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August 8th, 2007

By the mid 1960s, many used Ferraris were falling apart, found in cheap suburban tract housing behind chainlink fences, the Vignale or Ghia bodywork hidden by tarps, dogwatched by a mut on a rope. Most were in America; Illinois, California, New York, Long Island, Boston, and military ports like Long Beach, Norfolk, Jacksonville, San Diego, although old Ferraris could and would be found in Europe, South America, and Australia.

They were usually in the hands of well meaning, somewhat knowledgeable foreign car enthusiasts who knew what they had but did not have the time, energy or money to properly restore their treasure. Many were young, but saddled with family responsibilities that precluded investing any grand sum into fixing a car whose value was at the very best purely speculative. Once such young man was Richard F. Merritt, who had worked at Ford, GM and selling Volkswagens part time, and who realized that the Ferrari would be the next Bugatti. Over the years, Merritt would buy and sell 48 of the most desirable Ferraris ever built, but his main claim to fame would come as the co-author (with Warren Fitzgerald) of the landmark “Ferrari, the Sports and Grand Turismo Cars”. If any one book made the marque, it was this one, hereafter to be referred to as “F&M” for Fitzgerald and Merritt.

The post war classic car market boom was just emerging. Bugattis were among the most sought after, with prices ranging from $4000 for a Type 43 to $10,000 for restored Type 35s. A 1932 Alfa Romeo 2.3 with a Graber body was advertised for $14,000, and this was a high end classic. There were many cases of Ferraris without engines or with American V8s which turned hands for a few hundred dollars. We kick ourselves over these stories and anecdotes, but in reality, Ferraris for the most part, were not cheap in terms of 1968 dollars. Good used Ferraris were expensive. Ed Niles offered a 1964 Superamerica for $9,500; a 1964 Lusso went for $7195, while a 250GT SWB was offered at $6300, totally restored. Bugatti had nothing on Ferrari insofar as prices were concerned.

For comparisons, a quick look at the new car market found that a 330GTS was priced at just around $15,000, a Fiat 124 Spider, $3226, and a Fiat 850 Spider at just $2100. More expensive than a new Ferrari was the outrageous Lamborghini Miura, with a sticker price of a whopping $21,000.

Young Merritt’s goal was to save the early, classic Ferraris from the junkyard, not to increase the value, although it was a given that prices would eventually rise (no one, not even Dick Merritt in his wildest dreams could have imagined just how far prices would eventually rise). Merritt knew that as long as people did not know the history of the car or had no means of finding out, the Ferraris would remain behind chain link fences, including his own.

The first Ferrari Merritt ever saw was this Vignale bodied 340, chassis 0140 A, pictured at Amelia Island.

Taking a cue from the Bugatti Owner’s Club, Merritt realized that for a car to become desirable and collectable, three things were needed: a club, a collector, and a book. In 1963, Merritt had participated in the creation of the Ferrari Club of America, and by 1965 had persuaded Carl Bross into collecting old Ferraris. Now they needed a ‘bible’, a book to be used for identification of the myriad of Ferraris built from 1947 on. On a trip to California to search for Ferraris, Merritt met John and Elaine Bond, publishers of Road & Track, and convinced them to publish a comprehensive book on Ferraris. Merritt pulled in Warren Fitzgerald, who was writing classic car articles for Road & Track. With Merritt’s expertise, Fitzgerald’s writing abilities and photos from the R&T archives (among others), the book became possible. The decision was made, and suddenly the new authors found themselves with only a year to write the book. “If you notice there are 12 chapters in the F&M book,” said Ferrari expert and owner David Seielstad. “Dick and Warren wrote a chapter a month meeting the deadline.”

In an interview with Jackie Jouret in the April 2001 issue of Forza magazine, Merritt recalled that he “had to ‘talk his head off” to get Bond to publish.. And even though the book was enormously successful, the Bond R&T book publishing venture did not succeed. According to Merritt, Dean Batchelor, who headed the new book division, “was fired because it was losing money” despite the F&M book, which went on to four editions. Batchelor founded his own publishing company and produced two books on Ferraris in the mid 1970s.

In the summer of 1968, one could choose from Hans Tanner’s 1959 book on Ferrari, an excellent and useful book but one which primarily addressed the formula and sports race cars. The only other book in print at the time was “Ferrari Pininfarina”, a book compiled from Style Auto by Girogio Bella and Mario Dinarich which featured 180 photos of Ferraris by that coachbuilder. Apparently no longer in print, was Ferrari’s biography, published in English as “The Enzo Ferrari Story” by MacMillan press in 1962.

