Most people never get to realize their childhood dream, but Andy Leonard, owner of Topanga’s Reel Inn, does it almost daily.
“Back in the mid-’50s,” he recalls, “when I was 10 or 11, I thought the coolest thing you could do was drive down a mountain road in a red Ferrari race car.”
His heroes then were people like Phil Hill, America’s first world champion driver, who drove on Ferrari’s factory team. Now, when he’s not running the ship at his restaurant, Leonard drives a red Ferrari racer down Malibu’s roads, enjoying the sound of the V-12’s four exhausts reverberating off the canyon walls. His mount is a “bitsa” Ferrari roadster he drives in vintage racing competition, but also out on the street.
The tall 52-year-old restaurateur explains how he came by the ersatz Testa Rossa. “I used to have a car business back when the exotic cars were going up in value,” he says. “When that business died in ’92, when the market fell, I took all the remaining cars home.”
One of them was an old Ferrari touring car but, fortunately, one made in the era when most of the great Ferraris were made — with a 3-liter V-12 engine that, with six carburetors, sings what Ferrari fans call “the siren’s song.”
“I found out that Ferrari restorer David Cottingham in England had made up a body for a race car that would fit my chassis, and that he had extra bodies as well,” says Leonard. So he rebodied his boring 1960 Ferrari street car into a look-alike for one of Ferrari’s most famous race cars, the Testa Rossa TRC, the full-fendered version (there was another with cutaway fenders). Real Testa Rossas sell at auctions for up to $5 million. His car, because of its pieced-together history, he reckons is worth a mere $100,000.
“But the value is immaterial to me,” he says with a grin. “I just built it because it’s the kind of car I’ve been wanting for 40 years.”
The car is still licensed as a 1960 Ferrari with the Department of Motor Vehicles. “It just happens to have changed shape,” he says.
He races it with various vintage race sanctioning organizations but, unfortunately, the Historic Motor Sports Association, the group that runs the Monterey event each August, is still purist and won’t allow his car to run although it has a real Ferrari serial number and real Ferrari engine.
But now there is a new type of event he can enter — the touring rallies. “They’re not rallies in the old sense of strict time-and-distance events,” says Leonard. “But more fun things where you and maybe a hundred or more other classic car owners dine at some nice restaurant and then push off to the next stopping point, usually on a route running through some incredible scenery.”
Some of the cars are multimillion-dollar cars that would probably be eligible for awards at Pebble Beach. “Sometimes others on the tour will ask you if they can try your car on the next leg,” says Leonard, “but I only let one guy try it out so far — a race driver who had actually raced a Ferrari in Europe in ’57.”
Since building the car, he and his wife have had three children–which has somewhat lessened his wife’s zeal to be a passenger on such tours–but two of his children, a 5-year-old son and a 7-year-old daughter, have ridden as observers on legs of the Copperstate, one of the oldest touring events on the schedule.
Ironically, Leonard spent a good 10 years as a BMW mechanic and racer of a BMW 2002, a pint-size sports sedan. He admits, “I know it’s unusual for a German car guy to come over to Italian cars, but back at that time Ferraris were built with the solidity of German cars.”
And besides, there’s that dream back when he was a mere lad … that vision of driving a red Ferrari at speed on a mountain road.