2009 Ferrari California

Don Sherman
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Mark Bramley

Ferris Bueller had the right idea. Why let a perfect day slip through your fingers? Sunshine can't be stashed in a savings account. Smiles won't keep in your freezer. Good times are perishable, so smart operators like Ferris grab the gusto when they can.

Lord knows we could all use a shot of Bueller-grade glee to cleanse our souls of bad karma. Smacked by hurricanes, expensive fuel, a mortgage crisis, a stock market crash, and a mean-spirited presidential election, all of us deserve a day off. I took mine in Sicily with audio entertainment provided by a seldom-throttled Ferrari V-8.

And this was not just any Ferrari V-8, but one specifically engineered to uplift the mood of those with the cash reserves to buy it plus everyone fortunate enough to hear eight barely muffled cylinders racing to an 8000-rpm redline. The new Ferrari California wrapped around this engine is exactly the hot car we need to take our minds off a global economy on ice.

The California name says it all. Think palm trees adorning Bel Air boulevards, ruby lips, and blonde tresses ruffled by gentle zephyrs. This is the convertible that Scarlett Johansson would treat herself to if her next movie is a blockbuster.

The California moniker also plucks the heartstrings of every Ferrari fan by harking back to the 250GT sports cars constructed by the Scuderia from 1954 through 1964. About 2500 such Ferraris were built during the Eisenhower and Kennedy years, constituting a major production milestone and this firm's first volume model for roadgoing customers. All 250GTs were powered by Colombo V-12 engines and dressed in coupe or convertible sportswear fashioned by Italy's finest coachbuilders.

After the handful of GTO homologation specials (racers disguised as road cars), the California Spider is the most auspicious child in the Ferrari 250 family. Requested by either Ferrari's East Coast importer Luigi Chinetti or its West Coast distributor John von Neumann, or both (opinions vary), this specially configured 250 was essentially a stripped-down softtop version of Pinin Farina's berlinetta (coupe) with steel and aluminum bodywork crafted by Scaglietti. During a six-year run that began in 1958, a total of 104 California Spiders were built in two series. Just less than half rode on a 102.4-inch wheelbase and sixteen-inch wire wheels. The 94.5-inch-wheelbase second edition brought a bit more power, fifteen-inch wheels, and about 100 pounds of additional weight attributable to a stiffer chassis. The two variations on the 250 theme are distinguishable by the number of vanes in the front-fender air vents; first-series Spiders have three, second-edition models sport two.

Celebrity ownership and competition success have blessed the Spider California with a golden aura. Brigitte Bardot purchased a long-wheelbase model, and James Coburn topped the list of swells who loved driving one of the short-wheelbase Spiders. Prepped for racing, these Ferraris won their GT class at Sebring in 1959 and 1960, while a car entered by Chinetti's North American Racing Team and co-driven by Bob Grossman and Fernand Tavano scored fifth overall at the 1959 24 Hours of Le Mans.

Spider California trading prices have been climbing heavenward for decades, prompting Paramount to use a kit car in place of the real thing to immortalize Ferris Bueller's illustrious day off in the 1986 movie directed by John Hughes. In 2007, a first-series example brought $4.95 million at an auction in Monterey, California, and Coburn's short-wheelbase car sold for nearly $11 million in Italy last spring.

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