This chapter is convoluted. I started with a specific goal and got side-tracked so many times it became a train wreck. I thought about trimming out the diversions to the main theme but decided against it. This is how my mind works. Deal with it.
So, how is it I came to own a Ferrari? The story goes back to when I first arrived in Italy. I was stationed at a small base called Camp Darby. It was located a few miles from the beach and almost equidistant between Pisa and Livorno. There were only about 2,000 people total counting military and civilians. Being a small base with little in the way entertainment everyone owned a car. I don’t remember anyone who didn’t have a car. Except maybe PFC Decker who’d had his license taken away so many times for drunk driving he’d just given up. Decker was a PFC because he’d been busted twice. He was in our unit but worked in HQ so he didn’t really need the super wazu security clearances that most had. If that had been the case the Secret Squirrels would have vanished him long before.
Decker was a pill. I was pulling Charge of Quarters duty one weekend and he came back to the barracks totally smashed. He was banging on doors and making rowdy. I called the MP’s and basically all I had to say was ‘Decker’. They were only three buildings down but in the time it took them to get there PFC Decker had busted a mirror in the latrine and put a fist through the door of his room. The MP’s arrived and went upstairs to Decker’s room. They didn’t need directions. I followed them up so I could get everything for my report. They banged on the locked door with the fist sized hole in it. A pretty good-sized hole. Decker was only about 5’5” with no neck and enormous arms. They always sent at least 3 MP’s when dealing with him. They finally decided to kick in the door and when they did Decker ran at them, pushed his way out and ran to the end of the hall. Buck naked. He knocked out the window and jumped from the second floor. The last image I had of Decker was his naked behind running down the dark street toward the snack bar. The MP’s and I just looked at each other. The MP Sergeant said a few less then kind words and they took off after him. My CQ reports were never boring when we had a Decker weekend.
I digress somewhat but that’s kind of the way my memory works. Anyway, everyone had a car. My shift supervisor had a ’63 Alfa Giulia that he was selling for a good price. His wife was having a baby and they needed a bigger car. It had a few mechanical issues but Rick said ‘I know a guy’. Okay, I’m sure you’re thinking how many times you’ve heard that line and whatever ensued ended less that happily. In this case it was just the opposite. It was fortuitous chance that Rick introduced me to Giuseppe, owner of Giuseppe’s Garage in Tirrenia. Tirrenia is a small beach resort just west of Camp Darby. A lot of guys lived in Tirrenia renting houses and such. At that time I was still living on base and had not yet ventured out. Rick took me and the Alfa to Tirrenia to have Guiseppe, or Joe as many of the guys called him, take a look at it. It didn’t need a lot of work and he kept it while Rick and I walked over to the Gran Bar for a Sambuca or three. If you’ve never tried Sambuca I don’t recommend it in the quantities that we normally consumed . I should probably tell you about the evening I was on my way to Rome on the Via Aurelia and I almost ran straight through the gate at Molinari in Civitavecchia where they make Sambuca. Another time, maybe.
We went back to the garage and Giuseppe had the car ready. Rick just said ‘I’ll pay you on payday’ Giuseppe said ‘Va bene’ and we were off. I thought that was very cool and way too easy. With Giuseppe things were usually that casual. I told Rick I would buy the car but I still didn’t have my license. I’d hoped to take the class and get it the following week. We did the deal and he gave me the keys. I said ‘There’s only one problem. I’ve never driven a stick before’. Rick laughed his ass off at that one. We parked the car at the barracks and he said they’d show me how to drive a stick when I took my driving class.
I did get in class the next week and spent two days in a class room with the Italian civilian who taught it. Unfortunately for me he taught me everything but how to deal with a manual transmission. The day came for the driving test and I was sweating it. I hadn’t even tried to drive the Alfa because I figured they’d teach me something in class. It came my turn to drive the ’69 Rambler in Army green that the service was so fond of then. A three speed manual on the steering column. I tried to muddle through but ended up in a ditch trying to back up. After a muttered ‘Madonna mia’ from my instructor I was kicked out of the drivers seat in favor of the next victim. Naturally I failed my test. Of course Rick knew very well that they didn’t teach crap about actually driving a stick and he and the boys got a real kick out of the whole thing. Rick took me out in the Alfa after that and showed me the ropes. I passed and got my license two weeks later.
The little 1.6 liter Giulia was a fun car. Enough guts hang on the autostrada and nimble in the curves. I kept that one for about five months. It took me everywhere I needed to go and never let me down. It was a little ragged on the inside and soon enough I found myself thinking about a newer car. Cars changed hands constantly on Camp Darby. Guys coming and going, guys buying new cars because there was little else to do and they became bored. It was kind of a thing. It was also a thing to be the guy on base with the coolest wheels. At the time, that spot was occupied by a warrant officer who had a 1960 Ferrari GT Cabriolet. It as a little worn and far from perfect condition. In this day and age it would still sell for a couple hundred thousand I’m sure but in the ’70’s with the local economy the way it was a lot of these cars were accessible. And let’s face facts, the guys didn’t have much else to spend their money on.
