Importing an F50: A Tragi-Comedy in Two Acts, Act one, the DOT

Act one, the not-so-friendly folks at the DOT:

After fifty plus years selling thousands of Ferraris, many of the Ferraris we’ve sold find their way back to us, with F50 s/n 103496, (the only F50 that actively raced in period), now back with us for the third time, now fully restored back to street trim and soon to be offered. But first a little background to a time when a Euro model F50, or indeed any car less than twenty-five years old had to be brought up to US EPA and DOT standards to be imported, with an exemption for race cars.

The DOT (Department of Transport) regulates safety features such as seat belts, bumpers, side lights, headlights, etc. The DOT’s mandate or rulings are for 25 years old at date of entry. The EPA (Environmental Protections Agency) regulates emissions so catalysts, fuel management systems, etc. Their mandate or rulings are for is 21 years so today, October 2023, any car built before October 1998 can be imported into the US without the Papa blessing of both the EPA and the DOT.

F50 s/n 103496 was sold new by Specialised Cars on 01 Jan., 1996 to Ian Hetherington, an English software mogul, who, in early 1988 decided to race his Euro model F50 in what-was-then the very competitive Ferrari Maranello Challenge. Once stripped and prepared for racing by Specialised Cars, Ian raced Ferrari F50 s/n 103496 in six of the twelve 1988 Maranello Ferrari Challenge races, at Spa Francorchamps, Silverstone, Croft and Castle Combe, all in preparation for an assault on the 1999 Ferrari Maranello championship.

For 1999 Hetherington and F50 s/n 103496 returned for all 14 rounds of the Ferrari Maranello championship, racing at Donington, Brands Hatch, Castle Combe, Thruxton, Snette

rton, Zandvoort and the Nurburgring. With three first and three second place finishes and a single DNF, F50 s/n 103496 ended the season second overall, missing the championship by a single point to one on the Hot-Rod F40s also running in the Championship.

S/n 103496 returned for the 2000 Championship and competed in all 14 rounds, with two firsts at Zolder, two more at Donington, another at Silverstone, two firsts at Oulton Park, and a first and then a second at Le Mans, becoming the overall winner of the 2000 Championship.

S/n 103496 also participated in the 1998 and 1999 Porsche vs. Ferrari Challenge, a different series, competing against hot rod 930/935/936s, usually finishing as the fastest Ferrari.

On Oct., 2000, we were offered F50 s/n 103496 by English Ferrari Dealer Andrew Turner of Mortimer, Houghton, and Turner Ltd ( MHT Ltd.) and sold F50 s/n 103496

to Preston Henn of the Swap Shop in Fort Lauderdale, where he kept a substantial collection of cars including cars he had once raced in the IMSA series, including the 935 Porsche he co-drove with A.J.Foyt, Bob Wollek and Claude Ballot-Lena to win the 1983 24 Hours of Daytona. 

On 01 Nov., in preparation for its early November arrival in the US, we sent a package detailing the race history of this car, with many supporting photos, to both the EPA and DOT requesting approval as a race car entry, exempting the car from the usual EPA and DOT regulations. No problems were expected; after all, what better defines a race car than “a car that has raced.” And with forty well-documented races, F50 s/n 103496 would seem to more than define “race car.”

On 02 Nov., the not-so-friendly-folks at the DOT requested proof that Preston Henn, the new owner, was a qualified race driver. Simple enough; digital copies of Preston’s IMSA and FIA racing licenses and detailed photos of the F50 on track were sent to the EPA and DOT.

On 02 Nov., we also retained Lance Beyer, a former DOT lawyer with many years of experience dealing with the DOT’s internal politics, in an attempt to act as an interface between the entrepreneurial spirit of the Ferrari world and the inflexible mindset of un-accountable Federal bureaucracy.

On 03 Nov., after a review of the photos, DOT requested a statement from Andrew Turner of MHT confirming that the car was a race car, had raced in forty separate races, and that its intrinsic value was as a race car and not a street car. Andrew Turner at MHT Ferrari dutifully supplied the appropriate letter.

