Matthew Ettinger

“It was absolutely one of the most amazing cars I’ve ever owned in my life. I raced that car, I wrecked that car, I drove the living hell out of that car!”

250 SWB, 2819 GT, finished 2nd in the 1961 Tour de France, and was later sold by driver Olivier Gendebien to Count Giovanni Volpi, who was in hot water with Enzo Ferrari for sponsoring the exiled ATS Racing Team. The chassis was modified by ATS founder Bizzarrini and re-bodied by Drogo to compete against the 250 GTO’s that Volpi could not acquire.

Matthew Ettinger is the renown former owner of the infamous Ferrari #2819 GT which became known as the Breadvan. His story epitomizes Southern California, iconic cars, and larger than life characters. Bitten by the car bug early in life, Matthew has sought and enjoyed speed. “From the time I had a 3-wheel trike, I wanted to go fast.”

“On rainy days I would go to school in a bubble gum police car with the rotating light because my mother was with the Sherriff’s Department. Everybody looked when you pulled up in the police car. It did have its advantages because nobody wanted to pants me. You know back in the 50’s they used to run up to you and pull your pants down!”

“I grew up in an area that was populated mostly by dairies and the Dutchman Kenny Howard, and everyone had new, beautiful cars. The ‘50’s Chevys, and up and to my graduation year ‘55, that beautiful, beautiful Chevy Nomad.

I coveted a ‘48 Plymouth convertible. Oh, I loved that car, and because I had mentioned that so much, my father bought me a 4-door ‘48 Plymouth after I graduated.” Unfortunately that particular car didn’t quite satiate Matthew’s desire, “so I immediately rammed it into a big rig and that took care of that!” Matthew’s father replaced it with a 48 Plymouth coupe, which he loved. “There have been many moments where I’ve yearned for that car. It powered me through Southern California from one end to the other. It was a great car. After that I got a ‘55 Chevy that I hot-rodded and in between the Plymouth and the Chevy there were 15 billion other cars that I had for 15 or 20 minutes to drive, race, and crash.”

It was inevitable, however, that Matthew’s attentions would soon turn to Ferrari. “Looking at pictures, reading about Enzo, the races, I suddenly had this insatiable desire to have a Ferrari. Back then there was no ego about it, no financial plateau related to owning the car. Ferrari was never connected to that kind of euphoria. It was emotional.” In time, Matthew’s automotive endeavors would be transformed by this desire.

“My first wife and high school sweetheart Peggy and I rode our Triumph show bike to the Pan Pacific auditorium where they had the car show every year. We walk through the front doors and there, inside the velvet roped off area, is a Ferrari Lusso. Emotionally and mentally, I dropped to my knees looking at this car. I turned and said, ‘Peggy, I’m gonna have one of these, and it’s gonna be soon.’

And it was. Matthew received a phone call from Larry Watson, of candy apple red hot rod fame. ‘Matthew, Do you still want a Ferrari? You better get down here right away.’ “So I go down to his shop and here is a beautiful Ferrari Lusso. I got so emotional. My heart swelled looking at this gorgeous car, it’s beauty, it’s lines, it’s sculpture. Oh my, it’s gorgeous.” It was also crashed.

As luck would have it, the wrecked car belonged to a wealthy gentleman who had grown weary bailing his oft-errant grandson out of trouble. “Well, I guess it finally reached the straw-breaking stage and the grandfather told him that’s it, you’re not getting back in that car, get on a plane, and come home.” Matthew shrewdly offered the kid a check for $ 4500. “I give him the check and he says, ‘I’m gonna go to the local Ferrari dealer.’” Unbeknownst to the grandson, Matthew was friends with that dealer: Otto Zipper. “I call Otto. ‘Look, if you’re ever in your life going to do me a favor, now is the time. A guy’s gonna come over and ask you to buy his car with the wrecked door and kind of a dent in the fender. I gave him a check for 4500 bucks, would you offer him 4000 dollars?’ Understand this was virtually a brand new car, Otto could have made a helluva lot of money fixing it. Otto replied, ‘Boy, you will owe me for the rest of your life.’

