Phil Bachman, an American from Tennesee, has found a truly original way to collect only the most exclusive Ferrari models: he always buys the very last model in the series and always asks for the colour yellow. We met with him to discover his treasure trove of distinctive cars
Estimated reading time: 10 minutes
Tennessee businessman Phil Bachman is talking cars over breakfast. Specifically, the late, great Ferrari Enzo.
With 399 produced, it’s a rare car, but I’ve managed to encounter three of them out in the wild: one on the street in Rome, one outside Aspen and one in Greenwich, Connecticut. ‘Well,’ Bachman says, ‘after today you’ll have seen [over] one per cent of all of them.’ We’re heading to his Greeneville garage, which houses a yellow 2003 Enzo – as well as a great many other cars on a Ferrari connoisseur’s list of greatest hits.
The Ferraris in Bachman’s collection generally have two things in common: they’re yellow and they’re the final production car in a given series. Although Bachman isn’t hidebound by those requirements. If a nice F40 comes along that doesn’t fit the template, sometimes you’ve got to buy it anyway. Bachman’s garage looks nondescript from the outside, but the innocuous grey door opens into an automotive treasure chest. There are two rooms packed with cars and the walls are adorned with signs and memorabilia from old car dealerships. Hanging from the ceiling is an aluminium race body once used on a 1953 166 MM/53 – the car itself, since reunited with its original factory bodywork, is parked nearby. Behind the tiny 166, with its two-litre V12, looms an F40, looking like a predator about to devour its 1950s predecessor. A pair of 430s – a Scuderia and Scuderia Spider 16M – are front and centre, not far from a Dino and a 512 BBi Boxer. That Boxer isn’t yellow, but it is the last one ever to leave the factory, with a letter from Ferrari to prove it. ‘They don’t do that anymore,’ Bachman says. And he should know. It’s probably more common to want the first example of a given Ferrari, to have your hands on the latest metal as soon as it’s available. But Bachman prefers to take his time, savouring the experience of each car’s gestation. For each car he orders, he visits the factory an average of five times during its build, finalising details from interior colour schemes to, say, the small Italian flags that adorn the front ends of the Scuderias. Both of which wear dashboard plaques that read, “The last one US” ‘Most people want the first of something,’ Bachman says. ‘I want the last.’
Those two 430s, with their sequential serial numbers and matching Bordeaux interior colour schemes, obviously form a set. But other cars are intertwined in more complicated ways. For example, Ferrari built 60 examples of the 612 Sessanta, and each car commemorated a particular historically significant Ferrari. Bachman’s car, number 60/60, commemorates the FXX, and the console includes a small badge depicting an FXX – a yellow FXX. Care to guess who owns the only original yellow FXX in the world? That car isn’t here in the garage, but Bachman flies around the world to meet it for track events. He’s driven it 22 times at tracks on several different continents, and that number dwarfs the instances when he’s driven one of his Ferraris in his hometown: ‘A Ferrari’s been down the main street probably five times in 25 years.’ It’s a matter of public perception; Bachman loves his cars but, as a car dealer himself, doesn’t want to flaunt them in his backyard. Certain locals probably know what’s inside the unassuming garage on the outskirts of town, but many are unaware that their daily commute takes them within a few hundred feet of a Ferrari Enzo, an alloy-body 275 GTB/4 and a handsome pair of Alfa Romeo 8C Competiziones.
Bachman started his auto dealership business in 1967, but didn’t buy a Ferrari until 1984. ‘I certainly wanted one, but I went through the Corvette syndrome first,’ he says. As a GM dealer, Bachman also owns an array of American cars, including Pontiac Firebirds, Fieros and seven like-new Cadillac Allantés. Bachman’s first Ferrari was a 1984 308 GTS Quattrovalvole. That car came in handy when he and his wife, Martha, had to make a speedy dash across town – to the hospital, where their son, Phillip, was born soon thereafter. ‘He was almost born in that car,’ Martha Bachman says. That first 308 was yellow, thus establishing a theme in Bachman’s future stable of Ferraris. ‘Anything that we’ve bought new since ’84 has been yellow, if it was available in yellow,’ Bachman says. ‘But some cars, like the F40 and 288 GTO, were only available in red.’ And why the devotion to yellow? Bachman doesn’t have a definitive answer – it’s not as if he’s the president of the Yellow Is My Favourite Colour club. He doesn’t walk around wearing a yellow top hat. The answer, as often the case with these things, is that the garage full of yellow Ferraris took shape in a way that was more organic and unplanned. Bachman bought one yellow Ferrari, then another, and soon the bright paintwork became a defining feature of the collection. But he’ll never repaint a car in the name of thematic consistency; a lovely silver 1964 250 GTL Lusso being just one exception to the yellow-Ferrari rule.
