Have You Seen This Ferrari?

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1958 Ferrari 250 GT LWB California Spyder
Owner: John Apen, Contributor
Purchase date: February 1975
Price: $2,500, an OK buy!
Mileage since purchase: 4,600
Recent work: Total restoration begun in 1998

I have owned the first production Ferrari 250 GT LWB California Spyder, s/n 0919, for 33 years. It has a colorful but also cloudy past, and its history with me began when I hauled it out of Puerto Rico in 1975.

Originally white, 0919 was red and rusty when I bought it. I put a coat of gray primer on to retard any further rusting, which had taken hold during its salty exposure in Puerto Rico. Some panels looked like your grandmother’s fine doilies; my wife dubbed it the “Lace Car.”

I replaced the clutch and rebuilt the brakes, then drove it to and from our Ferrari dealership (Atlanta’s FAF Motorcars) several times a week, which was great fun, despite the fact it got 40 miles per quart of oil and was an embarrassment at stoplights when a rolling cloud of oil smoke would engulf me and the car.

I finally laid it up around 1985 when the water pump leaked water in the oil. The water pump is driven by the cam timing chain, which makes it an engine-out repair. Given the state of the entire car, I decided to tackle it all. I started a complete restoration in 1998, and I hope to have it finished in two years.

For 35 years, I have been tracing the history of this car. Eight years ago, I had a breakthrough when one of SCM’s Auction Analysts reported on the sale of a 212 Vignale coupe—a well-known car in Ferrari Club circles—to a man named Julio Batista of Madrid, said to be the son of the 212’s original owner. The father, Julio Batista Falla, was an international racer from Cuba, and had in his life bought seven new Ferraris, including 0919, which he picked up at the factory in June 1958. In the fall of that year, shortly before Cuban president Fulgencio Batista (no relation) handed over power to Castro, Falla smuggled the car off the island.

Here, the story gets murky. Ferrari historians surmise that shortly after 0919 left Cuba, Luigi Chinetti in New York sold it to a Bill Helborn, who kept it only a few months. It may then have gone to Bob Grossman, who raced a very early California, eventually winning B Production with it. I have been unable to verify any of this, though in his 1990 book on the Californias, Ferrari Spyder California, historian Stan Nowak wrote that it was indeed Grossman’s first Ferrari.

Nowak died soon after publication, and I have never been able to trace the source of his conjecture. Some people speculate that in the 1960s, 0919 was raced at Marlboro Raceway, Maryland, by Doug Diffenderfer, who was well known for his victories in an 8V Siata. Copies of the factory assembly sheets have the name Bernard Stayman, Dayton, Ohio, 1964, written in. Some think a “Barry” Wayburn bought it from Algar Ferrari in Philadelphia in March 1968 for $4,300. By the early 1970s, it was in Puerto Rico and may have been the California that won two races at the new Caguas Raceway.

In any event, as the stock and real estate markets continue to gyrate, my Cal Spyder looks like a better investment day by day. Of course, nearly anything that has intrinsic value, if it is held on to for 33 years, will show a significant increase in value. But no other collectible makes the same great sounds, or provides an introduction to so many great people, as a Ferrari does.

I’d like to fill out the history of my car; if SCM readers have any information about 0919 or any of the people mentioned above, I sure would like to hear about it. Email me at john.apen@cox.com.

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