Dream Factory

Ferrari’s little-known Special Projects department creates modern-day one-offs—like the Superamerica 45.

Photo: Dream Factory 1
January 20, 2012

In the early years, all Ferraris were built by hand. This allowed great leeway when crafting a car for a particular customer, and unique creations were common. But the era of coachbuilt Ferraris ended in the 1960s; these cars didn’t fit into a business model based on standardized design and (relatively) large production numbers, and later safety and emissions standards made homologating such machines practically impossible. Since then, privately owned Ferraris have been modified by various sources—in the 1990s, for example, Pininfarina rebodied numerous cars for the Brunei royal family—but a brand-new one-off from the factory? That wasn’t possible…at least until Ferrari quietly opened the Special Projects department in the late 2000s.

Special Project’s mission is to create custom cars that are fully legal in their country of destination, just like every Ferrari that rolls out of the factory. This means that while the relevant smog and crash requirements must be met, each car’s interior and exterior can still be reworked in a design and engineering collaboration between the customer and Ferrari.

This concept is unique among modern automakers, even low-volume, boutique manufacturers. While small producers like Aston Martin, Lamborghini and Rolls-Royce, and really small, not-necessarily-U.S.-legal builders like Koenigsegg, Spyker and Pagani, will customize the materials and paint used on existing models, creating new body panels or lopping off a roof to create a single car, rather than a new model, just isn’t done.

Photo: Dream Factory 2

The first Special Projects car was the SP1, which appeared in 2008. Commissioned by Japanese collector Junichiro Hiramatsu and penned by Leonardo Fioravanti, the man behind such Ferraris as the Daytona, Berlinetta Boxer, 308 and 288 GTO, the SP1 was based on an F430 chassis and mechanicals but wore a radically restyled body.

The second Special Projects car was the P540 Superfast Aperta, which appeared in late 2009. This Pininfarina-designed, open-top 599 was built for American Edward Walson, and both its name and concept were adopted for the later, limited-edition SA Aperta.

Special Projects produced a third car after the P540 Superfast Aperta, but very little is known about it. Its owner wants to remain anonymous, and Ferrari won’t talk about it (or any of the other cars, their owners or the inner workings of the Special Projects department in general).

Photo: Dream Factory 3

The fourth Special Projects car is the 599 convertible shown here. It was built for New Yorker Peter Kalikow, who has an extensive collection of vintage Ferraris and also commissioned the Pininfarina-redesigned-and-rebuilt 612 Kappa [“Dream Machine,” FORZA #75] in 2006. The new car’s internal designation is SP-10, its serial number is 178976 and it’s called the Superamerica 45. “The 45 was Ferrari’s idea, since I’ve been a customer for 45 years,” explains Kalikow. “The first Ferrari I bought was a 330 GTC, back in 1967.”

SO HOW DID THE Superamerica 45 come to be? “The car was the product of a dinner conversation between me, Piero Ferrari and [Ferrari CEO] Amedeo Felisa back in 2008 or ’09,” Kalikow says. “At the time, they were exploring chassis stiffening for a new car, which turned out to be the Aperta but was then called the Roadster. I mentioned that I liked the roof on my 575M Superamerica, which goes up and down in like four seconds, and thought that would be a cool thing to have on a 599. That’s how it started.”

Ferrari assigned project manager Andrea Bassi and designer Matteo Gilles to work on the new car. In February 2010, the two men flew to New York to meet with Kalikow, talk about his ideas and look through his collection for inspiration. “They asked me what my favorite car was, and I said my SWB Cal Spyder,” says Kalikow. “When they asked for my second favorite, I pointed to my ’61 400 Superamerica. I like the modern 2+2s because they are the luxury models, but back in the day you didn’t need to buy a 2+2 to get luxury; just think Superamerica or 365 GTC/4. What I really wanted was a luxurious, powerful, two-seat Ferrari, something they don’t have in the current lineup. The first proposal they came back with was a modern version of the 400 SA.”

