Vroom Service

Shopping for a used car? Don't want to put up with the usual hassles? Curtis Mannisto is your man. Curtis doesn't bend the truth, and he never high-pressures the customer. You can bargain with him--up to a point--and you can rest assured that every vehicle on his lot has been minutely examined and lovingly reconditioned by mechanics as skilled as heart surgeons. Here's one salesman who will also give you his undivided attention, because he's not all that busy. Fact is, he's happy to sell three cars a month.

So then, look here. Curtis Mannisto's got a nice little 1991 bright-red two-door with AC and radio that he'll let you have for--let's see--$79,000. Plus tax.

It's a Ferrari.
For millions of Italians and countless dreamers in the rest of the world, those three syllables have been magic for half a century. In Formula One, the glamorous, high-strung top circuit of international motor racing, Ferrari has been in a relative slump for more than a decade now. But the blood-red cars from Maranello have won more world championships than those from any other manufacturer, and they are legendary on sports-car circuits from Le Mans to Daytona. Alberto Ascari. Juan Manuel Fangio. Phil Hill. Nicky Lauda. The names of great Ferrari race drivers resonate through history. But the name of their mount is shouted even louder, especially at the Autodromo Nazionale di Monza, the treacherous, ultra-high-speed road course where F1's Italian Grand Prix is contested each year. Here in the "Vatican" of Italian motor sports, the tifosi--Italy's passionate hordes of racing fanatics--don't genuflect to any mere human being. It's the car itself they worship. The Ferrari.

Curtis Mannisto loves it, too. The 29-year-old is a blue-eyed Italian-American from Evergreen, but he embraces Ferrari like a real paisan. During the Grand Prix season, he even gets up at 5:30 on Sunday mornings to watch his beloved "Reds" race on ESPN. On one particular Sunday in September, he says, he "went bonkers, just like when the Broncos win."

That was the day the finest racing driver on the planet, Ferrari's Michael Schumacher, who had otherwise suffered through a miserable season, flashed his oft-troubled F310 to victory in this year's Italian GP. For Mannisto, as for the tifosi in Italy, all the breakdowns and mishaps and technical gaffes of 1996 were suddenly forgotten. The bellowing throngs no longer resented Schumacher's $25 million annual salary, which makes him the world's highest-paid athlete. They didn't care about his spats with the Ferrari team's high-living, night-clubbing number two, Eddie Irvine. At that moment, the faithful didn't even mind that Schumacher is a German. Because the hot-blooded Ferrari, emblazoned with the famous Prancing Horse emblem, had once more draped all Italy in glory. For the first time in eight long years, "Schummy" had won for Ferrari at Monza.

How can a car--an inanimate hunk of metal, glass, leather and rubber--provoke delirium in an entire nation and excited awe in the rest of the motoring world?

For the answer, it helps to drive one.
But before you do, forget all those weary cliches about evil testosterone unloosed in the male ego by the lure of horsepower: Women love Ferraris, too. Don't even think about gas mileage. Set aside all political correctness, the 65-mile-per-hour speed limit and any second thoughts about status-seeking materialism. While you're at it, dump all those worries about what soulless technology is doing to our beleaguered society.

Drive a Ferrari once, initiates say, and you'll understand. Even if you don't know a carburetor from a distributor cap.

Curtis Mannisto, our car salesman, doesn't offer test drives. He doesn't have to. Virtually every customer at Ferrari of Denver (located in Englewood, actually) is a repeat customer and so understands. The confirmed Ferrarista who drops by the dealership with a $10,000 deposit (nonrefundable, of course) for April 1997 delivery of a brand-new, $220,000 Ferrari 550 Maranello...understands. The hard-working doctor who's grown weary of his old 308 GTS--you know, the Magnum, P.I. car--and wants to trade up to a swift new 456GT... understands. Even the fellow shopping for what Mannisto calls an "entry-level" Ferrari--an F355 Berlinetta, say, for the bargain price of $127,000--is starting to...understand. When you're in the market for a Ferrari, you don't need a test drive. Chevy buyers demand test drives. Volkswagen volk kick tires. Ferraristi understand.

"No one has ever brought one of these cars back and said, 'I don't want it,'" Mannisto explains. "There's nothing like a Ferrari for attitude adjustment."

And there's never been an adjuster quite like the F50.
Since 1947, when an imperious perfectionist named Enzo Ferrari began hand-making exotic sports cars--never more than 3,500 of them a year--each model has been directly inspired by Ferrari's famous racing machines. Until now, though, the company hasn't put an actual world-class race car on the street. Introduced in December 1995, the F50 is just that--a twelve-cylinder, 520-horsepower, near-Formula One car that you can put license plates on. About the only luggage this sleek and brutal two-seater will accommodate, Mannisto points out, is the driver's credit cards, and among all Ferraris--many of which can be snarly and ill-mannered in the hands of average drivers--this one demands particular respect. Zero-to-60: 3.7 seconds. Top speed: 202 miles per hour. Sticker price: 710 million lire, or 487,000 hard-earned American dollars. Before Uncle Sam tacks on his 9 percent luxury tax.

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