In the past year or so, I’ve found great pleasure in being able to share some amazing stories of people and their cars.
Each and every one of them have been unique in their own sense, whether it be a car that has a great deal of historical significance, or an owner who’s poured their life’s worth of blood, sweat, and money into a build.
But nothing could’ve prepared me for the overwhelming feeling that comes with telling this story. A story in which I’ve spent over a year trying to get, about a very special Ferrari F40 and an owner who’s risked it all – literally – to chase his dreams.
This isn’t just another rich guy who happens to own a cool car – the owner is a true enthusiast who took a gamble on a car, and made it his own in every sense. So, instead of following the traditional route of highlighting the car along with its modifications, I’ve decided to hone in on the two races that made this car as extravagant as it is.
This is the story of Amir Rosenbaum’s journey with his record-holding Ferrari F40.Virginia City Hill Climb Champion
In the early ’70s, Allen Bishop and Hans Tanner took the spirited route from Southern California to Virginia City, Nevada – a small town on the eastern side of the Sierra Nevada Mountain Range – where Allen had a sudden spin out. His Ferrari remained intact, but the occurrence planted a seed in his mind to create a special hillclimb race for the Ferrari Owners Club of America.
Leveraging his deep roots within the automotive industry, Allen managed to recreate an event which had been initiated a decade prior, but had fallen short in the hands of the Aston Martin Owners Club. The difference this time around was that the dedicated section would be a 5.2-mile course, with 20 turns, and a 1,200-foot climb from start to finish instead of the previous 2-mile course.
Utilizing his connections and marketing skills, Allen managed to create an diverse abundance of entrants in the years that followed. Thus, the Virginia City Hillclimb bloomed into the annual weekend-long event that it is today.
It was in 1989 that Amir fell in love with the event.
“I went there for the first time in my 1986 Ferrari Testarossa and managed to run just a hair under four minutes.”
Being that it was his first time on the course, he realized that the time he put down was not too far off from the record-holding Lola T70 that had previously run a 3:20. For the next few years, Amir returned to the start line, hounding to break that record. Multiple attempts were made in the 86TR, and after it grew tired, he traded the car in for the newest 512TR in 1994, and again returned to see how close to the record he could get.
“The 512TR got down to a time of around 3:30, which was faster than my old TR, but this wasn’t going to cut it for me.”
Amir’s dedication and competitive mindset resulted in quite the fate that soon followed.
A couple of years of unsuccessful attempts in the 512TR passed, until Amir happened to stumble across a classified ad in an automotive magazine that showcased a 1992 Ferrari F40 for sale, at a ridiculously low price. Surely, there had to be a catch, but that wasn’t enough to turn him away from giving the guy a call.
At this point, Amir knew he couldn’t afford the car, even if it was listed at a ‘steal’ price. So what was the logical thing to do? Most would agree to simply face defeat and walk away. But this was Amir Rosenbaum, a man who refused to give up on this race.
This became the turning point of not only Amir’s life, but the life of the F40 as well. Amir went out on a limb and took a gamble on the car by pulling out a loan equivalent to purchasing a house, just to take possession of this car. A pursuit that I find extremely admirable, because frankly, that’s just a ballsy move…
After the car arrived in Amir’s possession, the journey to build it into a race car began.
“First modifications we made were literally within a couple of weeks of owning the car. We changed the brakes, wheels, tires, coilovers, and everything that led to making the car faster.”
All modifications were of course oriented to inching towards that Virginia City Hillclimb record.
And finally in 2002, after constantly falling a couple of seconds behind the RUF CTR2 that seemed to become their arch nemesis, Amir and his team brought home the trophy with an astonishing 3:10 trap time, beating the CTR2 by two seconds. As I write this story, the record still stands.
“After we set the record at the Hillclimb, I felt elated for about 30 seconds… But then I thought about what we would do next year. I wasn’t going to come back to beat my own time again…”
And that’s where this F40 build pivoted for its new endeavor.Bonneville Salt Flats
For most of us, accomplishing a milestone that took nearly a decade to conquer would’ve been quite the achievement, and enough to call it quits. But Amir had other plans in mind…
“Somehow the topic of flat-out land speed racing came up, and I thought, yeah – why not?”