On 09 Nov. F50 S/N 103496 arrived at Miami airport but remained in Customs awaiting DOT and EPA exemption approval.

On 15 Nov., DOT contacted Ferrari of North America and asked if Ferrari had ever built an F50 race car. Much to our annoyance the paper-shufflers at FNA replied in the negative and so we were advised by DOT that, since Ferrari had never built an F50 race car, this car could not be recognized as a race car. DOT was then dutifully supplied with copies detailing the presentation of the first F50 GT (which had received DOT/EPA exemptions), and which DOT accepted as an evolution of the F50, into the US, as featured on the cover of Cavallino magazine issue 100, the Ferrari Market Letter, and Forza issue # 16.

DOT accepted that their source at FNA had erred and yet another hurdle was cleared.

Upon reviewing the letter describing the car supplied by MHT Ferrari, DOT next decided they needed a letter from Specialised Cars, the company that prepared this car for racing, listing the work done and stating its position that this car is indeed a race car. On 17 Nov., the letter was supplied and approved. Two more weeks were gone.

After receiving the letter from MHT Ferrari, DOT then decided they needed a “stronger” letter, which was dutifully supplied on 20 Nov. DOT next decided they needed confirmation from the race organizer that Specialised Cars was qualified to do the work described in their letter outlining the conversion of F50 s/n 103496 from a street car to a race car. On 08 Dec., DOT was supplied with a letter from John Swift, director of the Maranello Challenge Series, outlining Specialised Cars’ qualifications.

Working their way up the organizational food chain, DOT next asked for a letter from the Maranello Challenge sponsor, Maranello Concessionaires, that Specialised Cars was qualified to prepare race cars and confirmation that this car was recognized as a race car. Thanks to John Newman, then the General Manager of Ferrari UK, the letter was supplied on 08 Dec.

In anticipation of what might come next, on 18 Dec. I asked Art Zafiropoulo, owner of F50 GT S/N 001, to provide the import paperwork showing his F50 GT’s importation under the race car exemption. This was dutifully sent to both the EPA and the DOT.

Now past thirty days in storage with US Customs, it was necessary to put F50 s/n 103496 into bonded storage rather than have customs seize the car for lack of clearance paperwork. The creeping costs of importation storage climbed ever higher.

On 02 Jan., 2001, DOT next decided they needed “current” photos detailing the many modifications made to convert the car to racing standards. On 08 Jan., with special permission from US Customs, Al Roberts of Shelton Ferrari photographed the car in a dark and dusty US Customs warehouse and sent the requested photos to DOT.

Lance Beyer, our ex-DOT lawyer was next able to narrow down DOT’s concern to one area, that of intent. DOT’s mindset was “what was the main intent of the manufacturer when the car was built?” In layman’s talk, we “only” needed to prove the car was re-manufactured as a race car, and DOT would approve the car.

On 25 Jan., we supplied DOT with yet another ever-more detailed letter from Specialised Cars outlining the costs of re-manufacturing this car as a race car and the greater costs needed to reconvert it back to a street car, making its use as a street car financially impractical.

On 01 Feb., DOT asked Al Roberts of Shelton Ferrari to go back and take better photos showing the ride height by putting a ruler up to the bottom of the car, along with clear photos of the fuel filler opening. Additionally they also wanted a letter from Shelton Ferrari repeating what was already stated by Specialised Cars in England.

On 08 Feb., Tom Shelton of Shelton Sports Cars kindly provided a detailed cost analysis letter of the costs of re-conversion to a street car to the DOT.

The next day, 09 Feb., DOT agreed to release F50 s/n 103496 and on 22 Feb., we received a DOT letter releasing the car. End of Act One.

Coming next, Act Two: The dealer-killers at the EPA need to justify their miserable existence and so invent the Coke Can test, will a can of Coke fit under F50 s/n 103496?

SPOILER ALERT, F50 s/n 103496 is now fully restored to street car specs, (at a cost of $770,000 plus), and will shortly be in inventory at Ferraris-Online.