‘It’s having an opportunity to talk about something that you have a genuine passion for; an opportunity to talk about cars all day. In my last business, no-one has a real passion for what they do; they just do it. The BMW 507 over there; I’ve never seen one before. Once you’ve had an opportunity to drive and understand the cars, it helps you sell them as well. If someone says to you “How does it drive?”, you have to know the answer. It’s like a hobby you get paid to do, but that doesn’t make it any less hard work.’
We’re sitting in James’s office, surrounded by the trinkets that display his love of cars. There’s an original luggage set from a Diablo in a presentation case behind me, and folders full of history for customer cars on the desk in front. Looking through the presentation case rewards me with a glimpse of some of the most jaw-dropping classic, super and hypercars ever made. Pagani’s ex-Geneva Motor Show Huayra is nestled beside the white BMW roadster that Andrew is a big fan of. A Fiat Dino Spyder shimmers under the strip lighting next to a dinky original Fiat Cinquecento. The variety on offer is baffling; like a fantasy football XI or greatest hits album, it’s staggering to see a collection of cultural icons in one place.
There are no prices in the windows of these cars. The ‘hobby that you get paid to do’ is currently the vocation of James Searle, one of the Sales Executives that make up the team at Joe Macari Performance Cars in London. Like any other retail business, these works of art are here to be sold. Macari, however, runs a servicing and restoration arm that manages to maintain some of the most unusual cars in the world. As an official Ferrari and Maserati repairer, it’s one of the few places in the UK where you can have your Modenese supercar Classiche certified.
James shows me the gargantuan red file that accompanies a recently-certified Ferrari F50. A customer has paid £500 for Ferrari technicians to pull his beauty to pieces to make sure the ‘numbers match’. As many of these cars are bought as investment pieces, originality is key to any out-of-production Ferrari. The car can only be Classiche-certified if all the components are original, or at least to the same specification as it would have been as it left the factory. The chassis is checked for damage or repairs; the gearbox and engine are checked against factory records to see if they are original; switches and accessories on the car have to be period-correct and even the bolts on the engine block have to be the right size. This obsessive attention to minor details can add thousands to the price of the car. In this world, provenance makes perfect, and James spends a lot of his day as some kind of automotive sleuth.
‘You need all the history; you go through the box file on the car and pull together service history, where the car’s been, who’s owned the car. At first I go to who’s owned the car; what do you know, verbally, what history have you got on the car, then they tell me who they got it from – in this case, it was a dealer in Switzerland, so then I ring him up. Tell me what you know about the car – ‘oh I got it from this guy, in this company’- so it’s about pulling together all that lost history of a vehicle. People like to know the background of the car – that particular car [the Fiat Topolino] has a flag from Lake Tresa on the wing, but there’s no history on why the flag is there. I’ve now discovered that the last Swiss collector stored the car there. That day I did the Topolino, next week it will be the Bugatti EB110.’
I’m given a tour of the showroom floor, where I struggle to stop grinning. Whilst I’m crestfallen the Bugatti EB110 SS Dauer isn’t here – it’s away with the LFA Nurburgring edition on filming duty for the upcoming Bond film – there are more than enough distractions ahead of me. To be quite frank, there are not enough superlatives for what I’m about to see. Personal highlights are of the motorsport variety, with James providing me with an intimate knowledge of each car as we progress down the hallway. The ex-Derek Bell/Stefan Bellof Porsche 962 absolutely floors me. Six minutes and eleven seconds is all it took Bellof to negotiate the Nurburgring Nordschleife during qualifying for the 1983 1000km of Nurburgring. It’s low, light and looks perpetually angry. Everything about it is purposeful. I ask James what it’s doing in the showroom and he tells me that it’s so low, it cannot get into the customer’s driveway. It’ll sit here, waiting for the lights to turn green, until a solution is found.
