Got a need for speed? Three days of idyllic driving in a Ferrari rally will cost you $5,925. Plus a quarter-million for the car.
NEW YORK (Fortune Magazine) -- For many years radios were not standard equipment on Ferraris, says Al Zemke. If a prospective buyer asked where the radio was, he continues, a good Ferrari salesman would "point to the gear shift lever and say, 'That's the selector,' and point to the foot throttle and say, 'That's the volume.' "
Zemke, 64, is a semiretired real estate developer in Bend, Ore., who owns three Ferraris, including a 1962 250 GTE and a 1973 Daytona.
When Tefft Smith was in the market for a sports car in 1989, he first test-drove a Porsche 911, but it "didn't sound cool," he recalls. Then he tried a used Ferrari 308, which he calls "the Tom Selleck car," because the actor drove one in Magnum P.I.
"The sound, the feel, the look of the car - there was nothing that wasn't supercool," says Smith, 59, a partner in the law firm Kirkland & Ellis. He bought the 308. He has since added a 355, a Testarossa, and a Superamerica to his stable.
About 65% of Ferrari buyers already own at least one, according to Marco Mattiacci, vice president of marketing for Ferrari North America, a unit of Ferrari SpA, the venerable Italian carmaker now owned by Fiat Group.
That's one reason the company markets mainly to existing owners. To preserve exclusivity, Ferrari produces only 5,400 cars a year, of which about 1,500 reach the U.S. The most coveted models are issued in limited editions, like signed lithographs. Ferrari made just 559 Superamericas (list price: $335,000); 399 Enzos ($650,000); 29 FXX's ($1.9 million). (Because of waiting lists, new Ferraris typically sell for more than the sticker price.)
Ferrari evidently recognizes that its cars are so impractical and precious that some buyers might be tempted to lock them in climate controlled vaults and never use them. Servicing is exorbitant, luggage space laughable, gas mileage unconscionable, and driving them the way they beg to be driven - felonious.
So about twice a year Ferrari North America gives Ferrari owners something to do with their cars. For $5,925, a driver and a navigator (often a spouse) can participate in a Ferrari Challenge Rally.
"It's an opportunity to enjoy the product in a safe environment," explains Mattiacci, "and to talk about it." It's for people who are looking for a leisure activity that is "different from a game of golf," he notes.
Ferrari invited me to drive in its rally last May and loaned me three current models: an F430 Spider (a two-seat convertible with a 490-horsepower V-8 engine, for $207,000), an F430 Coupe, and a 612 Scaglietti (a four-seater with a 540-horsepower V-12, for $270,000).
Full disclosure: Getting to drive these cars would co-opt Saint Francis, so don't expect perfect objectivity.
For each rally Ferrari selects about 800 miles of rural roads across the most breathtaking scenery its consultants can find - enough to afford three full days of continuously extraordinary driving.
The first rally, in 1999, snaked through the Rockies, from Pike'sPeak to Telluride to Durango; a later one explored the Blue Ridge Mountains; the one I went on in May started in the vineyards of Napa Valley and ended at an awards dinner at Clint Eastwood's Tehama Golf Club, overlooking Carmel Valley and Monterey Bay.
Every so often along the rally route, Ferrari sets up "special stages" at which participants turn onto private roads or tracks, where they are timed as they go through a miniature race course, demarcated with traffic cones. Here, owners get an opportunity to "enjoy the performance characteristics of their cars," as Ferrari's understated brochures put it.
Meals and lodging are provided at five-star resorts along the way. Ferrari totes your luggage around in a courtesy bus. Most owners pay extra to have Ferrari ship their cars from their homes to the rally and back in a double-decker 53-foot van.
Best of all, participants get a chance to meet other obsessives who have spent a quarter-million dollars on a surpassingly fun, astoundingly impractical car. It's a more varied group than you might think. One team that has participated four times consists of the Frank Adamses, a father and son who are both retired airline pilots. Adams Jr., 63, drives his Modena 360, while Adams Sr., 85, navigates.
