Finicky Ferrari won’t sell to collector David Lee

Charles Fleming
Los Angeles Times

Los Angeles — David Lee wanted the new Ferrari. He wanted it bad.

The multimillionaire watch and jewelry entrepreneur had his heart set on the LaFerrari Aperta, the open-top version of the ferocious Italian V-12 supercar. It would cost $2.2 million, and only 200 would be built.

Lee reckoned he had a good shot at getting one. After all, he already owned a garage full of Ferraris, many bought directly from the factory, part of a $50 million car collection he had spent years assembling.

He had a solid relationship with a powerful local Ferrari dealer. He had visited the Ferrari factory and attended the Ferrari driving school in Italy. He had purchased and restored vintage Ferraris and shown them at the Pebble Beach show in California and other exclusive concourse events.

He also recently had ordered four new Ferraris, hoping to improve his chances of getting on the exclusive and secret list of car collectors allowed to purchase one of the limited-run LaFerrari Aperta convertibles.

But Ferrari turned him down.

Arguably the world’s most recognizable exotic carmaker, Ferrari has mastered the art of exclusivity.

The lowest-priced vehicle in the current lineup is the California T, at about $210,000. By occasionally offering a high-priced, limited run of special sports cars, affordable to the 1 percent but offered only to a select few, the company adds catnip to its cachet — rewarding its most ardent consumers while beckoning new buyers to more quotidian cars offered at lower prices and in higher volume.

It’s a successful supply-and-demand formula. Last year, the company shipped only 8,014 cars worldwide, but reported net revenue of $3.4 billion. In other words, Ferrari can afford to be choosy about who gets its best cars.

“If you are not a current or previous Ferrari owner, you have no chance at all,” said collector David Christian, who for decades has raced and owned elite Italian cars. “I don’t care how much money you have.”

Lee doesn’t know exactly why he was denied a chance to buy an Aperta, and Ferrari declined to comment, except to say Lee was a valued client.

Bruce Meyer, a collector and member of the Petersen Automotive Museum board, sympathizes with the storied Italian company’s effort to control its own destiny.

“They’ve tried to keep their cars in the right hands, and they’ve done a good job of maintaining a brand of exclusivity,” said Meyer, who keeps several highly valuable Ferraris in his Beverly Hills stable.