Featured: Expert Restorer Joe Macari On His Racing Resurgence And State Of The Ferrari Market

Expert Restorer Joe Macari On His Racing Resurgence And State Of The Ferrari Market

By Shayan Bokaie
April 10, 2017

Photography by Nat Twiss

As a part of the new Petrolicious Marketplace, we’ll be interviewing sellers, dealers, and collectors to give our audience an inside look at some of the key figures in classic car sales, and to introduce you to some of the people behind the cars you’ll see listed on Petrolicious.  We’ll also be discussing the classic car market, potential investments, and getting their take on current trends.

Joe Macari has quietly been living the automotive dream.  While his racing career was short-lived due to a serious accident, Joe transitioned his passion towards restorations and sales over the last 20 years, becoming one of the key names synonymous with Ferrari. A well respected figure and genuinely nice guy, you can find Joe involved in such activities as retraining his racing skills at Goodwood in his Ferrari 250 GTO SWB.  Our chat about his journey below.

Shayan Bokaie: Macari sounds Italian, were you born in Italy?

Joe Macari: No, I was born in the UK, but I used to spend all summer there as a kid.  I thought it was because my parents loved me, but it was actually to get us out of the way for the summer. Grandma could look after us better than they could. We went under their feet (chuckles).


SB: Ha! So to my understanding, you career in automobiles began with racing. What were you racing in the early years, and can you tell us how that started?

JM:  A Mitsubishi Lancer Turbo—that was another lifetime ago. It was when I was younger and thinner. God, the racing mainly was a passion. The business was sort of a sideline to the racing. I only really traded cars so I could afford to buy parts for my race car. Also, because I didn’t have any funding, I had to learn very quickly how to fix my own car.  I never intended to sell cars at this level, it was a byproduct. My racing career ended due to an accident and I had to find a grownup job so I carried on doing what I liked which was fixing, buying, and selling cars.

SB: Can you tell us about the accident?

JM: The accident happened in  ’93, while racing on my 27th birthday. Someone pulled out, hit me, and the car exploded. I spent 14 months in the burn unit. It was a tough time because I sort of had to learn to do everything all over again. I had no movement in my hands for six months. It was a bit of a hit, but you know, every cloud has a silver lining. You look at the other side of it, if that hadn’t of happened, would I have got into what I’m doing now? Maybe not. You’ve got to try to take a positive out of any negative. I was told I’d never get more than 20% use of my hands and would never drive a car again, so the obvious thing to do was to fire the doctor because he couldn’t know what he was talking about obviously!

SB: For those of us who know, you’ve helped champion a 250 GTO SWB to victory at Goodwood, so at what point did racing come back into your life?

JM: In ’99 I went back to racing. It was, as most things in my life, never actually a plan. It just sort of happened.  I was offered to test a car at Donnington but was quite hesitant because in my head, racing was over. I didn’t actually want to go to a race track for all those years. I ended up driving a BMW E36 around and I was completely hooked all over again. Next was the European Touring Car Championship, I think I came in 3rd or 4th that year with a few co-drivers. We even won a few races. That’s how I got to know Rob Wilson, whose now a good a friend as I’ve got in the world. By 2005 I was at Le Mans in a Ferrari 360 GT2 shared with Rob.

SB: The win at Goodwood was alongside 9 time Le Mans champion Tom Kristensen, have you raced with any other notable drivers?

JM: I went back to Le Mans in 2007 with Adrian Newey, who I had trained since 2005, in a Ferrari 430 GT2.  Over dinner one night I asked Adrian if he wanted to drive, he said ‘I think it’s gonna cost me a new kitchen, but we’ll definitely do it.’ He and I used to race against Toto Wolff (the current Mercedes F1 team boss) for years as well.  Toto was a bloody fast driver, I always remember we were discussing the first right hander at Vallelunga which I used to call ‘scary right’ because you could just about take it flat out, and Toto goes, ‘Yeah, just keep your foot in it, you will be fine.’ And it’s like, oh fuck. You got a little bit sideways mid corner but he was right, you could.

Since then, I’ve realized if I was going to go racing, I wanted to race with friends. I still want to be competitive too, because your competitive instinct you can’t change. If you’re away with a friend for the weekend, you’re going to enjoy each other’s company, have a laugh, and eat well. You can actually enjoy the whole experience. Whereas if you’re going on a more grown up level, you’re there, you’ve got pressure, everything else. You’re expected to perform, you know, and it becomes a job. Now though, racing is fun.

Joe:  No, I mean, I have a lot of friends in Formula One, and I have a lot of clients in Formula One. From that, it just sort of happens. But again, knowing Toto before he was boss of Mercedes is different because, of course, you’d know each other as, just two people who shared a pit carriage watching girls go by sharing a beer. The only difference now is Suzy makes him close his mouth when a pretty girl walks past. That’s about it. And he’s now got the title. He’s still the same person, he’s still a great guy. We had a lot of fun back then. But bloody good driver. Very fast, very committed.

SB:  What’s it like going from driving a GT class Ferrari and into something like a 250 SWB?

