Adventures in Ferrari Land
by Edwin K. Niles
“I think that a word or two about my motivation might be appropriate. Yes, I always tried to make a profit on each car. I usually succeeded, but not always. I took a loss on a few. Even when I made a profit, if I counted my labor bringing a car up to saleable standards, I would have been working for about two cents per hour!
No, it was all about the differences. All Ferraris were different from other makes, and each Ferrari was different from its sisters.”
For anyone who has been immersed in Ferrari lore, enthusiasm, or ownership for any significant length of time since the early 1960s, the name Ed Niles (1924–2021) will be a familiar one. He didn’t so much enter the Ferrari “scene” on the West Coast—because there really wasn’t one—as make it, and not by dint of any great master plan but simply by following someone else’s suggestion and finding it worked. A freshly minted lawyer and newly married, the Nileses found themselves invited to join his wife’s parents on a month-long trip to Europe in 1959. So why not bring back a used car and flip it to defray the costs?
And so it began, with a used 250 GT Europa found in Rome on the last day of that vacation with the help of a local whom Niles had first met as an exchange student staying with his in-laws, Roberto Goldoni. That first purchase was not made because Niles divined Ferraris were the future or that that particular car was special in any way but simply because he ran out of time and it fit his budget (well, his bank loan’s budget).
He made a quick and decent profit on the first flip, having fun driving a cool Ferrari in the meantime. It worked that first time, and it would work a hundred times more. Having Goldoni as a trusted local resource was a tremendous asset in that Niles could buy cars sight unseen, and the two would share the profits. Over the course of the next six decades his lawyering, which he practiced until near the end of his life, would become merely a sideline to his Ferrari-brokering. In the early days when there was no established knowledge base in regards to service, let alone factory support it was the steady stream of his used, often very used cars that made it feasible for auto techs to specialize in Ferraris, for owners to form clubs, and all around shape the infrastructure of . . . Ferrari Land.
Adventures In Ferrari Land is thus an automotive memoir. Books of this type are becoming more popular, and thankfully so. Without people like Niles committing the time and effort to tell their stories much history will be lost, not to mention the recall of minutia a first-person account can draw on that would be difficult to reconstruct by a later biographer.
The first of the two volumes is a chronological account by date of acquisition of 51 of the cars (a table at the end of each volume lists all of Niles’s ca. 120 cars in order of serial number, below) accompanied by sidebars about or by people that play recurring roles in the story. Volume 2 contains reprints of articles Niles wrote for Ferrari club magazines and other publications, along with images of assorted ephemera.
There is no explanation of how the cars featured in Volume 1 were chosen to be included. The reviewer suspects that they were simply Ed’s favorites or perhaps the ones about which he had the clearest recollection. It is impossible for a contemporary reader who has an awareness not just of the Ferrari market but also the historic significance of some of Niles’s cars (prototypes, one-offs, race cars) not to be puzzled by the utter lack of knowledge or even interest back in the day in such matters as provenance, authenticity, or coachwork. Ferraris are of course not alone in this. Maybe it’s the lawyer in Niles that prompted him to keep meticulous records of the cars he traded (some several times).
After selling his last Ferrari, it took a while for Niles to perceive a void in his life—so he bought one last one, a keeper, not to drive but just to know it’s parked in the garage. This (relatively) humble 328GTS is not included in his list of cars owned, although it is prominently featured at the end of Volume 1.
Niles was known to be self-effacing and his comments throughout demonstrate this, beginning with his Prologue wherein he warns the reader, “Just remember, I’m 95 years old and no longer have any of my files, so there might be a few errors. I do have a photographic memory but I may run out of film. I used to have hard muscles and soft arteries, but they seem to have traded places!” This and his innate honesty and decency are probably the reasons he formed such firm and lasting friendships with the aristocracy, if not royalty, of “Ferrari Land.” Most enthusiast readers will recognize names like Phil Hill and Bruce Meyer, but Ed was also close to less generally well known but serious players like Pierre Bardinon, Steve Tillack, Marcel Massini, Chuck Queener, Sir Anthony Bamford and others either as friends, clients, or more typically, both.
An interesting section deals with the parallel rise of Niles’s and Tillack’s profiles in the Ferrari stratosphere. For many years now Tillack has been a premier restorer of classic automobiles—but did you know this erstwhile car stereo installer was once the face of a Pioneer ad campaign?
There was more to Ed’s Ferrari enthusiasm than the cars and the people, and the book amply expresses these interests. He was an early member of both the Ferrari Club of America (charter member) and the Ferrari Owners Club (virtually a founding member). The FCA became recognized by the Ferrari factory and the FOC is national in scope but California-centric. He was a prolific contributor to the publications of those clubs as well as to Ferrari Market Letter, the go-to place for advertising all things Ferrari both on paper and online, founded by Ed’s late friend Gerald Roush. Ed also writes about some of his favorite places: Italy, France, and of course his beloved Southern California. His Ferrari involvement took him to places and events like Pebble Beach, Mille Miglia Storica, Donington Estate (Bamford), Mas du Clos (Bardinon) and Maranello, as well as many other venues, not as a spectator but as a respected participant. And his chapter on meeting and wooing his second wife Phoebe is charming. The book provides a glimpse into the SoCal car scene in the early ‘60s–‘70s as well as we read about cars being used as daily drivers around the Hollywood Hills, Malibu and other swank neighborhoods, cars that are now mostly cooped up in climate-controlled Garagemahals with elaborate security systems and shipped from venue to venue.
Ed Niles has done a service to the denizens of Ferrari Land by writing this book. He certainly didn’t need to do it at the stage of life at which he wrote it. The reviewer enjoyed his conversational prose, his retro lexicon (describing his first glimpse of a “great looking young babe”—whom he would marry—is a favorite) and his absolute lack of pretense.
Much of the photography is decidedly snapshot quality but it complements the authenticity of Niles’s writing style. Since many are from his own and others’ personal archives, it’s likely that many are seen here for the first time in print. There are a few photographs, mostly of restored cars, that appear to have been done professionally.
This book is a bargain for any Ferrari enthusiast who is interested in the history of Ferraris of the 1950s and ‘60s, particularly how they shaped the life of one man.
Also available in a leather-bound Collector’s Edition, ISBN 9781642340853, $275.
Copyright 2022, Jack Brewer (speedreaders.info).
I had the privilege of selling Ed his last Ferrari. It’s the ’86 328 that he is pictured with in the book.