Gianni Agnelli’s status as a style icon in perpetuity goes beyond his watch-over-the-shirt cuffs, rakish ties and Caraceni suits, often worn over hiking boots. He was also a car boss with petrol in his veins (not always a given) and an eye for an idiosyncratic one-off.
As the chairman of Fiat, he had the means to indulge his passion for the unusual, variously commissioning a number of leisure-oriented Fiat Pandas, a Fiat 130 Familiare estate, complete with wicker basket on the roof and wood panelling on the body, and an eye-popping Multipla Spider.
But not all of Agnelli’s one-offs were so utilitarian. In 1986, he commissioned a Spider version of the extant Ferrari Testarossa as an appropriate commemoration of his 20 years as the president of Fiat. Ferrari’s archives record work starting on the project on 27 February 1986, completion and delivery following four months later.
Although it was clearly never intended for series production, the Testarossa Spider was rigorously engineered by Ferrari, no mean feat when you consider the challenges of packaging a folding hood around a mid-mounted, 5.0-litre 12-cylinder engine. An extra button was secreted on the dashboard to electronically raise and lower a hoop to keep the soft-top in position.
This remarkable car features a further technical novelty in the form of a unique Valeo transmission, that allowed the driver to use the car either as a regular three-pedal five-speed manual or, at the push of another button, an automatic (the clutch pedal would retract – a similar system would appear on the F40 Agnelli ordered next, and was an ingenious sop to an old leg injury).
Against the considerable engineering effort that went into this one-off, it seems almost churlish to mention the Spider’s Argento paint, other than to point out that AG is the symbol for silver in the periodic table. Also, consistent with its owner’s reputation for sartorial excellence is the car’s nuanced blue exterior highlights and matching blue interior trim. Agnelli’s status saw the Italian authorities exempt him from the ban on personalised registration plates: TO 00000G is memorable indeed.
He subsequently sold the Testarossa Spider to a family friend with whom he regularly played poker, and this gentleman’s children duly placed the car with Artcurial for auction at its 2016 Retromobile sale. Its new owner is Ronald Stern, one of the marque’s most esteemed aficionados, and a renowned archivist and authority on the life and times of Enzo Ferrari.
‘I thought it would be rather nice to have a one-off, a car with genuinely unique provenance,’ he notes. ‘I met Leonardo Fioravanti in Maranello while the car was there having its paintwork freshened up and being certified. It was a privilege to have the man who oversaw its creation explain the various things they’d originally done to engineer and reinforce the car’s chassis.’
Better still, Piero Ferrari himself personally handed over the Classiche certification documents to Stern at his home in London while visiting. There can be few other people in the Ferrari firmament better qualified to maintain such a significant part of the Company mythology.