It all began one snowy night in Elmira, New York in the early 1960s. At the end of a pleasant blind date, the boy, Roger Demler, asks the girl, Sally Lewis, to push-start his sketchy Alfa Romeo Giulietta Sprint Veloce. Our romantic Romeo pops the clutch and goes, leaving Sally standing in her high heels in the snow, shivering, staring, and wondering where this all might go.
A few years later, in 1965, recently married Roger and Sally Demler, young and in love, fall in love all over again—this time with a forlorn and all-but-worthless 1950 Ferrari 195 Inter coupe (s/n 0087S) bodied by Carozzeria Ghia.
“A trader I was working with in a Detroit brokerage firm showed me a Polaroid of an exotic car he was piggy-backing on a trailer with one of his own cars,” remembers Sally. “He suggested we buy it. The car only cost $1,500, plus $500 for the trailer, but we were expecting our first child at the time, and it was a stretch.”
The Ferrari came with no history. The only thing the Demlers knew was that it had somehow ended up in Los Angeles 15 years after it left the factory, and now sported a 2.3-liter V12 bearing the mismatched serial number 0145.
“The fire-engine red car looked like it had been painted with a whisk broom,” Sally continues. Adds Roger, laughing, “And the seats were covered in Naugahyde, the dashboard and some interior leather was green, and it had worn tweed fabric.”
On the plus side, s/n 0087 ran well enough, so the Demlers did what any expecting couple would do when offered a Ferrari wreck. They bought it and shipped it home to their Michigan garage.
Roger, who was just starting what would become a 45-year career in engine R&D working on everything from space craft to ceramic steam units, dreamed of restoring the Ferrari himself. One day, he hoped, he would be able to watch Sally drive the fruits of his labor across a meticulously cropped field at a concours d’elegance, winner’s blue ribbon affixed.
During the first year of ownership, Roger split his time between Sally, work, and the garage. He quickly stripped the 195’s exterior panels to bare metal—in the process discovering the original pale green color—and removed the doors, trunk, glass, and hood. But, he recalls, “After I got most of the paint off it and could see the complexity of the work ahead, I decided this was something I just didn’t know how to do.”
Then, as so often happens, life intervened. Children were born, the Demlers’ careers advanced, and the Ferrari languished in the garage, its bare steel acquiring a patina of rust.
“We tried to make the car a kind of family focus,” Sally laments, recalling other families who bonded around a singular group activity. “But it ended up becoming a fixture of the garage, for—”
“For quite a while,” Roger chips in, nostalgically. “On every Fourth of July, we used to roll it out of the garage, turn it around, and put it back in again, like the U.S.S. Constitution gets turned around every Independence Day in Boston Harbor.”
“And at least that’s when the whole family pitched in to clean out the garage!” says Sally.
AROUND 1980, with the 195 still sitting in the garage like a sort of rusty Cinderella, the Demlers, who had settled in Sherborn, Massachusetts, got their first taste of the global Ferrari cohort. Out of the blue, they received a telephone call from another Inter owner: Richard “Dick” Little of nearby Sudbury. Little soon drove over in his Touring-bodied example (s/n 0081S) to give them a ride.
Like the Demlers, Little intended to restore his Inter. (He never completed the job, but, in 2009, Terry Scarborough debuted the freshly restored s/n 0081 at the Cavallino Classic, scoring a Platinum award.) And later in the ’80s, Little introduced them to yet another Inter owner in search of restoration.
International tobacco trader William D. Hay of Surrey, England had purchased his Ghia-bodied Ferrari (s/n 0089) as a history-less wreck in Zimbabwe. He air-freighted it home to be saved by restoration specialists Hall & Hall, and turned to the Demlers for help.
“Hay’s car had been badly burned, and he asked us if we would allow him to take extensive measurements of our car.” says Roger. “We’d ship Hay parts of our car [to be measured] and he’d ship them right back. Apparently, Hall & Hall was fabricating new parts from scratch. One of the Hall & Hall restorers lived with us for a week while doing drawings and measurements!”
It took more than a decade, but by 2003, Mr. and Mrs. Hay were driving s/n 0089, the third of only 36 Ferraris bodied by Ghia, in the Mille Miglia Storica.
These running and driving Inters got the Demlers more enthusiastic about getting their car up and running, but it wouldn’t be until summer 2014 that they finally took the plunge. The catalyst came in the form of yet another Inter owner—except this one wanted to purchase the forlorn Ferrari.
“Dave Nelson and I met because he was interested in buying our car,” says Roger. “But he wanted it just so he could get the engine! It turns out that Nelson’s Inter’s body had the same serial number as the engine in our Inter.”