As opposed to some collectors who churn their automotive portfolios, Bachman takes a Warren Buffet approach to his Ferraris: buy and hold. He’s certainly purchased plenty of Ferraris, but he’s never sold one; that first 1984 308 is still right there in the garage, although now it’s got plenty of company. ‘It’s a one-way street when a Ferrari comes to Greeneville,’ Bachman says. So how many cars has Bachman accrued over the years? ‘I don’t know, and I don’t want to know,’ he says.
If it seems a bit ironic that a car dealer never sells his own cars, it’s also interesting that Bachman’s never opened a Ferrari franchise himself. He’s pondered the idea, but ultimately decided not to confuse work and pleasure. ‘Here’s the logic,’ he says. ‘I sell nine lines of cars. If I were a Ferrari dealer, then I’d mix my passion with my business.’ So Bachman keeps the relationship with Ferrari simple. Or as simple as it can be for a customer who’s on a first-name basis with many of the people at Maranello. ‘Ferrari’s been extremely nice to me since 1984,’ Bachman says. ‘They realise they’re dealing with an eccentric.’ Bachman estimates he’s visited Maranello 100 times over the years, in the process forging relationships with many of the craftsmen who work in and around the Company. Like luggage specialist Simone Schedoni, for instance. ‘I met him in 1985 and he became a good friend. He comes and spends the holidays with us. Every one of our cars has Schedoni luggage.’ Those friendships mean that when Bachman needs help with a particular project, he’s got allies in Italy. For instance, when Bachman wanted to restore his 1975 365 GT4/BB, he worked directly with Ferrari interior guru Armando Luppi. In 1987, Bachman actually packed the 365’s dashboard into his luggage and brought it to Italy to ascertain whether Luppi could restore it to its original lustre. ‘Those were the days when you could bring anything on a plane,’ Bachman says. ‘Luppi took the dashboard that I brought with me across the Atlantic, walked over to a big trash barrel, and threw it away. Then he went inside and came back five minutes later with a brand new one.’ In that manner, bringing parts back from Italy piece by piece, Bachman restored the entire car. ‘There’s not a nut, bolt or anything on that car that hasn’t been in this hand right here,’ he says. The project took two years, and in 1989 the finished car won Best of Show at the Ferrari Club of America Annual Meet. It was the first car from the 1970s ever to win that distinction. Another 365 in the collection – a 1973 Daytona – remains unrestored, since it has a total of 414 miles on the odometer. The car is so original, says Martha Bachman, that restorers come to take a look and use it as a benchmark for their own projects. The Daytona is one of those cars that presents a dilemma; it would be beautiful to drive, but the act of driving it would ruin its time-capsule mystique.
Fortunately, Bachman has plenty of other options if he gets the urge to take a spin. He gestures around the garage and says, ‘I get all the Ferrari-driving that I want just keeping them all going.’ Keeping this many cars on the road is certainly a practical challenge, even for someone with access to his own fully equipped garage bays. Upping the degree of difficulty, Bachman shows many of the cars in his collection at concourse events, where they must all be spotlessly clean and factory-correct; Bachman himself is on the International Advisory Council for the Preservation of Ferrari Automobiles, a panel that meets once a year to determine what’s acceptable in a car’s presentation. So, he’s learnt a few preservation tricks, such as disconnecting the hood struts on his 1994 348 TB Challenge so they don’t wear out. ‘I leave them loose so I don’t have to replace them every time I go to a car show,’ Bachman says. As for strict oil-change intervals, Bachman says, ‘The oil’s already 300 million years old when you put it in the car. So what’s another six months?’ Bachman’s hands-on style of restoration and ownership also applies to the process of ordering a new car.
You don’t really appreciate just how many details on a Ferrari are open to interpretation until you actually see one of Bachman’s specially ordered cars. It’s not just a matter of extensive interior customisation. Bachman says some requests, like non-standard headlight buckets, sometimes receive an initial response of “not possible”. ‘But eventually,’ he says, ‘things turn out to be possible.’ The Enzo, for instance, would seem to offer a limited palette for personalisation, given that most of the interior is naked carbon fibre. But Bachman points out a number of non-standard details on his car. The lower body isn’t black, as on most Enzos, but matches the paint on the upper bodywork. The springs on the inboard coil-over dampers are yellow. Instead of a Ferrari badge on the rear of the car, there’s Enzo script. Under the front trunk, the car is signed by the workers who built it. “To Phil”, reads the dedication. “The best.”
Ferrari will soon start building a particular 599 GTO, one that will represent the tail-end of the production run. The factory will break out the yellow paint. And when that happens, it’ll be time for Bachman to get back on a plane over to Maranello. Customising the cars to this extent, Bachman says, ‘adds more and more trips to Italy. But it’s more and more fun. It’s dreaming. It’s dream mode.’