Photo: Dream Factory 4

While the initial sketches were on the right track, the design process was just beginning. “The design evolved as we talked more about the car’s mission,” Kalikow says. “It would be built on an Aperta platform, with the folding roof and all my other requirements, and then you start fooling with the design. A lot of things have to remain the same to meet various regulations, such as the headlights, taillights and bumpers, but we still had a lot of freedom in the car’s appearance.”

Consider the Superamerica 45’s rear spoiler and buttresses, which were mandated by Ferrari. “It’s one of my favorite stories about the car,” says Kalikow. “One of the engineers told me, ‘Just because you probably will never drive the car at 200 mph doesn’t mean we don’t have to build you a car that will do 200 mph safely.’ When it came to the spoiler, Ferrari showed me five options. I tentatively chose three, and they made models of them. I chose the final version because I liked the look; there was another version that was more traditional, that didn’t have the slots. I don’t know if the parts were tested in the wind tunnel or just modeled on a computer, but I do know that all the designs met their downforce requirements.”

Kalikow journeyed to the factory three times during the design phase. During each visit, he was shown new models and components and asked to make a series of decisions. He also met more Ferrari personnel as the project rolled on. “Franco Ciamatti, the guy who did the four-wheel drive for the FF, was there in one meeting,” Kalikow recalls. “Flavio Manzoni, the lead designer, came to a few of them. I really wanted his input.” 

Photo: Dream Factory 5

Piero Ferrari and Amedeo Felisa also kept tabs on the car, and weren’t shy about offering their opinions. Says Kalikow, “When I was looking at one model, they came over and told me, ‘It’s not aggressive enough, you need something more different.’ They were really pushing me to be more radical than I thought I could be. Ferrari was always concerned that the car would look good, and luckily my tastes were not that far out of line with theirs.”

After nine months, those three meetings in Italy and hundreds of transatlantic e-mails, the Superamerica 45’s design was finished. The final configuration combined major components from three existing models: The SA Aperta, which donated the chassis, doors and windshield; the 599 GTO, which supplied the engine, transaxle, driveline, exhaust, suspension and underbody aerodynamics, along with the hood and bumpers; and the 575M Superamerica, source of the rotating roof mechanism. Just about everything else would be custom-made.

CONSTRUCTION BEGAN IN DECEMBER 2010. The front and rear fenders were built from aluminum at the Scaglietti works in Modena, and once the Superamerica 45 was assembled as a body in white, it was sent to the production paint line in the Ferrari factory. After the Blue Antilles Savid hue (a 1961 Ferrari color) was applied, the car was moved to the Classiche Department for wiring, interior and other custom work. Finally, it went to the production assembly area for the installation of its engine, transaxle and suspension.

Photo: Dream Factory 6

The Superamerica 45 made its public debut at the Villa d’Este Concours d’Elegance in May 2011. “I’ve shown some of my vintage Ferraris there before, but this was a unique situation,” Kalikow says. “I got to experience what it was like at concours in the 1940s, when owners brought their brand-new cars to show. The Superamerica 45 was received extraordinarily well; all you have to do to attract a crowd is start the engine and put the top up and down. I know the car has received over three million mentions on the Internet, many in languages I didn’t know existed.”

What the Villa d’Este attendees saw is clearly a 599, but one featuring numerous changes both big and small. The most obvious alteration, of course, is the top. At the touch of a button on the center console, the high-gloss carbon-fiber roof panel flips backward onto the painted carbon-fiber deck lid, surrounded by the new buttresses and spoiler. Knowledgeable Ferrari fans will also quickly spot the reworked front fenders (which have two vents aft of the wheel arch instead of one), the custom wheels and the vintage-style, egg-crate grille, but there are many other changes that are not so obvious.

One of those is the spare tire, which Kalikow insisted on. It resides inside a leather case in the trunk, and was a major engineering project in its own right. “When Ferrari does a spare at all, they usually fit it vertically, but there wasn’t enough clearance in the trunk,” says Kalikow. “They had to go horizontal, but had to be careful that the spare wouldn’t hit the fuel tank if the car was rear ended. It took 30 pages of engineering drawings to do it right.”

