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Curb Appeal : Two College Professors Restore Ferraris for Sport

October 02, 1994|PATRICK C. PATERNIE

Fred Peters has a houseful of Ferraris. His daughter, Cindy, grew up sharing a bedroom of their home in Orange with bits of Italian mechanical flotsam squirreled away by her dad as he waited to find the pieces necessary to complete another automotive jigsaw puzzle.

Peters and his partner, Charles Betz, are college professors with a passion for what they call the artisan cars--Ferraris built up to the late '60s, before aerospace technology changed the design and manufacturing process.

For 30 years, they have restored and repaired hundreds of sports cars and now own 20 Ferraris, eight of which are drivable.

The crown jewel of their collection is a 1958 Ferrari Testarossa, the original factory prototype of what many consider to be the quintessential Ferrari road racer. Betz, who lives in Huntington Beach and teaches at Cerritos College, and Peters, who teaches at Fullerton College, restored the car in 1987 after taking 17 years to accumulate the parts.

The car was purchased in 1970 in "disastrous shape," Betz says. They had tried to buy another Testarossa in better condition.

"No one would loan us the money to buy that one, so we had to buy the derelict and start collecting pieces and working on it," Betz recalls.

Both men trace their auto passion to the sports car boom of the '50s, when MGs and Jaguars captured the hearts of the postwar generation. The romance is kept alive today by such events as the Monterey Historic Automobile Races at Laguna Seca Raceway on the Monterey Peninsula. From humble beginnings 20 years ago with only a handful of entrants, it has grown into one of the area's major races with about 400 cars.

Ferrari was the honored marque for last month's races, and Peters was in his glory entering the "first Ferrari I bought for myself"--a 1958 250 GT TDF (Tour de France) dual-purpose car suitable for both road and track.

Prowling the pits like an amiable polar bear with his white beard and hair, Peters has to defer the racing duty to his "lifelong pal and blood brother," Gordon Wheeler, a Napa Valley doctor. Peters' left knee cannot handle working the Ferrari's clutch under race conditions.

Later, Peters conducts a demonstration ride over the Laguna Seca course as it rolls up and down the hills near Monterey Bay. Looking along the sinewy fender lines, feeling the precise meshing of the transmission gears and listening to the engine note rising and falling lyrically, one begins to appreciate the allure of the artisan cars.

"I don't think there's ever been a time when I've taken a Ferrari out and driven it more than five minutes that I didn't make some other people happy too," Betz says.

The Betz-Peters Testarossa will be on display at the Petersen Auto Museum in Los Angeles through December.

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