This article was the very first feature article when Motive launched on August 7, 2007.
It's impossible to calculate the full impact of John Hughes' 1986 feel-good flick, Ferris Bueller's Day Off, but sitting on the steps of Glenbrook North High School in Northbrook, Illinois, I think I'm pretty close to a full accounting. There I am, in the exact spot where Sloane Peterson thanked Mr. Rooney for his "warmth and compassion," staring at a rosso corsa Ferrari 250, when a white Kia Rio obstructs my view and breaks the line of saliva connecting my mouth to the concrete steps below. The window rolls down, and a high schooler pops his head out. "Whoaaa, this is like a scene straight out of Ferris Bueller!"
This kid probably wasn't even born in the same decade that Ferris's memorable day off took place, yet he recognizes the scene seconds after rounding the corner. The movie is a generation-defining classic, our filmic version of The Great Gatsby, and that's why we've made our pilgrimage to Northbrook today. We intended simply to do a small photo shoot at the school, and we even promised to drive the Ferrari we're borrowing home backwards. But I really couldn't leave it at that. I mean, if you had access to a car like this, would you take it back right away? Next stop, downtown Chicago.
Deriving their names from the 250-cc displacement of each engine cylinder, Ferrari's 250 range cemented the brand's status as the preeminent sports car builder in the world. Thanks to Ferris Bueller, the 250 GT California ("Che bella!") is by far the most recognizable. But we're not using a 250 GT California for our own day off because, frankly, John Hughes didn't use one for his, either. The movie car, a "Classic GT250" replica kit by defunct coachbuilder Modena Design, used a small-block Ford V8 in a custom tube chassis. The prancing pony we've procured is a 250 GTO replica that was a Datsun 280Z in a former life, and it's probably just as well that this Z is not the basis for a convertible — cutting the top off this thing would result in a lack of body rigidity to rival a Karate-era Elvis. Some regard the original Ferrari GTO, born from the desirable short-wheelbase 250 chassis, as the finest Ferrari to ever leave Maranello. Plastic windows brought weight down, while Testa Rossa heads and six yelping Weber carbs brought power up. Without the GTO, racing in the '60s may not have escalated the way it did; Carroll Shelby might not have built the Daytona Coupe; Henry Ford II probably wouldn't have commissioned the GT40; and Ferruccio Lamborghini would probably have stuck to building tractors. With that storied history, and an estimated value of over $10 million, we wouldn't expect one to brave Chicago's traffic any time soon.
Lucky for us, 54,954 Datsun 280Z two-seaters were sold in the States in 1977, and those cars happen to make perfect GTO replicas, provided you're handy with the fiberglass and a paint gun. Even luckier for us, we've got one of the most accurate ones in the country, with over 2500 hours of care and precision behind it. Its own little tea party of the Axis powers, this Ferrari-inspired, Datsun-based replica puts down 485 horsepower at the rear wheels, courtesy of a BMW 750iL's V12 engine and an 850CSi's 6-speed manual transmission. If the resulting sound and fury isn't enough to convince many skeptics that this thing's the real deal, the right-hand drive will. After all, no one would be crazy enough to convert a replica to right-drive, would they?
But this car's the owner, Michelle Lonnecker, is quick to tell me she isn't done yet. The dry-sump conversion, the hand-built linkages, and the one-off engine management system are great, she says, but it really needs velocity-stack intakes and twelve individual throttle bodies to reach its full potential. Be still my heart.
Following Ferris's route downtown from the fictional suburb of Shermer is tricky unless you're into figure eights. In one scene, the car is shown rounding the Ohio Street off-ramp from I-90, while in the next Ferris is taking his hands off the wheel to irritate Cameron on Lake Shore Drive — two areas which, for those of you not familiar with Chicago, are on opposite sides of the downtown Loop area.
