Fab Four

It may not have the power or looks of a Daytona, but Spike Feresten’s 365 GTC/4 offers a fast, civilized, family friendly driving experience.

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August 21, 2015

Hollywood. Tinseltown. Home of A-listers and A-Type personalities, not to mention the latest, greatest machines from Ferrari, Lamborghini, Maserati et al parked in front of the latest, greatest clubs and restaurants. It’s a city to see and be seen in…unless you simply love cars for their own sake.

That’s Spike Feresten all over. The guy’s emphatically A-Type visible—a show-biz dynamo, once a scriptwriter for Saturday Night Live, Late Show with David Letterman and Seinfeld, now producer and host of his self-created television series Car Matchmaker on the Esquire Network. In short, Spike, pinned with the nickname for the way his hair looked as a rookie writer, is a lively match for an always energizing Ferrari.

But what’s this? Rather than a bright-red 458 or F12, Feresten’s Ferrari is silver. It’s also 43 years old. This clearly isn’t a Prancing Horse to be seen in; this 1972 365 GTC/4 is meant to be driven.

IT’S SEVEN IN THE MORNING when I arrive at Feresten’s home, ready to shoot pictures. His wife Erika and young sons Jack and James have Saturday plans, so before they get away we grab a group shot of all with the family’s four—four seats, four cams, four previous owners. Minutes later Feresten and I are in his Ferrari, leaving in its mirrors the city’s tony Westside enclave that had housed car kings Steve McQueen and James Garner. Hey, this is L.A., and welcome to it!

After stopping for coffee and a mobile call to Car Matchmaker’s crew that we’re “there in twenty”—it’s the weekend, but still a show workday—we’re back into the C4 with what Spike calls his “Seventies cassette,” the correct Becker Mexico blasting Elton John’s “Rocket Man.” It’s all appropriately trippy, but soon we turn down the volume to hear the sweet song of Gioacchino Colombo’s own 320-hp 4.4-liter V12, with its six side-draft 38DCOE Webers and C4-spec heads and valves. It’s a vintage analog cure to today’s busy digital lives.

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“It’s an emotional car,” says Feresten, running through the five-speed gearbox after a break in traffic. “I drive it as much as I can. I drive it to work. I take it on errands, the grocery store, occasionally dropping the kids off at school.”

As we slow for a stoplight, the brakes squeak gratingly. Feresten laughs. “Oh, yeah, yeah, the brakes. What do you expect? It’s a Ferrari!”

Before the light changes, he’s back to what makes the C4 special. “We can drive to something together as a family in a vintage car. Erika loves that we can put everybody in it. My boys love it because of the little jump seats, and because they can cruise the PCH with me to Malibu on the weekends. This is the only old car in my collection we can do that in. Not my 356 Speedster, not the 911 Lightweight. We’ve been making a lot of nice memories in the C4.”

This isn’t Feresten’s first Ferrari; it’s his second, after having owned a ’73 Dino 246 GTS for 12 years. “I don’t think I could ever go back to a smaller Italian engine after this one,” he tells me, hanging a right at Venice Boulevard, the four tailpipes’ perfectly melded exhaust notes bouncing off storefronts. Morphing into a comedy writer, his voice rises an octave. “I don’t often feel like a man,” he jests, “but when I get into this car I feel like a man—like I should have my shirt unbuttoned too far, a splashing goblet of Chianti and a plate of spaghetti on the passenger seat!”

Then, suddenly, we’re there—in less than twenty. Feresten’s call sheet has him on-camera this morning with a plastic surgeon way down in Orange County, and pronto. He leaves the C4 with me at the production hangar, slips into a spanking-new Solarbeam Yellow Metallic Mercedes-AMG GT and roars away—that machine-gun fire exhaust!—headed for the 405.

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It’s improbably quiet now on the Car Matchmaker set. Feresten’s C4 sits dead center like sculpture, Italian-style, highlighting Pininfarina body designer Aldo Brovarone’s ideally modest panels. Beyond padded doors, the production office hums with prep work for when the boss returns this afternoon to shoot with the Ferrari, under lights, to promo the show.