The F40 was loaded up and sent off to Pete Chapouris’s So-Cal Speed Shop to receive its new makeover in preparation of hitting the dried-up lake bed. Over the course of the next three years, the F40 received a full overhaul. Safety features like building the roll cage, adding window straps and roof wickers, and even applying a parachute were all modifications made to get the F40 to comply with SCTA-BNI rules and regulations. Other extreme measures included downsizing the brakes and making custom spindle adapters to replace the factory Speedlines with 15×6-inch steelies to help the car ‘float’ across the salt bed.
Finally, in 2006, Amir and his team made it to Bonneville. The targeted top speed was 225mph (362km/h), and though that may sound like a breeze for an F40, it was everything but that.
“The car was so wrong for land speed racing on salt. Everything about it. It was too short of a wheel base, too wide of a car, with too big of a wing and far too much downforce. I was absolutely terrified trying to keep the car from coming around, because that’s all it wanted to do. It just did not want to keep straight.”
Photo: Tim Scott / Fluid Images
At this point, after a couple of runs on the first day, Amir and his team were struggling to figure out what to do to get the car to the 225mph goal. A couple of Bonneville veterans who were watching the F40 make passes even decided to give some tips to Amir and his team about how to set up the car’s alignment to keep it straight, but that ultimately had little bearing on their trap times, leading to a defeat against the laws of physics. Amir’s weekend ended with a final speed of 221mph (355km/h), and a blown motor by Sunday night.
“On my last run, when I think I can keep the car from spinning, I’m sawing away at the wheel, and then I feel a very slight hiccup in the engine just past mile 4. I was in 5th nearing redline, with mile marker 5 in sight. I totally ignored the tips from orientation of letting off if any issues arose during a run – like a complete moron – and lost piston #7. Which I have to say, brought a wave of relief over me because I knew I wasn’t going to have to go back out for another run… I wasn’t going to die today.”
But even in the face of catastrophic failure, Amir’s passion kept him positive and he soon came up with plans to revive the car, ultimately leading to where it sits today.I Met My Hero
There are so many stories that can be told about Amir’s ownership of the F40. The two recited above are perhaps the most significant in the eyes of the public, but ownership of the car is far more deep-rooted with Amir. It’s been a forever ordeal from the day he took possession of the keys, enjoying it through everything from Buttonwillow track days, to taking the car on road trips and car shows. And that’s precisely why this specific F40 is my hero car.
Far too often we see guys hiding these sought after poster cars in their fleet of collectables, hardly seeing any sort of real exercise. It’s quite the shame, if I’m honest. Because I’m fairly certain that though commendatore knew the value in the cars he was producing, he would be much happier seeing them serve the intended purpose in which they were built for. Which is precisely what Amir is doing. Oh, and the cherry on top of it all? Amir continues to personalize it with his own flavor, adding subtle signature touches like his black widow spider shift knob, skull head door lock buttons, and pissing purists off with the rotated prancing horse logo.
These stories, the modifications the car has gone through, the history behind it and its incredible owner, all of it, is what’s caused me to fall deeply in love with this F40.
I couldn’t help but feel overwhelmed when shooting it, somehow managing to develop a sort of emotional attachment to the car without even owning it. It was as if each little detail had an aura, like its own sort of sense of presence. I’d been around greatness before, but there was just something different about this car that really made me feel like it was the greatest car to ever exist. I may be getting to philosophical about it, but there’s honestly just no other way to explain why I left speechless after the shoot.
And as bold as it may be to say, if I could have only one car for the rest of eternity, it would be this exact F40.
They say never meet your heroes because they just might disappoint you. But I did, and it was absolutely glorious.
Amir thanks Tony Palladino of Modena Motors in Redwood City, California: “I know a few F40 owners, and the only ones that have cars that run well are ones that Tony takes care of. I will sell my cars when he retires!”Legendary