Ferrari Club of America - Southwest Region

Oldtimer's Corner - Early Ferrari Dealers

By: Ed Niles

Luigi Chinetti?s very successful efforts to put Ferrari on the map in the United States have been so well documented that I won?t insult your intelligence with a rehash.

At the same time, however, it needs to be said that Chinetti?s presence was felt primarily on the East Coast. So let?s reminisce a bit about the left Coast, and Southern California in particular.

Soon after the end of World War II, John Von Neumann was successful in contracting for the US distributorship of economy cars made by a struggling war-torn company named Volkswagen. VW?s sales success in this country created financial success for Johnny beyond (one supposes) his wildest dreams! Soon, John Von Neumann was able to afford the latest from Modena, and while he wasn?t the best driver in the world, he was careful, and in the early 50?s his name started appearing with regularity on the winner?s list.

Automobile distributorship, and automobile racing, were family affairs for Johnny. His wife, Eleanor, could be seen directing the Von Neumann Scuderia, and Johnny?s daughter Josie was a regular entrant, with considerable success, in the "Ladies Races." So it was only natural that Eleanor Von Neumann should become a Ferrari Dealer. Large, blond and very Teutonic, all Eleanor needed was a horned helmet to pass as a Valkyrie. Her Ferrari store, located on Chauenga Blvd. in Hollywood, was opened under the appellation of "Ferrari Representatives of California." Only one staff member comes to mind: a small, wiry young man with a blond crew cut and a grin almost as wide as his shoulders. His name, we soon learned, was Richard Ginther - known to everyone as Richie. Richie was everything: Service Manager, Part Time Mechanic, Parts Manager, and general factotem. And on the weekends, he raced. It wasn?t long before he was out-racing his boss (now was that nice, Richie?) and certainly he helped Ferrari?s image in Southern California.

John Von Neumann, from around 1954 to the late 50?s, had a great number of very interesting Ferraris. And, through his wife?s dealership, he sold even more Ferraris. But around the end of the decade, John and Eleanor decided to call their marriage finis, and soon we saw Eleanor giving up the dealership.

In the meantime, we saw Otto Zipper, an Alfa Romeo dealer on the West side, becoming more visible in the world of Ferraris. Among local enthusiasts, he was well-known as the owner of a Series I PF Cabriolet, with a cut down driver?s door and brakes specially modified for its first owner, racer Peter Collins. So when Eleanor Von Neumann left the scene, he became the Ferrari distributor for the area.

During this time, Otto held forth on Whilshire Blvd., in Beverly Hills, and in a large barn of a building on Lincoln Blvd. in Santa Monica, which later housed the restoration shop of Hill and Vaughn. Otto?s Ferrari shop foreman was Richie Vanderwater, and from the mid-60?s one of his mechanics was Bruno Borri, later one of the owners of Modena Sport Cars.

So far as I know, Otto Zipper never raced Ferraris during those early days, but later ran a Porsche 904 and an Alfa Tipo 33, with Scooter Patrick and Milt Minter among his drivers. In 1978 he was brought "out of retirement" to manage a team of three 1973 365 GTB/4?s at the 24 hours of Daytona. Drivers included actors Bobby Carradine and Paul Newman. The results were promising, so in 1979 he returned as team manager for a Daytona driven by John Morton and Tony Adamowicz. He died in his motel room the night before the race, but his organizational skills were rewarded with a first in class and 2nd overall.

In late 1962, Otto Zipper, as Ferrari distributor, granted a franchise to Chic Vandagriff?s Hollywood Sport Cars. Chic, who had started as a mechanic and had acquired a British Motors franchise,<

For a complete look at Sempre Ferrari, you may want to check out the rest of the articles from Volume 2, Issue 4 - May 1995