Photo: Dream Factory 7

Smaller detail changes can be found just about everywhere. The exterior mirror housings are polished aluminum rather than painted. The underhood engine-bay trim is made of blue carbon fiber and features a small Ferrari Design badge. Perforated leather covers the bolsters of the custom seats. The radio from an FF has been installed in the center of the dash. Interior lights have been fitted to the top portion of each door. The rear badge combines a polished Prancing Horse with just a painted outline representing the usual yellow shield. The list goes on and on.

Not all of the changes are visible, either. While the Superamerica 45’s steering wheel sports the manettino from the SA Aperta (Kalikow asked for this and Aperta-sized wheels and tires rather than the more aggressive components from the GTO because he doesn’t intend to drive the car on a track), some of its underlying programming has been altered. “My idea of luxury doesn’t necessarily mean a soft ride,” explains Kalikow. “It’s about comfortable seats, modern amenities with the radio, the finest materials, that kind of thing. But since the GTO suspension is controlled electronically, Ferrari programmed new maps for each of the settings. In terms of shock stiffness, we didn’t go as far as the GTO, but farther than the Aperta.”

AFTER VILLA D’ESTE, the car returned to the factory for a few alterations. “The original interior had a mix of the Cuoio [brown] leather and a blue leather, which covered the upper portions of the cockpit: the top of the dash, rollbars, A-pillars, stuff like that,” Kalikow says. “But we didn’t really like it, because it added a fourth color to the mix, with the blue exterior paint and the darker blue carbon fiber. So we redid the interior with just the Cuoio.”

Photo: Dream Factory 8

In October 2011, the Superamerica was delivered to Kalikow in New York, where we photographed it. Photographer Dom Miliano reports “the car looks much meaner in person than it does in pictures. It kind of feels like you’re looking at a painting, like a Picasso, in that it doesn’t come across as a ‘normal’ car, one that’s necessarily meant to appeal to a lot of people. It’s clearly one man’s vision.”

Kalikow agrees with that description. “It was fascinating to see Ferrari’s interpretation of my thinking,” he says. “I’m very proud of the final result.”

Intriguingly, Kalikow has the ability to further change the Superamerica 45’s appearance. When he couldn’t decide on a specific finish or style during the design process, Ferrari often went ahead and created two or more versions of that component. Along with the car, Kalikow received a large crate that contains, among other things, two additional grilles (the first a blacked-out version of the current grille, the second one featuring GTO-style mesh), four pairs of exterior door handles (all wearing different emblems), alternate sill plates and interior lights, and even a second steering wheel. There’s also a second set of wheels, which reverse the current set’s painted and unpainted areas.

Photo: Dream Factory 9

Two additional crates are en route from Maranello. These contain spares of the car’s unique components, such as the roof, rear deck, rear window and fenders.

To date, Kalikow has driven the Superamerica 45 about 900 miles. “I’ve been really careful, because I don’t want to damage the car before it’s shown at Cavallino next year,” he says. “After that, though, I’m gonna drive it a lot. So far, I really like it.”

And would he commission another one-off from Ferrari? “Guess what? I’d definitely do it again,” Kalikow concludes. “I want to enjoy the car, of course, but it was such a great experience. I’d recommend it to anyone.”

Photo: Dream Factory 10

Creating a Special Projects car would be a dream come true for many Ferrari fans and owners, but a project that requires such extensive design, engineering and production challenges isn’t an inexpensive proposition; Kalikow says the Superamerica 45 cost “multiples” of the $500,000-plus SA Aperta. On the other hand, owning a one-off Ferrari designed to your specifications and built by the factory may just be priceless.

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Also from Issue 116

  • 458 shoot-out: Challenge vs GT
  • A 330 GT 2+2 fit for a Prince
  • Ferrari-powered Lancia LC2 race car
  • Saving an F40 from the ravages of time
  • The 2011 Formula 1 season finally ends
  • V12 Ferraris starting at $25,000!
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