Whatever Happened to Driving?
I’ve been involved in the automotive world in one facet or another since the second half of the 1970s and, as we will see, the reasons for owning something fast and cool have certainly changed over the years. Back then three primary factors drove people’s passion: a car’s design (which the Italians were doing better than everyone); history (in the pre-internet days it was a fun challenge to discover the story of a car, and the company that built it); and what was it like to drive.
This last point is key for though I didn’t realize it at the time, the car manufacturers and the models they created were much like going to a fine restaurant, and ordering a particular dish off their respective menus. For instance, with 1967’s Ferrari’s 275 GTB/4, Iso’s Grifo, Maserati’s Ghibli, Jaguar’s E-type and Chevrolet’s Corvette, the recipe was basically the same (a very fast, front-engine two-seat sports/GT). But if you blindfolded your passenger, ran them 0-120-0 in each car, the sounds, how the engines pull, and how they ride and brake are so disparate that it’s like dining on five distinctively different meals.
A Certain Uniqueness
That uniqueness also existed in each marque’s models. At Maserati, the Mistral, Ghibli, and Khamsin are all front-engine berlinettas, yet entirely different experiences on the road. At Ferrari, the same can be said about a 250 Lusso, 275 GTB, and 365 GTB/4 (Daytona) for the only place you can find their exact flavors is in that particular model.
A bit more than a decade ago I was presented with the opportunity to create my own “flavor” after I bought a slightly used 2007 Shelby GT. While it was very engaging to drive, at the time I had little to no early Shelby Mustang experience and began to wonder if the car was the real deal or some slick marketing exercise. A very deep dive into Shelby’s cars, history and mythology answered that question (it was the real things), and during conversations with the folks at Shelby American in Las Vegas we came up with the idea of doing a custom build on my car to promote their Speed Shop.
My recipe was a design brief I dubbed “Shelby Project GT-R,” and the target was to make a modern day, street spiritual successor to 1965’s championship racer, the GT350R. Shelby bit, and created a one-off build. The engine stayed naturally aspirated, with horsepower increased by Ford Racing Performance Parts’ heads, cams, manifold, and more. We upgraded the suspension and brakes and put on some subtle but unique cosmetic touches to the interior, exterior and engine compartment. We lightened things where possible (aluminum driveshaft and more), and Shelby sweetened the pot by having the car serve as the testbed for their 6-speed conversion program.
A Perplexing Trend
The car has done more than 100,000 miles since then, which brings us to how ownership priorities have really changed over the years and highlighted a perplexing trend. Recently I was on Autotrader.com, daydreaming about stuff for sale. For fun, I punched in 2007-2009 Shelby Mustangs with no price or mileage parameters, and over 250 popped up in the U.S. Out of those basically stock cars, more than 40% had less than 15,000 miles.
Using my car as an example, it’s a truly unique Shelby with nearly 130,000 miles on the odometer, but here were all these basically stock versions that have hardly been used in more than a decade. Theoretically, shouldn’t it be the other way around, where the unique car is the one with the lowestmileage?
Interestingly, this “don’t drive it” mentality did not exist throughout most of the 20th century. Before World War II until well into the 1970s, the commissioning clients and first owners who bought the vast majority of custom coachwork Ferraris, Maseratis, Astons, Alfas, Lamborghinis and more, let alone those companies’ production models, didn’t acquire them to have them simply take up space in the garage. They enjoyed looking at them but also used them, for at the end of the day they understood what they were—a car.
“Don’t Drive It”
Then sometime early in this century, the performance car world became infected with an “I’d rather drink poison than drive it” mentality. This makes no sense, for why would you go to the finest couture in town and have a custom-made suit or evening gown done to your specifications, and then leave it sitting in the closet? Or have the world’s fastest, most renowned racehorse in your stable, and never ride or even exercise it?
Not so long ago, owners felt blessed to have a new or old performance car so it could be driven as often as possible. For example, in 1998 I tested the Pebble Beach-winning 1938 Bugatti Type 57SC with one-off Corsica coachwork, and the weekend before my drive the owner was out enjoying it on public roads. More recently a collector friend has wanted to do a comparison between his legit 1965 K-code (289/271 horsepower) Mustang convertible and his one-of-three alloy body, covered headlight, outside filler cap Ferrari 250 Spyder Californias. He uses both when he can—along with his Ferrari 250 GTO, Enzo, and more.
Another friend bought the one-off 1963 Iso Grifo A3/L in the 1980s, and once sorted drove it with some frequency. He also threw me the keys on occasion and then to a journalist to drive it 300 miles from Los Angeles to the Monterey Peninsula; just imagine the latter happening today. That same friend later had the only big block Intermeccanica Indra made and spent an inordinate amount of time sorting the car in a way the factory never did so he could drive it. In the 1980s I bought a 9,000 mile 5-speed Series II Iso Grifo, and a one-of-four Iso Grifo Targa in Europe, and immediately drove both after they were imported to America. In the two years, I owned a Ferrari Daytona, I put 24,000 miles on it—and really didn’t take a hit on price when I sold it. In the late 1970s, a dealer friend imported one of the very first 512 BBs in the country and threw me the keys to see what I thought (it was quite invigorating touching 100 mph on Pebble Beach’s 17 Mile Drive…). Around two decades later my daily driver and only car for not quite a year was a Lamborghini Islero 400 GTS.
Drive and Enjoy
Yes, cars were a lot less expensive back then, but regardless of their standing in the pecking order of pricing, performance, rarity, and desirability, the mentality was the same—you bought them to drive and enjoy. Then, when you decided it was time to move on to another “flavor,” you sold the car and got the next (with a profit simply being icing on what was already a delicious cake). And the handful of owners who didn’t drive their cars, well, most were thought of as a bit strange.
Then, somewhere around 10-15 years ago that “drive it” mentality largely disappeared. A friend who works at a prominent Ferrari dealership recently spoke of clients purchasing regular production models and never taking delivery; instead, they are sent to warehouses where they sit on trickle chargers, and are never driven, or even seen. Ferrari isn’t the only marque with this affliction, as many of Porsche’s recent limited edition models rarely see the road. For instance, the 911R came out in 2016, and over at the DuPont Registry eight were for sale. Four have less than 100 miles total, while the highest mileage car clocks in at 510. The Cayman GT4 is also three years old, and of the 102 listed on Autotrader, only 20% have done a bit more than 3,000 miles a year.
I have my basic theory on why this is (it’s more about monetary policy than anything else, and will be explored in the future), but there are flashes of hope here and there that a proper “it’s a car, drive it” mentality still exists. The gentleman who plunked down $79 million for a Ferrari 250 GTO last year promptly handed the keys to his daughter so she could enjoy it during the Monterey Classic Car week. I have a friend with a tasty collection of modern machinery (think Ferrari 288 GTO through Enzo, Porsche 959, Carrera GT and more), and he uses them frequently. And when speaking with Marek Reichman, Aston Martin’s Design Director about what may be the most involving high performance road car ever made (the upcoming 1000+ horsepower, 2,200 pound Valkyrie), I suggested they put in GPS trackers in them so those owners who don’t drive their car at least 1,000 miles a year, it’s repossessed and sold to someone who will actually use it.
While he hasn’t said whether that would happen or not, the idea was very much to his liking…