Rise of the Phoenix

Usually when a car burns, that’s the end of it. But this Pinin Farina-bodied Ferrari—a Series I Cabriolet—defied fate to live another day.

Rise of the Phoenix 1
October 21, 2011

There I was at the wheel, top down, barefoot, carving corners in this vintage Ferrari. It could have been a half-century ago, scooting along above Monte Carlo, with me fresh from an all-night yacht party where I’d forgotten my shoes. In reality, the time was right now, the location not the Grande Corniche but Mulholland Drive near Los Angeles, yet the euphoria of the moment was the same, and the car, a Series I 250 GT Pinin Farina Cabriolet (s/n 1075GT), was a perfect fit.

It’s Peter McCoy’s PF Cab, to be exact, and I suspect he’s now wondering if letting me drive his gem-like Ferrari was really the best idea. “You need narrow Italian loafers,” he had said cheerfully earlier, while I removed my work shoes so as not to unintentionally mash throttle and brake at the same time. Then, with a hint of angst, “That way you’ll get the real feel of it.”

So how does it feel? Well, the front right drum pulls a bit and the big wood-laid steering wheel begs for more lock, but the 3.0-liter V12 engine is nobly strong and the car’s ride feels solid but luxurious. Maybe best of all, this 53-year-old classic still looks like a million bucks, even after the fiery hell it’s been through.

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You see, nine years ago s/n 1075 all but burned to the ground in a 2,000-degree California wildfire; the photo on page 30 tells the story better than words ever could. As it turned out, that event was only the beginning of a new chapter in the car’s life, because McCoy bought the charred remains. He’d been looking for a Series I PF Cab for a couple of years when he at last found this one. “They just don’t come along,” he says.

McCoy’s next step was to ship what was left to Ferrari restoration whiz Wayne Obry of Motion Products in Neenah, Wisconsin. “When the truck arrived and we opened the doors, I went, ‘My God, what has Peter done?!’” recalls Obry. “I had to sit down with a cup of coffee and just let it sink in. I honestly did not believe it could be a full car again. It was by far the toughest endeavor our humble company has ever been involved with.”

It took 19 months and 9,000 man-hours of labor, but Obry, along with Motion Products’ partners John Kies and Bill Murphy and their 30-strong staff, returned the once-devastated hulk to its original beauty—and, amazingly, managed to preserve most of the original steel body panels in the process. The restoration was completed in May 2008, and three months later s/n 1075 won the Ferrari Grand Touring class at the Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance.

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Can you believe McCoy let me drive it?

WAY BACK ON OCTOBER 23, 1958, the day s/n 1075 first rolled out of the factory headed for its British Motor Show debut at Earls Court, Peter McCoy was a teenager at Beverly Hills High School. “I was still trying to figure out how to make a 1956 Chevy go faster,” he remembers. “I always liked cars and used to work with my dad,” Horace McCoy, a novelist, actor and screenwriter who passed away when Peter was an adolescent.

After high school, McCoy became a theatrical agent with William Morris, forgoing college. Before long he’d joined Sotheby’s, and for ten years was president of the auction company’s western division and chief auctioneer for the West Coast. Collecting became a significant interest in his life. “We collected everything: paintings, Oriental works of art, books, furniture,” McCoy says. “I never really stopped—it just kind of shifted gears a little.”

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In the meantime, another collectible, s/n 1075, had gone to the French Ferrari importer, Franco Britannic Autos in Paris, where it was sold to its first private owner before being exported to the United States in the early 1960s. In 1964, James C. Walsh, Jr., of Lafayette, California, showed the Ferrari at Pebble Beach, where it placed second in class for European Sports Cars Over $7000. In its original Andalusia Gold paint and beige Connolly leather, the car was a smart item for sure, even though little attention was paid back then to its rarity, s/n 1075 being the 34th of only 40 Series I Cabriolets built. Indeed, the eventual reverence given to these cars was decades away.

In the late 1960s, McCoy married Kacey, the niece of sports-car legend Bill Doheny, and a few years later the pair got their first taste of restoration when they re-did a 1928 Model A Ford in the driveway of their Beverly Hills home. “I don’t know why, but it turned out nice,” says McCoy. “We had a Morgan when we were first married, and restored that, then an XK-120, and next came a 275 GTS, my first Ferrari, after my friend David Sydorick introduced me to the marque.”

