Known as @n3actes on Instagram and fond of sharing his exotic car ownerships, filmmaker Stephen Mitchell owned a great number of notable cars through the years. One of them is the Ferrari 250 GTO s/n 3987GT…
My name is Stephen Mitchell and I like Ferraris. I came to appreciate them after I survived a head-on collision on the Ventura Freeway in Los Angeles and spent a month in the hospital with a very few television channels, a record player with some Elvis 45s and as many car magazines as I could get my hands on. I wasn't yet old enough to drive but the articles by Henry N. Manney lll, Denis Jenkinson (or DSJ as he signed them) and David E. Davis in which the European racing scene, exotic sports cars of the time and the chicanery of the Machiavellian Scuderia Ferrari were detailed and, perhaps, romanticized to a degree, captured my imagination.
Too young to drive, my fascination with Ferrari focused on their design aesthetic, the legendary nature of Ferrari himself, his designers and engineers and the epic results they were enjoying on the race track. When I came of age and was old enough to drive, Trevor Hook, a salesman at Otto Zipper's Ferrari dealership in Santa Monica offered me my first ride in a Ferrari--a 250GT/E 2+2. That did it!
One day, I was riding in the family Cadillac--still too young to drive at this point--when I see what I recognized as a Ferrari 250GTO going the opposite direction. It looked and sounded fantastic, was red and had two orange pit lights on the roof like one sees at Le Mans or Daytona. I wanted that car!
A few years later, I bought my first car, a gorgeous canary yellow Jaguar E-Type coupe which nearly bankrupted me with repairs. I sold it and bought a Ferrari Berlinetta Lusso that, ironically, I could afford to own and drive.
Photo: Barbara Day
Insurance money from the accident and some part-time movie work made it possible. I was in my element. Everything about the Ferrari made perfect sense to me and the way it drove was a vast improvement over the Jaguar. The design was sublime and it offered all the performance I could ask for. I was 17 years old.
Seeing the 250 Breadvan
Photo: Gary Wales
One evening, I attended my first Ferrari Owner's Club dinner in Santa Monica. I'd never seen so many Ferraris together in one place and during the course of the evening, encountered two 'forces of nature' that would become intertwined with my life as I grew into adulthood--Matthew Ettinger and the Ferrari Breadvan. For reasons best known to himself, Matthew was dressed as an Arab sheik and was being pushed by his wife at the time in a wheelchair and with plaster casts on both his legs. A drunk driver drove onto the sidewalk as Matthew was changing band names on the marquee of his nightclub knocking him off his ladder and into the hospital.
After dinner, in the parking lot, I discovered the Ferrari Breadvan, still owned by film editor Asa Clark at the time. It was an interesting car with more history than I could have imagined at the time. That night, there was no hint of how both of these encounters would shape my future with some extraordinary adventures and lead to my inclusion in Marc Sonnery's wonderful book Rebel Rebel: Breadvan: The Most Recognizable Ferrari in the World decades later.
Photo: Matthew Ettinger
So much for the backstory. As much as I loved the Lusso, I had never forgotten the sight of that red GTO on San Vicente Blvd. as it went by. I decided to see if I could find a GTO to buy. It wasn't easy. Some producer at Paramount Studios listed one in the classified section of the Los Angeles Times. I went to look at it but, inexplicably, it turned out to be a Lusso. I kept looking.
Buying the GTO
Eventually, I found an ad for a yellow GTO owned by Mario Tosi who was a cinematographer living in the Hollywood Hills above the Sunset Strip. I drove my Lusso to his house and followed Mario along Mulholland Drive as we went for a road test. "Don't try to keep up with him," Mario's friend who also owned a Lusso warned me, "You won't be able to."
I didn't buy Mario's car (which can be seen in 'resale red' in the Peter Helm film I edited and narrated titled Ferrari GTOs at Willow Springs &...). For a number of reasons that I couldn't put my finger on, it wasn't the right car for me. Extraordinary reaction, given that finding a GTO was not an easy task.
And then the mountain came to Muhammad, so to speak. I received a call from my mechanic, Sal DiNatale, who tells me he has a GTO in his shop for repairs and the owner wants to sell it. Instinctively, I said to Sal, "Tell him it's sold." I didn't even ask about the price! I jumped in the Lusso and raced to Sal's shop to find that the GTO was the very same one with the orange pit lights on the roof I'd seen on San Vicente Blvd. so long ago. This was entering into the the metaphysical...
Photo: Larry Crane Photography
The 'repairs' to which Sal referred was a complete engine rebuild. The owner, who I was informed was a music producer for Sonny & Cher, had cooked the engine when an oil line leading to the oil radiator failed. For reasons I cannot adequately explain, this didn't deter me. I bought the car but it would be nine months before that GTO left Sal's garage under its own power. I paid $7K for the car and an additional $3K for the rebuild and having the paint taken down to the metal and re-sprayed.
Photo: Larry Crane Photography
Written by Stephen Mitchell.