Shawn Thom works for official Ferrari dealer HR Owen
If you’re a normal mortal, you probably reckon your one chance of laying hands on a Ferrari involves waiting for someone to die. A rich relative kicks the bucket, you inherit a tidy capital sum, you ignore conventional stuff like house repairs and round-the-world trips and blow the lot on the car you’ve always wanted, possibly red in colour.
This may sound believable but it’s wrong in one vital detail. The notion that you’re ‘blowing’ your money on a Ferrari has never been more incorrect. New or old, Ferrari values have been doing well – and there seems no good reason why this shouldn’t continue. Classics, in particular, have been flying recently, but even entry-level moderns like five or six-year-old Californias have been very firm of late. So if buying a Ferrari is on your bucket-list – and it is definitely on plenty – this may be your moment.
WHO SELLS WHAT?
Ferraris are sold in two main ways in the UK. There’s a network of 12 official dealers who sell cars at the pricier end, plus a larger group of expert, non-franchised dealers that covers the country. The latter tend to cover a wider range of cars, from high-value classics to models at the cheapest end of the price range – the £30,000 Mondial 8, for instance. Both have their place.
Dealing privately? It can look appealing, and may be fine for experts, but so much of a Ferrari’s value reposes in its provenance and service history that the first-time buyer is undoubtedly better dealing with someone who knows the cars and how to investigate their histories.
Specialists in older cars often even know them as individuals – or at worst know someone who does. They may even have sold the car you have your eye on to its previous owner. There’s simply no substitute for such expertise. What about skulduggery? It exists, for sure, but a strong and active Ferrari Owners’ Club (join it) and a new transparency and speed brought by internet forums make it much easier to detect. You’re definitely safer in the Ferrari market than you used to be.
FRANCHISED OR SPECIALISED DEALER?
For this story we consulted two long-experienced Ferrari dealers. Mike Wheeler of non-franchised Rardley Motors, Grayshott, has been selling Ferraris non-stop for more than 30 years. Shawn Thom, of HR Owen’s official Ferrari dealership in London’s South Kensington, came to the marque from Porsche seven or eight years ago and has never regretted the move. “When we tell people Ferrari sold 800 cars in the UK last year, against 13,000 Porsches, they take our point about Ferrari exclusivity,” he says.
Official and non-franchised dealers rub along pretty well. Nonfranchised dealers sometimes have clients seeking new cars; official dealers often have part-exchange Ferraris that don’t quite qualify for the ‘classic collections’ they’ve opened in recent years.
The official outlets’ secret weapon is their warranty: new UK cars carry a four-year cover, and a new car’s first seven years’ routine servicing is free, a handsome deal by any standard. Any approved used car they supply carries an automatic two-year warranty very similar to their newcar cover, and an owner can extend that to cars up to 12 years old. To cap it all, Ferrari offers free roadside assistance to any car it has ever made, plus recovery to the nearest official dealer; that part works even if you’ve bought your car away from the official network.
Non-franchised dealers have a more practical approach. Rardley Motors self-warrants its cars for six months and 6000 miles, whichever comes sooner, under the Sale of Goods Act. “We used to give insurance warranties,” says Wheeler, “but we found we were paying much more in premiums than we received in claims.”
Wheeler, who has specialised in Ferrari 456s from the 1990s and early 2000s, has a robust attitude to the reliability of older cars, however. “People used to say that with a Ferrari you get a great engine and chassis, and the rest is free,” he says, “which isn’t true. But we encourage people to be realistic. A 17-year-old anything is bound to go wrong at some stage. You will spend money. Cars like the 456 have known faults: window sealing is one. But we know the cars and how to fix them.”
HOW WILL THE DEALERS TREAT ME?
Thom is very straightforward about it: “Around 70% of HR Owen’s customers are people we know already – repeat purchasers – so if you’re a first-time buyer you’re already a bit special. Whatever you’ve come to see, we’ll try to put you into a used car, maybe a used California at around £100k, because it’s a great all-rounder, it’s affordable and you won’t need to go through the ordering process. You can have your car for the weekend.
“From there on, you’ll be a fully fledged member of the Ferrari community. You’ll find yourself being invited to gatherings and events you’d never otherwise get to and you’ll find yourself talking with other owners – and with us – about your next Ferrari.
“It’s a Ferrari thing that goes right back to Enzo and his mythical favourite model: the next one. We sell lots of cars on finance, typically on a three-year term, but on average our owners are out of their first car after 15 months, not just because they want to move up, but because we’re desperate for good used cars and we’ll have offered a good deal.”
The first-time buyer at Rardley Motors is a rarity, too, says Wheeler. Business consists of staying in touch with a community of about 500 people, who do occasional repeat business. They’re well off, he says, but they’re car enthusiasts rather than the ‘disconnected’ rich types who buy a particular car because someone has told them it would be a fashionable thing to do.
