Masterwork

Inspired by history and imbued with creative spirit, Ferrari Special Projects’ latest one-off is a true scene stealer.

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April 13, 2017
The concept of “specialness” is deeply relative when it comes to new Ferraris, inasmuch as even the carmaker’s most pedestrian offering, the California T, is nothing less than a 560-hp bravura work of road-going performance art backed by more than seven decades of engineering expertise and racing success. At the other end of the exclusivity continuum lie stunning machines such as the F60 America and Sergio, built in severely limited numbers (ten and six examples, respectively) and made available only to repeat customers with a demonstrated fealty to the marque.

Still, even those lowest-volume fuoriserie models fall short of being unique, a term that, present usage trends notwithstanding, really does mean one of a kind. For that tiny handful of Ferraristi who desire the ultimate in automotive exclusivity—a one-off vehicle built to their specifications—the firm’s Special Projects department stands by at the ready.

Though Ferrari Special Projects, or FSP, has only officially existed since 2007, Maranello has been quietly slaking the desires of car-crazed Croesuses for years, most famously with a range of special cars, including 456 station wagons and paddle-shifted rebodied F512Ms, built by Pininfarina for the Sultan of Brunei in the 1990s. Today, FSP imposes greater limitations on its clients’ creative impulses while still providing a significant degree of individual latitude.

The latest vehicle to bear the FSP imprimatur, the scintillating SP275 RW Competizione seen here, made its public debut at December’s Finali Mondiali in Daytona, and put in an encore appearance at the Cavallino Classic in Palm Beach several weeks later. But while the car’s essential details have since been duly covered on all the usual automotive websites, its origins and inspiration have remained a mystery—until now.
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WHEN WE ARRIVE at the custom-designed car “vault,” we’re met by Tom Hill, the caretaker of the collection in which the SP275 RW Competizione is currently a headline player. Though we’ve been tipped to the scope and quality of this assemblage, it’s necessary to stifle a gasp when Hill throws open the door and hits the overhead LEDs.

Naturally, there are Ferraris—most prominently a modern supercar quartet of 288 GTO, F40, F50 and Enzo, but also an alloy-bodied 250 GT SWB, a 400 Superamerica, a short-wheelbase Cal Spyder, a 275 GTB/C, a NART Spyder, and, just for kicks, a 458 Speciale A. These Prancing Horses are joined by an eclectic lineup of other performance and classic vehicles, including vintage Corvettes, Bugattis, and Mercedes, and, somewhat incongruously, a 1959 Cadillac Eldorado Biarritz convertible. (“[The owner] likes to take the family for ice cream in that one,” notes Hill.)

At center stage, atop a logistics-easing car turntable, is the SP275 RW Competizione, its darker-than-standard Giallo Triplo Strato paint practically refulgent under the lights. Hill twists the ignition key and the car’s 780-horsepower V12 sparks to life, burbling placidly as we chat. “The car photographs really well,” he says, then activates the roll-up garage door opening onto the courtyard.

While the car is photographed outside, I sit down with Dr. Richard Workman, the dental professional and businessman who owns it. Though his collection is filled mostly with high-end vintage and exotic makes, Workman’s infatuation with cars of all types had comparatively humble origins.
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“The vision of someday owning a ’78 Corvette got me through dental school,” he says, smiling at the recollection. Though the purchase of that particular Corvette wouldn’t come until much later (the collection currently hosts a mint ’78 Pace Car), Workman’s aspirations did not wane, and in fact were abetted by a fortuitous meeting with a kindred spirit from his original hometown.

“I’m from Effingham, Illinois, where [Corvette-parts house] Mid America Motorworks is located,” he says. “I became friends with the owner, Mike Yager, who always had cars around, and he taught me a lot about collecting.”

Many years passed as Workman built his thriving business, until an especially lucrative deal provided the impetus to finally do some serious collecting of his own.

“We did a transaction at the end of 2012, and I said to my wife, ‘If we’re going to do this, now is the time,’” relates Workman. “She agreed, and I bought six cars at Scottsdale [Auction Week] in January of 2013.”
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Workman was already a certified Ferrari aficionado, having bought his first one, a 360 Spider, in 2000, so it’s not surprising he focused much of his attention on acquiring notable cars from the brand. And so it went until later that year, when his desire to purchase of a LaFerrari ran headlong into a previously unimagined obstacle. “When I asked to get on the waiting list, they told me it was full—no exceptions,” he says.

