Story and photos by Stephen Mitchell
Once upon a time, I received a call from an acquaintance Mario Tosi. He and I both owned Ferrari GTOs and used them as daily transportation. His had been for sale and I came close to buying it before finally purchasing 3987. Mario was calling to say that he had found a buyer for his car and wanted to say goodbye to the car by organizing a track day at Willow Springs Raceway. Would I like to come along, he wanted to know. Indeed I would! Some of what went on that day is documented in this footage filmed by Peter Helm to which I added a narration: See Ferrari GTOs at Willow Springs.
A day or so after this very special event, I found myself having dinner on the Sunset Strip with Matthew Ettinger who owned the Ferrari Breadvan at the time. Leaving the restaurant, we climbed into the GTO and accelerated away enjoying the sound of the engine with its timing chains and intake suction noises and the deep throated sound of the exhaust as it bounced off Nicky Blair’s facade. And then suddenly, the GTO made a sharp left turn without any input to the steering wheel. I stopped in the middle of Sunset Boulevard to take stock of the situation. Had I turned the wheel? No. Did we turn left? Yes. I started off again a little more gingerly and made a straight course until WHAM–we turned left again. Clearly the ZF limited slip differential was not happy about something!
Carefully and slowly, we made our way to Peter Helm’s apartment just off the Strip. He wasn’t home–when was he ever?–so I parked the GTO in his garage and Matthew and I found our way home in separate taxis that night.
Friend and fellow Ferrari enthusiast John Andrews volunteered his garage and skills in dismantling the GTO’s rear end. It took some doing but we got it apart and inspected the large crack in the unit which needed to be replaced rather than repaired. This prompted a call to the factory in Maranello. The operator there said no one would be able to help me until after the strike was over. Thoughts of weeks and months waiting for the strike to end passed through my mind. Somewhat hopelessly, I asked, “When might the strike end?” as if she would know. In fact, she did know. “The strike will be over in an hour,” she informed me. They do things differently in Italy.
When the two hour strike had concluded, I got through to someone who informed me that I needed to call ZF in Germany as there was no part number on the unit that I could cite. My next call to ZF in Germany confirmed that there was no part number on the unit because there was no such part (!!). ZF merely shipped a solid billet of steel to Ferrari and it was they who machined the part into existence. Another call to Maranello confirmed that they were out on strike again for an hour or so. In between strikes, I was finally advised to contact Luigi Chinetti, Ferrari’s U.S. distributor and proprietor of the North American Racing Team. He would know what to do about a broken ZF unit.
The people at Chinetti were extremely helpful and directed me to a machine shop in Greenwich, Connecticut, as I recall, where a replacement was made using the original as a model. To reinstall the part, the GTO was moved to Matthew Ettinger’s garage which it shared with the Breadvan–a great garage duo!
It took a couple of long evenings, but Matthew and I installed the limited slip, reassembled the rear end and buttoned everything up. A long job but worth the effort and we were more than ready for a test drive to enjoy the fruits of our labors.
The GTO had been backed into the garage so as Matthew opened the garage door, I started the engine and moved the gearshift into the dog-legged first gear. Matthew waved me out, I engaged the clutch and–the GTO went backwards!
Having installed the unit the wrong way around, I found myself the proud owner of the world’s only Ferrari GTO with five speeds in reverse and one forward. We should have gone to a local bar and made some bets. Instead, we gave up and corrected the situation the following day and 3987 became, once again, just another GTO.
[Source: Stephen Mitchell]