“For many of our buyers, a Ferrari has been a long-held dream,” he says. “It was once an extravagance, but now they see it isn’t. At least, not so much. Cars have firmly established themselves as decent places to put your money, but new customers tend to need their hands holding. We’re ready to talk.”
How do you choose a decent person to do business with? Both of our dealers say the same thing: choose someone you think you’ll be able to get on with – this may be a long relationship – but also listen to the opinions of others who’ve done the same kind of business. If things go wrong, you’re still protected by your various guardians: the warranty, the owners’ club and the internet.
WHICH CARS ARE BEST?
If you’re Wheeler’s customer, you’ll have a wide choice, but he’s likely to guide you to models he knows work well. If you like the practicality of a front-engined V12 two-plus-two he’ll point you at a 456 or 456M (1993-2003) at £60,000 to £80,000, depending on mileage, age and whether it’s an auto or not (six-speed manuals are rare and sought-after).
A mid-2000s 612 Scaglietti looks good at around £70k-£90k, although it feels quite a lot bigger than a 456 and virtually all examples have the semi-auto F1A gearbox.
If it’s a mid-engined V8 you prefer, Wheeler will probably point you at a 360 Modena coupé (with its newat-the-time aluminium spaceframe chassis) although the 360 Spider at £70k-plus looks good, too.
Unless it’s a terrific example, he’ll probably talk you out of an F355, because the type became over-valued earlier in its life so keenly priced cars can be hard to find, and the early F1 paddle shift gearboxes in most cars are crude by modern standards. The mid-2000s F430 is another good option (prices start around £80k) and there are plenty of them about, although again, he says, six-speed manuals are rare.
Over at HR Owen, Thom will probably point you at an entry level, low-miles 2009 California at around £100k (or £109k for a 2011, or £115k for a 2012). It’s Ferrari’s most versatile model, and is ideal as a first Ferrari. Thom especially rates Ferrari’s dual-clutch transmission (DCT) models; the California is the first of these and benefits from the consequent refinement and ease of use. Front-engined cars? Thom recommends the four-wheel-drive FF two-plus-two, although you’re still talking £150k for one of those, and might be better off with an approved 612 Scaglietti (there are a few about) or a 599 if you can stump £30k more and don’t need rear seats.
Classics? The ones with great road ability are not the best value for money. A 328 GTB from the late 1980s can cost more than an F430, 25 years younger and nearly twice as powerful. A late-1990s 550 Maranello is as pricey as a 599 GTB Fiorano. Old Ferraris are great, but they’re indisputably less capable than more recent cars. What’s more, prices have risen so rapidly over the past four years that it’s doubtful they’ll continue at the same rate.
HOW SHOULD I PAY?
Mike Wheeler at Rardley Motors surprises us when the conversation turns to money. “By the time they get to us, 90% of our customers already have the funds,” he says. “The thing about savings not earning interest is well known and has been for years. People have been using it as motivation to buy cars for a long time – and interest rates aren’t going anywhere in the short term.”
Hire purchase deals are available on non-franchised Ferraris, but with the money market as it is, the popular method seems to be to extend a house mortgage at ultra-low interest rates, draw funds from a pension or simply invest one’s life’s savings. That’s a gamble, of course, but low rates and firm Ferrari values mean it is less of a risk than it once was.
At an official dealership such as HR Owen,things are different. You get easy access to Ferrari’s own finance company, and the carefully cultivated culture of moving owners through the Ferrari ranks means you’re likely to use it. According to Thom, even customers who could pay outright tend to use the finance facilities because many operate their own businesses and cash is king.
Deals tend to be drawn up on short terms (three years is popular), leaving a large balloon payment. Thom sketched for us a typical deal around a £160,000 Ferrari 458 Italia that had the buyer putting down a £40,000 deposit, and paying £1500 a month for three years, leaving a balloon payment of slightly less than £90,000. But by then, if the buyer of this car were a typical customer, he or she (and there are plenty of female Ferrari buyers) would have changed cars. This, you may think, is very much the way the other half lives, but its key virtue is that it allows well-heeled people to drive, and frequently change, Ferraris, without ever buying them outright.
For most people, money is portrayed as the major hurdle to Ferrari ownership, but that’s less true than at any time in living memory. Fit-looking Ferraris start in the £30,000s in the PistonHeads classifieds – and plenty of people drive Fords and Peugeots costing more. Approved Ferraris can be financed from £60k-£70k in bitesized chunks. Sure, the numbers sound big, and most people have other priorities, but the opportunity is nevertheless available to many more than take it.
The true hurdle, often, is taking the decision. Thirty years ago I had the money to buy a Ferrari, and considered it for a long time. In the end I decided to buy something more practical until a friend pointed out, quite forcibly, the size of the opportunity I was ditching.
In the end I took his advice and owned a Ferrari for a constantly enjoyable two and a half years. Let me pass on my friend’s favour: if you’re in a position to leap into the Ferrari market and are hesitating, take this as my (and his) encouragement to make the leap. You’ll never regret it.