I gathered this pattern of getting what I really wanted, enjoying it to the max, and then selling it. It gave me the financial wherewithal to go to the next step and then I bought 250 LM.” Matthew’s friend Stephen Mitchell, who owned the fabulous 250 GTO now owned by Ralph Lauren, soon stumbled upon a cast aside Dino racecar that Matthew purchased and later sold to Ed Niles. “This went on and on until the Breadvan.”

“I’d been run over by an Olds Rocket 98 putting up a sign in front of my nightclub. I’m in a wheelchair and finally after 4 months in traction Peggy’s wheeling me into this hotel in Santa Monica, and in the lobby sits the Breadvan. I go nuts. I just love strange looking things. Asa Clark had bought the car from Gary Wales. He was over 6 feet tall, how the hell he fit in that car I have no idea. I go crazy. ‘Asa, you wanna sell that car? Without the slightest pause he says, ‘Yes!’ I said, ‘Great, how much you want for it?’ ‘4500 bucks.’ ‘Sold!’

The car had found it’s way to Los Angeles via Gary Wales, who had acquired the car in Detroit. “The Breadvan is the one car in my history that I regret selling more than anything. There have been things that I’ve garnered, but the Breadvan really stands out in my mind. That’s the emotional part of owning a Ferrari.”

Yet it was merely a facet of a passion Matthew exuded in his work arranging club dinners with the likes of Dan Gurney, Phil Hill, the Rodriguez brothers, and in trips to the factory, meeting Enzo Ferrari. “I actually met him twice and the second time with my second wife who was absolutely one of the most beautiful women in the world. It was a fact.”

“We walk into the factory in Maranello and are greeted by the sales manager and he sees Diane. Then the next person comes into the showroom, sees Diane, and then somebody told everybody and suddenly the showroom is filled with all these suited guys.

We’re invited to the restaurant down the road from the factory for lunch. We’re sitting at the table and we hear a commotion at the front, and in walks Enzo Ferrari. He walks over to the table. The guy sitting in front of Diane immediately gets up and gives up his chair, and Enzo sits down in front of Diane. There was a moment when she was using her fork in her salad and she let out this audible scream and everybody says what’s wrong?! There was a little white worm in her salad. I’m telling you with God as my witness, Enzo reaches over, picks up the worm at the edge of the plate and says, ‘Signora, Proteina!’ and puts it in his mouth and eats it.

“It was totally a different time. The relationships with the people there, the cars, the whole atmosphere, it was a different playing field. Never once did you ever get a feeling that a Ferrari was a jewelry piece. It was never a sculpture that you were going to show off. It was a sculpture, but it was a thing of adventure and we were all very enthusiastic about having that particular marque of car. It was a whole different feeling back then, driving the hell out of those cars. Stephen and I would meet early in the morning after I’d close down the club. He would come in the GTO and we would take off for Palm Springs or Big Bear or some wild place to go for breakfast. That was like almost every other week. My god it was great. Those were the days.”

Matthew, however, has not lost any of his passion and is still living the Ferrari dream at full throttle to this day. Among several cars in his stable, his current prancing horse is a 2000 550 Maranello, complete with the Fiorano handling package and beautiful red stitching in the interior. He also maintains one of the most impressive memorabilia collections anywhere, presented in a fashion any Ferrarista would not soon forget.

“Every time I get out of my car, as I have all my Ferrari life, I pull up, shut the engine off, open the door, get out of the car, walk maybe 10, 15 feet, and turn around and look at the car. If I have to make 10 stops that day, I will do that 10 times, because I look back at that car and I say, how blessed am I to be so fortunate, to own a Ferrari and it’s so gorgeous.”

Originally published in SEMPRE FERRARI Vol. 25, No. 1

Matthew’s amazing diecast and memorabilia collection: