Italy’s Ferrari has been synonymous with speed, beauty, luxury, and punishing expense for so long that it’s hard to believe that when former race-car driver Enzo Ferrari founded the company (and named it after himself), in 1947, the cars wouldn’t be taken seriously as collectibles for decades. Indeed, the very first book on Ferrari’s glorious mechanical legacy, detailing what was already a fast-moving parade of jaw-dropping offerings, wouldn’t be written until 1968. And even then, rare, exotic Ferraris—machines that now sell for tens of millions of dollars—sold secondhand in the low, single-digit thousands.
But classic-car values have climbed to stratospheric heights since, with Ferrari leading the pack, and so has interest in contemporary models of Italy’s most formidable sports car. If you need any proof of the former fact, just look at the results of prestige-car auctioneer Gooding & Co.’s latest sale in Amelia Island, Florida. Half of the Top 10 lots were Ferraris, including the aquamarine-colored 1962 Ferrari 250 GT SWB California Spider, which sold for $18,045,000, the most valuable car ever sold at auction in Amelia Island. (As an aside, a replica of that model was the car star of Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.)
Even if it’s not all about the money, every discussion of Ferrari touches on cost sooner or later. From the new, extraordinarily handsome Roma we drove the other week—considered “entry level,” at just shy of $245,000—and the soon-to-launch Purosangue S.U.V. (expected to kick off at $400,000) to the $2.23 million Daytona SP3 hypercar, owners must pay up (and up and up and up) for the Ferrari-ownership experience. You don’t need an advanced degree in human psychology to know that the eye-watering cost is part of the allure of owning one.
But the fact that Ferraris are almost universally excellent to drive and wonderful to look at makes them hugely attractive, too, even to the less extroverted among us. That is to say: they provide the value promised by their price tags.
Class, Not Mass
The cultural significance of the Ferrari brand has been illustrated many times throughout history, such as when the Ford Motor Company, under the guidance of ol’ Henry Ford’s grandson Henry Ford II, attempted to buy Ferrari from its mercurial founder in the 1960s. That unsuccessful effort was gripping enough that it has spawned books and movies, including James Mangold’s 2019 film, Ford v Ferrari, which chronicled the spurned Ford’s obsessive desire to beat the Italian racing giant at Le Mans.
Coming later this year, Michael Mann’s Ferrari, starring Adam Driver and Shailene Woodley, delves into the tumultuous life of the man they called il Commendatore (the Commander) during the year 1957, in the aftermath of his son Dino’s death, from multiple sclerosis; the collapse of his marriage; and—money always being a theme in automotive tales—his company’s near bankruptcy.
No one said making limited-production automobiles was easy. Having rebuffed Ford earlier in the decade, Enzo Ferrari was ultimately forced to sell a 50 percent interest in his company to Italy’s largest car-maker, Fiat, run by the Agnelli family, in 1969. That stake increased to 90 percent in the months preceding his death, at the age of 90, in August 1988.
No one said that making vast quantities of humble-production automobiles was easy either, though. Fiat wasn’t going to make it out of the 2008 financial crisis alive, so in 2009 it merged with Chrysler to form F.C.A. (Fiat Chrysler Automobiles), taking Ferrari and Alfa Romeo along with it.
In 2015, the Agnelli-family holding company, Exor, run by patriarch Gianni Agnelli’s grandson John Elkann, took Ferrari public. Valued in the I.P.O. at a robust $9.8 billion, it was but a taste of the market’s future direction, as Ferrari’s value subsequently skyrocketed to its current market capitalization of $50.1 billion, which today makes it the 11th-most-valuable car company in the world.
The sports-car-maker set a record in 2022, selling 13,221 units. But compared with the millions of cars sold each year by G.M. and Ford (who are just ahead of it in market capitalization, as the world’s 9th- and 10th-most-valuable car companies, respectively), that’s practically a rounding error. The diminutive firm from Modena is punching so far beyond its weight that it brings us back to the undersung affinity of capital for unbridled romanticism. People laugh at Tesla’s still rosy market capitalization of $547 billion, but it sold 10 times more cars than Ferrari, and, unlike the Italian firm, which must retard its sales volume to retain exclusivity, Tesla keeps building factories and selling more cars (more than 1.25 million last year).
Despite Ferrari’s slender volume—still, worth underscoring, larger than it’s ever been and certain to grow with the new S.U.V.—the company illustrates a truth most major car-makers these days have hit upon: high-priced luxury automobiles with built-in audiences generate huge profits at lower levels of investment.
Where would Volkswagen be without its hugely profitable interests in Porsche (itself the subject of a recent sky-high I.P.O.), Bentley, and Lamborghini? They can sell S.U.V.’s, gussied up and re-styled, but ultimately those aren’t enough to differentiate them from their middle-browed brethren at Audi.
Similarly, where would BMW be without Rolls-Royce, also setting sales records in the post-coronavirus era? Why are Cadillac, Jaguar Land Rover, Hyundai’s Genesis, and Lexus all desperately trying to move further upmarket? Because that’s where the big money is. It’s the difference between hunting for big game and for grouse. You’ve got to kill a lot more small birds to make a feast. And with the fast-growing disparity in societal wealth, luxury cars are the world’s biggest expanding market.
Which brings us back to the Roma. Very handsome, very fast, very fun, and, for me, very unaffordable. Being 100 percent gasoline powered, it may well mark the end of an era, as the future promises all-electric Ferraris. So in spite of relatively large planned volumes, the Roma could one day come to be seen as a historically significant collectible. Should you buy one as an investment? I like to lose money on cars, so maybe I’m not the one you should be asking. But leaving me out of it, I say if you can afford one and have several decades to wait for its value to multiply, what have you got to lose?
Jamie Kitman is a car columnist for AIR MAIL