LONG BEFORE FERESTEN PURCHASED IT, this 365 GTC/4—s/n 15815, assembly sequence #481, fitted with Pininfarina body #463/GTC, according to historian Marcel Massini—departed the factory in July 1972. The left-hand-drive Ferrari was delivered new, with instruments calibrated in miles and heated windshield, to Bill Harrah’s U.S. West Coast Ferrari distributorship, Modern Classic Motors in Reno, Nevada.

By then, a Road & Track cover story had already tested an earlier C4 on loan from Harrah. The magazine presented a favorable enough account, but one that drew middling attention amongst modest fans; the piece used descriptives such as “mild-mannered” and “practical,” and even described the model as “a Ferrari for the mature enthusiast.” Uh-oh.

But not everyone frowned at the notion of a more civilized Daytona, one with room for the entire family. James Boccardo of Los Gatos, California, at the time 61 years old, was one of the curious who came to MCM to take a look, and ended up becoming this C4’s original owner.

James is gone now, but his son John Boccardo tells me about his flamboyant trial-attorney father (also a yachtsman, chess champion, cattle rancher and aviator), who for decades annually bought a new white Cadillac. Then he saw the silver C4, which became his favorite driver, over his Lamborghinis and Maseratis, for the next 28 years. He liked that it was fast yet comfortable—air conditioning and ZF power steering were standard—and that his golf clubs fit in the trunk. While James was at times put off by those who taunted him, boasting that Daytonas were just better than C4s, he held onto the Ferrari until illness in old age kept him from driving.

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“My father had a tendency to not stop in traffic, because it might foul the plugs,” Boccardo recalls, “so he was prone to passing people on the right, even on a soft shoulder. There he was, wailing the Ferrari by those stopped cars, calling them sheep. He came close to losing his license a couple of times.”

Boccardo, an architect and dedicated-car collector, also reminisces fondly about his own sorties in the Ferrari, carving roads in the Santa Cruz mountains. The car’s suspension—unequal-length A-arms, coil springs, tube shocks, anti-roll bars front and rear, with hydraulic self-leveling struts aft—worked delightfully. But that upholstery, checked cloth inserts framed in black leather (to appease Italophiles: Nero Cogolo/Panno 22)? “As a teenager,” he confesses, “that hounds-tooth fabric was really weird.”

Feresten jokes it looks like Rodney Dangerfield’s golf pants. But, seriously, we all think the interior is kind of cool.

Today, Boccardo regrets the Ferrari ever left the family. But James told him to sell it, and in January 2001 the C4 was hammered at Barrett-Jackson in Scottsdale for just under fifty grand, roughly twice what James paid new. It didn’t go to its new home willingly, though.

“When I took the Ferrari to have it prepped for sale,” John says, “I got into a traffic jam and went creeping onto the Golden Gate Bridge. The plugs were terribly fouled by then and the car stalled. When I tried to start it, the key broke off in the ignition. I could not believe it, on that bridge, in that car!” Happily, a tow truck materialized almost immediately, but it was a humble ending to the Ferrari’s Boccardo chronicle.

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S/n 15815’s second owner, John Ridings Lee of Dallas, Texas, business parter of fellow classic-car collector Peter Mullin, also fancied the thought of having a Daytona-like Ferrari road car to get in and drive. He bought the 22,000-mile ex-Boccardo C4 at that Barrett-Jackson auction, then turned it over to Bob Smith Coachworks in the north Texas town of Gainesville for freshening.

Well known among discerning car hobbyists, Smith—often just “Bobby”—has been bringing clients’ gems to the Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance for the past 30 years. “I’ve done about 80 cars for John,” he tells me of his rapport with Lee. For this C4, Smith refurbished carpets and seats, adjusted the Webers to cure persistent stalling and readied the car for the Ferrari Club of America’s 2001 National Meet in Dallas, where it won a Preservation Award.

In the summer of 2001, Lee drove s/n 15815 from Dallas to Malibu in a single day. “That was the most reliable Ferrari I ever had!” he enthuses. “It never misfired, nothing. It was perfect.”

A couple of years later, the uber-Texan and his C4 joined a troupe of magnum-opus Ferraris and owners on a road rally from California north to the Canadian Rockies and back. “And we did not let ’em go slow,” Lee chuckles. “I’ve done some crazy things, but I’ll never forget that! It was a real test of a Ferrari’s endurance.”

