GTO 3987 on Mulholland

GTO 3987 on Mulholland

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

"Coco" Chinetti, Gary Wales and the Breadvan

One of the rewarding aspects of having friends who are always in the thick of it is that you get to hear stories that aren't necessarily going to be reported in the news press. For those of us who are connoisseurs of limited-edition anecdotes, these stories have a particular cachet when the subject is something about which you are passionate and already knowledgeable but the tidbit being offered up has somehow escaped everyone's attention. This is what happened on Father's day when my son Sean and I visited with Gary Wales and his wife Marilyn in their home. "I've got something to give you," Gary told me. "I want you to have this."

Gary led us into his pub where one could be excused for thinking we'd just been transported to Blighty and walked into an episode of Inspector Morse or Midsomer Murders. We pulled up our chairs and scrutinized a glass picture frame holding a printed cocktail napkin with a few ink drawings scribbled on it. The napkin was from "Chicago's Triple Treat: London House, Mister Kelly's and downstage room Happy Medium". Seeing that one of the drawings on the napkin was a rendering of the rear aspect of the famous Ferrari Breadvan was not too surprising as Gary and his partner Dick Merritt were the first U.S. owners of that illustrious car. The next two drawings were somewhat more enigmatic.

The first was a profile drawing of what looked to be a race car. The second was a rear aspect of another race car that had elements of a Ferrari 250P but with arching rear fenders that resembled nothing I'd ever seen on a race car. What did it all mean? We were about to find out.

Back when Gary still had the Breadvan, he was having dinner in Chicago with Luigi "Coco" Chinetti one evening. Coco had a Ferrari 250LM and wanted to know if Gary would like to trade the LM for the Breadvan. This got Gary's attention. What Coco intended to do was to take the Breadvan and redesign the body. To show Gary what he had in mind, Coco took out his pen and drew the three illustrations on the napkin. The first showed the 'van exactly as it looked, the second two gave an idea what Coco would want it to look like if he could acquire it from Gary. It might have come to pass but for one thing--the 250LM in question had a blown engine and Gary was reluctant to take on the ordeal of an engine rebuild. Having done a rebuild on a GTO, I must admire his reluctance.

In the end, Asa Clarke bought the Breadvan from Gary and in turn sold it to my friend Matthew Ettinger. The Breadvan remained in its original shape. I spent a lot of time in and around this car and, for a time, the Breadvan was titled in my name but I'd never heard the story of Coco Chinetti's interest until the other day. It is amazing to think how close this iconic car came to being re-designed.

This just in from Ed Niles (who was also part of the Breadvan provenance):

"That was not the Breadvan’s only chance at re-design.  My friend Gordon Culp, engineer, classical guitarist, butterfly collector, and Lusso owner, was the supposed U.S. purchaser.  Relying on Gordon’s promise that he would buy it, my friend Roberto Goldoni in Rome placed a healthy deposit on the car.  Then, Gordon reneged, saying among other things that the cost of converting the rear of the car to 250GTO style was too high for his budget.  With Roberto in a panic about his deposit, that’s when I got Merritt in the act. Exit Culp, would-be re-designer.  Cheers!  Ed"

1 comment:

Vic said...

Another great story, Stephen. I'm guessing the Breadvan would have been no more if Chinetti had taken possession of it.

Thanks for sharing this!