Oldtimer's Corner - Charlatans and Mountebanks

By: Edwin K. Niles

In the Good Old Days, there were precious view Ferrari miscreants. In the G.O.D., we all knew each other, or at least we knew each other's names.

In 1959, when I entered the world of Ferraris, there had only been something over a thousand of these cars built. Ever. So it wasn't that difficult to have an idea where most of them were, along with the names and addresses of their owners. Because we were one big happy family, there was remarkably little in the way of proscribed behavior.

By the late 60's, things started to change. And not just my waist-line! The City of Angels was becoming the City of Angles. In 1967, for instance, I purchased the famous "Nembo" Spyder from a Modena resident. According to all the papers and the serial number tag on the firewall, it's correct number was 1777GT. The next to the last owner was named Bonacini, who (I believe) was half of the team of Neri and Bonacini, from whose names was derived the word "Nembo" . All the paperwork appeared to be in order, and I did register the car in California under that serial number. Years later, I learned that there was a "Nembo" Berlinetta as well. It was pretty much the same car, with a hard top. It was pretty much the same car in the serial number department as well; it also bore serial number 1777GT! At one time, both cars were registered in California, using the same number. Just think of the confusion that must have caused!

Nembo rebody 1777GT 250GT s/n 1777GT - The famous "Nembo" rebody of a 250 GTE 2+2.

Later research indicated that the two cars had been built from the remains of cars (perhaps wrecked cars?) bearing numbers 1777 and 1623. My car had the correct number on the firewall, but the serial number was stamped on a plate in a somewhat unusual place on the frame. It bore engine number 2355GT. So which was the real 1777GT? Which one was 1623? Where did engine 2355 come from? So far as I know, no one has ever made a claim of wrong-doing, so maybe I shouldn't open the door at this late date. But don't you wonder? Was one of them a stolen car? How did they get Italian titles for two cars with the same number?

Another 1777GT 250GT s/n 1777GT - Another car with the same serial number!

It was about that same time, maybe 1968 or 1969, when a friend of mine with the FBI called me down to the FBI garage to take a look at a stolen Ferrari that they had recovered. It was a 275 GTB/4, with the head light covers removed a la US models of the 365 GT 2+2. The car had been stolen in Italy, and shipped to the US with false paperwork. The poor buyer took a big bath on that car, as it was near new.

By the end of the 60's, the scalawags and scamps were starting to be heard from. Pranksters and villains. Misdemeanants and hooligans.

In Italy, Ferraris had been hot items on the hot car market for years, but the crooks really started proliferating in the US around 1970. Blackguards and mischief-makers. Hoods and desperados.

I think that it was in the 70's that we started hearing stories about a well-known Ferrari expert, considered by many to be an outstanding mechanic and preparer of Ferraris, especially racing models, who was having some difficulty with the law. It seems that he had been supplementing his income as a mechanic by doing a little Ferrari trading. Why not? The only trouble seemed to be that he was trading in his customer's cars, and pocketing the proceeds. For several years, he fended off civil suits, before he was finally prosecuted and eventually sent to jail. Quite a few "hot cars" ended up in innocent hands as a result of the activities of this desperado.

Transgressors and scofflaws. Pranksters and tortfeaso