Long before McCoy bought that 275 in May 1999, however, came a move to Washington, D.C., and the post of Chief of Staff for Nancy Reagan. This was followed by the role of Under Secretary of Commerce for Travel and Tourism in the Reagan White House.

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Between 1965 and 1984, s/n 1075, then painted red, was owned by Christopher and Carla Saunders, who got it from San Francisco Ferrari dealer Charles Rezzaghi Motors. The PF Cab next went to Said Marouf, of La Jolla, California, who kept the Cab until 1989, when he traded it to Dick Teague for a Lusso-engined 250 GT SWB.

Teague, a Detroit car designer best known for penning American Motors’ AMX3, had a true passion for automobiles. “Dick owned over 300 collector cars in his life,” remembers friend, Ford executive, passionate Ferrari enthusiast and Series I PF Cab owner John Clinard. “In fact, he bought his Cabriolet after seeing mine, saying, ‘I have to have one of these.’” [We told the story of Clinard’s car in “A Ferrari in the Family,” FORZA #31.—Ed.]

Teague succumbed to cancer in 1991, and never had a chance to drive or restore the red Ferrari. “We had moved 14 cars from Michigan to California when Dick retired,” recalls his widow, Marian, “and after he died, I was selfish and kept the Cabriolet. I drove it a couple of times and loved it. It was a beautiful car. Then it burned.”

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Marian was in Arizona in early February 2002 when a 5,700-acre wildfire ravaged her house and 40 others in Fallbrook. “The house burned on a Sunday, and when I came back Monday morning, my son, Jeff, was here,” she says. “He said, ‘Mom, I’m going to call John Clinard.’ If it hadn’t been for John and my son, the car wouldn’t have been saved, because I would have just had it taken away along with the bulldozed debris. There was nothing left except bits and pieces.”

THAT APRIL, S/N 1075’S REMAINS were purchased by Tom Shaughnessy, a Ferrari parts go-to-guy and collector in Southern California. “It needed some major parts for the motor,” Shaughnessy remembers. “It needed an entire rear end, all of its gauges, wiring harness…it needed nearly everything.”

That’s a fair description, but it’s important to note that many of the original components were salvageable, despite the fact that the burning garage had come crashing down on the car. For example, the steel hinges, seat frames, top mechanism, bumpers and suspension members remained, although they were warped and damaged by the fire, as were many of the original steel body panels. On the other hand, items like the aluminum hood and trunk lid, along with the windshield glass and frame, had simply melted away.

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Shaughnessy did what he could, making a new windshield and wiring harness, media blasting and primering what was left of the body, and having a new aluminum dash built by Steve Beckman of Costa Mesa, California. However, Shaughnessy saw the PF Cab as something he could sell some day to get what he really wanted: a Tour de France. “I was kind of the right place for the car to land temporarily,” he says.

It is at this point that Peter McCoy enters the story. “I knew Shaughnessy had acquired the burned car and he was going to do the restoration, but I kind of talked Tom into letting me do it,” McCoy explains. “He had already started to clean up the remnants, and I took over from there.”

On April 8, 2006, McCoy bought s/n 1075 from Shaughnessy, and soon turned it over to Wayne Obry. It wasn’t the first time the two men had worked together; Obry had restored two other Ferraris for McCoy, the aforementioned 275 GTS and a 400 Superamerica. This time, however, he would need some outside help.

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At Obry’s request, Clinard allowed his Series I Cab to be digitally scanned from stem to stern, and Beckman used the digital data to create a full body buck. “I had a guy digitize John’s car,” says Beckman, “then had full-size paper drawings glued down on MDF glue board that stays pretty rigid, and cut it out on the line of the car. The trick is keeping everything in the right place. Then it’s just a huge jigsaw puzzle to slide all those pieces of wood inside each other in order to have a full-scale plot.”

BACK IN NEENAH, Obry began inventorying the work to come. “Because garage beams fell down on the car during the fire, we first jigged up the frame and checked it for straightness,” he says. “It was straight. We didn’t need to make any corrections to the chassis itself.”

The original engine, transmission and differential would be saved, but everything had to be crack-checked and magnafluxed. The 3-liter V12 in particular required special care. “The engine had warped from the heat,” says Obry. “It required some straightening machines to get the warpage out of the block, a few thousandths here and there. The fire also melted the cam covers and carburetors, but the engine still has the original heads.”

