Articles

Michael Sheehan's Ferraris-online.com Article

All About Daytona Conversions

While sellers proclaim that some cut Daytonas are “Scaglietti conversions,” this is simply creative used-car salesmanship

As appeared in:

Sports Car Market—April 2005 issue

Sheehan Speaks

by Michael Sheehan

1971 Ferrari Daytona Conversion
1971 Ferrari Daytona Conversion

Between 1968 and 1974, Ferrari built what many old-timers consider the last “real” Ferrari, the 365 GTB/4 Daytona. A front-engined, 350-horsepower, 4.4-liter V12 cruiser equipped with a six-pack of Weber carburetors, the Daytona offered effortless high-speed touring coupled with stunning acceleration.

The Pininfarina-designed and Scaglietti-built body offered phallic good looks with a long nose, abrupt tail and an aggressive nose-down, tail-up stance that has become one of the design statements of the 1960s and 1970s. A well-tuned Daytona will do 60 mph in first gear, 85 in second, 115 in third, and 150 in fourth, leaving one more gear for those brave enough to exceed 170 mph in a car designed and engineered in the 1960s.

The Daytona was a legend in its own time, the weapon of choice for Brock Yates and Dan Gurney in their legendary 1971 36-hour trans-continental Cannonball Run. In its October 1970 issue, Road & Track magazine called the Daytona “the best sports car in the world. Or the best GT. Take your choice; it’s both.” Buyers obviously agreed, and the Daytona became the most popular front-engined V12 Ferrari two-seater built to date. In addition to the 1,279 coupes, another 122 spyders were built by the factory (these are the most recent, updated production numbers and replace those in the most recent SCM Price Guide). These are the “real” Daytona Spyders, and were also designed by Pininfarina and built by Scaglietti.

GET OUT YOUR SAWZALL

In the late 1970s, prices for used spyders climbed to the then-shocking heights of about $75,000, while coupes were selling for a mere $25,000. This led to a cottage industry of converting often well-used coupes into spyders.

While many attempted conversions, four shops did most of them: Autokraft in England did about 10 cars; Auto Sport (a.k.a. Bacchelli) in Modena, Italy, converted about 25; my shop, Michael Sheehan’s European Auto Restoration, in Costa Mesa, CA, did about 28 conversions; and the Richard Straman Company, also in Costa Mesa, CA (on the same street and only a few hundred feet from my front door), converted about 35 Daytonas. Throw in a dozen or so cars done by long forgotten shops and you get a total of just over 100 cut coupes.

THE MYTH

While sellers and auction houses often proclaim that some of these cars are “Scaglietti conversions,” implying that the cars were sent back to Scaglietti for a “factory-blessed” chop job, this is simply creative used car salesmanship.

Scaglietti built its first body for Ferrari in 1948, became an exclusive Ferrari supplier around 1961, and was absorbed into Fiat in 1969 as the in-house Ferrari body builder, much like Body by Fisher at GM. Scaglietti neither could, nor would, take on the process of turning a Daytona coupe into a spyder, just as GM would not take back your 1974 Cadillac Coupe de Ville and chop its top three years after you bought it.

The reality is that Scaglietti did supply body parts out the backdoor for a variety of Ferraris, including Daytona Spyders, well into the late 1980s, and so Auto Sport in Modena simply went down the road, bought new-old-stock rear body clips, deck lid frames and skins, top bows, header bars, latches and door glass from Scaglietti, making its spyder conversion process faster, but not necessarily better or worse than those of us who had to fabricate new upper panels for our conversions.

The conversion process varied considerably, in that many cars simply had the top chopped off and the original coupe trim pieces modified, while a few underwent a complete remanufacture, with subframe and wheel well modifications included to match those of the original factory Spyders.

While the frame and basic body structure of a factory-built coupe and spyder are identical, all coupes left the factory with fiberglass inner fender wells and a fiberglass bulkhead between the cockpit and trunk, while the factory-built spyders were fitted with steel inner wheel wells, both front and rear, and a steel reinforced bulkhead between the cockpit and trunk area, all meant to stiffen the body shell.

The factory-built spyders also had extra bracing between the front wheel well and the firewall, in the front cockpit foot wells and through the rocker sill panels. Ferrari did this to improve structural rigidity, but few clients were willing to spend the many thousands of dollars required to change these panels, meaning most spyder conversions kept the fiberglass inner structure, making them slightly less rigid than a factory-built spyder.

DO THE MATH

So what ever happened to the shops that made a living giving coupes a haircut? Well, we had a good run, but eventually the economic realities of the Ferrari market put us out of business.

In 1977 it cost approximately $20,000 and up to convert a coupe, depending on who did the work and what additional repairs were necessary. (Many of the cars we used had been rolled or heavily crashed.) By 1984 this number had risen to about $45,000.

At the same time, the prevalence of spyder conversions led to their being valued not with the factory spyders, but as a bump to the price of a coupe. And as the prices for all things Ferrari began to soar in the late 1980s, it became a lot easier to make money buying and selling, rather than going through the arduous process of transforming a wrecked coupe into a convertible.

At the peak of the market madness in 1989, both Daytona coupes and spyder conversions sold for about $500,000, give-or-take, while factory spyders went for well over $1,000,000. Today things are a good bit more realistic, with nice coupes selling for about $150,000, while a conversion will fetch $175,000. Original spyders are going for $500,000, a big premium, but nowhere near the high water mark.

Today the price to complete a conversion would be astronomical, far more than the $45k it cost 20 years ago. For a $25,000 bump in value, it just doesn’t make sense. That’s why no one is even attempting spyder conversions anymore—not to mention that the patterns for the sheet metal and top bows are long gone and the experienced fabricators have since scattered.

In my opinion, if you value open-air motoring, and don’t mind driving a conversion, a properly-done chop-job Daytona represents a terrific value. They will never be much more highly valued than stock coupes, but there’s nothing like having the top down at 150 mph with the sound of the Webers sucking in front and the four tailpipes spitting out the melody of the V12 in the rear.

MICHAEL SHEEHAN has been a Ferrari dealer for 30 years as well as a race car driver and exotic car broker.