We move on. The black ex-Chris Evans 250 GT California has a long wheelbase partner, freshly restored and painted in Blue Julie. The colour pops under the lights, and the leather looks as if it’s never been touched from new. James tells me that it’s common practice to substitute the original, perfectly-working engine for a period-correct one. As the original block is so valuable and hard to find parts for, if it breaks, the car’s value plummets. These original blocks are packaged on crates and sold alongside the car, like spare organs. Provenance is the dealbreaker here.
Turbo lunacy is well-represented in the form of the 288 GTO and F40. This particular F40 looks comparatively rougher than some of the other cars on display, in that it has minor scuffs to the front spoiler and some light scratches. It’s spent most of its life in an Italian collection with only a few thousand kilometres on the clocks. Being from the late-80’s, it doesn’t have any cats and features the optional sliding Plexiglas windows that hark to its competitive bent. It’s my first time seeing both side-by-side and their similarities to one another are more than obvious. This corner is my favourite of the whole hall: mess around with any of these cars and there’s no electronic driver aids to save you.
We come to the one of the few MC12 Corsas that have been converted to road use. It’s one of twelve made, and is even rarer for being painted black instead of the usual Blue Victory. The carbonfibre weave is visible through the thin layer of paint. It has a racing pedigree and looks utterly menacing because of it. I’m quickly learning that whilst there is a definite preference for Ferrari and Maserati, the dealership is a mish-mash of cars. Classics share billing with limited-run cars from 2014 such as the 458 Speciale Aperta.
Joe Macari cuts a relaxed figure as I meet him on the showroom floor. The racer-turned-businessman invites me to the cafe upstairs and rolls a cigarette. A battered Nokia – the kind which has an endless battery life and went out of production about a decade ago – sits on the table in front of us, ready for the next business call. There’s a silence before he explains his reasoning behind the switch from racing cars to auction houses.
‘Better is perception, but try to be unique and use your own ideas. Most people won’t have the courage of their convictions to do so. It’s a bit like this showroom; I designed it and built it. I don’t know if it works or doesn’t work, but it works for me so that’s why I did it. I put the pictures up that I liked and I hope that my clients like them too. That’s why there’s nothing like this anywhere else, because no-one else will take the risk. I indulged myself as I’ve always tried to imagine myself as the client. As a kid I’d wanna go see a showroom with my dad and if we weren’t in a position to buy something there, they wouldn’t let us in. What’s it cost to let some people in? On the commercial side they might be clients but irrelevant of that, why don’t we put a smile on their face; we’re all human beings. So it costs me a bit of wear and tear, who cares.’
The minutes pass and it soon feels that we’re two petrolheads just chatting about our shared passion. The combined value of everything in this dealership is probably as high as the economic worth of some multinational businesses, but it soon becomes clear that Joe’s business is built around a refreshingly can-do attitude that stems from experience and technical knowledge:
‘We seem to get the eclectic cars; so if someone brings over a Zonda, Koenigsegg or a Huayra they end up at our workshop if there’s a problem. The clients know we’re pretty versatile. Our lads are extraordinary technically and because of that they can turn their hand to most things. We had in a Zonda and a Koenigsegg, both the cars of one client. Koenigsegg sent a technician over to work on our premises. Pagani also sent a tech but he couldn’t fix it. We fixed it anyway and sent it back to a client. If the bones are good and it’s built well, you get stronger as you go along. Experience will help because obviously there’s idiosyncracies to each car. If a window is wired differently from one car to another, it makes no odds. Go back to basics and work it out.’
A call interrupts our chat and Joe instantly relaxes into another conversation with someone he clearly knows very well. He’s talking about a customer’s GTO over the phone and banters about a car he missed out during the weekend’s Artcurial auction in Paris. An unrestored, barn-find 1961 250 GT SWB California sold for a record-breaking $18.5 million at this auction. I remember that there’s two Californias in the dealership below me. Soon the call is over, and our chat progresses to the current crop of hypercars. He’s a tifosi through-and-through and the lack of a Porsche presence in this dealership is explained:
‘The car that stands out by a country mile over any other car in the world today is LaFerrari. You could drive it round the city and it’s totally benign; you may as well be in a three-door hatchback. It drives so easily at low speed it’s insane. Take it out of the city however and you’ll think the car’s had a row with the tarmac. It’s just trying to tear pieces of road out and spit them at people; it’s so ferociously fast. The thing that got me was the way it delivered the power; it had a completely linear power curve so it was instantaneous and from 1500rpm to 9000rpm it’s completely smooth the whole way. There were no surges and that makes it so much more driveable as the torque is phenomenal.
