am in the process of working out the details to purchase a copy of another fairly well-known Ferrari-spotter’s database.
In this hobby, it is also important to learn the basics and know that early Ferraris had serial numbers where later cars use VINs. On the older Ferraris you can expect to find the chassis number on data plates riveted to their firewalls or inner fenders. This is a vexing quandary for a Ferrari-spotter as we’d need the hood opened for the car to be easily identified — unless we already knew of the car’s provenance. What this means is a request for a hood opening or getting dirty in a search underneath the car for additional numbers that can be used in determining the correct chassis number.
PHOTO J FOLDER (PICK), CAPTION – Chassis numbers can be found — here’s a surprise — stamped on the chassis. Here a Dino offers the frame stamping in an easily accessible area under the hood.
Unlike their older family members the middle-aged through the 1970s Ferraris usually a chassis number etched into a plate atop the steering column — a fairly easy and uncomplicated place to gain identification. This steering column plate continued into the age of VINs for some time, until the modern era when the VINs are visible on the left, bottom corner of the windshield in white.
Being careful not to belabor our “obsession” too much further, I can share with you that the number gathering doesn’t just stop here. As you’ve probably gathered by now, these “magic” numbers appear on frames, engine blocks, transmission casings, differentials, etc. I will not even begin to explain Ferrari’s assembly number plates, dates of production tags, vintage coach-builder’s handwritten chalk marks or stampings behind panels — it’s a never ending quest!
Usually those of us collecting and logging ALL of these numbers are fairly well known in the Ferrari community and there’s always someone nearby to vouch for our surveying. However, this doesn’t leave Ferrari-spotters immune to intense interrogations or criticism. I was in Florida at the wonderful Celebration Exotic Car Festival recording a group of Ferrari numbers when a team of ladies approached me with aggressive skepticism. After introducing themselves as Ferrari owner’s wives, one proceeded to ask me what I was doing documenting her husband’s car and wanted my notes and camera! I never fear this interaction — as I am equipped to diffuse cynics — but on this day I was getting nowhere with the duo until a veteran Ferrari owner approached the skirmish and told these skeptics that I was legit and an unquestionable friend to the Ferrari world. It was at this point that the women shared their reason for concern — that the employees of their companies would find out they owned Ferraris because of what I was collecting and potentially publishing! I cannot start to pontificate my ugly comments for people like this. After all, they had their Ferraris in public on display with their names written as the owners on cards placed on the windshield. Either way, I assured them that their laborers weren’t likely accessing any Ferrari databases. Ultimately, Ferrari information is for Ferrari collectors, owners, buyers and sellers as we are VERY careful who we disclose information to.
Sadly, we all know the world isn’t as friendly and trusting a place as it once was. It is in those areas where I often find some Ferrari owners to be extremely obtuse. They will refuse to share any information about their Ferrari but have absolutely no reservations about using the information supplied by others as part of their research on a Ferrari purchase. This selfish, arrogant behavior annoys me to no end because these culprits only know life as a one-way street.
There are many Ferrari owners who aren’t one-sided, they just don’t see the value of sharing. I explain to them that the information they can offer about their car may be massively helpful to someone in the future who will own their car long after we are gone. When it comes to Ferraris, they will surely be here long after us making current owners only temporary caretakers. Some where someday, the documented history on such expensive and collectible automobiles will be highly useful and valuable.
So, “Ferrari-spotting” is just another peculiarly interesting aspect of this fascinating Ferrari culture. If this process intrigues you, I wouldn’t suggest partaking in it — as it may be best to leave it to a more experienced party. But, finding one of us and providing your particular chassis number will be appreciated and everyone will win.
I’m often asked, “What is the difference between a serial number, a VIN (Vehicle Identification Number), and a chassis number?”
Short answer is they are all the same. Every Ferrari has a chassis number. The rest is nomenclature usage.
Serial numbers (which are just the chassis number) are on all early Ferraris up to the point where the 17-digit VIN was implemented. For Ferraris exported to the United States, this changeover from serial numbers to VINs occurred on all cars after January 1, 1980. Other countries followed suit soon thereafter to avoid too much further complication.
And please don’t say, “VIN number.” VIN means the “Vehicle Identification Number” and VIN says it all. One wouldn’t phrase it the “Vehicle Identification Number Number.”
Some refer to a late model Ferrari’s serial number (even though it has a 17-digit VIN). In this case, the serial number simply suggests the last six digits of the VIN. Technically, it is only these six numerals which abundant information can be derived from.
Production Ferraris (or those cars sold as street driven machines and NOT purpose built race cars) all had odd chassis numbers. Ferrari’s track stars would then be assigned only even serial numbers. Sounds simple, right? Not so much.
Some early production Ferraris were built on a competition chassis yielding them an even serial number which can be quite confusing. Then they assigned even numbers also to Ferrari Dinos, which makes another wrinkle in simplicity. The era of specific even and odd numbering designations ended somewhere around the 1980s Miami Vice era (during the Testarossa production run). From this point on, production Ferraris used both even and odd numbering like any other make.
It is convoluted scenarios just as referenced above that makes researching and writing about Ferraris so very engaging. All of Ferrari’s minutia led me to once coin a series of articles as “The NO ABSOLUTES Guide to…” to which nothing could be labeled more appropriately. There are few if any absolutes in the Ferrari world — it is this very fact that you must understand to become more knowledgeable.
All said, if an early Ferrari has an odd serial number you can ALMOST bet it was intended as a passenger car, like-wise if the number is even it was meant for real racing. Just be very mindful there are countless curveballs in the Ferrari culture and there are few absolutes.
Black Tie Motorsport Magazine is totally independent and is not afflicted with Ferrari S.p.A., Ferrari North America, any Ferrari club or other Ferrari venture.