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This isn’t standard restoration fare, and what came next was a real challenge: McCoy wanted the original steel body panels reused. “It would have been infinitely more expeditious, and less expensive, if we’d just made the body with new stuff,” Obry says. “But then it would technically be a rebody. So, the steel from the burned body was reconditioned and refit to the buck made from Clinard’s car, put back on along all the factory seams and then welded back on exactly the way the factory did it. That was a significant task, to get it to look right, to have everything fit up, and then go through the normal fitting procedures with the trim and door openings and convertible top and all of that stuff.”

In the end, Motion Products saved about 70 percent of the original body steel. “The door skins, door frames, rockers, nose and tail, front and rear fenders, the header between the back seat and the trunk lid, the top of the body, the top of the cowl—all of that is the original stuff,” says Obry. “The hood and trunk lid we had to remake, because those were aluminum and they melted.”

All this was just a small part of the mind-boggling amount of work that had to be done, however. In addition to the hood and trunk lid, everything inside or outside the car that was made of brass or aluminum had melted. “That included the windshield frame, which is made out of 17 individual pieces of brass, all silver-soldered and metal-fitted together to incorporate the shape of the cowl, but then also to incorporate the shape of the second-generation windshield that we got,” says Obry.

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“That was no small task,” he continues, “and there are thousands of other pieces. Even components like door latches, window-crank mechanisms and the springs in them that were compromised by the heat—they can’t just be bought. They had to be hand-wound out of the same material. Something as simple as a window-crank mechanism probably has 50 pieces in it, and it wasn’t designed to be easily disassembled, renovated and reassembled.”

Obry, whose life in rural Wisconsin has chiseled his steadfast character, is candid in describing his trade. “A restoration to us is when you take every single nut, bolt, washer, rivet, every piece off of a car to the point where you would have to use a chisel or a torch to remove more, and you throw all of that stuff in a pile,” he explains. “Then, one piece at a time, every item gets renovated, inspected, reconditioned, reassembled and checked for operation to an as-new standard. When the pile on the floor is gone, the restoration is done.”

Obry then shares a cartoon of a man balking at the price of a starter motor. The clerk then says to him, “You think that’s expensive? Have you ever tried to make one of these?”

Some things that were destroyed in the fire were easy to replace. Says Obry, “All of the lenses, chrome and brass trim pieces, door handles and all that stuff, which are common to other series of Ferraris, were available. We obtained anything that we could buy.” The enormous number of items that couldn’t be bought had to be fabricated from scratch. Luckily, Motion Products’ CNC capabilities took care of most of the “unobtainium.”

To help the process along, PF Cab owner Hilary Raab loaned his own car (s/n 1475GT) to Motion Products for a whole year so critical comparisons could be made during s/n 1075’s reconstruction. Nonetheless, I imagine Obry’s head still reels a bit from all that had to be done. “Peter and I have extended our gratitude to everybody involved in the process,” he says. “It was a helluva challenge, a helluva project, and it’s a helluva car today.” S/n 1075 has since been certified by Ferrari Classiche.

ON MCCOY’S GARAGE WALL, next to where he parks the PF Cab, hangs a poem written by his son and daughter. It reads:

In boxes and bags, they never come whole/His passion for cars is in restoring their soul/Then off to Neenah, Wayne’s got it under control/But getting it to start on the fairway is really the goal.

As we already know, s/n 1075 did start on Pebble’s grass, and—if you’ll pardon my rhyming—it did win its class. Since the restoration, McCoy has shown the car five times: at the 2008 FCA Nationals in Toronto, Pebble Beach, Amelia Island, Villa d’Este and, most recently, the Los Angeles-area Rancho Palos Verdes Concours. It’s now done with the scrupulous Concours d’Elegance circuit, and, says McCoy, “We’ll drive it on the Colorado Grand and the Copperstate.” He hates to see a good car sit.

There are a few footnotes to the s/n 1075 story. Marian Teague built a new home on her fire-swept Fallbrook property. Last year in Carmel, the McCoys saw their old Model A Ford: same scratches, same rumble seat where they used to put their kids. And oh yes, Tom Shaughnessy did get that TdF he wanted. So it goes for a Series I Cabriolet that has no right to be alive today, other than for the dedication and drive of those who cared enough to see it reborn from the ashes of a ravaging wildfire.

Also from Issue 114

  • First look at the new 458 Spider
  • F50 GT1 track test
  • We talk with Chris Amon, 1960s Ferrari racer
  • The 458 GT scores its maiden ALMS win
  • Ferrari's F1 season comes down to the wire
  • A convertible, twin-turbo 400? Why not?
  • Market Update: Modern 12-cylinders
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