Talk about love and dedication. The year was 1968 when in Orange, CA, college professors and car enthusiasts Fred Peters and Charles Betz bought a wrecked 1954 Ferrari 375MM Spider convertible for $1,100 from another car collector. The Ferrari was a mess; the body had been destroyed, the chassis shortened and chopped. There was no engine.
But, Betz had seen the car at its best when it raced in the 1958 Times Mirror Grand Prix in Riverside and he knew what it could be.
The men had a vision of restoring the ’54 Spider to perfection and thus embarked on a 40-year journey to find the missing pieces. Along the way, the guys kept their day jobs while indulging in their car restoration business. “It was just a hobby that got out of hand,” Peters explained. He worked as a psychology professor at Fullerton College and specialized in restoring German cars while Betz taught economics at Cerritos and worked on English and Italian sports cars.
The duo eventually started specializing in Ferraris in the ’60s and ’70s, they were cheap since very few knew people knew how to work on them and there were no Ferrari service manuals. In 1968, the men even opened a used Ferrari dealership but it only lasted 2 years. Betz explained, “Everyone wanted a new Ferrari, not a used one. Nobody likes you if you’re in the used Ferrari business.” They kept restoring cars and sometimes, they actually made a profit. In 1970, they acquired a Ferrari 250 Lusso that needed a new engine for $4,000. They sold the Lusso for $12,000 in 1976. (In 1986, the same car sold for $80,000 and sold again a few years later for $580,000).
Meanwhile, Betz and Peters’ families grew and wives came and went as they patiently searched for 375MM parts, which was no easy task. Only fourteen 375MM Spiders were made and two had already been destroyed. They found pieces here and there but what they really needed was in the possession of another collector who had many key parts they needed. But he refused to sell, so Betz and Peters waited. Finally, the collector sold the car to English Ferrari restorer David Cottingham who was friends with the men. Cottingham sold them the pieces they needed: the car’s original gas tank, shift knob, hood and passenger seat.
The final phase of the decades long 375MM restoration could now begin. The frame was rebuilt and the body repaired and painted with reproduced paint. The engine was finally reassembled. Even the wood steering wheel, the leather seats and details like the hood latches’ leather straps were restored flawlessly. Betz’s son, Brooke joined the restoration team. He estimates his dad and Peters spent at least $1 million in parts with $400,000 going just into the engine. After 46 years, the Ferrari was finally perfect.
In 2014, the men decided to liquidate their car collection since Betz was now 75 years old and Peters was 83. In August, the 375MM went on the auction block in Monterey, CA. During the auction, the men were hopeful since a 1962 Ferrari 250 GTO had already sold for $38 million, the highest price ever paid for a car at an auction. The top bid for the 375MM came in a little under $5.8 million.
However, it wasn’t enough and the guys passed. Betz said, “In terms of what we’ve spent, we would have been way ahead. But we’ve owned it for 46 years and $5.8 million just won’t do it.”
The partners now store the 375MM with six other classic cars they keep in their collection. Inquiries about the Ferrari still come in from time to time but for one financial reason or another, a deal has never been finalized. The men don’t seem to mind. They admit they like seeing the restored 375MM sitting in the garage. And they are in no rush to sell since any time they did sell one of their restored cars, they always felt “a little twinge.” As Peters explains it “You put your heart into these cars. You remember what they were.”
Read more about today’s new car models that’s sure to turn into tomorrow’s classic cars on Motor Trend Garage’s blog.