This American dentist and hobby car designer did not just buy the dream. He built his dream.
Closer look at the development of one man’s dream car.
To me, Ferrari is a dream, a passion, a desire. It’s not just a car company. Ever since I was a kid, I loved Ferraris, and my life’s goal was to someday own one. But I also had a very creative side, and was always drawing cars, making models, etc. Always of Ferraris (and, from time to time, Lamborghinis).
I wanted to become a car designer, but I chose not to pursue it because I felt that I only wanted to design Ferraris and nothing else. Working for a company like Pininfarina, there is no guarantee that you can ever design a Ferrari. So, I decided to take a safer route and become a dentist, as my father suggested, and buy a Ferrari.
I turned out to be pretty good at it, since it requires you to analyse curved surfaces and try to restore natural shape and function to the teeth. I think the skills needed as a dentist are the same as a car designer in many ways.
Meant to be?
But around the year 2003, I met someone who would change my life vision. His name is Ken Okuyama, the man who designed the Ferrari Enzo at Pininfarina. He just came to my dental office as a patient one day. I couldn’t believe it.
To me, he lives exactly the life I wanted to live – a car designer that designed one of the most iconic Ferraris of all time, and then now owning it…this was my dream. Every time Ken came to my office for treatment, I showed him my drawings. We became close friends and he advised me on my techniques and designs.
Around 2011, Ken left Pininfarina and he suggested to me an idea. What if we created a completely original car of my design based on a Ferrari? He would help me create it in his newly formed design firm.
We decided that the 599, which was the current V12 Ferrari at the time, would be a good base to work on. It was also one of the last cars Ken was directly responsible for at Pininfarina. I purchased a base car, and I sketched a lot of concept models of a front-engine Ferrari dream car. I sent them all to Ken for critique and even visited him many times at his headquarters in Yamagata, Japan, to discuss details and design.
However, Ken decided he was going to remake the Ferrari Rosso concept car he designed in 2000, and not do anything like the designs created. I had to gratefully decline to continue with Ken on the project, and he went on to create the Kode 57, which debuted at the Quail 2016.
My own creation
I was now stuck with a poor quality 599 that I couldn’t sell without a loss. I began to think of a way that I could do this project on my own. I could not afford to do a full body remake, but what about a cool spider? I felt that even though they had the SA Aperta, I thought a better-looking spider was possible. I wanted one that looked more like the classic Ferrari spiders of the ’60s, like 250 GT California – the classic Ferrari convertibles that are just so perfect.
Creating the spider really only involves the rear upper portion of the body. I didn’t change anything else on the car, but I found that by cleanly removing that rear glass and top, the 599’s side profile reveal a beautiful beltline that arches over the rear wheels. It slants forward in a straight line that joins the air outlet in the front fender, and there is another arch over the front wheels. It is very elegant, and this feature is even more pronounced in the Spider.
For the rear deck design, I wanted a slight fairing behind the seats, but not so large that it takes away from the clean side profile. Eventually, I came up with a more unique solution – a winglet that preserves the flying buttress feature of the C-pillar, which is so unique to the 599. The entire outer surface of the trunk was remade using the original inner panel, and the rear fender was modified by welding sheet aluminium to the original quarter panel.
The soft top mechanism is very complex and was difficult to design. It’s really more of an engineering exercise. I wanted to create something that you never see in a production soft top. So, I created a mechanism that is CNC milled from aluminium, with some titanium parts. All the parts are exposed to see. It operates hydraulically.
The front windshield is from a Ferrari California. The A pillars were left intact, but the entire top part of the windshield was grafted from a Ferrari California. This allowed us to use all the interior finishing pieces like the vanity lights, rear view mirror, sun visors, the latch for the top mechanism and even the rubber moulding are all Ferrari factory parts, for a clean fit and finish.
Designing is one thing, but fabricating it is a whole another challenge. I learned this the hard way, because basically I had to do the build job twice, as the first shop I worked with could not create what I had in mind. They basically took my money but had no interest or passion for the build and didn't have the skills to even finish it.
I wanted to create something unique and special in a Ferrari, with high-quality design and construction that would stand the test of time. To do so, the build had to be done by people who shared the same passion and goals – craftsmen who could work aluminium panels with English wheels, perfectly weld and form aluminium body panels, and top-class paint. There was no room for using Bondo to fill shapes and form the body. Obviously, this wouldn’t be cheap to do, but it would be worth it.
I found such people at a shop called FastCars Ltd in Redondo Beach, California. They specialize in restoration and service of classic Italian cars like Ferrari, Alfa Romeo and Lamborghini, and have won best-in-class awards at Pebble Beach Concourse and others.
We unveiled the finished car at Quail in 2017 and again 2019 after the top was made. Ken Okuyama is still a good friend of mine and has given me high praise for the work I’ve done!