Monday, January 23, 2006

From the archives: The Red Head

As a very young boy, I had the good fortune to have parents who spent a lot of time traveling Austria, scoping out new destinations for their ski travel business. I have fond memories of riding through the Tyrolean countryside in my father’s Ferrari Dino. I remember the distinctive pattern stitched into the leather, the signature polished open gate shifter and of course, the bright red paint. I remember traveling through small villages, where everyone would stop and stare at the sight of the little Italian sports car racing through the narrow streets. More that anything, I remember the sound. The magic music that only a Ferrari can make, reverberating off the mountains as we snaked along tight twisty roads. When the road became a tunnel, through the mountain, the sound was delightfully deafening. The kind of sound that burns into the memory of a small boy and remains vivid well into adulthood.

As exciting as a day in the real world of the car business may seem to some, it really can be a drag to one who makes it their daily grind. So when the offer came to sneak out and go shopping for a supercar, I jumped at the chance. My friend had recently sold his pristine 1989 Ferrari 328 and has been lusting after another Ferrari of the same era. Testa Rossa. The name means many things to many different people. To some it is an Italian vineyard. To others, the literal translation, Red Head, refers to a lovely lady. But to the car lover, it can only mean one thing. FERRARI. While not quite as curvaceous as the classic racing model from the Fifties, the chiselled Testa of the late eighties was the pinnacle of Ferrari’s road going cars of the era.

A short trip into Downtown Toronto, just beyond the shadow of Sky dome, we arrived at the rear entrance of a non-descript warehouse. Through the door was a temple to automotive excellence. The lobby of the garage was stark, with high ceilings and pale walls. It felt like some sort of industrial art gallery, just teasing the visitor with glimpses of the automotive treasures that lay beyond. There were Ferrari’s everywhere, from the early seventies right up to the current models. There was the newest Diablo, the Viper GTS, a couple of older Porsches and even a really cool Lambo truck that looked like a Hummer on steroids. Sitting side by side were a pair of Testa Rossas, both the traditional Ferrari red.

This was the first time I had really paid attention to one of these cars up close. I was here to inspect the car, to look for any obvious flaws that an excited car guy might overlook. What I found was a work of art that definitely had the most attention paid to the mechanical details and not the finished product. The car was shod with massive, modern eighteen inch alloy wheels, making the car look much tougher than the original sixteens. The interior was immaculate, but then who could see past that shift gate. Painstakingly polished aluminum staring up at me, what else matters? I begin to feel like I’m regressing. Upon closer inspection, I was astonished to find the fit and the fit and finish is horrible by today’s standards. Almost all panels that aren’t visible from the outside are slathered in flat black paint that faintly conceals grinding marks and rough edges. Once you look past that to the important stuff though, this machine is all racecar engineering. From the meticulous welds on the tubular frame to the wonderful red crinkle finish on those big rocker covers, everything about this Red Head screams for speed. The conservative factory exhaust has been replaced by Tubi pipes that curl from the cylinder head to the sharp polished tips that exit below the rear of the car.

A turn of the ignition created a telltale whirring noise from the mechanical fuel pump, the starter engages and the flat twelve engine comes to life. This car is loud. Even at a cold idle, the great Tubi pipes do nothing to quiet the big engine. As the engine heats up, the throttle is blipped a few times and the shop fills with the ripping sounds of a Grand Prix descendant. The car is as loud as any racecar, but the sound is like a mechanical symphony. It’s easy to imagine this magnificent beast cruising through the mountains, with it’s engine note reverberating off the high walls of each corner and down through the valleys, announcing it’s approach into each village...

I’m brought back to the present when the beast is put to sleep. Suddenly the shop is quiet, except for the ringing in my ears. When asked what I think, I’m not terribly objective. I’m under the Ferrari spell, 5 years old again.

I can’t wait till spring arrives and the car’s new owner can pull back the soft cover and unleash the crimson beast for the first time. I wonder if He’ll let me drive?

This story was originally written in 2003 for
I never did drive the Testa!


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