I continue to tiptoe through the automatically equipped tulips of the collector car world.

Due to our ingrained disdain for slushboxes (well-deserved, given the Jurassic technology of the most-often used three-speed Borg Warner 35 tranny), these cars can be bought at a substantial discount from their manual-shift brethren.

While my decision to pursue automatics was created by conditions outside my control, I have decided to make lemonade out of my lemons. I have come to realize that most of my time in old cars is spent cruising, not hammering it to redline and slamming through the gears. An automatic is a reasonable option, if I set my ego aside.

Because I am incapable of being satisfied with the cars I own, I am now looking for another. Yes, that means that something has to go, either our original-paint Volvo 122S or the Apocalypse Special, our RHD Land Rover D90 Turbo Diesel. But I always buy first and figure out how to pay for it by selling something second.

Both an Iso Lele and a Ferrari 400i automatic have popped up on my radar screen. The Lele has striking styling by Bertone and reliable Ford V8 power. Tom Papadopoulos of Autosport Designs has one for sale with remarkably low mileage, under 5,000. While I am told it has some cosmetic needs, it appeals to me.

Darren Frank, SCM Super Sales Executive (and Grifo owner) and I both think it is more than fully priced at $89,500, but like anything in the car world, I am sure it is negotiable. Before I throw my hat in the ring, however, I want to be sure it is the right car for me.

My second choice is the Ferrari 400i. This was the first automatic offered by Ferrari. It’s an outdated three-speed, but I have learned when you have large displacement and big torque numbers, fewer speeds in the auto are fine.

400s are less expensive that Leles, primarily because they are more numerous. However, the V12 engine and Ferrari heritage offer nearly unlimited paths to fiscal self-immolation.

There is one offered on BaT right now that is visually quite appealing. But as I write this, the seller has been unresponsive to my requests for detailed mechanical information.

Here was my last post: It is very easy to run up $20k in repairs. To bid sight unseen I would like you to provide a record of repairs and maintenance, along with an assessment of current condition by a marque-specialist shop. This is a lovely car and I hope you can create the atmosphere of assurance that allows me to bid with confidence. I have had too many catastrophic experiences with Ferraris to not want to be fully informed here. I’m sure I’m not the only one who would benefit from more information. TY.”

One of the hallmarks of successful BaT sellers is a full-disclosure listing. Aside from “recent fluid changes,” this seller has listed nothing about engine services, no compression readings, nothing.

I’m in no hurry. Part of the fun of car collecting, in the absence of old-fashioned auctions with time constraints, is that you have time to gather information and muse before bidding.

My budget is $30,000-$40,000. Generally paying a premium for an ultra-low mileage car doesn’t appeal to me as I plan to put miles on it anyway. I prefer a driver-quality car with no immediately needs such as checking paint, torn upholstery or worn-valve guides or piston rings.

Also, I want the reassurance from the seller that this is a properly maintained car that doesn’t need to go directly from the car hauler to the shop.

The expectations of buyers on BaT have made it more possible to achieve this – a good driver with nothing catastrophic lurking in the near future.

Of course, I understand that old cars are old cars and there are no guarantees. But I can say that the buyers of my three vintage Alfas have been satisfied that they bought cars in good mechanical fettle, with decent cosmetics. I’m looking for that as well.

What’s your opinion here? Lele or 400i? Or can you suggest something else? Like Lewis and Clark, I am on an unexplored trail and hoping for something new and wondrous around every bend.

You can contact me by responding here, or at keith.martin@sportscarmarket.com

16 comments

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  1. This is my first time hearing about the Lele. It’s incredibly rare, apparently, so it’s got that going for it. But it’s not particularly attractive, to my eye. I’d go with a 400i or possibly a Bitter SC. But probably the 400i. Is a 456 GTA too new to consider? $40K is a little light for a nice one of those, however. No idea what the 400i or the Bitter go for.

    1. I wouldn’t recommend a 456 automatic. I was looking for something fun to drive with a backseat for grandkids. I thought a 456 would fit the bill. Found one; drove one; crossed 456automatic off my list. A Camry of any year is way more fun to drive. I bought a Porsche 911, the grandkids fit and love it.

  2. Ditch the Volvo, go with the Ferrari as long as the price doesn’t get hyper inflated with the “BAT fever/mist” bidding that seems to be rolling up the prices there lately. I had to laugh at the BAT commenter who posted this little observation of wisdom: ” you clearly lack experience in acquiring pre-owned automobiles.” Little do they know….

    Good luck, I’ll be watching the 400i auction.

  3. As a owner of a DeTomaso Pantera with the factory Ford 351 Cleveland engine…
    The choice for me would be super easy…
    Buy the Izo. Add reasonable miles to the OD, while enjoying the torque of the magnificent 351 V-8 on the open road, on your way to Oregon Festival of Cars or the Forest Grove Concours d’Elegance…

  4. Aesthetics put aside, I would definitely go for the Lele: (1) the US sourced 8-cyl engine is better suited to the automatic transmission, and (2) should something go wrong with the 400, you’ll be horrified with the bill. But why not consider a Maserati 4200 GT Cambiocorsa, which would provide a different experience from the E-Type, or, should it be a Ferrari, a 355 F1 – two-seater, I know, but great driver.
    Looking forward to your decision!

  5. If you buy the Ferrari for $30K+ versus the say $70K Iso you will actually pay the same price…expect $40K in Ferrari repairs…..Remember the 250 GT you owned?

  6. If these two are your preferred choices then I vote for the Iso. I would expect that both cars will offer you the chance to drain your check book, but with the Iso the numbers may be smaller. Also think the sound of that V8 would be great music to listen to on the road to your next adventure.

  7. I too vote for the Iso, though perhaps not THAT Iso if it’s really priced at $89.5K. I don’t see any difference in the aesthetics between the Lele Sport and the 400i, but then I tend to be more concerned with mechanicals and ergonomics than looks. If your intention is to put miles on the car – rather than put it in a vault – then the Ford-powered Lele seems a better fit than the Ferrari.

    Not many people chose an Iso or Ferrari as a substitute for their 4-door Volvo 122 !

  8. Get the Iso. The Ferrari looks like something of a slug. At first glance it could be mistaken for some sort of an up-scale Mazda. And who wants to be identified with a Ferrari with an automatic. And when you blow the engine in the Iso, it will cost you less than a new water pump would for the Ferrari.

    Sell the Rover. The Volvo probably has too many memories, and for what it is, it’s kind of unique. I have a 1994 RHD Range Rover Classic 300 TDi which I really like. But let’s face it, those engines may be very solid, but aren’t aren’t too exciting when you’re accelerating. You’ll probably never take the Land Rover out again. Unless you want your son to have it, sell it.

    P.S. Maybe even consider selling the Jaguar. You seem to like to take long trips in a Mercedes. Are you using the Jag a bit around town? When was it last out?

  9. If you like the styling of the 400i, but the drivetrain of the ISO, have you considered a DeTomaso Longchamp? Easy decision.