While a LaFerrari wasn’t in the cards, Maranello offered him a new possibility. After “some of the top people at Ferrari” visited the vault to see the collection, they suggested working with FSP to design a one-off machine. Needless to say, Workman and wife Angie loved the idea.

THOUGH BASED ON CURRENT MODELS, FSP creations tend to be inspired by special automobiles from the carmaker’s past, and the SP275 cleaves to this practice. One of Workman’s favorite vintage Ferraris is the 275 GTB/C Speciale, an extensively reworked racing version of the 275 GTB road car that featured lighter-gauge aluminum bodywork, Plexiglas windows, a selection of magnesium drivetrain castings, and other weight-saving modifications that reduced its curb weight by an impressive 500 pounds. Powered by a 3.3-liter V12 generating a conservatively rated 300 horsepower, the Speciale was explosively fast—too fast, in fact, for FIA homologation officials initially.

It wasn’t until halfway through the 1965 racing season that the Speciale was approved for competition, just in time for Ecurie Francorchamps to enter one of the three examples built in that year’s 24 Hours of Le Mans enduro. Resplendent in the team’s bright-yellow livery, that car [“Legend of the GTO 65,” FORZA #61] battled overheating problems to finish a remarkable first in the GT class and third overall, besting no small number of race-only prototypes in the process. What better creative template—given both its historical significance and external beauty—for Workman’s FSP one-off?
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Coordinating a collaborative custom-car build with an Italophone manufacturer located some 5,000 miles away might sound like a nightmarish logistical challenge, but Workman asserts the process, which began in Spring 2014, went smoothly from day one. Once he had selected the F12berlinetta as the basis of his project (“I couldn’t get them to sign off on a LaFerrari,” he laughs), FSP personnel went to work ensuring that no detail was left to chance.

“I was very pleased with the way things went,” Workman says. “They came up with four concepts to start, and together we ‘worked it’ from there.”

Much of that work took place online, with FSP submitting ideas, receiving feedback, and making changes accordingly, but some of the specific details required hands-on evaluation. For example, once the Workmans had settled on yellow for the car’s paint, the FSP crew sent them three sample panels in subtly different shades so they could view them under varying lighting conditions and choose his favorite. The process was repeated for the blue carbon-fiber trim pieces, interior leather, and fitted luggage, ensuring the overall color scheme was harmonized to the Workmans’ liking.

Though FSP cars are among the most highly personalized exotics extant, not every aspect of a build is open for negotiation. In addition to the requirement that each car be based on a current production model, the program also specifies the use of an existing road-car powertrain. It’s a perfectly reasonable stipulation, but since the F12tdf and its enhanced V12 were still in development (and under wraps) while Workman’s project was underway, he found himself in the curious position of not knowing precisely what sort of engine would power his creation when it was complete.
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“They promised the powertrain would be the most advanced technology available at the time the car was finished,” he recalls. “That was enough for me.”

With the drivetrain, colors, and body modifications hammered out, Ferrari’s stylists crafted a full-size clay mock-up, sans engine and interior, of the SP275 for their approval. The Workman family traveled to Maranello in June 2015 to sign off on it, at which point a team of craftsmen went to work on the actual car. Workman returned to Italy in October 2016 to “accept delivery” of the finished product, after which it was shipped stateside. It arrived in the U.S. a week ahead of the Daytona Finali.

AT FIRST GLANCE, the SP275 RW Competizione is recognizably an F12, only more so. “It’s like the Speciale version of the original 275, in that to the casual observer the two cars don’t appear all that different,” says Hill. “But to a car person, the differences are easy to see.”

Compared with the “ordinary” F12, Workman’s car is both more elegant and more aggressive, thanks to a comprehensive re-body that saw every one of its aluminum exterior panels swapped out for a bespoke replacement. This was a hugely expensive undertaking, since it required the creation of a project-specific set of molds, but the results strike me as having been well worth the investment.
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Starting at the nose, the grille opening has been shrunken and given rounded edges, lending the front aspect a smoother appearance that dovetails comfortably with the car’s vintage theme. Gone are the blocky, black-plastic inserts at each bottom corner, replaced by functional mesh intakes that channel cooling air to the carbon-ceramic brakes. The headlights have also been reshaped, losing several of the F12 lamps’ hard angles in the process. Perhaps most notably, the large, backward-facing “waterfall” hood scoop employed on the F12 has been eliminated completely, leaving only a subtle bulge running up the center of the bonnet.