‘I’m very anti-electric cars. Electricity is to do your heating or cook your food, it’s not meant to be in a bloody motor car. Electricity is the start of communism for cars; it’s filth. Electric cars have a bigger impact on the environment than a normal car not just for the construction of it, but the disposal of the batteries. The reality is that the footprint of the electric car will be more than a V8 or even a V12 Ferrari. To get rid of the lead and acid is hugely polluting. Give us our petrol back. The Porsche 918 was not meant to sell out because it was never really the greatest car, but people have looked at it and said cost-wise it’s half the price of a new LaFerrari, and they’ve talked themselves into it as opposed to wanting it but I don’t believe they’ll sustain their money.’
‘A client may come in and say ‘I fancy a 458 Spider.’ What I want to know from them is why they fancy a 458 Spider; is it because their neighbour’s got a coupe and they want to one-up them, or is it because they read an article about it, or is it because they’re having a mid-life crisis and they’ve got some money and they think it’s the coolest car on the planet. Then you find out that the reason they want it is because they’d love to own a Ferrari, but they don’t like driving particularly quickly, they want quite a soft ride and in fact maybe a California is probably suited to them more. That can backfire on you and you may not have the California and they’ll buy it elsewhere, however you’ve been honest enough and if the client’s got any scruples they will wait for you to serve them the car that they want.’
As we’re talking, I reflect upon my tour of the service bay and restoration rooms that James gave me earlier. Joe’s willingness to know each customer’s demands and needs yields practical results as each car in the bay undergoes some form of surgery to the nth degree. Everything is spotless and labelled correctly. A Ferrari F50 looks odd perched on a hydraulic lift minus its wheels, but offers up a chance to examine its sculpted undertray. Elsewhere, a white and blue roadgoing MC12 – one of fifty ever made – is boxed in by wheels and various Maserati parts. Joe’s own project car sits in the corner and Frank Sinatra’s ex-Parisian Ferrari is being maneouvered onto a ramp. The Italians are challenged by a 1960 Mercedes SL 190 Roadster which is being prepped for the showroom and the Audi R8 GT sitting silently at the end of the hall. It’s a shame that photographs aren’t allowed at this point on the tour.
The term ‘provenance’ rings in my head again as we head to the restoration room. The charred remains of a Lamborghini Muira’s front wheel lay on the floor of a room where Ferraris, Lamborghinis and Maseratis are parked nose-to-tail awaiting restoration. There’s a thick smell of oil in the air and under the tight covers I pick out the silhouettes of iconic cars such as the Ferrari Testarossa. An unrestored Lamborghini tractor sits outside the innocuous-looking lockup. It’s like visiting your mate’s cold, poorly-lit garage, except it has racecars from the 1960s, body panels from homologation Lancias and a massive dyno inside it. My time at Joe Macari’s is nearly over, but before I leave Joe offers up his musings on what is needed to succeed in the supercar world:
‘I do believe that by using your integrity you’ll have a longer lifespan. Where other dealers will be going through highs and lows, you’ll be consistent through the harder times. If you do things right when you’re good, when you have bad years you’ll be able to ride the storm much better. Don’t be scared to put the hours in; I think people underestimate how much work goes into our business when you’re not a main dealer and you’re in a niche area. You’ve gotta have a broad knowledge of the cars which you can’t learn on the internet. You have to go to car shows and you’ve got to know why some cars are different. If something’s cheap, there’s a reason for it. It’s more expensive to do something cheaply in the long run.’
With thanks to Joe Macari, James Searle and Andrew Gill at Joe Macari for their time, assistance and comments during Motormessenger’s visit.