My Car Quest

September 24, 2021

Remembering a Giant in the Ferrari World

by Wallace Wyss –

It is hard to believe now but I say that one man was responsible for creating the popularity of classic Ferraris in America.

He was not a new car dealer. Or in advertising. and not paid by Ferrari. Richard Merritt was just an ultra enthusiast. Now that he has passed on at the age of 90, it’s worth remembering how one man can make a difference.

What happened was that in the 1960s, all across America there were old Ferraris, with beat up coachwork, and blown engines, and no one knew much about them. Merritt approached a West Coast publisher, John Bond, and said something to the effect of “We oughta do a book on these cars, sort it all out.”

Ferrari Book

The publisher also published Road & Track and had a library of pictures and with co-author Road & Track contributor and General Motors PR man Warren Fitzgerald, they did a comprehensive book on Ferrari.

That was before the internet, so chapters had to be copied and sent worldwide for vetting by experts and many phone calls made. In the meantime Merritt would buy and sell old Ferraris, many times defeated by the cost of repairs let alone restoration.

His goal was to get them running and enjoy them and he owned 48 of them in all. He got to own some of the greatest ones ever made, albeit briefly. He did many jobs in the car industry, including working for General Motors which had an unpublicized group of Ferrari owners. He also worked at Ford, and selling Volkswagens part time.

The book was called Ferrari, The Sports and Gran Turismo Cars.

The Fitzgerald and Merritt book raised enthusiasm. At last Ferraris no longer had their non-working V12s dumped out of the car in favor of a Chevy (a crime even Jim Hall and Carroll Shelby did one time in the ’50s). People who owned them began to realize what they had and put money into them.

Merritt surely made money on the cars he bought and sold but his main goal was to get people to realize these were the new Bugattis, that these cars were worth saving. He followed the example of the Bugatti Owners Club, and in 1963, joined in the creation of the Ferrari Club of America, and by 1965 had persuaded Carl Bross into collecting old Ferraris (used in his jewelry ads). Soon there were Ferrari collectors across the nation.

They knew that authors get bogged down in endlessly documenting (there is one author working on a Mangusta book for over 10 years!) so vowed to each do a chapter a month so the book was ready for the press in 12 months.

The book lost money but ironically went through four editions. It was the beginning of a flood of Ferrari books. Before that, there was Hans Tanner’s 1959 book on Ferrari, but that was aimed at formula and sports race cars. Tanner’s credentials were a little suspect (a murder at the end) but hey he was one of the first to do a Ferrari book.

Fitzgerald and Merritt went beyond the race cars and explained the Colombo and Lampredi engines, the chassis variations, the early coach built cars, the mass produced production cars, and the sports racing and GT cars. They dealt with several coach builders.

Late in his working life, Merritt even had a job where he was a watchdog for the National Highway and Traffic Safety Administration on which Ferraris were authorized to be show and display cars and not being used as street cars in the US if they didn’t conform to the rules.

I really think vintage Ferrris wouldn’t be worth what they are today if the Fitzgerald and Merritt book hadn’t come out when it did and suddenly focused attention on them.

Dick Merritt was a model for the True Believer that gets behind a neglected artist and makes his or her work appreciated by the masses.

We will miss him….

Let us know what you think in the Comments.

Wallace Wyss
 

THE AUTHOR: Wallace Wyss is the author of 18 car books, several on Ferrari.

 
 

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Remembering a Giant in the Ferrari World
Article Name
Remembering a Giant in the Ferrari World
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Richard Merritt was an ultra Ferrari enthusiast. Now that he has passed on at the age of 90, it's worth remembering how one man can make a difference.
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Comments

  1. Chris Lackner says

    Sad news, indeed. Dick and son Kendall own(ed?) two Bizzarrinis – 226 (possibly #208 re-numbered) and #246, which was restored by Diomante and fitted with a big-block Chevy engine. I well remember them visiting me here in London many years ago to discuss Bizzarrinis, and I still have half a bottle left of the Canadian whiskey they gave me. Such nice people!

  2. Wallace Wyss says

    I think his support of Bizzarrini demonstrated his approach to postwar classics had true merit–document them, sort out fact from fiction, and find venues to present correctly restored examples to the public, I think now the respect Bizzarrinis get is partially due to his efforts.

  3. RADM Robert Phillips says

    Wally, I was charter member #66 in Richard’s little car club and enjoyed everyone of the 57 years we knew each other. I agree with all you said about his being the giant in the Ferrari world, he could talk for hours with fascinating stories about hs different adventures with these cars. Just a month ago we talked for an hour and a half reminiscing. To say that I will miss him is a vast understatement. May he rest in peace.

  4. I worked with Dick at NHTSA (Department of Transportation). Dick was a great person and told lots of Ferrari stories. I once asked if we could write up all the stories and put in a book, but Dick declined saying “no one cares about that stuff now…” I wish I put all those storied down on paper. I can remember some of the stories, but don’t remember all the details.

    Before he retired from NHTSA, I got a few 1st edition of his book and he signed them for me (he told me that they may be worth something one day).

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