Eddie Smith and His Legendary Rare Ferrari
Eddie Smith and His Legendary Rare Ferrari
Only 10 Ferrari 275 GTB NART Spyders were built, and if you’d like one, be prepared to transfer funds in the amount of several million dollars. The NART stands for the North American Racing Team that was created by Luigi Chinetti to promote Ferrari in the US.
US Ferrari importer, Luigi Chinetti, commissioned convertible versions of the 275 GTB in 1966. The original plan called for 25 soft-top GTBs, but only 10 were created. The cars became highly prized and are owned by famous collectors such as Ralph Lauren, Jon Shirley, Lawrence Auriana, Steve McQueen, Tony Wang －and Eddie Smith.
Eddie Smith’s parents died when he was nine, which is how he came to live in the Junior Order Children’s Home, an orphanage. When we met in 1998, he explained, “I got a good high school education, graduated in ’37, went to Lexington, North Carolina, and got a job ushering in the theater. When I left the Junior Order Home, they gave me $15. I got a job paying $9 and paid $5 for room and board.”
The next job Smith took included working for the Red Bird Cab Company, which he ended up managing. Then a position with a mail-order company led to his own business in 1952. To make a long story short, Smith ended up owning the National Wholesale Company, selling women’s hosiery, lingerie and apparel throughout the country. Smith admitted, “It’s been real good to us.”
When his son, Eddie Jr., expressed an interest in cars, Smith went along for the ride. They visited the 12 Hours of Sebring, and in the process, Smith developed an interest in Ferraris. “I don’t know just what it was, but you hear about the Ferrari mystique. You come to think it is the ultimate. It might have started in the late 1940s. I’d see on the Pathe newsreels at the theater that Ferraris were winning.”
Smith’s first Ferrari was a short-wheelbase 250 GT Spyder followed by a 275 GTB coupe. When he heard about the NART Spyder, he signed up with his friend Chinetti to buy one. The two traveled to Modena, Italy to purchase it.
Smith said that during the trip, “Luigi told me that if I decided I don’t want the convertible, Steve McQueen wants it real bad. Someone has just rear-ended him and totaled his car.”
Today, you can still travel to Italy to get your Ferrari, but doing it back then with the legendary Chinetti was a different experience. Chinetti was famous for his epic drives, like doing 22.5 hours at the 24 Hours of Le Mans, which he won for Ferrari in 1949.
“He’d just drive all night long and not think a thing about it,” Smith explained.
Smith also said, “He wouldn’t get tired or sleepy or anything. He’d be quiet for a while, and then he would talk a bit. That was the trip where I learned that if you drive from Paris to Modena and you don’t stop to eat or drink, you also don’t have to stop to go to the bathroom.”
Once in Modena, they stayed at the Hotel Real Fini Baia del Re. The two toured Italy for about a week or so, with long lunches every day. For Chinetti, there was no sense of urgency during the trip to collect the Ferrari. Smith would ask when they were going to get the car and return to Paris, and Chinetti would ask, “You’re not in a hurry, are you?”
“Days would go by,” Smith said with a smile, “Days meant nothing to him. The car was ready 2-3 days before we left.”
They finally went to the factory to get the car, met Mr. Ferrari, and drove the Ferrari over the Alps to Paris to ship the car home.
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Over the years, temptations were presented to get the NART away from Smith. The first time anyone offered to buy the NART, it was for $100,000. “I took a big gulp and thought to myself, what in the world is going on? But I still didn’t want to sell it,” Smith said.
Ralph Lauren came down, and Smith took him for a drive in Lexington, North Carolina.
When asked what the highest price ever offered was, Smith replied, “I don’t know that I’ve actually had a firm offer because the conversations never got that serious.”
Three Smith generations drove the car, which had more than 40,000 miles on the odometer in 1998.
“People over in High Point couldn’t hardly believe it,” Smith admitted. He also let his grandson use the car for dates.
Smith explained his feelings about the Ferrari, echoing the feelings of many owners. “I bought it for the right reasons and kept it for the right reasons. Because I really love it. I feel like it’s a part of me. I feel like I’m a part of the car.”
When you have an archive of photographs that goes back 37 years, it’s fun to dip into the collection, to scan and digitize the Kodachromes of the day; which is how the file of Smith, Eddie Jr. and the NART Spyder landed on my lightbox. Back in 1998, given how Sebring had affected Smith’s love of Ferraris, the three of us took the NART Spyder to the Florida track. They were kind enough to allow us to shoot the story on the circuit.
Smiling while scanning, I recalled that Eddie Jr. owns Grady-White Boats. I knew the family had sold the NART Spyder, but wanted to check in with him all these years later and send some images. He replied:
“I’m confident you were aware of me selling the NART at auction at Pebble Beach six years ago. It broke the world record for a car sold at auction by about $10 million, with the gavel price being $25 million and the buyer’s premium taking it up to $27.5 million. As I said from the stage that evening, we intended to give every penny to charities that we knew would make my dad very happy. We’ve had great fun doing so, including completely rebuilding the dormitory that he lived in at the orphanage he was reared at that was originally built in 1929 and now bears his name. We also built a beautiful state-of-the-art health sciences building on the campus of a community college that he helped found, not to mention rebuilding a shelter for battered women that he founded, and more.”
Eddie Smith passed away in July 2007 at age 88. His family used the NART proceeds for charitable endeavors to continue Smith’s long tradition of supporting his community. Eddie Smith was a man who would get up early on Mondays and make breakfast for all his employees. He was a true southern gentleman and one of the loveliest people you could meet.
John Lamm worked for Road & Track for 37 years and is equally happy behind a keyboard or a camera. He has written ten automotive books and has been honored with the International Motor Press Association’s Ken Purdy award and the Motor Press Guild’s Dean Batchelor award for writing. He is on the organizing committee for the Rolex Monterey Motorsports Reunion and has been a judge at the Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance for two decades.