Traffic seems thicker than usual on Lake Shore, too, until I realize that it's just one mass of cars being sucked in by the Ferrari's gravitational pull. And it's not just the motorheads looking. Every sporto, geek, slut, blood, wastoid, and dweebie on the road is craning his or her neck toward us. "One time," Lonnecker shouts over the sound of V12 and wind, "a van pulled up in front of me, and I saw the sliding door open. A guy leaned out, gave a thumbs-up, and took a picture. All I could think was 'Please, oh please, don't fall.'" We complete our lakefront jaunt without abetting anyone's defenestration, and head into the heart of the city to find Ferris's parking garage. We know we'll find it under the L-train, which means it's probably on a street named after a president.
As small as the car is, it's actually quite a handful to drive — especially with taxis and buses to dodge at every corner. Without the benefit of power assistance, the steering requires some muscle and the occasional grunt at low speeds. Large aftermarket brake rotors wouldn't fit behind the car's 15-inch wheels, so a heavy-duty Wilwood master cylinder pushes fluid to the original calipers, giving the brakes tons of pressure but little response in the pedal's short range of travel. Or, in other words, I'm standing on the brake pedal using both feet, with my arms flexed tight. It's enough to work up a quick sweat, which is only compounded by engine heat. I wipe my forehead, send a few revs of the engine echoing through downtown louder than Ferris singing "Twist and Shout," and turn gleefully into the parking garage we've just spotted. Maybe a convertible like the California wouldn't have been so bad after all.
The basic shell of the Madison and Wells parking garage hasn't changed since 1986, but its inner workings have. The whole day, I had been praying that I'd pull in and find a sebaceous Eastern European punching his time clock. I even have a five-dollar tip in hand, to make sure the guy takes special care of the car. But alas, the only thing standing there is a little yellow machine spitting out paper cards; if the owner had a shred of humor in him, he would have at least given the machine a speaker that pipes out a reassuring "Relaaax" every time a card is pulled. I drown my disappointment knowing that the ticket machine, at least, won't steal the car and put it airborne to the theme of "Star Wars."
And neither will we. In the past twenty-one years, the filmed stretch of South Clark Street has, as real-estate developers say, "turned." What was once an expansive empty lot lined by train tracks is now a thriving townhouse community, and attempting a jump there would have found us using the car to rearrange the home furnishings section of the Target store that sits over the road. Disappointing, yes, but we're sure the car's owner is silently applauding the gentrification. A tire-squealing, full-throttle loop through the Ohio Street off-ramp is our goodbye to the city, and we head north for Highland Park with both massive K&N air filter cones working overtime. There, nestled in the exclusive north suburbs of Chicago, is the Mecca at the end of our day-long pilgrimage.
Frances Rose and her late husband Ben built Cameron's house and garage at the tail end of the 1950s, but the residence is every bit as modern and timeless today as Hughes' movie. Ben Rose was a successful fabric designer in the city, a profession that allowed his ever-rotating car collection to include a spectacular mix of pre-war Alfas, a Frazer-Nash BMW 328, and — his favorite — a 1927 Bugatti Type 35B. Lonnecker and I listen to her stories, look at old photos, and just sit in silent awe. There are the benches where Ferris, Cameron, and Sloane got deep. There is the slate floor where the jacked-up car sat running. We stand with our heads up to the window Paramount replaced after launching the Ferrari into the ravine below for almost five minutes. "Our neighbors suggested we sell tickets to watch that scene, but we never did." Mrs. Rose says, bringing us back from our reverie. "That film crew went so far over schedule [into the fall], they had to come in and paint the leaves green."
The driveway leading to the garage is overgrown with weeds and grass, but with a red Ferrari sitting on the metal grates in front of the dual glass doors, you can almost hear Cameron screaming to Ferris as he drives off: "We could call a limo! One of those stretch jobs with the TV and the bar! How about that?" But as I snap back into reality, it's us driving off, all twelve cylinders playing their melodies off the trees around us and the smell of rich fuel overcoming the natural aromas of the woods. I sit back and smile, taking in the scene that's shrinking in the mirrors. Oh, and the car? It is so choice. If you have the means, I highly recommend picking one up.