So I had car fever. The worst part was we used to hang out at Giuseppe’s a lot. He always had a garage full of very cool wheels to drool over. Giuseppe’s was next to a little restaurant called La Lanterna. They had good food and we often held court there with Giuseppe and company. The management was kind to us Americans and we were more than happy to pay in dollars which I’m sure they liked even more than us. Giuseppe knew I was looking for a newer ride and one evening he took me back to the garage after a light dinner at the restaurant. In the back he had a 1965 Alfa Giulia Sprint. It was in perfect condition. It was white which I’d swore to avoid since the ’63 had also been white but it was just too good to pass up. He wanted 800,000 lire which came to around 1,300 US. This was pretty high considering that most cars on base changed hands for a few hundred bucks. Of course I had to find a buyer for my old car first. I think I finally ended up getting 300 bucks for it which I gave as down payment. I had to finance the rest at the bank on base and soon enough I had myself a shiny new (almost) ride.
I kept the ’65 for about a year until I got the itch again. I hadn’t really been thinking about another car. I’d been doing a lot of touring about the country discovering new bars and young ladies of various nationalities. I got the itch one evening while hanging out at Giuseppe’s. We’d been at La Lanterna and had just finished dinner. Just the week before we’d been there when Lee Van Cleef came in to dine with his wife. He was at Tirrenia Studios filming parts of ‘Il Grande Duello’. He was a very gracious and quiet man. He saw we were Americans and bought us desert. Later we were sitting on the wall outside of Giuseppe’s and he stopped to chat for a bit. Just a super nice guy.
This evening Giuseppe did his usual ‘Come in, I want to show you something’. Being the sucker that I am, of course I went in. He had the most beautiful ’71 Alfa Romeo GTV 2000. In red. A gorgeous little car. Of course he wanted me to drive it and we took it around the block. So much more power than the 1600. It was absolutely mint. ‘What do you think?’ he asked. All I could say was ‘How Much?’ He said I could have it for two million if I said yes that evening. And of course I did.
I found a guy on base that gave me some cash and took over payments on the ’65. And I was the proud owner of the GTV. Most everyone considered it the coolest car on base at that time. I lost out a couple months later to a ’70 Challenger R/T four speed in yellow, and rightfully so, but that didn’t stop me from playing Smokey and the Bandit with the MP’s for months on end with my GTV. Their Ramblers were just no competition.
Me and that GTV logged a bunch of miles up and down the peninsula and to the south of France and Monaco. The best description of what that little car looked like came from one of three marines that I picked up hitchhiking. They were on shore leave from their ship docked at Livorno and they were hitching a ride to Pisa. They were rather largish and I almost didn’t stop because I didn’t have much of a back seat but I figured what the hell. They jammed the two smallest (relative term here) guys in the back and the kid sitting with me in the front says ‘This car looks just like a shark coming down the road’. I smiled and thought yes, yes it does. I was kind of proud.
Giuseppe kept the GTV running in fine condition. Even after I’d messed up the gear box one night. He blamed me of course for not knowing how to drive a ‘fine Italian automobile’ but I argued otherwise. I’d been driving back to base from Livorno one night with my buddy Donal Carter. We came off a red light (maybe a little fast) and when I got to third gear that’s where it stayed. Just third. No reverse. Nothing but third. The rest of the trip home was interesting.
Giuseppe fixed it up and got me back on the road and I never had another problem. It was a great car. I had no intention at that point in time of getting another car for the rest of my tour. This was 1974 and I’d had the GTV longer than any other car I’d ever owned. One night we were at La Lanterna and Giuseppe came in for an espresso. He looked tired and harried like he always did. According to him he was the only decent mechanic in his garage and had to do all the work. A bit of an exaggeration perhaps but I gotta say he was the best mechanic I’ve ever known. He saw me sitting in the back and came bustling over. “Timoteo’ he says ‘I need to speak with you’. He looked pretty serious. I told him I’d be over after dinner. The guys I was with wanted to go drinking so I told them I’d catch up.
I went over to the garage and Giuseppe pulled me inside. He said that a broker had seen my GTV parked in front of the restaurant and thought it was one of his cars. The guy apparently had a customer that wanted a red GTV and was willing to pay a princely sum. I have to think that it must have been a lot if both Giuseppe and the broker were excited. Giuseppe said the buyer was an American working in Bologna and the window of opportunity was very small. He said he’d pay off the balance of my loan and give me first pick of whatever was in the garage at a discount. But we had to do the deal ‘subito’. This whole thing caught me off guard. I really loved my little red GTV and so did all the American university students in Florence of the female persuasion. He saw the doubt on my face and said ‘Per favore. At least come sit and talk it over. Let’s see if there’s another car you might like’. It was hard to say no to the man.
