A Ferrari first takes you viscerally, with its smoldering good looks and sensuous curves. You imagine yourself perhaps as Steve McQueen in a 1967 Ferrari 275 GTB/4*S N.A.R.T. Spider in the Thomas Crown Affair; or as Al Pacino in a 1989 Ferrari Mondial T Cabriolet in Scent of a Woman; or as Matthew Broderick in a 1961 250 GT California Spyder in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.
That all of those cars are synonymous with fire-engine red makes your pulse race, as does the classic prancing horse logo clueing you in to its powerfully vibrating V12 engine. When you turn on the ignition key, you’re probably thinking about all the great Ferrari drivers before you that have done that too.
Yet, while it is easy to say Ferraris are beautiful, their visual appeal is not the only thing that defines the quintessentially Italian icon.
“The enduring appeal of Ferrari is basically twofold,” said James Knight, head of the car department at auction house Bonhams in London. “First, the company was ruled in a fairly autocratic way for so many years, by its founder Enzo Ferrari, and it’s difficult to think of another manufacturer with someone at the helm in such a way for so many years, producing race and road cars. Second, they were very much a one-stop shop insofar as they manufactured everything that went into their cars, from the chassis to the engine.”
Paul Hageman, auction specialist at Gooding & Co., agreed: “The real genius of the cars in the 1950s, when the best designs were produced, was that Ferrari had a lot of very advanced designs, such as the F40, which was initially designed as a race car, but then put into pretty significant production as a supercar for the road. Today, things like the F430, the 612, and the California are all designed ahead of their time, but have looks that age well.”
When Enzo Ferrari founded his namesake car company in 1947 as a small private shop in Maranello, it was after having worked at Alfa Romeo in the 1920s and 1930s and starting his own racing team, Scuderia Ferrari. He started out with custom-built cars for a very discerning clientele, many of them one-off masterpieces, with bodywork completed by the finest coach builders of the era, such as Pininfarina and Scaglietti, and topped with a powerful V12 engine that produced much success on the race track.
It was not until the 1960s that Ferrari entered a phase of series production of its cars, producing in bulk the 250 series of cars — such as the 250 GT Cabriolet and the 250 GTO, the absolute pinnacle of the most desirable cars — and gaining more visibility and fame thanks to Hollywood.
“Every guy wanted to be McQueen in a three-piece suit driving a convertible in The Thomas Crown Affair. He was the king of cool, and that movie really exemplified the appeal of that car,” observed Alain Squindo, vice president of RM Auctions. Even McQueen wanted to be that guy — the actor bought his own 1967 N.A.R.T. Spider in real life, although he would later get it irreparably rear-ended at a stop light.
Incidentally, the 1967 Ferrari 275 GTB/4 that the “King of Cool” bought after the accident — he got it delivered new to him on the sets of Bullitt — sold for $10.2 million at RM Auctions’ flagship Monterey sale in California this August. A 1964 Ferrari 275 GTB/C Speciale, one of just three ever built, fetched $26.4 million at the same sale. The same weekend, a 1962 Ferrari 250 GTO Berlinetta (pictured below) realized $38.1 million at Bonhams’ Quail Lodge Auction in Carmel, California, becoming the new, most valuable car in history to be sold at auction.
Before that, in August 2013, RM had sold a 1967 Ferrari 275 GTB/4*S N.A.R.T. Spider — one of 10 ever built — for $27.5 million (pictured below).
Clearly, Ferraris are not merely great returns on investment, but also consistently set — and reset — some of the world’s records for most expensive car ever sold at auction. Ferraris are also great returns on investment, as Hageman said: “A Ferrari is something that beginner collectors turn to because it’s recognizable, but it’s also something that well-established collectors have in abundance of. It’s a juggernaut of a brand name in car manufacturing.”
In just two decades, Ferrari produced hundreds of road cars that are now worth millions of dollars. But through it all, they have also remained very successful on the racetrack — with Michael Schumacher dominating F1 championships 2000 and 2004, and Kimi Räikkönen and Fernando Alonso carrying the torch today — while continuing to capture the imagination of the general public, being included as subjects in such recently concluded exhibitions as “Dream Cars: Innovative Design, Visionary Ideas” at the High Museum of Art in Atlanta.
They’ve even transformed into a modern brand complete with a line of lifestyle merchandise like T-shirts, travel bags, watches, and headphones.
At the heart of it, experts still consider Ferrari an exceptionally well-run automaker that is one of the only ones that has survived passing into the modern era without its charismatic founder. It not only caters to a section of the market that includes mid-engine V8 sports cars — competing with the Porsche 911 — but also runs a bespoke department where clients can have cars outfitted to their liking — the sort of old-school coach building that barely exists at any other automaker today.
In other words, the enduring appeal of Ferrari can be distilled into three words: the man, the pedigree, and the exoticism.
“Ferrari is a tremendously desirable marque, more so than any other, that’s without question,” quipped Squindo. “It’s the greatest company in the world.”