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August 29, 1999
Beverly Hills, CA, US

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COACHWORK BY NERI & BONACINI Chassis No. 3771 GT Engine No. 3771 GT Rossa Scura Metalicata with tan leather interior Engine: V12, single overhead camshaft, two valves per cylinder, 6 two-barrel Weber carburetors, 2953cc, 300hp; Gearbox: four speed manual; Suspension: front, unequal wishbones with coil springs; rear, solid axle with semi-elliptical leaf springs; Brakes: four wheel disc. Left hand drive. The tradition of custom coachbuilding lived well into the 1960s, admittedly in a microcosm compared with the '20s and '30s, but still available to the persistent and creative as an expression of individuality or an opportunity to try new and different ideas. Rolls-Royce and Mercedes-Benz had abandoned bespoke bodywork in search of better automobile structures and the economies of scale. 'Frames' were about to become a thing of the past. Maserati and Ferrari stand out among the last constructors still building separate frame automobiles, and these great marques' persistence in perpetuating proven practices account for much of the pre-eminence of Italian coachbuilders. The carrozzerie, supported by sporting chassis and powerful drive trains from these two marques and nurtured by the Italian passion for design, survived and even prospered. This serendipity drew not only the best talent from Italy, but attracted adventuresome and creative souls from around the world to the one place where there were resources, artisans, a ready market and a supportive environment, namely Italy. Among these pilgrims was one Tom Meade, a Californian drawn to Italy to realize in metal the shapes in his mind. Taking advantage of the resources in Italy, Meade produced a series of cars, both mainstream and extreme, and became recognized at the time as a leader in the Italian community of automobile stylists. In 1964 Meade secured a patron, Sergio Braidi, for the first of a series of three similar designs, a Ferrari-based spyder echoing the elements of the GTO '64 race cars. To execute his concept Meade chose Neri & Bonacini, the establishment of Srs. Giorgio Neri and Lucciano Bonacini in Modena. Neri & Bonacini were well known mechanical specialists serving the Ferrari market, often associated with Piero Drogo's Modena Sports Cars carrozzeria. Their work was used by Count Volpi's Scuderia Serenissima, including construction of the famous 'breadvan' pseudo-GTO. After building Braidi's Spyder and a similar coupe, Meade was approached by Bill Dixon, from Washington state, who wished in the best bespoke tradition of custom coachbuilding to create a spyder implementing his own design ideas. Dixon prepared his own drawings and an eight-page specification list which he sent to Meade in January 1967. Meade had located a steel body 250 GT short wheelbase berlinetta. The three Ferrari 250 GTs built under Meade's supervision were called 'Nembo', not only a neat contraction of Neri & Bonacini but also the name of an Italian cartoon character with Superman-like powers! Meade's three Nembos integrated typical Ferrari styling features with his shapes to create perhaps the most beautiful Ferraris ever built. Dixon's Nembo Spyder is unique in several important respects. It is the only example built on the 2400mm short wheelbase. It has a particularly low hood line which caused great consternation at the establishment of Srs. Neri & Bonacini who adamantly maintained the induction system would not fit. In a testament to Dixon's skills at measurement and design it fit perfectly. Alone among the Nembos, it has a 250 LM windscreen which is slightly steeper and less wrapped-around than the GTO 64 windscreens used on the first Spyder and Coupe. The 2400mm wheelbase meant the windscreen's front edge, and the top of the cowl, is forward of the engine's distributors, a compromise Dixon was willing to accept because, 'most Ferrari distributors and points require very little attention so this small detail was neglected...' Designed with a removable hard top, it has no soft top (an expedient to save money, along with the original vinyl upholstery - showing that even bespoke coachwork projects have to answer to financial reality.) The first Nembo Spyder (S/N 1777) and the Nembo Coupe (S/N 1623) are well known, seen frequently in books, magazines and Ferrari events. The third example, Dixon's car, is much less well known, having been purchased from Bill Dixon by Fred Jaeger in 1976 and remaining in his collection until 1997. Completed over a 24 month period ('14 months later than the targeted shipping date', Dixon noted later in an account of the process in Prancing Horse ), Dixon's Nembo Spyder also featured six Weber DCN40 carburetors as fitted to the then-current 275 GTB which ultimately required much experimentation, with help from Ferrari and Weber, to adapt to the smaller 3-liter engine. The workmanship of Neri & Bonacini does credit to Dixon's design as implemented by Tom Meade, 'Neri & Bonacini did absolute marvels in following every line of my design to exact detail,' Dixon related in the Prancing Horse account. 'I keep reading relative to the lop-sided bodies built by Scaglietti but this body appears to my eye to be very symmetrical.' Meade's practice was to build a buck with half templates that were interchangeable side-to-side, accounting for the uniformity of realization. In any Ferrari, performance is a key attribute. Custom coachwork is sometimes heavy but Neri & Bonacini were first and foremost racing car specialists and considered reducing weight to be part of their task. Dixon commented, 'The car isn't light, but with the extra power the carbs produce, it isn't difficult to break the rear end loose,' evidencing a happy, and often elusive, compromise between style and performance. Perhaps the most conspicuous examples of custom coachwork on a later Ferrari chassis are the NART Spiders produced for Luigi Chinetti on the 275 GTB/4 chassis by Scaglietti, among the most valuable of non-competition Ferraris. Yet these cars only echo the production 275 GTB line. The Nembo Spyder of Tom Meade, Bill Dixon and Neri & Bonacini is a true custom Ferrari, with unique and most attractive line, evidencing stylish good taste. It is instantly recognizable as a Ferrari in the great tradition, built on the nimble and competitive 250 GT short wheelbase chassis. And it has an unusually clear and solid provenance. The success of the Nembo Spyder design is perhaps best summed up by authorities Warren Fitzgerald and Richard Merritt in their definitive book Ferrari - The Sports and Gran Turismo Cars, 'the Neri and Bonacini spyder combines the best of GTO and GTB lines...Neri and Bonacini is one of the most beautiful Ferraris of all time and looks good from any angle.'.

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