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Police Trade In Unwanted Ferrari


To Glendale Police Officer Jeff Neal, it's an automotive albatross.

To car collector Bob Maniaci, it's heaven on wheels.

And both men are grateful that the sleek, black 1986 Ferrari 328 GTS is about to change hands.

Thanks to a Glendale City Council vote Tuesday, the Cerritos businessman will give Glendale police five plain-vanilla, mid-size American cars that he recently procured. In return, he'll drive away in the speedy Italian sports car, which police seized in 1988 from a drug dealer.

"I personally am glad to see it go," Neal said.

Because of a publicity drive gone awry, the officer has spent the past six weeks fielding more than 1,000 calls from people trying to get their hands on the Ferrari.

Maniaci, whose offer was judged the best, isn't interested in the car's seedy history or the aggravation it has caused Glendale police. He just wants to get it on the open road.

"For me, the hum of the engine is equal to listening to a philharmonic orchestra," said Maniaci, president of Boman Industries, a Cerritos firm that sells car radios, satellite television systems and cellular phones.

"It's really a beautiful sound, especially the 12-cylinder engines. This one's an 8," he said. "They have a wonderful precision sound to them."

Still, the Ferrari was something less than wonderful as a law enforcement tool, Glendale police said.

Because the Ferrari attracted so much attention, plainclothes officers couldn't use it to keep an eye on suspected crooks. And despite the use of a similar car for the flashy detectives of the "Miami Vice" TV show, Glendale's Ferrari was too glitzy for the kind of undercover drug buys that befall Glendale officers.

The seized sports car's only triumph was in public relations. It lured plenty of passersby to Glendale police exhibits at job fairs and community events, but the department decided that wasn't enough.

So in late December, police officials, unsure of the car's precise value, offered to trade the Ferrari for an unspecified number of nondescript autos--1990 or 1991 models--that would be more useful in undercover operations. They rolled out the sports car before television and newspaper cameras, hoping to stir up a lucrative switch.

But the tactic backfired.

Car buffs misunderstood the message as a deal that was too good to be true. They flooded the department with swap offers that were tough to take seriously. Many wanted to trade one old clunker for the Ferrari.

Putting out the word that the police expected trade-ins totaling $65,000 to $80,000 didn't stem the flow. "We hooked up an answering machine the third business day after the phone calls started," Neal said.

The recording told serious traders to leave their names and addresses. "We did not return calls from anyone who just left a phone number," Neal said. "Everybody seemed to have a wheeler-dealer attitude."

Ultimately, the department reviewed eight swap offers it judged to be roughly equivalent to the value of the Ferrari. The finalists included Paramount Pictures, which bid three 1991 Ford Mustangs, and Sacramento radio station KWOD, which offered a 1987 Chevy Nova, two used vans, a used Chevy Blazer and an antique firetruck.

Police officials decided on Maniaci's five-car swap offer. But they asked reporters to keep the model names quiet, so lawbreakers won't know which cars undercover officers will soon be driving.

Maniaci, a 51-year-old Downey resident, said he heard news reports about the Ferrari and decided to put together the best trade. "It was not actually the car," he said. "It was the challenge."

Still, he conceded he has been car-crazy since he was 12.

"I had a Model A Ford," Maniaci recalled. "I used to polish it almost hourly." He once took it for a drive before he was legally old enough for a license, he said. "I didn't realize the mechanical brakes didn't perform well, and I bumped into the school's driver-training car. I think I was doing 3 miles an hour."

When he was in his mid-20s, Maniaci began building a collection that peaked at about 50 luxury vehicles. "I majored in Rolls-Royces and minored in Italian high-performance cars, like Maseratis and Lamborghinis," he said.

His fleet, which today numbers about 20, enables Maniaci to switch cars as often as some people change shoes.

"If I drive a car for four to 10 days, then I enjoy driving a different vehicle," he said matter-of-factly.

The Ferrari will join the rotation as soon as it gets a thorough checkup. "I can do about 90% of the engine work myself, which I enjoy very much," Maniaci said. "It's probably equal to the thrill of driving it."

The businessman's older children have already begun their own collections, and they seldom ask for his car keys.

"It's almost the opposite," he said. "They allow me to drive their cars. The oldest boy frequently comes up with unique vehicles, and I'm just watering at the mouth to get behind the wheel."

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