A FERRARI LEGACY, SOUTHWEST AND BEYOND
“I went to high school in Miami Beach. It was like Beverly Hills East. The father of a girl in my class had a 250 GT Cabriolet. George Arents, who was one of Chinetti’s major financial backers, lived there, and he would park his 250 GT, a Tour de France Berlinetta, on the street. A friend called one day saying, ‘Hey, there’s a Ferrari down here on 16th Street,’ so I went there early in the morning on my way to school with my Polaroid camera to take a few pictures.
“He came out and offered me a ride, which I thought was pretty astounding. I said sure, so he fired up the TdF and off we went around the block a couple of times and that was it.”
Noted automotive illustrator Chuck Queener would soon follow a keen fascination with Ferrari and motorsport, to assert himself in the right place, Southern California, at the right time, the early 1960’s, to engage new friends and opportunities that would set a career path in motion.
“When I was 12 years old or so, I became interested in cars. I picked up my first Road & Track on a newsstand that had a 400 Superamerica on the cover in the late 50’s. The beauty of the car struck me, and then the sound they made was also a big draw.
“I had become aware of the Fisher Body Craftsman’s Guild scholarship program. If you designed and built a model car and won a prize, you’d get a college scholarship to a school in the Detroit area. I got all the material together and my Dad asked me how much was it going to cost to build this model. I researched it and figured out the balsa wood, the paint, the knives and tools was going to come to about $30. That was a lot of money in 1955, and my Father says, ‘Nope, cant’ do it.’ So, I gave up on the idea of becoming a designer and I just continued drawing cars.
“When I was sixteen, we would drive out to Miami where the Camoradi USA team was based. Sir Stirling Moss and Dan Gurney drove for them.
“Two buddies of mine and I started going up to Sebring in 1959. One guy would pay for the gas. One guy would pay for the food. The other guy would provide the vehicle, and we would drive up on Friday afternoon to Sebring, stay over night in the car, literally not get any sleep, go out to the garages, watch the mechanics work on the cars, then steal pit passes from the cars sitting outside in the fog and mist in the Kenilworth Hotel parking lot. It was so humid, you could just peel a pit pass that was on the inside of the windshield right off the car, smack it onto your car, and drive over the bridge into the paddock at Sebring. They didn’t have all the garbage that you need today to get anywhere near the paddock or even into the circuit, so it was a whole different deal in those days.
“I’ve always been interested in driving. I always thought the coordination needed to heel and toe, to make smooth downshifts that didn’t cause the car to jerk and buck was sort of a semi-art form.
“My dream at the time was to get to California, and made sure I that I could get there through the Air Force when I joined in 1961. I volunteered for an 18-month overseas assignment, which would allow me to later go to any base I wanted, so I chose March Air Force Base in Riverside, CA.
“I arrived in late 1963, and that’s where I met all the guys that worked for the Shelby Driving School, which was stationed at Riverside. I befriended the guard at the Riverside gate and could go watch the School anytime I could. I watched them test the first Cobra 427 with Ken Miles.
“I met Peter Brock who was one of the instructors and he told me all about Art Center. I didn’t know what that was. I had no idea. I really didn’t have a handle on where I was going to go for college, so I just took some of the drawings that I had done, one of a Cobra and things like that, and presented it to the school. They accepted me. Pete and I have been friends ever since.
“I met Larry Crane because he was living in Peter Brock’s house at the end of Turn Nine. In fact, Larry and I knew each other before we knew anybody else, and went to our first Ferrari Club meeting where we met Otto Zipper, Ed Niles, and Marshall Lieb.
“Most of the guys that I knew at Art Center could draw cars but they couldn’t draw people. I liked drawing people and would help them and put people in the background. It was a hobby that I was able to turn it into some sort of a living. After I got out of Art Center, I got hired at a chain of thirteen department stores in Los Angeles, Desmonds. I went to work there as an Assistant Art director, doing newspaper layouts. I would occasionally do fashion illustration for them as well.
“I was supposed to get married to one of the buyers there, and six weeks before my wedding I just thought, you know, what if I ever want to go racing? I’ve got to do it now, and I can’t get married. So, six weeks before the wedding, I called it off. I took what money I had and went through the Jim Russell School at Willow Springs. I didn’t have a job, so I stayed up there and I worked at the school as an instructor and as a bookkeeper, and I’m not bookkeeper, that’s for sure. All I did as write up the deposit slips and take the money to the bank.
“Jim Busby and I went through the school at the same time. In fact, at one point our first race in Formula Fords was at Santa Barbara and I beat him. I finished 9th and he finished 10th [LAUGHS]. Busby, of course went on to do a lot more racing than I ever did.”
The curiosity and gumption that rewarded Chuck with a ride in George Arent’s Tour de France in Miami Beach followed him to California.
“I didn’t have any qualms about running people down that had Ferraris and stopping them on the street, and that’s how I got to meet a lot of the guys in California.