We went in and he had the usual collection of Alfas, Lancias, Fiats, BMW’s and such. ‘How about a nice convertible this time?’ He had a ’73 Alfa Spider in green that was kind of nice but I wasn’t much into convertibles. Then in the back I saw it. A 1972 Ferrari Dino 246 GT. In red. The only thing was it had a crumpled rear quarter panel on the left side. Other than that it was in great shape. Not mint but pretty damned good. The Dino was like a magnet. There was no way I could have turned and walked out. Giuseppe already knew he had me. ‘Nothing that can’t be fixed by a good carrozzeria’ he says ‘I know a guy…’. Shit.
Bottom line, he was looking to get five million straight up but told me I could have it for four-five and he’d pay for the repairs before I gave him a cent. I was a E5 at that point in time. I wasn’t rich but the dollar went a long way then. Plus the fact I’d just re-enlisted and had saved some of the six grand I’d got as a reup bonus. Four million lire was still about 6500 dollars back then. I could have bought a new Jaguar XKE 12 cylinder for about a grand more. I’d actually looked into it when I got my bonus but thought it was a little rich for my blood. But this was a Ferrari! Even though Enzo hadn’t actually put the Ferrari name on it, it still came from the home of the prancing pony.
He knew he had me. ‘Get it fixed first and we’ll talk’ I told him. But he was in a panic. He had to do the deal on the GTV before the end of the week or lose out. And a very good deal it must have been by the look on his face. ‘Let’s do the paper work on the GTV tomorrow and I’ll give you a car to drive until the Dino is done. Okay?’. I balked for a bit to make him sweat a little more but finally agreed. We got the deal done and he loaned me a Fiat 124 sedan junker to drive until the Dino was done.
Giuseppe asked me it I wanted to go along to see the carrozzeria where he was having the car repaired. I said cool as long as it was on Saturday, my day off. The place was halfway to Florence out in the country. I don’t even remember the name of the closest town. I can’t even remember the name of the business. I don’t think they had it displayed outside. It was a little rundown factory building that seemed to have been built for some other use entirely during World War II. Giuseppe had hauled the Dino up on the back of his truck and as he unloaded I went into the garage. I thought I’d died and gone to heaven. Two Lamborghini Countach’s, a Miura, a Jag, three or four Ferraris. And that was the stuff that was in the front area uncovered.
Giuseppe introduced me to the owner whose name I never did remember. I think I was overwhelmed by all the brightly colored toys. He was kind enough to show me some of the cars. One Countach was the ugliest orange color I’d ever seen. It had Swiss plates. The man said ‘Come, sit in it’. I did, easing myself into the seat. ‘He got into the passenger side and said ‘Look at this’ and he flipped a panel open on the dashboard revealing a TV. This was the ’70’s. Nobody had a TV in their car.
The little man from the carrozzeria said it would take about three weeks. It seemed like an awfully long time but Giuseppe insisted that if I wanted the job done right it would take time. ‘He promises that it will look like new when he is done’. They obviously had a good working relationship with Giuseppe handling mechanical problems and the other man body work and interiors. So we headed back to Tirrenia. It was early evening and I drove back to my apartment (I’d moved off base by now and lived about four blocks away) in the crappy Fiat dreaming of dancing Dinos that evening.
It ended up being a little less than three weeks. Giuseppe had picked up the car without letting me know. He came by my apartment and told me the car was ready and I couldn’t get over there fast enough. I drove to the garage in the crappy Fiat with a big smile on my face.
Giuseppe wouldn’t let me drive the car until he’d taken me for a ride and showed me a few things. He fired it up and the first thing I noticed is the sound of the 2.4 liter engine sitting right behind your head. The engine vibration could be felt through your entire body at full song but I never found it annoying. It was exhilarating. The biggest thing I had to adjust to was the grate on the shifter. It didn’t seem as smooth to me as the GTV but I eventually adjusted to it. He explained it kept people like me from messing up the gear box. Ha Ha. We finally got back and he let me take the wheel. When you climb into the Dino it’s like putting on a tight pair of pants. It’s small. Much smaller than the GTV. And your butt is on the ground. It feels like a go-kart. Rear visibility sucks and my elbow would get sore resting on the parking brake on long trips. But who cares? This was a Ferrari. Dino Ferrari. And it was red.
I got the little darling registered on base and got my bone white AFI license plates. They never looked right on the car. There should never be a tag on the front of a Dino. It just ruins the lines. But rules. were rules.
I had the Dino for less than seven months. But what a fun seven. Especially that summer. And I did have the coolest car on base for those seven months. But as with all love affairs it came to an end. I met a woman, Paola, and fell madly in love and just couldn’t devote 100 percent of my time to the Dino. And it required, it demanded 100 percent all the time. Maintenance here, a tank of gas four or five times a week. Wash, wax, repeat. She was a demanding little wench at the best of times. And she could be quite bitchy if mishandled or ignored.
It may have only been seven months but, boy, they were some great months. I got a more practical Fiat to drive. Paola was persuasive that way. And she wasn’t that impressed with flashy cars and such. She was very practical and very lovely and I didn’t miss the Dino that much. Well, maybe not every day, anyhow.