The field of books on individual cars was wide open but risky. Autobooks, an major bookseller in Burbank, advertised in R&T but had very few books listed. Bentley Publishing in Cambridge, Massachusetts, listed only 29 titles in 1968. Classic Motorbooks, a new company in Minneapolis which would both sell and publish automotive books, featured a one page ad and listed 103 titles, but of these only 66 were actually hard cover books--the remainder were drawings and magazines. Among the marque titles, five were on Alfa Romeo, but none on any other Italian car.

The most expensive book one could purchase was Setright’s new 440 page “Grand Prix Car, 1954-1966” at $22.50, a major work. The vast majority of automotive titles were priced between $5 and $10, and Bentley offered a “buy one for $1 if you buy another at the regular price.” With a cloth cover encased in a plastic sheath, F&M had 12 color photos, 300 B&W, but was thin at only 216 pages. The price was also a landmark. Pre pub price was $17.50 but the regular price was $20.00. And that, in 1968, was more than twice as much as the average hard back automotive book.

So what kind of a book did you get for your $20? It was arranged not in chronological order, but by development, and in those twelve chapters F&M laid out the Colombo and Lampredi engines, the chassis variations, the early coach built cars, the production cars, and the sports race and GT cars. It was clear, concise, practical and identified many of those gorgeous, strange, and exotic Ghias, Vignales, Touring bodied cars.

A 212 Vignale, chassis 0170, was one of the many wonderful Ferraris that were included in F&M.

In that winter of 1968, David Seielstad received his copy. “I loved the book. Reread it and reread it, identified serial numbers on as many photos as possible, underlined passages, corrected text in the margin. It was well organized and full of photos. The book had a huge impact. Ferrari ads started including the ‘see pg. NN F&M upper right.’ From that point on, everyone selling or buying a Ferrari just referenced it.” At the same time, Alan Boe, today a contributor to Cavallino, Ferrari owner and concours judge, received his copy of F&M. “When I got my copy I was very impressed, especially with the technical and historic content, and especially with all the b & w photos, plus the color fold-outs.” Author and historian Michael Lynch recalls what he thought when he received his first edition. “I thought it was fantastic. For the first time, I was able to understand Ferrari as a concept, rather than a bewildering array of seemingly unconnected models.”

For all of that, the book lacked an essential means of identification. The use of chassis numbers to track classic cars was not yet in vogue, but it was something that Merritt was working on. F&M did not provide any chassis number information. Guys like Seielstad penciled in the numbers next to the photos and soon a large, if inaccessible, data bank of information came into being. Merritt had started a log book of chassis numbers consisting of about the first 1500 Ferraris (“I went up to 1500, figuring that’s the end of the really great cars,“ said Merritt.) There were a lot of blanks, and in 1969--after the publication of the book, he went to the Ferrari factory with his log of Ferraris, and requested that the factory put the correct serial number by each car. To his amazement they did, though he had to leave the log in Italy for a few weeks.

Equally amazing is that F&M has weathered so well over the years, despite the work of hundreds or perhaps thousands of owners, historians, authors, and restorers who have delved deeper into Ferrari history. “I have reread my first edition recently and it holds up very well. F&M did their homework and got most of it right. It has a dynamite index, handy even today as a spell checker.” said Seielstad. “ It was a great book when first published and remains so today. There have been a lot of Ferrari titles, (probably over 800), but many are full of errors or thin on copy with nice photos. F&M remains the best Ferrari book, if you can only have one Ferrari title in your library, then you must have F&M.”

Chapter One opened with this full page photograph. It was a great start to a great book.

Alan Boe agreed. “I guess it was expensive at the time, but for me it was essential to have a copy. I'd have paid twice as much so, of course, it was worth it. I still use it today for research as it has proved to be an invaluable tool and has stood the test of time. F&M was far ahead of all of them when it comes to content, layout, photos used, and accuracy. Easily one of the best Ferrari books EVER published -- it still is invaluable.” Lynch touched on another point. “It was the seminal book on Ferrari and will always remain so. I also find it interesting that two Americans did what several Italians should have done.”

The book did well, but it did not appreciate nearly as well as the Ferraris Merritt was buying and selling. Copies of F&M can be found for as little as $20 and as much as $300 depending on edition and condition. Merritt ads that "The late Jonathan Thompson was the in-house editor at R&T and he did the later editions which added chapters on the end to bring it more up to date with later developments, so he deserves a lot of credit."

Today, Dick Merritt still works at the DOT, where he has been since 1983. When asked for his thoughts on the landmark book he co-authored, he said “I think it is highly important that NO publisher could be persuaded that there was a real market for a Ferrari book until they saw what a success F&M was. So we opened the door in reality to authors who wanted to do their book on certain models or body builders. Thanks to F&M we now have dozens, even hundreds of books by authors who have greatly expanded our knowledge of the marque. That makes me most proud and thankful.”

Buy Merritt's Ferrari Brochure and Manuals.

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