“I saw this yellow GTO driving down the street in Santa Monica and I chased it down. It turned out to be Rick Busenkell, a mechanically inclined Ferrari guy, who had restored Phil Hill‘s old 250 MM. The GTO belonged to an Italian film director who was off, working in Italy. He wanted Rick to do some work on the carburetion, get everything in sync, because it wasn’t running very well. We eventually we became good friends.
“Phil Hill also lived in Santa Monica, down the street from a woman that I eventually married. Her father knew him, because he had a Model A Ford. I hadn’t met Phil, but I thought if we could take Ricks’ car over to him, that’d be a helluva nice introduction, a great car to show up in, and so one day, probably in 1969, I drove up to his house in that GTO.
“I just parked right in front of his garage. He always had his garage doors open, and I just introduced myself and that was that. We struck up this friendship. He wasn’t married yet and we just got along. He’d retired and always used to laugh and say, ‘You know more about my career than I do.’”
It wasn’t long before Chuck’s own racing ambitions entered into the conversation.
“We talked about it for a long time. ‘You really want to be a racing driver, or what?’ he would ask. And we talked about having a killer instinct. You’ve got to want to beat everybody you are racing against. I realized I didn’t have a killer instinct – I just enjoyed driving. If I beat somebody, great, but it wasn’t an all-consuming passion for me. I thought before I hurt myself or hurt someone else, I should quit. So I stopped.
“Phil was such a regular guy and we had similar interests, a similar sense of humor, in a way. He was very down to earth, not a big ego, and when I was traveling with him in Europe, people knew who he was. They’d say hello, wave and all that stuff while we were wandering around Europe. In Santa Monica, we’d go to lunch in his Blower Bentley, and nobody knew who he was. He got far more recognition in Europe. It’s just a whole different atmosphere. They are much more interested in racing in Europe than we are in the United States.”
Phil would, however, play a pivotal role in the direction Chuck’s life was to take off the racetrack.
“Eric Dahlquist, the Editor of Motor Trend, had done an interview with Phil after his retirement. They ran the story and Phil asked, ‘Hey, will you read this and tell me what you think?’ So I did, and I thought it was a pretty good story. He mentioned that to Dahlquist, and added, ‘Hey, this guy’s an artist, you may want to talk to him.’ He did, and that’s how I got my job at Motor Trend. I became the Assistant Art Director, and went to work there in ’71.
“During this time, I had become involved with the Ferrari Owners Club. The Ferrari Club of America was bigger, but we were known as the local, Southern California Club. I started working on the newsletter with Ed Niles, who was very involved with the FOC from the outset. I would do a little drawing for the cover and whatever else, and Ed would get the text together. We started to saddle stitch it and make it look like a magazine. Eventually, Ed bailed out and I took it over.
“It actually sparked a big rivalry with the FCA, and they started to produce a nice magazine, which eventually became PRANCING HORSE. The FOC newsletter was getting international recognition. That’s when I got the idea to do CAVALLINO.
“I was the FOC’s first non-owner, associate member. Nobody wanted to be president of the club, and Ed thought it would be a fun idea that we buy a 275 GTB together, not only because I would get this car, but also because I would then be an owner and I’d be eligible to run. We did that, and in 1971 I was elected President.
“The FOC at that time was a dinner club, not a drivers’ club. So, we started to drive the cars, a lot. We started having what we called ‘Ride and Drives’ which was something that I borrowed from a practice we had at MOTOR TREND to demo cars for the Car of the Year Award. Instead of just going to a dinner meeting, we’d actually drive up the coast highway or on a canyon run. As I had been an instructor at Jim Russell, we also started having track events, which we never had before. These events eventually led to things like the Virginia City Hill Climb.
“One of the covers of the Newsletter was a mosaic of the SF Shield. Ferrari liked it and asked for a color print, so I set up a trip to the factory. What I did was give Mr. Ferrari the original plaque, which later hung in his apartment at Fiorano. It was also the first cover of Cavallino. I took Ed and Dr. Steve Cappabianca, with me. It’s good to travel with a lawyer and a doctor. We went to England and France before the factory.
“That was one of three meetings I had with him. Whenever I went to the factory, he would always see me. We were just chatting, but we corresponded a lot. I’d send him a note, and he’d always send notes back. I got to know Dr. Franco Gozzi very well and I’m still in touch with his secretary, Brenda Verner, who as you know, taught Pierro Ferrari how to speak English. The last time was in 1986, a year or two before he passed away.
“I’d been sending my artwork down to ROAD & TRACK, and basically a year and a half later, Bill Motta hired me down there. We moved from Santa Monica to Mission Viejo. I had worked with John Lamm at MT, who was one of my best friends for many, many years until just last year (Oct. 5, 2020) when he passed away. He got to know Phil and became one of Phil’s best buddies, and Derek’s Godfather. John and I just had this great rapport. He was one of those guys who just made everyone feel like they were his best friend. We did, I don’t know, four or five books together, and it was just a great relationship, a lot of fun.