JM: It was a baptism of fire.  All of the sudden, you’ve gone from a car with great big slicks and carbon brakes and aero to a car that’s older than you. At the 24 hour race at Spa, you’re doing 150+ MPH on the Camel Straight and at 70 meters you’ve got both feet on the brake pedal and you’re doing a deal with God that you’re going to church for the next three Sundays if the car slows. Don’t get me wrong, the car was fantastic, but it still does 160 MPH and you’re still trying to slow it down with road tires, so you have to adapt.

With the SWB it was difficult because I hadn’t driven competitively for 10 years. I did all the testing for the car in the evenings on the highway around Wandsworth in central London. I’d use the motorways to set up the carburetors and the roundabouts to test the handling. Bottom line is, if you’re going to go and do something, put the practice in and put the time in, so that way when you do it, you’re going to do it to the best of your ability.

SB: Hold on, you test your 250 SWB on the street??

JM: Yeah, it’s road legal, why not?  The nearest race track is too far, and if you do a suspension change you want to go and feel it, don’t you? So you’ve got the road and you can let the car talk to you.

SB: That’s pretty badass. So how would you compare the competitiveness from a professional series to Goodwood?

JM: I think competitiveness of the person doesn’t change whether you’re at Goodwood or a GT race. The only difference is, at a GT race, everyone on the grid needs to be competitive and you’re fighting for every piece of tarmac, whereas at Goodwood everyone’s competitive, but those fifteen up front are ultra competitive. You’ve only got half the pack really pushing because quite a lot of people are quite happy just to participate.  Human nature doesn’t change whether you’re in a Mini Clubman or whether you’re in an MC12 Maserati.

The challenge is the driver quality in the GT racing was more predictable. At the historic stuff, they will squeeze you even if you’re going down on the inside, and I think there are probably less manners in the historic than there is in the GT stuff. Even though it’s more of a gentlemen’s sport, it’s less gentlemanly. Lets put it that way.

SB: Is it an addition for you? What’s next?

JM: Yeah, totally. Of course. Going to Goodwood was really bad from that point of view, it told me how much I missed it. I’ve gotten so slow since I haven’t done it for so long and I learned a very valuable lesson: I need to go testing on a race track and actually put myself in the zone because the reality in life is whatever you do, the more you do something the more it becomes second nature—then, you can work on the details and it’s exactly the same way you finesse a race car. Yeah, you can drive a car and you can drive it quite quickly, but it’s actually the finesse that’s missing. You need to work on that.

While the result was good, I’m still trying to compare myself against myself. Rather than looking at the good things, I look at the bad. So yeah, we won, but I also know that we can make the car faster and I know I can go faster. I’m looking at the fact that one of the E-Types and the DB4 were 9 MPH faster at Fordwater, and that means that we’re doing something wrong. You never stop, you always try to go forward and it’s the same with your work.

SB: Let’s talk about your day job, restoring and selling cars. You primarily deal in Ferraris, why’s that?

JM: Ferrari just sort of happened. Obviously it’s something that any male human being loves if he’s sane, you just can’t help it. You know the car’s extraordinary, the history’s extraordinary, and it doesn’t matter what Ferrari you sit in, as soon as you start it, you start smiling like a kid who robbed a sweet shop. You just have a sort of psychotic grin on your face and you think, yeah, life’s all right. It’s the number one brand in the world, how can you not want to work it? Fuck, if someone had said to me 20 years ago when I was watching Schumacher on the telly at the Japanese Grand Prix that you’re going to own that car one day, I’d have thought they were doing drugs. Sometimes you have to pinch yourself.

SB: You’ve mentioned in the past that mileage doesn’t matter because a car that comes through your shop effectively has no miles once it’s been worked on by your team.  What’s different with your approach?

JM:  Our target is for our cars to be user friendly. The classics are all individual and we’re not known for building show ponies because I try to put every car together as if it was for me. We want to give the client everything they want but there are certain things we won’t do. If they want a color we don’t agree with, we won’t paint it, because we’ve got to make the car look lovely.  We’re lucky to have clients who think outside of the box and believe in our philosophy. You show them what their car could be, take the car to the bare chassis, and start again.

Our primary clients are owner-drivers as opposed to the more collector-only types, so if they want a bit more horsepower, we’ll give them a little bit more horsepower. If they want to use it everyday, we’ll make the car work in modern traffic conditions, but without changing anything on the car that’s going to be detrimental to its heritage. We’ve got a guy that drives an SWB through London pretty much on a weekly basis. He’s got a better cooling system on the car and a lot of upgrades on the car, but all we’ve done is used today’s technology to be able to make yesterday’s car totally drivable. He can sit in a traffic jam for 45 minutes and not look at the temperature gauge, whereas in a fully original car you’re tapping the gauge going, ‘Please don’t go up’ and you’re making another deal with God, ‘Please don’t overheat, there’s that girl watching me whom I’ve been smiling at through the traffic lights for half an hour and now I’m going to look like a complete saucer.’

SB: We’re starting to see a shift in focus from collectability to reliability in cars at the lower segment of the market, do you think this applies to the more collectable Ferraris as well?