FOUR YEARS AND 13,000 MILES ON, s/n 15815 was again for sale, this time through Bruce Trenery’s San Francisco Bay Area car emporium, Fantasy Junction. Trenery recalls the C4 arrived “with all its tools and manuals, everything. It was a particularly nice one…and it wasn’t red.”

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Wearing its factory Grigio Argento attractively well, the GTC’s silver gray mien and ancillary motor music thoroughly charmed Steven E. Young, a Los Angeles attorney and vintage racer who would later become Chairman of the Petersen Automotive Museum. In April of ’06, Young bought the car.

“I always thought the Pininfarina design was beautiful,” he says. “The GTC/4 was very much under-appreciated, both in fan-base and market price.”

Unfortunately, Young’s ownership did not go as smoothly as that of his predecessors. His disenchantment began when the unique rear suspension’s double shock absorbers failed and, with no genuine replacements to be found, non-original single shocks had to be adapted.

“Even though the car was still in very good shape,” he recalls, “I foresaw a lot of expense coming up.”

There was also that stinging fear of leaving his Ferrari with L.A. restaurant valets: “I watched Ferris Bueller’s Day Off…and know what happens.” When an opportunity came to buy a newer Prancing Horse—specifically a 575M Maranello—Young sold the C4. Today, however, he admits it was a leap, along with getting rid of a Devin SS, he sorely regrets.

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Enter s/n 15815’s fourth owner, Fiat 8V Supersonic expert Erik Nielsen. Nielsen has possessed 30 Ferraris over the years, three of which have been C4s. Of this particular example, he says, “I enjoyed the car in a sparing sort of way, not something that I used with any regularity.”

In fact, Nielsen drove it fewer than 1,000 miles in the seven years he owned it, but he did show it, prepping the C4 single-handily as he likes to do with all of his cars. The venue was 2010’s Ironstone Concours d’Elegance at Ironstone Vineyards near Murphys, California, where s/n 15815 was tops in Class R for Postwar Coachbuilt cars.

“This was about as complete a C4 as I had ever seen,” says Nielsen, a hint of remorse in his voice. “It had all of the tools, all of the books, stuff that you just don’t see with those cars. And, for the most part, it was an unrestored car, something I have always appreciated, as opposed to one that somebody has spent tons of money going through.”

While he liked the car’s patina, he loved its sound. “I have this from other people who are not even C4 owners. They all say it’s the best sounding Ferrari ever built.”

Early last year, Nielsen came to a point he reaches with all of his cars. “I characteristically will do that,” he confesses. “I’ll have a car for a few years, and enjoy it, and move on to something else.”

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NIELSEN MAY HAVE BEEN DONE with the C4, but there’s no end in sight for Feresten. “For me the C4 is a more usable Daytona,” s/n 15815’s current, and still delighted, owner explains. “While I can pop the whole family into it, I primarily drive it by myself. The little seats in the back remind me of Porsche 911 seats, only good for groceries and toddlers.

“It’s an original interior car,” he continues. “I won’t update any of it, just preserve it. I did have Jim Simpson from O.D.D. Parts fabricate a plastic clip for the rare Klippan 562 seat belts. He made a perfect replica using the unbroken clip from the passenger-side shoulder strap.”

Feresten also put the car’s historic license plate back on and registered the car as such. “Other than that,” he says, “there’s just detailing to do here and there.”

Playing devil’s advocate for a moment, I can’t help but ask how a 3,825-pound four-seater shod in tallish Michelin XWX 215/70-15 touring rubber can be preferred over the lighter, stronger, sportier Daytona? Feresten answers in just two words: power steering.

“As purists, we’re not supposed to like power steering,” he says. “But in this car you love it. It feels more like ‘power-assist-ed’ steering anyway, so you still get a ton of feedback from the road. And you’re not lugging a heavy old car around town. It sounds incredible. And the A/C is icy cold. It’s a vintage luxury grand-touring car that begs you to drive it across the country and back.”

Yeah, but, but, but. So why don’t more Ferrari buyers go for the GTC/4? Feresten, now back in the hangar seated next to his C4, studio lights set, waiting for the pro Sony F800 cameras to return from today’s location, smiles.

“A car like this can be right under everybody’s noses,” he answers, “and then it becomes this wonderful collectable thing that has value all of a sudden.”

Even in Hollywood, some things are meant to last. I suspect s/n 15815’s sixth owner has a very long wait on his or her hands.

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