“He offered us an obscene amount of money for the car as it was—which was mostly in a box,” Sally continues. “It seemed like every couple of years, somebody came along and offered us cash for the car. First it was $20,000, then $30,000, and then one day, the offer that really drove us off the dime was well over $300,000. We said, ‘We really have to start taking this seriously.’ We were forced to choose between restoring this car or taking the money and running. So we called our kids.”
The Demlers’ children were by now in their 50s, the Ferrari having been part of their entire lives.
“We asked them what we should do and our daughter shouted, ‘You can’t sell that car!” recalls Sally. “She said, ‘My God, you’ve been foisting that car on us our whole lives, you’ve got to fix it!’ We responded, ‘If we fix that car, we’ll have to spend your inheritance,’ and both our kids replied, ‘Spend it!’ So we did.”
TO RESTORE THEIR BELOVED FERRARI, the Demlers turned to Peter Markowski of Restoration and Performance Motorcars (a.k.a. RPM). In September 2014, Markowski drove from Vergennes, Vermont to Massachusetts to pick up his new project.
“I put all the loose pieces in the transporter and the rolling chassis onto the back of the truck,” recalls Markowski. “The car was pretty well torn apart, a very sad car, but the Demlers loved it. Although I explained it was going to take a lot of time and money, they were up for it.”
How sad is “very sad”? Markowski admits that, had the Inter been a lesser car, he would have parted it out. And while there were upsides—“Roger did a great job of categorizing things in coffee cans, jars, and bags,” he says—there were also significant downsides—“but that was decades ago, so over the years everything got rusted up, and it was surprising how many pieces had been lost and had to be rebuilt from scratch,” he concludes.
Once the Ferrari and its remaining components had been unpacked at RPM, it was time to get to work.
“The first problem we had to confront was the frame,” explains Markowski. “The frame was what we call ‘roped,’ or twisted from front to back. The car had sustained what appeared to be a significant head-on collision. The impact was so great that it not only twisted up the left rail in the front, but it also forced the middle of the right rail down.”
Markowski usually tries to straighten a frame with the engine still in the car. In this case, however, he discovered a stack of washers over one of the motor mounts being used to level the V12, and realized the engine would need to be removed before addressing the twisted frame. Markowski and his frame expert clamped the rear of the chassis to a heavy metal superstructure, where they would then use hydraulic pressure to bend it back into the proper shape.
“I had to bring in a highly specialized and skillful technician before we could get the frame to lay flat and behave itself!” says Markowski. “He had the biggest problems 90 percent tackled in the first three hours, but then we had to let the frame rest overnight. It’s the nature of metal to spring back a bit.”
The frame work continued over several days of clamping, chocking, bending, and measuring the result of each correction.
“You can’t go too far too fast or you’ll break it,” warns Markowski. “It takes a man with experience and finesse. Together, we’ve straightened some frames with the windshields still in place and he hasn’t cracked a windshield yet.”
After several days of work, Markowski’s specialist had the frame back to its original shape.
“And shortly thereafter, he retired,” Markowski laments. “This kind of work is becoming a dying art.”
After a final check of the frame using a template of the original windshield, Markowski turned to the engine.
“Of course the engine was wrong,” he says. “The driveshaft had been chopped and modified and mucked up, and the engine was so dirty. The sump was so full of caked sediment that the crankshaft had carved itself a narrow tunnel in which to revolve. Two quarts of oil would show an overfill on the dipstick! The headers had rusted off of it, the exhaust just fell apart.”
And those were only the beginnings of the Herculean tasks ahead.
“Every single thing I could think of was in trouble,” recalls Markowski. “Everything was rusted beyond comprehension. I think it must have been run up and down a California beach somewhere, because, from about six inches up the body, the metal was all perforated and then later leaded-in. We had to cut all of that out and remake those sections. A lot of those pieces are tightly curved and we had to use a wooden block form and a leather bag.”
That “leather bag” is exactly what it sounds like: a leather bag full of sand. The bodyworker plumps it up, like a pillow, to get the shape he wants, then hammers the sheet metal (thin-gauge steel in this case) over it.
Turning to the front of the Ferrari, Markowski discovered “lots of rot and rust, and an inch and a half or more of Bondo in the front headlight area. We removed about 20 pounds of lead before we could get to the original metal. We always want to save as much of the original, rather than fabricate metal, in order to preserve the integrity of the car.”
Seemingly endless body and mechanical repairs later, Markowski directed his attention to the Ferrari’s interior details, including the elegant tapestry carpet. No carpet weavers remain who can replicate this vital element of a classic car, but Markowski found a company in Italy that had a supply of the original material.
“It was a slightly, slightly darker color that we surmised could have been the original color,” says Markowski, explaining that a surviving sample found in the car was assumed to have faded a bit over the years. “We were very lucky on that find, but it was a six-month ordeal going back and forth with swatches.”
