Homegrown Boxer

This 365 GT4 BB sat undriven for decades in Ron Caldwell’s garage. In 2018, he restored it there, too.

Photo: Homegrown Boxer 1
August 29, 2019

Naples, Florida native and resident Ron Caldwell got bit hard by the Ferrari bug when he was a teenager. How hard? Today, the 57-year-old Caldwell owns four Prancing Horses: a 308 GTS QV, a 512 BB, an F40, and this 1974 365 GT4 Berlinetta Boxer (s/n 17765). Not coincidentally, the 365 is the same Ferrari he fell for so many years ago.

Here’s how it happened. Back in the mid-1970s, the s/n 17765 was imported by Chinetti Motors, “Federalized” by Dick Fritz’s AmeriSpec (since no Boxers were officially imported to the U.S., all that came here travelled via the gray-market route), and sold new to Floridian Nelson Faerber. In 1977, a young Caldwell met and became friends with one of Faerber’s sons, Karl.

Karl went on to marry one of Caldwell’s sisters in 1985. Then, in 1990, Faerber’s other son married Caldwell’s other sister—which, if nothing else, likely makes family reunions easier to schedule! What’s more important to this story is that, back in 1979, Faerber had allowed the 17-year-old Caldwell to drive his Boxer.

Photo: Homegrown Boxer 2

It was Caldwell’s first experience behind the wheel of a Ferrari, and he was instantly hooked, gaffed, and landed. He vowed to own one someday, and made good on that vow five years later by purchasing a 308 GTSi.

It wasn’t the fastest of Ferraris, nor the equal of a Berlinetta Boxer in Caldwell’s eyes, so just two years later he bought the aforementioned 512 BB. Even though he now owned his dream Ferrari, at the tender age of 26, Faerber’s ’74 Berlinetta Boxer always remained a presence in the back of his mind—or, rather, the front, because it wasn’t too much later that the 365 came to live at Caldwell’s house.

Here’s how that happened. In the mid-’80s, Faerber took his Boxer to a local mechanic for service. When that mechanic drained the oil, he discovered the remnants of a metal washer; the whereabouts of the rest of said washer remained unknown. The mechanic then advised that the car not be driven, lest the remaining bits cause damage, and that the flat-12 engine be removed and torn down to find those remnants.

Photo: Homegrown Boxer 3

Faerber declined the engine disassembly, but was now so fearful of driving the car he asked Caldwell to store it for him. The Ferrari sat in an enclosed trailer for a while, then moved into Caldwell’s garage. As the years passed, the Florida humidity and mechanical inactivity began taking their toll on the poor Boxer. “I walked by it almost every day, wanting to bring her back to glory,” recalls Caldwell.

The Ferrari hadn’t been in the best shape before the washer incident, either. While the Boxer had only 8,600 kilometers (about 5,350 miles) on the clock, and had never been wrecked or abused, some of the underbody sheetmetal panels had been damaged during trailer loading and unloading. The BB had also fallen victim to a quick, dirty, and overly orange repaint—replete with lots of overspray everywhere, particularly in the engine compartment—and some aftermarket modification, including Recaro seats and oversize, five-star Compomotive wheels.

You may wonder how the owner of such a wonderful car could let it fall into this compromised condition. Caldwell has certainly given it a lot of thought, but can only guess at Faerber’s motives.

Photo: Homegrown Boxer 4

“He was getting older, and had money, and just kinda bounced from one thing to another,” he theorizes. “He always had other cars that kept him busy. In the middle-’80s, he bought a new Countach, and he had a Porsche, a Viper, a ZR1 Corvette, and later built a replica Cobra.” 

Faerber passed away in 2004 at the age of 78, and his wife died a dozen years later. The Boxer was still sitting in Caldwell’s garage, and the rest of the Faerber family didn’t really know what to do with the car. Caldwell, on the other hand, knew exactly what he’d do with it—strip it to nubbins and restore it properly—so he expressed his interest in buying it, albeit at a price that took into account its condition and state of disrepair.

Naturally, all of the stakeholders had differing opinions of what the Ferrari was actually worth. To be fair, its value picture was a bit of a stew: great model, low miles, and original owner versus non-running, mild moisture and mildew damage, poor paint, and lots of interior needs. Plenty of outside experts (including FORZA market guru Michael Sheehan) were brought in for valuation advice, and after about a year it was decided that Caldwell deserved the chance to negotiate a price that was fair to all. The deal was finally done in early 2018, after the Ferrari had been sitting for 28 years, and the restoration began shortly thereafter.

