In the January 31st Bring-a-Trailer e-mail there was a red 1997 Ferrari 550 Maranello 6-Speed at auction. Currently, Maranellos with the gated shifter like this are bringing prices roughly double what the ones with the F1-style paddle-shifted gearboxes command.
The companies that produce high-end sports cars would be doing themselves a huge disservice if they didn’t do some thorough research on the underlying reasons for that immense price differential. I strongly suspect that there is much more going on than simply supply versus demand with one model of used Ferrari. Rather, I believe it is a powerful indication that the prestige manufacturers are not producing what American buyers really want from an expensive sports car.
The main problem is the manufacturers concentrating all their efforts on producing cars which are virtual clones of the latest race car technology. Now, for their European customers that makes sense; European drivers of these cars generally drive them much harder than Americans do. And when they get the opportunity, they drive them much faster than Americans legally can. If you get the chance to drive at 180 mph occasionally, it’s wise to have a car that is comprehensively engineered to handle 180 mph speeds.
American drivers, with few exceptions, simply don’t drive at such elevated speeds. Track time can be bought for that purpose, but track use represents a miniscule fraction of the miles driven in high-end sports cars. Driving much closer to the speed limit is the norm. And when a modern supercar is driven that slowly its entire reason for being is defeated.
If some marketing people were to do some research on American drivers of high-end sports cars, I believe they would find that what these customers want, bottom line, is a car they can cruise around in. And not just within the speed limit, often even well below the speed limit. And they would want a car they can savor in many ways, both visually and functionally. Imagine cruising on a lakeside drive, or along the coast in a 1967 Corvette convertible. The driver has a big V8 that sounds good at all RPMs and pulls strongly from 800 – no need to rev to 4500 RPMs to get a turbocharger going. Driving doesn’t get much better.
Then we’ll add something that the 1967 model didn’t, and this is what the buyer will savor instead of a 200 mph top speed: we’ll use materials and workmanship that are orders of magnitude better than what was found on a 1967 ‘Vette, and also well above what you’ll find on any 2017 sports car. Picture the interior. Everything is highest-quality chrome-plated brass, leather, perfectly-finished painted metal, top-quality ivory substitute for the knobs, glass for the Breitling-quality round instruments, Wilton carpets, and perhaps some wood. And when the owner shows off the engine to friends, there’ll be none of those goofy plastic engine covers. Instead, there’ll be an engine where the engine itself and every component – alternator, voltage regulator, windshield fluid reservoir, fuse box, etc. – is made of painted or polished metal.
Don’t put money into development of tamed race cars; use that money for the purposes mentioned above. And one last thing: in producing the car that can be savored, banish all evident traces of plastic, which has a role to play if pure economics are paramount, but which should not be visible on a $100,000+ car.
For anyone who doubts the wisdom of this approach to the American buyer of high-end sports cars, look no further than the tremendous success that Harley-Davidson has, doing that very same thing described above for motorcycles. On a Harley-Davidson there is metal where there should be metal, paint where there should be paint and chrome – God love it! – where there should be chrome. Amen to that.