Also discovered inside the Ferrari was a small area of overspray on the dashboard which revealed that s/n 0087’s interior originally wore a darker green than its exterior. Concours judging allows for the use of modern, environmentally safe, water-based polyurethane paints in place of the original, but getting an exact match took days of laborious testing and color-matching.
“We used computer imaging and careful placement of spotlights all over the car to get as close a match as not only the human eye, but the computer, could ascertain,” says Markowski. “The original paint was formulated in 1952 by Salci, the Italian subsidiary of Sherwin-Williams. It was a single-stage enamel base used just after the war, and it was quite soft. It didn’t harden well. It didn’t stand up well. But they threw enough on it that we could find [it on] about three areas, and we nailed it.”
All told, the nut-and-bolt restoration took nearly six years. That’s significantly longer than one might expect, but the additional time wasn’t needed to fabricate missing parts. It was due to a heady, triumvirate concoction of engine swaps mixed up by Dave Nelson—who, appropriately enough, had inherited a swizzle stick manufacturing empire and drove an SUV with “SWIZZLE” on the license plate.
“Before he found out about our car, Nelson commissioned Ferrari Classiche to create a newly cast block and proceeded to acquire many of the parts to make it functional,” explains Roger Demler. “However, once faced with the possibility of getting s/n 0145’s original engine from me, Nelson proposed we swap his Classiche 212 engine for our engine, and he would have the Classiche block appropriately sleeved to a 195 for our car. After some negotiation, we got the block and a lot of parts, and some cash went his way as well.”
Just in case that wasn’t enough of a twist for this tale, into the mix stepped yet another Inter owner, and Markowski client, Bruce Vanyo. Regular readers may remember Vanyo’s 195 Inter (s/n 0097S) from issue #193’s “Fashion Sense.” As related in that story, the non-original engine in s/n 0097 was stamped 0087—the same number found on the Demlers’ Inter.
It felt like serendipity, and a deal was struck that saw Vanyo accept Nelson’s new Classiche 195 engine, the Demlers get s/n 0087’s original engine from Vanyo, and Nelson receive his car’s original engine from the Demlers. But the actual swapping didn’t happen overnight; it took several years.
“Most of the restoration time was taken in making arrangements to put two engines back in their respective chassis and then to have the motor re-sleeved by Ferrari Classiche in Italy,” explains Markowski. “Most of the parts had to be sent back to Italy because Ferrari had to examine everything, right down to the idle jets.”
ON AUGUST 2, 2020, 55 years after its purchase, the freshly restored little green Ferrari was delivered to the Demlers. Their daughter, Jennifer, who as a little girl had begged her father to drive her in the Inter to get a sundae, claimed first ride.
“Dad!” she exclaimed “Take me to the ice cream store!”
And so Roger did. When they returned from this long-awaited maiden voyage, the family huddled together for a christening. From now on, they decided, the Ferrari would be called Ava.
“Because she is the oldest Ghia-bodied Ferrari, we thought of naming her ‘Eve,’ after the first woman,” recalls Sally. “But then we thought ‘Ava’ sounded more glamorous, so Ava it was.”
(For the historical record, Ghia bodied its first two Inters in 1950; those cars were s/ns 0049, a 166, and 0087, this 195. Since s/n 0049 was later reworked into a race car with a different body, s/n 0087 is now the oldest Ghia-bodied Ferrari still in existence.)
“Roger and I were kind of sad when the car was finished because we wouldn’t be going up to see the Markowskis as much any more,” Sally continues. “But then we discovered—silly us—that Peter wants the car back at least once a year for servicing.”
Agrees Roger, who describes the cost of the restoration as more of a “continuity subscription” than a lump-sum payment, “We’d always look forward to going up to Vermont a few times a year to hang out with them.”
The Demlers debuted s/n 0087 at the Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance in 2021. A few months later, they showed the car at the Audraine Concours d’Elegance in Newport, Rhode Island. There, the Inter placed second in the Ferrari category, behind a 250 GTO—not bad company.
Winning concours is not the only fun one can have with a vintage Ferrari, of course. Taking Ava on the Ferrari show circuit helps the Demlers stay in touch with the Markowskis and other friends, while at home it provides a multi-generational activity.
“One of our grandsons drove our car onto the lawn at Pebble Beach,” Roger states proudly, before continuing, “He’d driven the car only about five miles before that—and ended up driving over the lip of the ramp and into the crowd!”
“I think his exact words were, ‘Holy shit!’” notes Sally, demurely, adding that son Chris later piloted the car (without incident) in the Audraine Concours parade. Since Ava has been restored, the Demlers and family have put about 1,000 miles on it.
“We wish we could drive it more, but in New England, the rain and snow limit the amount of days we can take it out,” says Sally. “And, of course, our car has no power brakes and no power steering.”
Be that as it may, the Demlers and their Ferrari have been together for 57 years. And if there’s one thing Roger and Sally can vouch for, it’s that some things are worth waiting for.