Richard Hammond

Richard Hammond

Hamster vs mouse

I am, it's no secret, a bit of a country boy. Never really at home in the big city, I would swap the hippest of nightclubs for the muddiest of fields any day. Nevertheless, it was a bit much, even by my country-boy standards, to be told this week that mice have been eating my Ferrari 550.

It's been kept in a barn while I've been deciding whether or not to sell it, and had only recently arranged for a specialist to pick it up and perform whatever little tweaks were necessary before I put it on the market.

When I rang to ask what, if any, problems he had uncovered, the bloke delivered the single most terrifying news it's possible for one human being to present to another, by asking if he could send it in an email rather than talk it through on the phone, cos it was "rather a long list". I read it through and my eyes were drawn to the line that read, "various rubber coverings and wires in the engine bay show signs of rodent damage." 

It's had an odd time with me, the big Fezza. Having evaded the clutches of the grim reaper when things went tits-up in that bloody jet car, I marked the occasion by purchasing a Ferrari 550. So, man avoids death in one high-speed car that tried very hard to kill him and celebrates by buying another high-speed car. Still, it's a lovely thing and that made my decision to flog the big Italian beauty a bit hard to swallow. But flog it I must. My mind was made up. 

The problems were several-fold, and mounted up to a pretty compelling case for handing the Fezza its marching papers. For a start, I had discovered what could only be described as corrosion on the sill. It's not deep, the paint is barely blistered and it could probably be sorted with a quick rubdown and a blast of red paint. But it's a Ferrari, so the repair will cost billions of pounds. Also, the driver's window won't shut, the suspension feels decidedly soggy and the seats have seen better days. And so the sensible thing to do is kick it out. But there's a problem - the thing is now worth about 20 quid.

“Since the bankers ran off with everyone's money, there are fewer people wanting to take on a used car that could present its owner with an upsetting bill”

Since the bankers ran off with everyone's money and turned it into air, there are fewer people wanting to take on a secondhand car that could, at any moment, decide to present its owner with a bill running into an improbable and very upsetting number of digits. The long bonnet stretches ahead into the distance as a constant visual reminder that just in front of your feet are 12 very fast-moving pistons - all built by Italians - any one of which could suddenly decide to make a break for freedom through the engine block. 

I had to let it go.

But I love it. I love the properness of a front-engined Ferrari, I love that long bonnet and the old school wheels, and I've been searching desperately for a reason to hold onto it. In a flash, I have found it.

Asked recently what car I most wanted as a teenager, I replied without hesitation that it was my mate Chris's 205 GTi. He had ‘rally prepared' it, which, in North Yorkshire at the time, meant he had put a roll cage in it, fitted indecently firm springs, swapped the seats for buckets you could fall into and find someone already sitting there, and finished the project off with a roundel for a race number on the side. It was magnificent in every way: impractical, noisy and unreliable. I adored it and fizzed with envy every time I went near it. And suddenly, there it was, my plan, laid out before me in the way songwriters claim their songs sometimes arrive.

What I would do, and let's not make this more complicated than it need be, is turn it into the sort of street-going race car I so lusted after when I was a teenager. Back then, a 205 GTi or an Escort RS2000 covered in glue and driven briskly through Halfords was enough to have entire streets coming out to worship it. And my Fezza is going for exactly the same treatment.

Yes, you can buy proper, custom-built race tuning stuff for the 550, things like Tubi exhausts and carbon-fibre bonnets, but you can also buy superyachts and tickets to fly into space. And they cost less. So I'll be sticking to the basic stuff. I've found a bloke who fettles Fezzas for the track and the street, and we reckon it might just be possible to turn the red beast now stalking my mind into reality.

If we pull it off, my first move will be to drive it to the Cheltenham cruise on a Saturday night. I feel sure that there I shall find like-minded souls who appreciate a black bonnet, a bucket seat, a non-standard alloy wheel and a racing roundel. And no, none of this has anything to do with my approaching 40th birthday. None of it. Not a thing. Nope.

 

Richard Hammond, Column, Ferrari

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