I long to play Caesar. Not on stage, but in real life, extending my thumb to the crowd to signal my approval or disgust over any number of things. Today, I’m mercilessly judging the world of one-off and super-limited Ferraris, from concept cars to Special Projects. Spoiler alert: most of them get fed to the lions.
Concept Cars vs. Special Projects
First, let’s draw a line between concepts and SPs. Concept cars are inherently experimental – a sandbox where designers, coachbuilders and engineers try out ideas that may or may not make it to production. Special Projects, though, are when Ferrari collaborates with an esteemed collector on an eye-wateringly expensive one-off, with generous input from the buyer. That’s where a lot of them go wrong.
The Winning Gladiator
2012 Ferrari SP12 EC – Absolute perfection. There just isn’t a line on this car that doesn’t make me smile. It’s an elegant, sophisticated and stunning modern tribute to a classic Ferrari, the iconic 512BB, and a fitting reward for an ardent celebrity collector. Guitarist Eric Clapton is said to have spent $4.7 million on developing and manufacturing this retro-modern V8 masterpiece, which sits on the chassis of a 458 Italia.
1966 Ferrari 365P Tre Posti Berlinetta Speciale
An epic name for an epic ride that still looks space-age. This car combined relatively subdued bodywork, some of which later ended up on the Dino, with a novel three-seat, driver-in-the-middle layout that debuted 26 years before McLaren “thought” of it.
1969 Ferrari 512S Berlinetta
Alfa Romeo Carabo. Lancia Stratos Zero. Lamborghini Countach. Between the end of the ’60s and early ’70s, everyone in Motor Valley tried to build the perfect pancake. Ferrari stepped in with the 512S, showed them all how it was done, and then got back to business.
2011 Ferrari Superamerica 45
Built for American collector Peter Kalikow and based on the 2010 599 SA Aperta, this one-off Ferrari is basically an approved limited-edition car with that cool flippy glass roof from the original 575 Superamerica. And it’s super sharp!
2014 Ferrari F60 America
Like the 2010 599 SA Aperta, the F60 America is essentially a limited edition open-top version of an approved production model – in this case, the F12 Berlinetta. And both are absolutely stunning, wildly expensive vehicles.
2015 Ferrari Sergio
I love the Ferrari J50 but felt I should give the real nod to its father, the 2015 Sergio. This beautifully designed targa-top looks compact and aggressive, yet deeply refined. I think it should have been a full-blown production model.
2016 Ferrari 458 MM Speciale
Like the Superamerica 45, the one-off 458 MM Speciale wins because the collector who commissioned it didn’t reinvent the wheel. With just a few pinches and cuts, the MM Speciale actually improves on the 458’s design.
The Superamerica 45, F60 America and 458 MM Speciale win because they gently iterate on approved road cars that already had a ton of R&D. The SP12 EC is basically the only ground-up Special Project that I wholeheartedly approve.
Food for the Lions
It’s hard to know who to blame when concepts and SPs go sideways: the designer throwing caution to the wind or the demanding collector who says, “I want this.” Either way, here’s my list of misses. There are many, so I won’t go too in-depth. Just a quick roast for each…
1965 Ferrari 330 GT 2+2 Shooting Brake
God, why? Just…no. Rule of thumb: If it will make an ugly Chevy, or hearse for that matter, then it will make a terrible Ferrari.
1969 Ferrari 365 GT Nart Spyder
Covered back wheels? Square headlamps? Surely this is a Ferrari in name only. I find this car to be an irredeemable mess and invite any and all counterarguments.
1988 Ferrari F90
One of the Sultan of Brunei’s many crimes again automotive humanity. So bad it was kept secret! It’s all swoops and ovals – not a straight line on the thing. And remember, his patronage also gave us the Mythos.
1989 Ferrari 328 Conciso
An amphibious Miata? I’d rather have a frog. This weird creation is actually from a German design shop and based very vaguely on the 1989 328 GTS. It’s unclear if the shop is still in business.
1992 Ferrari 348 Barchetta Competizione
It takes some skill to turn a track version of Ferrari’s least exciting modern road car into an even less exciting boy racer.
1993 Ferrari FZ93
Possibly a rejected design for the Pontiac Fiero?
1995 Ferrari FX
The Sultan is back for more. His secretly built FX looked like a Bugatti EB10 up front and God-knows-what in the back, with that hole-punched engine cover and tapered rear. The only good to come out of this experiment was an F1-style paddle-shift transmission, which made it to production four years later in the 355 F1.
1996 Ferrari F50 Bolide
I keep a file called “Bad ’90s Bodywork” for things like the 348 Barchetta and this, the F50 Bolide – a bulbous Italian NASCAR.
2000 Ferrari Rossa & 2005 Ferrari GG50
I’m putting these together because they have basically the same front-end, with weird slits for headlights. Thankfully they opened them up a bit for the 599.
2006 Ferrari 575 GTZ Zagato
I’m noticing a trend here. Maybe I just don’t like Zagato.
2006 Ferrari P4/5 by Pininfarina
Lots of people love this car, but James Glickenhaus is, for me, one of those collectors with more money than taste. His one-off P4/5, based on the 1967 330 P4 endurance racer, looks like a prop from Minority Report. He is, after all, a former film executive. Scuderia Cameron Glickenhaus is now coachbuilding its own track cars and – surprise – I’m not a fan.
2008 Ferrari F430 SP1
This was the first time Ferrari invited an esteemed collector to its Special Projects program. Shockingly, the car was designed by Leonardo Fioravanti, the mind behind so many legendary Ferraris. It’s a rare miss for such a talent, but I find the SP1’s back third to be awkward and off balance.
2014 Ferrari F12TRS
Sam Li (@mwvmnw on Instagram) is the son of a Chinese billionaire and has – at last count – infinity cars. Actually, two infinity, since he reportedly buys two of everything, including his one-off (two-off?) F12TRS inspired by the 1957 Testa Rossa and based on the F12. It has some cool design moves, like the exposed engine, and one of the two is painted liquid silver, but ultimately there’s something cartoonish about them that I don’t love.
2018 Ferrari SP38 Deborah
Built for Swiss collector and Corse Clienti racer Deborah Mayer, the SP38 made a splash at the 2018 Concorso d’Eleganza at Villa d’Este. Based on the 488, it features some sharp design cues from the J50/Sergio but I think its boxy backend and slatted engine cover could have been refined into something less busy, like the SP12 EC.