I Live In My Van, But My Other Car Is A Ferrari 348 With A Bike Rack
How I ended up in this situation, I’m not exactly sure. I’ve never been particularly interested in cars, I’ll admit, but here I am sitting here in my home—a Mercedes Vito Van—writing an article about my Ferrari. Let’s start from a semblance of “the beginning.”
My name is Jannik Hammes, I’m 25 years old, and an independent photographer from Ochtendung, Germany. My first car was a BMW E36 316i Touring, it was practical and it did the jobs I needed it to, and cars had never played a big role in my life beyond their utilitarian functions; when I was 18, I had saved up €2,000 and asked my father to recommend me a suitable car, and that was that. I am passionate about mountain biking, that’s my thing. When choosing a car, it was important to have space and the opportunity to transport my bikes around. That was priority one.
Three weeks after I’d asked my father to help me find a car, there it was. 210,000km on the odometer, it had a CD player, radio, and some fresh blue paint. As an example of how little I knew about cars at the time, I did not even know that BMWs were rear-wheel drive. The Touring was a loyal companion to me, and never presented any major issues. The fact that an LPG system was installed made it convenient for my wallet, especially at the beginning of my professional career as a photographer—I had to pay attention to every penny.
I used to live with my mother, and I already had problems keeping up with the monthly costs of being a self-employed person anyway. In the beginning, the work orders never just came my way without effort. I had to really go full throttle, photographing a lot of my early work for free to build a name, calling around the country to find jobs wherever I could. But let’s get back to the topic of cars.
Unfortunately, I had to part with my BMW after an accident. In order to continue to do my job, though, something new had to come soon. On the recommendation of my father, again, that took the form of a Mercedes W203 270 CDI station wagon with 170bhp. He became my new “buddy.” With the Mercedes I developed my first real affinity toward cars. Rear-wheel drive and some decent power to play with exposed me to the more fun parts of automotive ownership. Especially on a slippery backroad. So, quite quickly, the reasonable 170bhp diesel was replaced by a 400bhp gasoline engine from the same marque and same era: a Mercedes C32 AMG. I was on my way to becoming what I think you’d call an “enthusiast.”
In addition to the AMG, I had something a bit more moderately spec’d: a Fiat Panda 141. Why? Because I liked the design and the simplicity of the car. To me, it’s a classic in its own way. So I cruised in the morning with my 34bhp Panda to the supermarket and in the evening spent time with the 354bhp AMG through the curves. I think I had a really cool pair of cars back then.
My photography career was going well too, and I had made a name for myself and the first paid orders were coming in by now. Although I still lived in my parents’ house, I planned to move in with my girlfriend in my first apartment. I had to save some money to make the transition, and the cars were the first place to recoup some money. The AMG was a great car, but it had to go. The rate of fuel consumption could get a little pricey, but it really wasn’t so bad—the only problem was the body. Like many models in this series and in this climate, my car was also rusted in places. Since the car was also my daily driver in winter, I could not handle the rust problem without it reappearing anyway, so it was sold. As a self-employed person, the work situation can be pretty sporadic, with a lot of projects one day and almost none the next—one can quickly get into financial difficulty. With the first apartment in view, I did not think driving a “rusty gas guzzler” was the most prudent choice.
So, my next car was a Mercedes Vito Van. Big, heavy, and anything but sporty. But, it had enough space for my bikes, my photography equipment, and it had the added bonus of the possibility to be converted into a camper. With the help of some friends, the Vito became a practical place to spend a night. This conversion would turn out to be very useful later on.
Camping in my mobile office and bike transporter was all well and good, but what I lacked was a sporty vehicle, and after the AMG I found it something I couldn’t do without.
My dad had been restoring a 1978 Porsche 911 SC for decades, and recently finished it. But that wasn’t the car that really aroused much enthusiasm in me. I mean, a Porsche is undeniably cool and the marque deserves its popular status, but we all have our own tastes, right?
I could never really make friends with the curves of a 911 though, and there’s also the fact that one tends to see a Porsche on seemingly every second street in Germany. But the resistance to traditional sports car engineering and the mythos overall? I like those parts of the Porsche story. Over the years, I had also evolved. The 18-year-old wild boy became a 24-year-old wild boy. While I was the same me in a lot of ways, I found myself increasingly interested in the design of cars, in their values, in the philosophies that created them. I knew something special had to come, something sports-oriented, something that I didn’t see on every other corner. I can not explain it to this day, but from then on, the thoughts of a Ferrari were in the head. In my childhood I had a Ferrari model car—whether it was a 348, a 512, or a 355, I cannot remember, but it was what we might call today a modern classic from the Italian brand. Many days and nights of searching for a full-size Ferrari ensued.
The most interesting to me was the 348. A solid car, manageable technology, a go-kart feeling, and a great design. I wanted to know everything about it. About its history, the advantages and disadvantages of the different trims available for the car over its lifespan, how much it might realistically cost to own one, and so on. My parents were not really enthusiastic about the idea. Somewhat understandable, but somehow not. To me it wasn’t all that impractical: I wanted to invest my money, but I wanted to have some fun with it too. When it’s under the pillow or in the bank, how can a young guy enjoy his savings?
So why not invest in a car that will retain its value, maybe even rise a bit, and with which I can have fun on winding country roads? It all made sense to me. I was not dissuaded from my plan, so I worked hard and saved every penny. I drove many hundreds of kilometers to look at different cars. Of course, finding a suitable 348 was not easy. There were few cars to start with, and many of them were not in the right spec or condition that I was looking for.
Several months passed like this until a suitable example presented itself in Belgium. A red 1993 Ferrari 348 TB with 58,000km and in beautiful condition. Months passed by until the purchase was completed, and I was finally able to pick up the car with my father joining me for the trip in February with freezing temperatures and lots of fresh snow—perfect conditions! The lack of heating in our transport vehicle did not improve the mood. It should have taken but nine hours until the completely snow-covered Ferrari was my own, but sometimes things don’t work out as easily as you expect.
After a long battle with the German authorities, I was finally able to register, drive, and enjoy the car. The Ferrari can not compare in any way with a modern car. It is tight, confusing in many ways (the view out of the driver seat is particularly bad), and sometimes difficult to control. But manually inserting the gears into the classic Ferrari gate with the engine sound directly behind your head makes up for everything impractical and frustrating. In my mind, it really is pure emotion in mechanical form. The smell of gasoline, the lack of ABS, of power steering, and with no electric helpers, this is pure driving. That’s exactly what I imagined, and that’s exactly what I got. And it’s really not even that impractical—if I want to go to a bike course, I just use the rack I’ve mounted on it with suction cups!
In the meantime, I separated from my girlfriend and moved out of our shared apartment into my Mercedes van, which fortunately was already upgraded to camper spec. So here I am, 25 years old, living in a bus but with a red Ferrari registered in my name. Not too common a constellation, but I like it.
In my home village, of course, nothing is taken for granted and everyone will talk behind your back. Growing up I never had a white shirt on without dirt on it, I made a lot of mischief, and there’s the fact that I wanted to be a photographer instead of a mechanic. People love to judge, don’t they? That someone like me who used to drive around in an old Fiat Panda and now has a Ferrari with a bike rack on it didn’t dissuade them from this activity. What people think is not my problem though!
Over the years, I have done a lot to afford certain things. My priority has always been to live the way I want to. Whether to buy a Fiat Panda, to live in a van, or to transport a bicycle on a sports car. As cheesy as it sounds, you should just do what is fun for you. How long I want to live in my bus, I do not yet know. For now it’s suiting me just fine, and anyway, I try not to plan too much—where’s the fun in that?