Articles and Back Issues

 

Cavallino rekindles story of great Ferrari driver and mechanic

By Domenic DiDonato

 

I recently had the pleasure of meeting Tim Stanford at the Cavallino show this year. I heard so much about him and couldn't wait to meet him in person. All of what I heard was true and more.

After a few minutes, I knew Stanford was a true tifosi because he knew the little-known historical story of American Ferrari factory race driver Mike Gammino's Bizzarrini V12 P538 race car and his mechanic Libero Gerardi.

My fascination and passion for Ferraris began in the early '70s when I first met Gerardi, known as Lee to his friends. My parents took their Jaguar XJ6 to Gerardi for service; as a result my father not only became his personal physician but a close friend.

Thanks to this I had the fortunate opportunity to spend a great deal of time in his garage. Being a first generation Italian, I understood Italian well, and that was lucky as Gerardi often spoke half in Italian and half in Italian-English.

Throughout the years, almost ten, I developed a close relationship with Gerardi. I was in awe every time I went to the shop, and vividly remember the stories Gerardi recounted to me about his trips to the Ferrari factory, all amid the Ferraris, Italian exotics and antique Rolls-Royces that he was restoring, servicing or repairing.

It wasn't until he passed away and I saw his P538 at a Newport Rhode Island Car Show that I learned the full story of Mike Gammino's Bizzarrini. After Ferrari was not interested in building a Can-Am car for Gammino, he ordered a Bizzarrini V12 P538 commissioned by Gerardi, which was delivered to his shop in 1965 located behind the Gammino Construction Co. office in little Cranston, Rhode Island.

The car was to have been S/N 001, the first V12 P538. However, it was crashed at the factory during testing before being delivered, and Bizzarrini built a third car, S/N 002, that was delivered to Gammino.

Many ask why the third car is numbered 002. It is rumored that this was because it was the second V12 P538. The first car was numbered S/N 000 and had a Chevy 327 in it.

Gammino ran the P538 at Bridgehampton. The car was No. 28, teal in color with a yellow triangle stripe. Unfortunately, it did not finish due to a broken oil pan caused by suspension parts on the track.

Some say it was karma because it wasn't a Ferrari. Italians are very superstitious and stories like this continue throughout history. One more recent example is that the Ferrari-Maserati deal of the '90s failed because Enzo considered Maserati mortal enemies and no matter alive or dead that would never happen.

Nonetheless, as a token of gratitude for his endless passion, dedication and loyalty, Gammino gave No. 28 to his lifelong mechanic Gerardi.

Libero kept the car until he passed away in June 1979. Perhaps this too was superstition, but I believe he couldn't part with the car because it was such a gracious gesture that meant so much to him.

Little did Lee know that car went on to become one of the rarest and most valuable Italian race cars in existence, appraised at $2 million in restored condition. However, I am sure even if he knew this, it wouldn't have mattered. That is the type of man Lee was – a humble, simple, honest mechanic who loved cars and what he did.

My chat with Stanford reminded me so much of Lee especially when I asked for a picture with him and said: "It is a pleasure to meet such a celebrity in the Ferrari world." He humbly replied, "I am just a mechanic."

When he said that I knew I was in the presence of someone special.

I know only of one other person like Tim and Lee. That is Frank Bonanno, another legendary Ferrari mechanic.

Bonnano's story was that at the end of an auto seminar a young instructor said to the group "You're no longer mechanics. Now you're all technicians." Frank stood up and proudly said, "No, I'm still a mechanic" and left.

For many Ferrari greats, being a mechanic is not only a life's work but it is their life and passion. It is an honor to be a mechanic, and like one's reputation, something to be proud of, never to be minimized or to be taken away by anyone.

I too have the Italian propensity of being superstitious, and as I search for Ferrari to purchase I believe it was no accident that I met Stanford. Libero, thank you for all the time you spent with me and all that you have taught me, I miss you dearly and am fortunate to find that your passion still lives on in mechanics like Stanford.

As for the P538 S/N 002 it was sold a few times and one of the last owners, Jim Phelan from the United States, sold it to Ulrich Buschmeier of Germany. Oddly, however, he renegotiated to own it jointly with him.

Ferrari and Italian superstition and karma continue. The current joint owners proudly arranged for the car to be displayed at the San Diego Automotive Museum in California since the early 1990s.

To memories of old Ferrari friends and to creating new memories with new paisanos.