THE HORSE WHIS­PERER

IF YOU ARE SE­RI­OUS — VERY SE­RI­OUS — ABOUT RESTOR­ING A VIN­TAGE FER­RARI, GET OUT THE MAP FOR GAINESVILL­E

The Dallas Morning News - - HITCHED - by CHRISTOPHE­R WYNN pho­to­graphs by JONATHAN ZIZZO

Bob Smith’s name is so com­mon, so ut­terly or­di­nary, it is dif­fi­cult to fathom that he has any­thing to do with fancy, rar­efied Fer­raris. He has a mane of sil­ver hair and prefers well-worn jeans. In his shirt pocket are two things: a new iPhone (“Siri doesn’t un­der­stand Texan”) and a small leather-bound note­book stamped FER­RARI. The book’s pages are filled with hand­writ­ten notes about parts and mea­sure­ments for the vin­tage ex­otic sports cars that are his life’s work and ob­ses­sion.

Smith is a Fer­rari mas­ter. He is one of the coun­try’s top restora­tion crafts­men and has a clien­tele that in­cludes For­tune 500 CEOs. His ve­hic­u­lar hand­i­work has won awards at the most pres­ti­gious judged car show in the coun­try, the Peb­ble Beach Con­cours d’El­e­gance — and he does it all from an ob­scure, yel­low-stucco build­ing that vaguely re­sem­bles a Mex­i­can restau­rant, in the sleepy Texas town of Gainesvill­e, about an hour and a half north of Dal­las.

On the af­ter­noon we ar­rive at Bob Smith Coach­works, the fa­mously good-look­ing ABC News an­chor and cor­re­spon­dent David Muir has placed an or­der to have some parts chrome-plated. Smith started his own high-tech plat­ing fa­cil­ity nearby when he couldn’t get the qual­ity he wanted in the mar­ket. Smith is par­tic­u­lar like that. You have to be, in this busi­ness where de­tails count.

Smith spe­cial­izes in the rarest and most fetishized Fer­raris from the so-called Enzo era. Th­ese are the orig­i­nal rac­ing and road cars that com­pany founder Enzo Fer­rari’s teams built by hand. Their num­bers are ex­tremely limited. Two months ago, a 1967 Fer­rari 330 GTS — one of only 99 made, and owned by Dal­las car-deal­er­ship ty­coon Don Davis — sold at auc­tion for just shy of $2 mil­lion. Be­cause re­place­ment parts for th­ese ve­hi­cles are es­sen­tially nonex­is­tent, Smith has made a niche of craft­ing com­po­nents by hand. His long­time team of artisans shapes and pol­ishes fend­ers, ma­chines bolts and clamps, stitches up­hol­stery, con­structs molds for mak­ing plas­tic light cov­ers, even re­fin­ishes wooden dash­board trim and steer­ing wheels in the on­site wood­shop. The typ­i­cal restora­tion cost of a vin­tage Fer­rari? Any­where from $200,000 to $600,000.

Those are big num­bers for a Gainesvill­e farm boy who used his even­tual ma­chin­ist and up­hol­stery train­ing to start

a shop with $50 and a $135 box of tools. He tack­led what­ever peo­ple could “drag in the door” and that even­tu­ally in­cluded more and more cars. Wealthy clients in Dal­las be­gan bring­ing up their Cadil­lacs and Due­sen­bergs, and the ve­hi­cles in Smith’s shop con­tin­ued to get more ex­otic and more ex­pen­sive. Fer­raris soon be­came a spe­cialty.

Of course, they are worth ev­ery dime for en­thu­si­asts such as Bobby Cheney, a rabid car col­lec­tor in High­land Park and a long­time client, who has two Fer­raris in Smith’s shop right now: a ’67 330 GTS and a ’68 275 GTB/4. “If the engine and the transaxle have the num­bers on them,” Cheney says, “you can throw that thing off the Em­pire State Build­ing and then take it up to Bob and he can re­build it and re­tain the value of it.” To wit, rare vin­tage Fer­raris are now as prized as fine art by bil­lion­aires every­where from China to Rus­sia — driv­ing up prices ac­cord­ingly. (Cheney’s holy grail is a Fer­rari 275 GTB/4 NART Spy­der, the same kind perched upon by Faye Du­n­away in 1968’s The Thomas

Crown Af­fair, only 10 of which were made, with cur­rent val­ues around $10 mil­lion per. He likes their “mys­tique.”) And, you should know, Cheney, like other col­lec­tors at this level, dis­dains red Fer­raris. Though red is con­sid­ered the clas­sic Fer­rari color — trac­ing back to its rac­ing her­itage — many con­nois­seurs pre­fer less-com­mon hues.

As for Smith, though he re­stores other makes such as Bu­gatti and Mercedes-Benz, he fix­ates on vin­tage Fer­raris be­cause they are wholly hand­made. He loves the com­pany, too, be­cause Enzo Fer­rari “started it with noth­ing and built it into some­thing” — much like Smith has done with his own busi­ness. In fact, some cus­tomers have asked him to stamp his name some­where on the cars that he re­stores. “I won’t do that,” he says. “The peo­ple that know, know.”

ABOVE: Wood dashes and steer­ing wheels are re­stored and some­times crafted in-house. BE­LOW: Bolts of fab­ric and leather are kept on hand, tagged ac­cord­ing to cus­tomer. OP­PO­SITE PAGE: Vin­tage au­to­mo­bile re­storer Bob Smith in front of a 1960 Fer­rari...

THIS hands PAGE, of crafts­man clock­wise Greg from Buchanan. above: The The well-worn old-school ig­ni­tion switch and key in a 1959 Fer­rari 250 Testa Rossa. Buchanan works on the door of a 1967 Fer­rari 330 GTS. OP­PO­SITE PAGE, clock­wise from top...

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