Over the past year, people in a house I drive by each day have been selling cars from their side yard. The most recent was an ’80s-era Chevrolet Monte Carlo in a color resembling electric lime slices. “Mean Green Machine” shouted a decal in green letters along the top of the windshield.
This house is a typical out-on-the-country-roads house in this poor corner of New York state. It is sided with rolled asphalt the color of pine needles. A dusty driveway leads down to the road. Grass grows thigh-high on the steep roadside bank. Across the road is a dirt lot where the people who live in the house chop tree carcasses into piles of firewood the size of two-car garages so they can sell it.
A few weeks ago, I spotted a blood-red car parked where the Mean Green Machine had been sitting. First, I noticed how the car looked like it was moving 100 mph just sitting there. With its low profile, it looked as if it could slice through the air with barely a wisp. The second thing I noticed were black letters stretching between the wheel wells. The letters said “errari.”
The car’s other side included the missing F. I am more than a bit of a motorhead, so Ferraris are objects of desire. I want no other car more. But a longer look revealed why the car was sitting in a dusty driveway on a country road. Most obvious were the black letters along each side. Ferraris don’t need to be labeled. People who know, know. For anyone else, it doesn’t matter.
Previous owners also had tried to make the car sexier—attempts that were as effective as the landing of the Hindenburg. The worst attempt was an after-market aerodynamic wing mounted across the tail, just above the bodyline. Putting a wing on a Ferrari is like using oil paints to touch up an orchid.
I have been tempted to stop and walk around the car because I have seen just two other Ferraris—one in Chicago, the other at a resort town about 45 minutes from my house, where wealthy vacationers build second homes that cost a half-million dollars and up. I’ve never been closer to the cars for more than the second it takes to pass by in traffic.
I have not stopped, though. During a rainy spring week, the Ferrari sat with a window open. In addition, the car’s glorious red is faded, as if the car had been baking in the sun since the odometer of years rolled over to 2000. And if I were to walk around to the back end of the car and see that wing bolted on, I’d probably be sick to my stomach.
For the briefest of moments, allure tempted me to buy the Ferrari to restore it, but practicality threw allure off the road and ran over it and then backed over the body to be sure it was dead. Restoration would easily run into six figures, and I’m not talking about numbers that begin with one or two or maybe even three. Even after restoration, the car would require yearly maintenance running into the five figures. It’s not enough to be able to afford buying a Ferrari; you also have to be able to afford to take care of it.
Elvis Costello once sang about “all this useless beauty,” a phrase that can apply to supercars, supermodels, superhouses in the Hollywood Hills, million-dollar second homes, private jets, and travel to the destinations of dreams. I see supermodels and Ferrari drivers and realize that although they breathe the same air as I do, they may as well inhabit a different planet. I wonder what that world is like.