Review by Pete Vack
All photos courtesy Eau Rouge Publishing and Paul Schouwenburg
Retail Price Standard Edition: £ 85.00
ISBN-10: 0957397828 Eau Rouge Publishing, U.K. www.eaurougepublishing.com
Retail Price Deluxe Edition: £ TBA
The book is available in two hard copy formats, Standard and *Deluxe, both with dustjackets and slipcases.
Right from the start you realize that Paul Schouwenburg is a fellow traveler. The minute he writes of finding that an Alfa 1900 is strangely out of time due to the distributor being inserted into the block at 360 degrees out you know he’s a car guy. When he takes a much modified Mini Cooper and terrorizes half of Holland you can relate; he has problems with the Bosch solenoid on his Ferrari, you recall having the same adventures in good starting; testing an old aluminum head, he pours water into it to do a pressure test and finds it would make a great sprinkler, we sympathize; when he restored cars on his own, towed them with ropes, or drove them home on a wing and a prayer, you’ve been there; the pain is understood when he is beaten in a deal to buy an ultra-rare Ferrari. When he had to borrow money from his father to buy that 212 Inter with engine problems, it rings bells.
In fact, were he not a great surgeon, and owner of just about every sort of super Ferrari ever made including a GTO (ironically not among his favorites), Paul Schouwenburg is a lot like you, or many of the guys you know; a 33 degree car nut right from the age of three. His family was comfortable but not rich; Schouwenburg washed cars, did detail work and anything he needed to do to save up money to buy and restore cars himself.
One could do that back in the 60s and 70s without being rich, just resourceful and driven. To a large degree, Schouwenburg’s book is about that heady and exciting time between the years 1965 and 1990, when car collecting was fun, and amazing cars could be found lurking in just about every old garage for nothing but a song.
Many of us were lucky to have shared the same experiences, but there are degrees of differences as one quickly realizes by thumbing through this massive 384 page autobiography.
Aside from having the brains, determination and skill to be a successful surgeon, Schouwenburg, being Dutch, has always been meticulous and recorded everything. And instead of using a Polaroid or 126 Instamatic, right from his first car he made use of a Leica camera and was a good photographer. Therefore the photos he took were and are excellent, sharp, and picture cars as-found, as-towed, as-driven, as-restored (and as-wrecked in some cases) from his first Alfa to his last with a lot of Ferraris in between.
A host of great cars, a good camera, powerful memory, good records and a wonderful life make a wonderful book. Born to doting parents in 1942 in wartime and occupied Amsterdam, Schouwenburg never forgot the Allied bombers dropping bombs perilously close to himself and his aunt. At the same time, he was provided with steam engine toys that gave him an interest in mechanics. Aided and abetted by a father who also enjoyed cars, Schouwenburg saw his first Grand Prix at Zandvoort in 1952 and the die was cast, with a distinctly Italian flavor, enhanced by seeing the beautiful Alfa 1900 Touring at the 1954 Amsterdam Auto Show.
His first car came in 1962, naturally an Alfa 1900 Berlina (an early TI of course!) which was soon cannibalized to give life to a more interesting Alfa 1900 Series 1 Touring coupe. Since he had little money to have them restored, he and his friend did the work themselves. This do-it-yourself effort continued over the years and gave him hands on experiences in overhauling Alfa and Ferrari engines, transmissions, rear ends and suspensions (often a frightening fight). Much of this was done on the side while Schouwenburg was going to med school and later while working full time as a surgeon. In addition, he managed to instill his love of cars and restoration to two sons, Jurriaan and Lennart, who in turn eventually opened their own restoration shop, Strada e Corsa.
Little money also meant that he had to sell one car to get another. After that first Alfa, the list grew as did his experience and driving abilities. The tally (and most are covered in a most interesting fashion in the book) of cars is 31 Alfas, 28 Ferraris, 6 Lancias, 2 Maseratis, 2 Fiats, 2 Porsches and 13 others, mostly British.
