Sometimes, a car is more than just a car. It’s a piece of family history, a legacy and a landmark of childhood memories.
So it was with Brent Martini, who stumbled across a half-century-old remembrance of his beloved father in the Gooding & Company catalog for the company’s recent Scottsdale auction. The car was in itself something magical and exotic, a 1967 Ferrari 330 GTS sports car that his father, Robert Martini, owned for several years during the 1970s.
But it was something much more, he explained. It was a car that changed the family history and set young Brent on a car-guy life, all in.
“That’s my dad’s car! My dad’s car!” Brent Martini recalled exclaiming when he saw the familiar shape among the Gooding offerings.
Unlike most memories, the lovely Ferrari was one that could be recaptured. On Saturday, Brent Martini joined the bidders in the Gooding auction tent and bought back his father’s car.
The Ferrari was one of the most-expensive cars of Arizona auction week, at $2.53 million including auction fee. But for Martini, a successful businessman from Laguna Beach, California, the car is absolutely priceless.
During a cell-phone conversation with Martini as he drove back to California the day after the sale, he expressed the sheer ecstasy of winning the auction.
“It was the most-intense combination of feelings for four minutes and right after that I ever recall having in my life,” Martini said. “It feels like such a wonderful privilege because of my dad and his mentoring and guidance and encouragement throughout my life that I would be able to execute a beautiful story and a family legacy.
“I feel incredibly privileged and appreciative. My dad died almost three years ago, and my love of cars started just about the time I took my first ride in that 330.”
Martini told the story of how he and his family were living a typical middle-class lifestyle in Hillsdale, New Jersey.
“We were Pontiac, Oldsmobile, GM people,” he said. “This was a small suburb in New Jersey, so there were not a lot of Ferraris running around.”
But Robert Martini’s brother, Emil, the head of a major pharmaceutical company, was living a more expansive life in New Jersey. He purchased the Ferrari 330 new from the famous Luigi Chinetti Motors in New York City, and brought it home.
“He bought the 330 and exposed us to all of that,” Martini said of his uncle. “He went on to buy a Maserati and a DeTomaso Mangusta, these cars we had never heard of. Then he moved to California in the 1970s for a business deal.”
His uncle bought some other Ferraris, including a Daytona and a Dino, and he offered the 330 to Brent’s dad, who paid him something like $10,000 for it.
“That was the beginning of it all,” Martini said. “I was a kid in Little League at the time, and if I hit a home run or had a good game, we’d go for a ride in the Ferrari. So his brother started it and began our love affair with cars and Ferrari.”
Although his dad had the 330 for just a few years, he added, “that was a very formative time for me, and I have the fondest memories of my dad and that car. He’d drive me up to camp in that car, and it was just a fantastic two-and-a-half-hour drive. Those are the memories that make the car special to me.
“It really shaped my life, and I wound up racing professionally for a number of years. I won the championship in the Grand Am series in a Ferrari. My dad was there for that, which meant a lot to me although he wasn’t a big fan of me racing cars.
“But I’d look at him and say, ‘you started this’.”
His dad bought another Ferrari from his uncle, a 365 GTB/4 Daytona coupe, which meant that the 330 had to be sold. The Martinis kept the Daytona for many years, putting 78,000 miles on it and entering it in Ferrari club events.
“I raced it in Ferrari club stuff at Lime Rock, Watkins Glen, Road America,” he said. “But the 330 was my childhood car.”
Over the years, Brent Martini became turned on to another sports car brand, Porsche, by a close friend, and he has become a fan and a collector of the German marque. But the opportunity of buying back the 330, his first car love, was just too good to pass up, he said.
The Ferrari 330 went up for bidding late Saturday evening near the end of Gooding’s sale, roaring up on stage with its V12 engine sounding a glorious note. Professionally restored in its original black paint with a contrasting green interior, the convertible looked like a jewel standing under the lights.
Martini was accompanied by a group of friends and advisers as he sat up close, raising his hand in competition with a few other eager bidders. He and a Ferrari pro had checked out the 330 during the preview, and he knew he would be getting a well-prepared car. After a burst of active bidding, he was proclaimed the winner of his father’s Ferrari.
The experience was thrilling, he said, the excitement still evident in his voice as spoke of it on the phone.
“It’s just a beautiful thing,” he said. “We’re all just kids, right?”