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TRIED & TRUE : Vroooom! Living a Fantasy in a Ferrari : Driver Is Hooked After Just 1 Ride

February 25, 1993|PATRICK MOTT | Patrick Mott is a free-lance writer who regularly contributes to The Times Orange County Edition.

TO: The Devil

RE: The car. You know, THE CAR!!!


OK, I give up. You got me. I'll sign the papers.

You had to do it, didn't you? It wasn't enough for you to fill the world with Rothschild wines and purebred Arabian stallions and Savile Row suits and Ben & Jerry's ice cream and Las Vegas and the Laker Girls and every other maddeningly wonderful earthly delight that's unaffordable, unobtainable or bad for you. No. You had to force me to test-drive a Ferrari Testarossa.

One little tromp on the accelerator, that's all it took. Suddenly, life became sweet, the world glowed with beauty and the air was instantly perfumed, even as it throbbed with the most gorgeous, crescendoing, high-pitched, gut-thumping, ear-shattering, pure-hell whine ever produced in the garages of mortal man.

And my head snapped back and the speedometer needle leaped almost as quickly as the one on the adjacent tachometer, and a primal explosion of animal laughter burst out of my hugely grinning mouth and the rest of the miserable, grinding, poking traffic on PCH receded away into the mirror and, by golly . . . you had me.

See you in hell in a few decades, pal, but right now, I want that car!

Oh, you were shrewd. You were good. You made me believe, at first, that it wasn't going to happen. The plan seemed to make sense at the time: I simply stroll into Newport Imports and tell Charlie Karges, the sales manager, that I want to fulfill a lifelong fantasy and tool around in a Ferrari for a few miles.

What could I have been thinking?

Charlie politely explained that test drives are usually reserved for serious buyers and that any numbers on the odometer beyond the 100 or so miles the factory puts on it tend to lower the desirability of the car a notch. Besides, he said--no doubt with nightmare visions of people lined up around the block from the showroom--"everybody wants to drive a Ferrari."

Well, of course. It was almost a relief to be turned down. After all, what if I cracked it up? What if I plowed it into the rear end of a police car? What if I snapped and drove it straight to Cancun?

But then you must have whispered in somebody's ear, because later the same day Charlie said that, this one time, he could probably work something out.

That something turned out to be the world's coolest form of ground-bound transportation: the 5-liter, 12-cylinder, 428-horsepower, $195,600 Ferrari 512 TR. The Testarossa.

My dream car.

I tried to be skeptical, I really did. I walked around it a couple of times in the showroom, bending over now and then to peer through the driver's window at the unexpectedly spare cockpit. Clean, trim, sleek, low ( low! ) and nothing on the dash but the bare necessities. Not even a radio. Ferrari supplies the antenna and the speakers, explained salesman Ed Heinle, but they let you pick your own stereo.

So OK. Springing for a Blaupunkt is no big deal when you've got a car that comes with its own set of matching luggage and a tool kit the size and shape of a lawyer's oversize leather briefcase, complete with a little embossed rearing Ferrari horsie.

Heinle was my designated Yoda (actually, probably one of your minions, for all I knew). He would, he said, ease the Testarossa up the road a few blocks and then turn it over to me. He slipped behind the wheel and turned the key . . . and this mewling, anemic, hiccuping sound filled the showroom. It was only the starter turning over, just like any car, but something like that is bound to disappoint you when you're expecting thunder and blue flames. But then . . .

Ka--VOOOOOOMMMMMM!!! A throaty, rumbling baritone blast that quieted instantly when Heinle got off the accelerator.

Oh, boy.

I shoehorned myself into the passenger seat and buckled up. The door shut with an almost hermetic thump. Heinle, chatting amiably about this and that feature or characteristic of the car, bumped it down the driveway, into the slow lane of Pacific Coast Highway and, without warning, stood on it.

So this is what it's like to be catapulted off the deck of an aircraft carrier, I thought, my eyeballs receding into the back of my skull.

Seconds later, we were out of the PCH business district, and Heinle pulled to the shoulder and exchanged seats with me. I was grinning like an idiot. I spent a couple of minutes adjusting things--the mirrors, the wheel height, the seat back--and listening to Heinle tell me that there wasn't much difference, technically, between driving this carnivore and driving a Volkswagen.

Finally, properly advised and snugly holstered in, I pulled the stick back into first gear (the opposite direction from the more conventional "H" pattern), eased out the short-stroke clutch and gave the accelerator a little punch.

We leaped away from the curb so quickly that I instinctively eased back and shifted into second. I tried it again, with a little more authority, and looked down at the speedometer. Could that reading be true? Good Lord! A red light brought us back to a dead stop.

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