- The Washington Times - Friday, June 15, 2001

While lesser brands struggle to get people to buy their cars, Ferrari is taking extraordinary measures to prevent owners from selling its cars.

Demand is so great for the 550 Barchetta Pininfarina, a limited-production roadster (448 units for worldwide sale) that Ferrari fears speculators will bid prices to astronomical levels above the $258,000 suggested retail.

Ferrari's solution: The buyers of the 127 cars coming to the United States have to sign an agreement that if they sell the car within one year of taking delivery, their dealer or Ferrari North America gets first crack at buying it back at the same price.

The goal, Ferrari spokesman Jeffrey Ehoodin says, is to keep the 550 Barchetta in the hands of the faithful and out of the hands of those who covet the car only for its profit potential.

"There is a tremendous amount of interest in this car," Mr. Ehoodin said, and dealers were flooded with thousands of inquiries. "There also is a considerable gray market that seeks to make money off of it, and they will charge much more than the suggested retail price."

Mr. Ehoodin said Ferrari is confident that the right-of-first-refusal agreement does not violate federal trade regulations. The agreement lasts one year because "that was determined to be reasonable," he added.

Does the agreement postpone the inevitable, so owners will start selling their 550 Barchettas to the highest bidder next year?

"I don't think you'll see a lot of these cars for sale after one year," Mr. Ehoodin said. "They're not that kind of people. They are real collectors and connoisseurs of the brand.

"We chose them because they are our very best clients. It's similar to a private party, where you want just your friends to come instead of selling tickets."

Others, however, are in it for the money. Ferrari's least-expensive model is the 360 Modena coupe, which carries a suggested retail price of $145,000. With a three-year waiting list for the car, some owners and dealers advertise them for more than $200,000.

Ferrari builds only 4,000 cars a year, and a little more than 1,000 are earmarked for the United States. With so much more demand than supply, the market is ripe for gouging.

"For the short term, it's a way to get rich quick," said John Weinberger, president of Continental Autosports, a Hinsdale Ferrari dealer. "But for the long term and to be ethical about it, selling at sticker price is the right thing to do."

Mr. Weinberger has sold his allotment of three 550 Barchettas, and none of his customers squawked about the right-of-first-refusal agreement.

"If they expected to turn a profit, then their nose will be bent out of shape," he said. "Otherwise, I think they understand it's a good agreement."

KNIGHT RIDDER/TRIBUNE NEWS

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