Five-time competitor Diane Glaser of Plano, Texas, is an amateur racecar driver and professional stuntwoman. She once did a chase scene in Selleck's 308 for a Magnum episode, and you may have seen her sliding down the deck of the Titanic in the 1997 film.
Bud Wright, 53, runs a livestock feed company in Nacogdoches, Texas; each of his three children has navigated for him. In 2001, Wright plunked down a deposit on a 360 before Ferrari had even released photographs of what the new car would look like, so eager was he to get a high position on the waiting list.
Al Zemke, who drove his vintage 1962 Ferrari in the rally in May - even though it has no air conditioning or power steering - is also a masters-level downhill-skiing racer and dragboat champion.
The winner of the May rally was Richard Losee, 50, of Sundance, Utah. Losee is tall dark, and so improbably handsome that my only points of reference are the various actors who have played James Bond. Losee owns a cosmetology business and Cirque Lodge, a posh alcohol and drug rehab center. (It has its own recording studio for recovering rock musicians.) Losee says his father, a Provo jeweler, once owned the Aston Martin DB5 that Sean Connery drove in Goldfinger. Losee drove his first Ferrari when he was 16, has owned "about eight," has two at the moment, and is on the waiting list for a third, the 599 GTB Fiorano, which was unveiled last March in Geneva.
Losee had an advantage during the "special stages." He had the most powerful car: a 660-horsepower Enzo. In 2003, Road and Track took Losee's Enzo from 0 to 60 mph in 3.3 seconds, establishing the magazine's all-time record.
Ferrari lists the Enzo's top speed as 218 mph, and Losee says he once reached an indicated 215 mph while driving "somewhere west of Laramie." (Three months after the rally, in August, Losee totaled his Enzo while driving at a charitable event for the Utah highway patrol. According to newspaper accounts, Losee lost control at over 100 miles per hour and rolled the car. The cockpit held up well, though, and Losee survived with non-lifethreatening fractures. Losee did not return calls or e-mails.)
Except for the "special stages" - which tend to serve as tiebreakers in terms of rally scoring - rallies are not races. Participants are supposed to arrive at checkpoints at set times, based on posted speed limits, and the penalties for arriving early are greater than those for arriving late. Speeding is prohibited, according to the rally rulebook.
Nevertheless, there are still incentives to speed - if you take a wrong turn, there's no other way to make up time - and the penalties for arriving early are largely illusory. (You're allowed to stop a few feet in front of the checkpoint and wait there, idling, until your targeted minute of arrival.)
No 'reckless' speeding
While many participants told me that they've seen no "reckless driving" at the rallies, speeding is a different matter.
"I was going 100 to 140 for almost an hour," one owner told me, recalling his favorite stretch of remote highway in the rally. The wife-and-navigator in another car told me that her husband was going 125 when he was pulled over by the highway patrol. She said the cop initially told them, "Get out of the car, give me your keys, you're going to jail."
The officer softened, however, ticketed them for going 90-something, and let them proceed, she said. (The woman who told this tale was a heartstoppingly beautiful brunette in short-shorts, whose hair and skin coloration reminded me of Penelope Cruz's.)
Before the rally I had wondered how passersby would react to the conspicuous consumption of a Ferrari rally at a time when oil was $70 per barrel and the nation was at war in at least two countries. But everyone I encountered seemed thrilled by the cars, and many shouted compliments.
With one exception. When I passed a woman who lived along a rare populated leg of the route, I must have been the 36th Ferrari to do so that afternoon. She evidently believed that many of the earlier cars had been speeding, and she vented her fury, noting that her daughter was walking home from school. Though I didn't hear her whole diatribe, I did make out the words "little penises," and I think I caught her drift.
The Ferrari rally was among the highlights of my life, as I hope I've made clear. But these rallies are, indeed, "something different from a game of golf." If a nonparticipant ever gets hurt at one, title to Ferrari North America will surely transfer to the lucky plaintiff's lawyer who lands the case.