Car people tend to love fine mechanical watches, and watch enthusiasts equally seem to appreciate cars. It’s just A Thing: Great cars and great watches go hand in hand. It makes sense, as watches, like cars, have engines—and cars, like watches, are about design, craftsmanship, metallurgy, and the value of compelling brands.
David S. K. Lee is a keen connoisseur of both, and has gone so far as to blend his passions together. Professionally, the affable, self-made, 50-year-old Hong Kong native owns two elegant watch salons in his adopted home of Southern California. His Hing Wa Lee Jewelers (named for his father, a master gem cutter) stocks nearly 40 high-end brands: Rolex, IWC, Audemars Piguet, Breitling, Tudor, Chopard, and the rest of the best.
In his spare time, Lee does cars. He’s launched his own version of the Cars & Coffee-style breakfast cruise dubbed Cars & Chronos, which takes place the third Sunday of every month at one of his stores, and he’s a committed Ferrari collector. How committed? For starters, he’s one of the lucky few to own the “cinquefecta” of Ferrari supercars: a 288 GTO, an F40, an F50, an Enzo, and a LaFerrari coupe. (Of the five, “the 288 GTO is number one for me,” says Lee. “The twin-turbo V8 is so powerful and strong, plus it’s so handsome. I love the design and what the car represents in Ferrari model history.”)
As a car-loving youth, Lee lusted after a Lamborghini, and like so many had a big Countach poster hanging in his bedroom. However, his first exotic was an F355 Spider, which set his Ferrari heart to beating. The F355 launched a small tidal wave of hot cars rolling through his garage. He next purchased a Lamborghini, but a Diablo instead of a Countach. (He loved the Diablo’s hairy-chested V12 and thrilling performance, but was disappointed with its poor build quality and finicky nature, particularly the constant “Christmas Tree” light show of yellow, green, and red warning lights always flashing on the dash.) Lee then sampled a Porsche Carrera GT, and finally purchased his first big-game Ferrari: the aforementioned Enzo.
Along the way, Lee struck up a friendship and business relationship with Los Angeles car guru Andy Cohen. Cohen has become Lee’s muse in terms of what to buy, sell, and collect. Together, the pair put together the Ferrari super-car collection, then moved onto vintage models. Lee’s first classic cavallino was a spectacularly original 275 GTS, and in 2015 he acquired the yellow 250 GT Lusso (s/n 5847GT) shown here.
THE PININFARINA-DESIGNED LUSSO has long been hailed as one of the most elegant Ferraris ever, and it’s easy to understand why. It’s beautifully proportioned, with an airy greenhouse and slim window pillars, and features beautiful detailing with just enough chrome and brightwork to make things pop. The model was conceived as a fast and elegant Gran Turismo, but that didn’t keep various owners from hopping up, racing, and rallying their Lussos.
S/n 5847 certainly hasn’t remained stock over the years. Originally silver and equipped much like most other Lussos, it did leave the factory as one of two (at most) equipped with an ammeter instead of a clock inside. The Ferrari’s more significant changes came in the early 2000s, when it was owned by Willem Kroon of the Netherlands [“Lovely Lusso,” FORZA #96]. The Ferrari had already been painted a dazzling Giallo Fly, a rare and unusual color on a Lusso, and since it needed substantial mechanical freshening it got a performance rebuild of the original powertrain. The front and rear suspension, brakes, steering and ancillary systems were also attended to, while Tripmaster rally clocks, competition bucket seats, four-point racing harnesses, and a racing-style aluminum fuel tank were installed.
The most interesting upgrade was the replacement of the stock three-carburetor intake system with a six-carb manifold packing a sextet of competition-style Webers topped with velocity stacks. No Lussos left the factory with six carbs, so it’s suspected the intake manifold is the same one used on the 250 GTO.
Speaking of the GTO, even though it and the Lusso were conceived with much different missions in mind, under the skin the two Ferraris are very similar. For example, their chassis differ mostly in terms of tube size (the GTO’s are smaller and thus lighter) and engine location (the Lusso’s sits further forward for more cockpit room), and their suspension design and four-wheel disc brakes differ primarily in the details.
Lee likes s/n 5847’s style, colors, and semi-comp upgrades: “It’s so unusual, and really fun to drive!” In fact, the Lusso is his favorite vintage Ferrari, so much so that when he found out he would be receiving one of the limited-production F12tdf’s, he decided to have it designed to match the vintage car.
“It was a combination of factors that lead to tributing the tdf to my Lusso comp,” Lee explains. “I’ve been to Maranello many times and visited the Atelier and Tailor Made showrooms and seen all the possibilities for bespoke-designed cars. And Ferrari, having just recently completed all of the 70th Anniversary cars, also inspired me to do something special. It’s so unusual that one of these luxury models would have been developed into a semi-racing car, and the elegant body style looks so great in the Giallo Fly paint with tricolore stripes that I wanted the newer car built to this same flavor.”
ALTHOUGH IT WASN’T DESIGNED TO COMPETE, as a track-ready model in the spirit of the 599 GTO the F12tdf shares s/n 5847’s “semi race” status. Where the F12berlinetta looks long, slow, and sleek, the tdf bristles with menace, from its more aggressive fascia and front-fender carbon-fiber inserts to the vents cut out of the rear haunches and the larger decklid spoiler. It’s even more eye-popping when painted bright yellow, like Lee’s example (s/n 0225564).
Either one of these Ferraris will attract a crowd; put the two separated-at-birth twins together and they will positively stop traffic. As you might expect, along with appreciative eyes and cell-phone cameras, the yellow duo pulls plenty of bees when stationary.
The Lusso draws my attention first. It’s very unusual to see an elegant GT trimmed out like a racing/rally car, but the look absolutely works. The yellow on the two cars isn’t a perfect match, but it’s very, very close, and it wouldn’t have been worth the effort or expense to make it any closer; the connection and symmetry are more than obvious enough.
“The yellow paint is a stock Ferrari color that didn’t have to be mixed special,” says Lee. “It’s a yellow that’s very close to the shade on the Lusso so we just selected that. I think it’s called Fiorano Yellow.”
Rather than replicate the Lusso wholesale, Lee and the Ferrari designers freshened up the graphics treatment for the newer car. To my eyes it was the right call, as a pure adaptation simply wouldn’t have looked right.
“We used the stripe designs from the Lusso as a starting point, but we all felt that the exact stripe on the new car would look dated as opposed to retro, so Ferrari modernized the tricolore design to make it better fit the new car yet still connect clearly to the Lusso. Then they also carried the theme through to the steering wheel and seats.”
The contrast between exterior and interior colors is striking. The blue cloth on the seats was often seen on competition cars of the 1950s and ’60s, which is presumably why previous owner Kroon had it fitted to the Lusso. Lee elected to copy that, as well as the classic car’s non-original white vinyl headliner.
“Working with Tailor Made was a very collaborative, and intense experience,” says Lee. “The designers there were as enthusiastic as I was about this project, very helpful, and very good at what they do. The choices they offer for even the smallest things—stitching, Alcantara trim, leather choices, colors, and finishes—is mind-boggling. Every little component that can be body color, chrome, black, or whatever. There are hundreds of custom choices that can be made.”
That of course includes the carbon-fiber sill plates that read F12tdf DSKL, leaving no doubt as to whom the Ferrari was built for. And Lee loves the treatment of the tdf’s rear deck: “[We used] quilted leather in the rear storage deck area, an iconic Lusso design touch.”
The entire process took about a year. The first six months were spent in ideation, design, and consulting back and forth, which Lee describes as “an ongoing process of evolution in finalizing this bit or that element as we went through the development phase.” Once the design was locked down, it took six months to build the car, which was delivered in June 2017.
DRIVING THE TWO FERRARIS back to back highlights certain similarities and their deep-rooted connection—but, more than anything, starkly highlights how far the state of the Ferrari art has come in 53 years. There’s no way to meaningfully compare a modern-day, computer-intensive, 780-horsepower supercar with an all-analog 275-hp 1960s GT with a manual transmission and a live rear axle…but that doesn’t mean I’m not eager to give it a try.
The F12tdf gives me chills just standing next to it, and my heart really begins to beat once I thumb that magic starter button. The 6.3-liter erupts in a chorus of mechanical noise and deep-chested, barking exhaust. Toe the throttle a few times and the engine positively zings.
Local traffic doesn’t allow for much high-speed play, but it’s easy to discover the Ferrari’s acceleration is positively ferocious and its ultra-responsive dual-clutch transmission is a vast improvement over the older single-clutch F1 gearbox. The rabid engine overflows with 520 lb-ft of torque, of which 80 percent hits at just 2,500 rpm, yet it still idles like the proverbial Rolex.
The tdf’s handling and braking are similarly stellar, its steering fast and feelsome. Anyone who’s complained modern Ferraris lack “involvement” clearly hasn’t driven one of these beasts, as even my too-brief stint behind the wheel reveals the tdf to be the most thrilling of the dozens of different Ferraris I’ve driven.
Does this technological tour de force in any way diminish the appeal of an amped-up Lusso? Not at all—but of course the classic car needs to be taken in context.
As it’s gotten racier, s/n 5847 has lost some of its luxury: the original leather seat trim has given way to that beautiful blue cloth, for example, and what was once carpeted is now covered in rubber matting. Yet it still feels great to hop inside and enjoy the all-around view through the sea of glass, as well as the handsome but unusual central-mounted tachometer and speedo.
Twist the old-school ignition key and give the carbs quarter-throttle; the starter makes that velvety smooth blender whirrr and the Colombo-designed 3-liter V12 lights crisply, sucking hungrily through all 12 carburetor venturis. The clutch is relatively light and first gear (of five) snicks in smoothly via the longish gear lever. Raise the revs, smoothly release the clutch, and go.
The non-assisted steering is heavy compared to any power system, but it lightens considerably once on the move. Turn the lovely wood and alloy wheel and the car responds in a communicatively analog way; you know without any doubt what’s going on beneath the front tires, and this racy Lusso wants to move.
Throttle response is generally crisp, unless I give it too much gas at low rpm (which will cause the occasional burp or stumble), and the V12 pulls clean and strong through the meaty parts of its rev range, making throatily symphonic intake and exhaust noises along the way. I soon find myself up and downshifting just to hear the engine and exhaust respond to my command. It’s all pure classic-Ferrari joy.
At the end of this memorable day, I have one final question for Lee: If he had to do the Tailor Made tdf all over again, would he do anything different? His response comes instantly.
“No,” he says, simply. “The car is a totally unique blend of Atelier and Tailor Made touches. It was built just for and by me, exactly the way I wanted it, and in fact the only new tdf that was designed and built in this way. I’m completely happy with it and I wouldn’t change a thing!”