JM: I don’t know if there’s a shift for all Ferraris, but there is for our clients.  They’ve got an eye on the car from a collectability standpoint, because they would be remiss not to, but they also want to enjoy their cars.

SB: What’s the most memorable restoration you’ve done so far?

JM: I was privileged to restore the SEFAC Ferrari 250 SWB and continue the history of that car.  The car won the Tour de France. Putting it back on the track and seeing it perform again was pretty special; it’s giving me goosebumps just thinking about it. The trouble is I fall in love with every car I’m involved with, but the SWB is probably the car that’s really made me smile the most. You think, hang on one minute, this car was being raced on those roads, being looked after by the best mechanics in the world, and now I’m allowed to touch it. What the hell’s gone wrong? It’s quite surreal sometimes.

SB: As someone who trades in the upper echelon of the Ferrari market, do you think there’s a market adjustment that needs to take place given recent results at Amelia Island for example, where a few serious Ferraris didn’t hit their reserves and others that did sell were towards the lower end of their estimates?

JM: The market adjustment has already taken place and has been in correction over the last 15 months. The problem with auction companies is they go around putting massive reserves or estimates on cars because they’re trying to win the business of the clients. They promise to deliver X amount for the car, but if they were being truthful they’d actually say the car’s worth X minus Y. Then another company offers to auction the car for free because they want the PR and even potentially offer a higher reserve, which by no means guarantees the deal will get done. People are shortsighted and that’s the problem. The reality is that most auctions, in my opinion, should be no reserve. If it’s no reserve, then the car will sell for what it’s worth. It’s simple as that.

SB: So I take it you prefer to avoid the auction circuit when selling cars?

JM: God, no. I want to meet the client who’s going to take the car. If I’m doing an old car I’m usually restoring it as well, so for me, there’s a journey from the start to the finish with the client. You build up a lovely relationship during that period because you’re making things for them. We’re restoring 4 SWBs at the moment and every one of them has a different goal at the end of it. I’ve built up a great relationship with my clients, and actually some of my clients have now become my best friends.

SB: From your perspective, what Ferraris are undervalued in the market currently? Something that’s great to drive and enjoy but has room to appreciate.

JM: Ferrari F50. Because you get in it, it has the most amazing noise, it just makes you grin, your traction control is in your right foot, it’s beautifully balanced. It epitomizes for me what a modern Ferrari sports car should be. It’s also easy to drive at low speed—you can send your grandma shopping in it—but then at high speed, it’s a full thoroughbred. It’s predictable, it talks to you. Before I breaks away it writes you a letter.

I think they’re behind the market and will grow past Enzo prices. It’s a limited car, open roof, manual gearbox—it ticks every single box.

SB: Not a common choice! What about a classic?

JM: My goodness me. I’m obviously biased towards the Daytona Spider, but the 275 GTS I think is a car that is under-appreciated. It’s a pretty little convertible that’s brilliant to drive and great to look at. If I was going outside of Ferrari, I’d buy a Lamborghini Miura today. A P400, a straight P400 or an ‘S.’


SB: Can you give us some parting wisdom and some final insight on your success thus far?

JM: Looking back, I just wanted to be a racing driver. It didn’t happen due to circumstance, etc., but as they say, everything happens for a reason. It pushed me into this direction and my pleasure in life is actually restoring a car and making it drive beautifully. My paperwork appalling, my returning of phone calls is appalling. I know how bad I am at those things. But actually, I’m quite good at the other stuff and so I’d rather just concentrate on the stuff I enjoy. If you enjoy something, you can always do it better than most.

In terms of success, it’s not a measurable thing. I remember having this conversation with Adrian [Newey] one night where he was saying something similar. Hang on a minute, I said, ‘You can measure it by the 10 world championships you’ve won—that’s an achievement. How can I measure what I’ve done?’ Success is when you finish something. My work isn’t finished; it’s still in progress. So I’ve never looked at it any other way. In many ways it’s bad because you’re never satisfied, but it’s good because it keeps you hungry or motivated.

SB: Final question, have you seen any of our Ferrari films?

JM: I have, the one that melted me was obviously the P4 because God made that car, not Ferrari. It’s just… yeah. They are the things that keep you motivated, such inspiration. If you can’t love that then there’s something seriously wrong with you. No, really. You got to be sick, ill, not to. I was grinning like a psychopath and couldn’t get that smile off my face. And the TRC with Bruce Meyer—I was watching it with a friend of mine and the next day I was in New York and placed an offer on one. We completely robbed Mr. Meyer’s idea and put a spare factory v12 in it.

SB: That’s incredible, thanks for the chat Joe!

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6 years ago

It is the Kemmel Straight not the Camel Straight.

7 years ago

Don’t wanna sound pedantic but the car’s a 250 GT SWB, not a GTO SWB which does not exist.

7 years ago

This was a great read! I loved the clarity of Macari’s thoughts on pretty much everything that happened in his life. He knows his strengths, weaknesses, his likes and dislikes his limits and those things he respects. You have to admire a person with these qualities. The photo’s enhanced the article spectacularly so well done to all involved. Admittedly I wondered if he was related in any way to the former footballer (soccer player) Lou Macari?

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