Articles

Michael Sheehan's Ferraris-online.com Article

Ferrari’s Perpetual Parts Problem

Federal law requires all manufacturers to supply replacement parts for 10 years after production ends, but when those 10 years are up, look out

As appeared in:

Sports Car Market—July 2012 issue

Sheehan Speaks

by Michael Sheehan

Diagnosing problems and sourcing parts for Ferraris can be a nightmare, but solutions exist if you have the time and financial resources
Diagnosing problems and sourcing parts for Ferraris can be a nightmare, but solutions exist if you have the time and financial resources

We continually have older Ferraris in pre-sale or pre-purchase inspection and stay involved in the follow-up work or additional work requested by clients. There isn’t a day that goes by without hearing of ongoing parts problems from the many shops we deal with.

Federal law requires all manufacturers to supply replacement parts for 10 years after production ends, but when those 10 years are up, look out. Long lists of computer and electrical components, injection-molded rubber, and plastic body trim parts have already become unobtainable.

Modern Ferraris have Bosch engine management and ABS computers with TRW built airbags, all cross-managing a hoard of Digitek computers and ECUs that talk to the Bosch computers while controlling a/c, heat, door locks, windows, power tops, dash modules, seat controls and so on.

On the emissions front, every manufacturer is required to supply engine and emission system diagnostic computers “at a reasonable cost” to independent shops.

A plug-in computer for a GM or Japanese car starts at $250 and goes to $5,000 for the best model, but the SD2 or SD3 box for the 10-years-or-older Ferrari is out of production.

A used SD2 or SD3 will cost $20k plus — if you can find one. A more modern Leonardo unit is available, but even at $25k, it doesn’t like to communicate with the earlier cars. Want to use a non-Ferrari diagnostic computer? Sorry, Ferrari uses nonstandard codes that don’t translate to standard OBD2 boxes. Simply knowing what to repair or replace can be a nightmare.

Modern Ferraris are collectible

The cost of major repairs on a 20-year-old Toyota or Chevy quickly exceeds the value of the car, and so the cars become junk. In contrast, a 20-year-old Ferrari will always be a Ferrari, with the implied prestige and exclusivity of ownership that ensures their long-term value and collectibility.

The good news is that parts suppliers, such as Ted Rutland of T. Rutland parts, Daniel Pass of Ricambi America or Bill Young at G.T. Car Parts, scour the world looking for discontinued ECUs and light assemblies.

They also work with a whole new cottage industry of computer-literate propeller-heads who patiently disassemble and rebuild discontinued relay and fuse boxes, ECUs, and a/c and heater controls.

Today, an electrical background is as important as a mechanical one to maintain a modern Ferrari. For example, need your 360 or F430 dash backlights repaired? How about your 550, 575, 599 or 612 dash video display repaired? Ferrari only sells a new instrument cluster at $4k to $10k, but Rod Drew at F.A.I. in Costa Mesa, CA, will rebuild yours for under $1k with a one-week turnaround. If you need a complete updated circuit board for your F50, well, that’s $15k. And when your discontinued SD2 or SD3 fails, Rod also fixes those.

Fiat-era cars: fewer parts, fewer problems

Ferrari’s Fiat Era began with the 308 GT/4 and the 365 BB in late 1974. Ever-increasing engine management controls and amenities such as dual a/c and power seats resulted in overworked electrical systems.

Just last weekend, I drove a 512 BBi the 40 miles to Los Angeles to show a client the car. On the way back, I foolishly turned on the a/c and headlights at the same time. The 28-year-old fuse boxes instantly did a thermonuclear meltdown. Fortunately these are still available, and a mere $1,286 resolved the problem.

As for rubber or trim parts, they can quickly become a scavenger hunt. A set of N.O.S. fog lamps for a 328 or 348 will be $1,500 to $2,000, and an N.O.S. heater and a/c unit for a 348 will set you back $4k. As for hard parts, Ted Rutland had to agree to buy a minimum production run of 200 308 brake boosters to get the exact original part. After five years, Ted still has 40 in stock at $1,395 each. Both T. Rutlands and Ferr-Parts have multiple Fiat-era parts cars, so major body parts are not yet a major problem

Enzo-era values partly solve problems

The older Ferraris, from the Dino and Daytona backwards, can be restored by an experienced shop, and virtually any part has been made — or can be made — if you’re willing to pay the price. Older Ferraris, such as the 250 and 365, were evolutionary, in that interchangeable parts were used throughout their 10-year production runs, so the same basic parts sometimes fit many cars.

Engine rebuilds become a prototyping and logistical nightmare, as hundreds of parts — 24 sets of valves, guides, valve seats, valve adjusters and so on — are involved.

A complete restoration moves the parts nightmare into an all-new dimension of misery, as thousands of unobtanium parts must be found or made — and then fitted, tested and approved.

Most of the original parts manufacturers are long gone, and while current replacement parts may look the same, there is no guarantee that the part will fit — or work. Every shop I spoke with had multiple examples of remanufactured head gaskets that didn’t seal, points that broke, clutches that would not release at high rpm or water-pump seals that didn’t seal because of weak springs. The list went on and on.

The net result was that customers often felt they were guinea pigs for parts prototyping. Neither the shop nor the car owner wanted to eat the cost of pulling an engine to replace the offending parts. And there was no guarantee that a new set of replacement parts from another source would be any better. Adding to the complication are engines that have been rebuilt multiple times over the past three or five decades and have been machined too many times. Cranks sit too high in their blocks, block decks were machined so that liners stood too tall, or cylinder heads were surfaced too many times, so their dimensions and sealing surfaces are no longer viable.

Electrical/computer knowledge is essential
Electrical/computer knowledge is essential

Expensive parts, if you know where to look

The good news is that many replacement parts have been time-tested and work well. For example, suppliers such as Piet Roelofs in Holland have made up most of the “gofast” parts for the 250 and 365 GTB/4 series cars.

Daniel Pass at Ricambi America specializes in 308 and newer parts, Bill Young at G.T. Car Parts sells the best head gaskets and much more. Tom Shaughnessy deals in windshields and back glass. Ted Rutland has sourced a multitude of O.E.M. parts and has 1950s–60s fuel hoses that work. Matt Jones at Re-Originals has had many parts — with an emphasis on interior — built, while Geoff Ohland at Parts Source often finds the impossible.

From a personal point of view, I ran a 30-man Ferrari restoration shop for several decades, so I’ve “been there, done that,” and I know all too well that the parts situation has only gotten much worse since I left the restoration world.

For the past decade and a half I’ve done sales only, searching out elusive and collectible Ferraris for select clients — just like those in the Ferrari parts world seek out elusive parts. Once a car is sold to a new owner, I usually follow the restoration process, and I’m continually amazed at the dedication of those who supply the parts and do the restorations needed to bring these cars back to life. None are getting rich!