Photo: Homegrown Boxer 5

CALDWELL, who grew up around his father’s auto-repair business and had taken it over when his dad passed away, decided to act as a general contractor for the restoration. He describes his primary responsibilities as “coordination, disassembly, parts washing, and parts chasing. And, of course, writing checks!”

His team of outside experts consisted of advisor Tim Stanford, who’s been repairing Ferraris in Fort Lauderdale for around 40 years; parts majordomo Brian Keegan of T. Rutlands; and Marc DeNicola, who handled freshening up, synching, and tuning the carburetors. Despite his self-description, Caldwell actually got very hands-on with the Boxer, from rebuilding the engine to painting the exterior.

Caldwell’s goal for the restoration was absolute authenticity, using factory original parts wherever possible and dipping into the top-quality aftermarket only if needed, refreshing every system mechanically and cosmetically. The starting point was a copy of the car’s original build sheet, which revealed several interesting things, most notably that the Boxer’s factory color was Rosso Chiaro and that its seats were originally trimmed in black leather. The latter item was a pleasant surprise, as, when the Ferrari had been delivered new to Faerber, the seats and door panels had been wrapped in a beige, jute-like material.

Photo: Homegrown Boxer 6

“That’s how the real early Boxers came, and Nelson always told me this car was one of the first 20 built,” says Caldwell. “In fact, it was number 70. How the seats and door-panel inserts had that material—with the factory clear protective covering still on it—is still a mystery. Nelson hated it and immediately replaced the seats with the Recaros.”

The plan was to do the job, antipasti to dolce, in a year’s time, in order to have the freshened Ferrari ready for the 2019 Cavallino Classic in Palm Beach, Florida. Since he no longer owned the auto-repair shop, Caldwell decided to restore the car where it sat and got to work.

The first step was to strip the Ferrari to its bones. One of Caldwell’s primary concerns was to find the mysterious washer reportedly bouncing around somewhere inside the engine, so he tore it down and went through all the cases, covers, and the oil system…and, of course, didn’t find so much as a single shard of mystery shrapnel. He wrote off the entire episode to an unscrupulous mechanic who was trying to score a big Ferrari job for himself, then reassembled everything, replacing the cam belts, water pump, and idler bearings while he was at it.

Photo: Homegrown Boxer 7
Original engine prior to disassembly in search of mystery washer.

Next up was undoing the changes Amerispec had made so many years ago when it Federalized the Ferrari for the U.S. The jobs were many and varied, but the most obvious was the large, ungainly front and rear bumpers, which loosely resembled rubber-covered railroad ties and totally ruined Pininfarina’s sleek lines. Caldwell got busy on the internet and soon found a complete set of the original, and much more elegant, European-specification front and rear bumper/valances (for a “mere” $5,000). These were shipped to Florida and set aside until it was time to reassemble the car.

“I also removed the air pump and air tubes in the heads, as well as the charcoal cannister,” says Caldwell. “I then removed the front DOT steel supports to the front bumper because they were visible. The rears weren’t visible and didn’t obstruct the rear bumper cover, so I left them for possible extra support in case of a rear ender.”

Caldwell decided it wasn’t a bad idea to keep the door beams for their extra protection. He then sourced used but period-correct Carello fog lights, which had been removed to make room for the front bumper supports. “It was also missing little heat shields for the reverse lights that protect them from exhaust heat,” he says, “but Brian found me a pair.”

Photo: Homegrown Boxer 8
Doors were stripped and redone, with Amerispec door beams left in place.

Comments Brian Keegan, “I think the toughest part in restoring a Boxer to an ‘as left the factory’ configuration is un-doing all the Federalization. Finding a competent and reputable shop to perform these modifications safely and effectively back in the ’70s and ’80s was no easy task, and rarely were any two cars done the same way. Door safety beams, 5-mph bumpers, side-marker lamps, and disconnecting any rear fog lamps are some typical items. Hacking up original exhaust manifolds, removing or modifying the mufflers or outer resonator cans was common. But the Ferrari Club of America judging guidelines state that Boxers are to be shown either ‘as built’ or ‘as Federalized,’ one or the other; you cannot have a mixture of configurations.”

Caldwell tackled the remaking and restoration of some of the engine compartment and undercarriage sheetmetal panels himself, although a few had to be entrusted to his outside team of specialists. “Because Ron has an early car, not all of the panels were still available, and they are different than on later 512 models,” adds Keegan. “He provided patterns so I was able to have the heat shield that mounts on top of the rear crossmember, and the louvered splash shields mounted on the inside of the rear shock towers on each side of the engine, remade in Australia.”