Along the way he make friends with a good many of the friends of Ferrari, including Rob Box (we learn that Box really didn’t like Ferraris, he was a Porsche guy), Rudolf Wolf, Jacques Swaters (who convinced him to open a Ferrari dealership in Amsterdam), Dick Merritt (like others, Schouwenburg bought Merritt and Fitzgerald’s Ferrari the minute it was published) Hilary Raab, and Corrado Cupellini.
Buy 28 old Ferraris and you’ll have 28 interesting and often harrowing stories. For many years Schouwenburg and friends did not have access to a trailer, and drove his finds home as is, or like the rare 250 Monza (which everyone looked at and said, a 250 Monza, no way, but there it was) was towed via rope. But Schouwenburg even goes further than that: after finding a 250GT Europa in Antwerp, with its original engine sitting next to the car, Schouwenburg and his friend checked to see if it would crank, then proceeded to install the engine back into the car and drive it home. The results were hilarious as ex-owner threw the pair out of his garage, Schouwenburg encountered the police and the car was impounded. Nevertheless, he prevailed and the car was indeed driven back to Amsterdam.
As one purchase led to a yet another and better car, Schouwenburg eventually found himself the owner of some of the most iconic and valuable Ferraris, including Swater’s 340A Touring coupe, a beautiful one off 250GT PF LWB Spider built for a Mr. Meert, a Vignale 250MM which had been walled up in a factory, and a Ferrari 250 Testa Rossa, which began as a frame and over the years was completed with original TR parts.
After completion of its restoration in 1996 he enormously enjoys racing the car to this day, although a lawsuit over the chassis s/n 12 years ago (which he eventually won) left a bitter taste. By the late nineties, the Ferraris he had previously towed through the streets of Amsterdam or had found and patiently restored were becoming too valuable. Much of the fun went out of the Ferrari hobby and Schouwenburg rediscovered his love for Alfas, and found new passions with OSCAs, Lancias and Siatas.
There are far too many cars to mention, but Schouwenburg’s brief includes Alfa TZs, a Sprint Zagato longtail, two Alfa T33s, one of the rare Alfa Sebring Spiders, and several GTAs. One of his favorite Ferraris was the 250GT SWB Comp/61, but he also enjoyed a 275 GTB/C long nose and a 275GTB/C Speciale (275GTB/C/LM). He devotes a chapter to discuss his list of favorites, and his remarks are of particular interest as he speaks from years of experience with restoring, racing, and driving many on a daily basis. In addition, he actively vintage raced and rallied many of his cars and his racing successes (and accidents) are all part of this enthralling autobiography.
Another interesting aspect of the man is Schouwenburg’s ability as an artist. Most of us doodled or drew cars of our own design as teenagers, but again he did it with greater ability and depth, achieving second place in an international design contest at the age of 15 (Battista Pinin Farina was a judge on the panel). He includes a chapter with some of his work at the end of the book.
Schouwenburg organizes the considerable amount of material by grouping years together (1942-1948 etc.) which is quite satisfactory if read carefully. An index would have been helpful but there are lists of his cars as an addendum. The English (the book is in English only) grammar and style is spot on, there are no typos, and the entire book is simply delightful. It often reads like a novel and is at times funny, introspective, and at all times a joy to read. Doug Blair at Eau Rouge Publishing, should be proud of this effort; Marc Sonnery, the author of Rebel Rebel and Maserati, the Citroën Years, did a great job with the editing, working with Doug and Caroline Jepp. A most remarkable effort and production!
Many of our readers could write similar stories based on their own experiences, but few would be able to match the original photos, impeccable English, honesty and enthusiasm in a more star-studded package. Ferrari Fever is not just an automotive autobiography but a tribute to an era which simply will never come again.
*The Deluxe version is strictly limited to 100 copies, signed by the author and publisher, is housed in a custom-made acrylic slipcase and comes complete with a separate hardback book showcasing some of the best images from the book, in addition to some new unseen photographs. Full details of the Deluxe edition will be posted online shortly.