“We thought about doing something more extensive with the hood,” says Workman, “but the Speciale didn’t have anything like that, so we stuck with the simple approach. We wanted it to be historically faithful.”

Things really start to get interesting from the side view, where the Speciale’s influence is more apparent. This is especially true of the 10 cooling slats—four behind the front wheel, three behind the rear wheel, and three more on the B-pillar (though this final trio is nonfunctional)—which provide a direct visual link to the ’65 Le Mans racer.

Additional changes in this area include slightly upsized Prancing Horse logos and the elimination of the prominent “scallop” that runs from the just behind the F12’s front wheel arch to just ahead of its door handle. It’s replaced on the SP275 by a subtly integrated lateral seam that flows upward from the bottom of the wheelwell to terminate at a point near the rear edge of the door. A deeper rocker-panel crease works in concert with aggressively bulged rear fender “hips” to give the car a taut, almost corseted appearance, especially when viewed at a rear three-quarter angle.
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The anthropomorphizing continues at the rear, where a greatly simplified treatment has resulted in what Hill describes as “a really nice butt.” The bisected lower fascia has been liposuctioned away and replaced with a prominent bi-level diffuser, while the third brake light was relocated from the lip spoiler to the trailing edge of the roof. In an era in which clutter is often mistaken for imaginative detailing, the SP275’s clean rear end marks a welcome return to a more traditional styling convention.

Just as the body of the car is entirely bespoke, so the luminous yellow paint is a hue you won’t find on any other Ferrari vehicle. “I first saw tri-coat on a 458 Speciale at Pebble Beach,” says Workman of the three-layer finishing process, which creates a prismatic effect that sparkles and shifts under different lighting conditions.

Though basic black carbon fiber was presented by FSP as one potential choice for the SP275’s aero-aiding body trim, after much deliberation Workman elected to go with glossy dark-blue bits instead. “I was a little concerned that the blue trim on a yellow car might look garish,” he admits, “but the color is dark enough that most people initially mistake it for black. Only after they see it up close, in the right light, can they tell what it really is.”

Inside, the changes are centered around a color-coordinated treatment for the cabin’s leather and suede surfaces. As it did with the exterior paint options, FSP provided Workman with various shades and pattern samples from which to choose. The look he selected is essentially the inverse of that applied to the body, with blue taking center stage and yellow playing a supporting role. The Daytona-style seats, for example, feature blue leather covers with contrasting yellow stitching and piping, while a pair of matching day bags (complete with SP275 RW Competizione badges) nestle snugly on the rear package shelf.
All in all, it’s hard to envision a more successful reimagining of the standard-issue F12. Certainly the SP275 cuts a more graceful figure than does the F12tdf, whose many slats and spoilers seem downright kludgy by comparison. As mentioned earlier, Workman’s creation utilizes the tdf’s 6.3-liter V12 and seven-speed dual-clutch transmission, but lacks its rear-wheel steering, an omission necessitated by the SP275’s altered rear bodywork. Hill, who’s spent considerable time behind the wheel, asserts that the Passo Corto Virtuale hardware isn’t missed. “The conventional steering arrangement gives purer handling dynamics, which are desirable from a driving standpoint,” he says.

Which is not to suggest the SP275 RW Competizione spends a great deal of time hurtling down racetracks at full opposite lock. Though some of the cars in Workman’s collection are indeed driven to the fullest extent of their capabilities, the true rarities are mostly limited to more-sedate outings with the family. That’s perfectly understandable in the case of the SP275, given its seven-figure value and the minor brouhaha that would ensue were one of its one-off body panels to be crumpled. Still, the vault’s occupants are hardly trailer queens.

“We’re collectors, not investors,” says Workman of his relationship to the cars in his charge. “I make a concerted effort to drive and enjoy all of them from time to time, usually with my sons, who are 17 and 18; I’m excited at how their passion for Ferrari has grown. My hope is that [the SP275] will be in the family for many, many years, a reminder of this time in our lives.”

In the meantime, Workman plans to continue curating rare, fast, and historically noteworthy cars for his collection. As for that missing Ferrari hypercar, Workman notes he recently put in an order for his very own LaFerrari Aperta. Smiling contentedly, he concludes, “We feel like we’re part of the Ferrari family now.”
Forza 158 cover

Also from Issue 158

  • 812 Superfast
  • V8-powered 246 GTS
  • 212/225 Inter
  • Jose Froilan Gonzalez remembered
  • F1 preseason testing
  • FORZA Tifosi Challenge: 458 Challenge
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