As mentioned earlier, Caldwell decided to paint the car himself. Impressively, and unusually, he painted it in situ, in the garage, without the use of a dedicated spray booth. “The car was disassembled with no suspension and was on my hoist at home, and I didn’t want to move it and take a chance on damaging it,” he explains, adding that he was able to save all the original glass.

Photo: Homegrown Boxer 9

The painted Boxer looked great, but the project was a long way from finished. In a restoration this comprehensive of a car that had sat for so long, replacing or rebuilding the suspension, bearings, bushings, shocks, and brakes was definitely called for. While the Boxer is a largely analog machine, with few computers or computerized modules, “It’s still a really complicated car!” says Caldwell. “There are so many systems, coolers, pipes, hoses, and ancillary accessories—just think about the compartments up front, with the radiators, fans, headlights, and lots of wiring, not to mention all the stuff back in the engine compartment.”

Caldwell addressed most of these areas himself, the work straightforward but fiddly and time-consuming “not only to get it all to work properly, but to look right and factory,” he says. In other words, unless, like him, you’ve got years of experience and the proper tools and work space, don’t try this at home.

Also fiddly was the Ferrari’s interior renewal. Caldwell pulled the original seats from storage, stripped them down, and sandblasted and painted the frames. He then sent the frames, along with the door panels, console, and a few other pieces, to Richard Pirics at Concours Interiors. “We had a little disagreement about the shape of the new seat foam, so he asked me to reshape them to my liking,” recalls Caldwell, who, using his other Boxer as a template, set about trimming the foam with hand tools, saws, and knives. The seats then went back to Pirics, who recovered them in factory-style leather.

Photo: Homegrown Boxer 10
Period-correct Cromodora magnesium wheels await paint.

With the fresh interior installed, it was time to deal with those aftermarket mag wheels. Caldwell sourced correctly date-coded Cromodora magnesium wheels and refinished them to their proper subtle silver glory. These were bolted in place and, with that, the Boxer was done.

CALDWELL’S AMBITIOUS GOAL had been to complete his restoration in just 11 months and debut the car at the 2019 Cavallino Classic. And after many months of hard work and what he calls “an energizing kind of stress,” he and the team finished the Boxer at the very last minute.

“We made it, although, as you might expect, we were rubbing on it in the trailer as we pulled up to the show field!” says Caldwell. “And even though we got it done in this impossibly short timeframe, everything seemed to take twice as long as we thought, and cost about twice as much.”

Photo: Homegrown Boxer 11
Original seats received new foam.

Looking back at the many challenges this project presented, Caldwell says the biggest one was the interior. Beyond the seats, console, and door panels, the instrument panel and all the miscellaneous switches and fittings took a monumental effort to refurbish, restore, and/or replace correctly. Looking at the car today, though, you’d never know it had been taken apart; it’s practically perfect, with original materials and finishes throughout.

The Cavallino Classic judging team agreed, and awarded the reborn Boxer a Platinum Award, with a score of 98.5 points out of 100. What kept the car from a perfect score? Three very small items. First, the Ferrari was missing its front license-plate bracket, which Caldwell didn’t know was ever installed at the factory. During the judges’ operation check, the high beams failed to light off. Finally, the car was wearing cross-drilled front brake rotors, which Caldwell mistakenly assumed were standard.

“The judges were more than fair,” he says, “and I was thrilled that’s all they found to mark the car down for. They’re all things I can fix easily to get to that theoretical 100 points.”

Photo: Homegrown Boxer 12
Who needs a spray booth? Caldwell painted the car in his garage.

When all is said and done, Caldwell thinks the time, money, hard work, and long nights in the garage were more than worth it. To him, the most important thing is to have brought back to life the car that ignited his Ferrari passion more than 40 years ago.

Photo: Homegrown Boxer 13
Fresh suspension components.
Photo: Homegrown Boxer 14
While the flat-12 was out, the engine bay was restored as new.
Photo: Homegrown Boxer 15
Photo: Homegrown Boxer 16

Also from Issue 177

  • Novitec Rosso's 812 N-Largo
  • 599XX Evo
  • Ferrari-powered Toyota drift car
  • Dino road cars
  • Sonoma Speed Festival
  • James Calado interview
  • Road trip, Monaco to Maranello
  • F1: Yet more Scuderia struggles
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