“I stayed at R&T until ’78. The FOC newsletter had become very popular. I thought, Boy, I could actually do a magazine about this, and then Paul Pappalardo (big East Coast FCA guy) knew John Barnes and he said you guys oughta get together, so we did, I moved back east to become the founding editor of Cavallino.
“After CAVALLINO, I was at SKI Magazine for eight years, having a good time. I was working in the city and would go over to Rene Dreyfus‘ restaurant, Le Chanteclair, have lunch and run into all kinds of people. Every racing driver that flew through New York stopped there for dinner. You’d run into people all the time and eventually, that’s how I got to redesign Automobile Magazine.
“I knew everybody that worked at Car & Driver, and I knew David E. Davis quite well. I had also gotten to know a British car guy, John Evans, who worked for Rupert Murdoch, because he worked with my wife at USA Today. He asked me if I would read a prospectus from David E. I did, and responded, ‘I don’t think anybody needs another car magazine, but if anyone could come up with a whole new idea for one, it would be David E.’
“On that recommendation, they gave David $5M to do the magazine and he hired one of his Art Directors from Campbell Ewald on the Chevrolet account. Now the guy could design ads, but knew nothing about how to build a magazine. A year later the magazine wasn’t doing very well and David came to me and said, ‘I want you to come to Ann Arbor and be the Art Director.’
“My wife and I talked about it. She said, ‘Maybe you could fly out of Westchester,’ so that’s what I did. It would be like commuting, and we put a cap on it, three months to redesign the magazine.”
On his departure, Chuck was instrumental in suggesting to David E. that he recruit his friend Larry Crane, who was at Road & Track at the time, to take over the Art Director reigns. Larry eagerly accepted the opportunity and remained in that role for 13 years. Chuck went on to develop ROSSO FERRARI for Ferrari North America and Mdriver for BMW.
Looking back, Chuck’s story would be incomplete without at least acknowledging one of his great passions, the Ferrari 250 GTO.
“I just enjoyed what I was doing and I love the cars. I’ve always been a GTO nut and I probably put 2,000 miles on Steve Earle’s GTO, 4293 GT (now owned by Chip Connor), driving it up to Reno and to the Virginia City Hill Climb, driving it at Ontario or Riverside, or racing it at Laguna. It’s a great automobile. Steve would go anywhere with it. He gave it to me for a while, and I drove it down to Mission Viejo for a few days. John Lamm and I went out took a whole bunch of photographs, including one that eventually became the cover of Jess Pourret’s book on the 250 GT’s. That’s me on the cover, although you can’t see who’s behind the wheel.
“We were all in our thirties. Think about that. We were all young and excited about being able to be around those cars. We used to drive 250 Europas, anything that was around. In those days you could drive Pininfarina coupes, for god sakes, for three thousand bucks, a Lusso for four or five thousand dollars, and a GTO for under six thousand! A 750 Monza, the one which had been in THE RACERS, was offered to me by Hollywood Sport Cars for less, for just about $3000. They just didn’t have the space to keep it. Don’t forget, there wasn’t anything resembling the Monterey Historics then.
“I’m really proud that I was involved with the Monterey Historics. I was right there when Steve started that in ’74, and I worked closely with him and Chris Cord right from the beginning, including creating the iconic logo and originally doing the program.
This is also a good time to recall a memory previously shared in the Vol. 25, No. 2, March 2018 issue of Sempre Ferrari.
“Ed Niles was a great help to me as an enthusiast, getting into the whole thing.
We became friends and I was the best man at his and Phoebe’s wedding.
“Ed was buying and selling cars, bringing them in all the time, and was
always very generous and let me drive the cars, and that was always helpful. I didn’t need to own one. He wound up loaning them to me when he didn’t have the garage space, and would often say ‘keep this for a couple of days.’
“He was basically the guy on the west coast, whereas everybody else, like Dick Merritt and Warren Fitzgerald, were on the east coast or in Detroit. He tried to not push himself as a car salesman, but instead just dabbling. He hated to put himself in that league. I always teased him because he would get a car, fix it all up, and say, ‘Oh, I’m gonna keep this one. It’s a good one.’ The minute someone came up with a check, the car was gone. [laughs]
“He owned many cars and would always say, ‘I wish I’d kept this one.’ No one knew in those days these cars would be so valuable. He made a few bucks never scored any big sales.”
“As a wedding gift, Chuck said, ‘I’m gonna do a book for you with a drawing of every Ferrari you’ve owned,’ Ed recalls with amusement. “At that time I’d maybe had 12 or 15 cars. What he didn’t realize was that I was just getting into wheeling and dealing. I was buying and selling cars faster than he could draw them. So he finally gave me a book with a dozen or so drawings, but after that it’s a bunch of blank pages!” [LAUGHS]
“Chuck was, in many ways, my opposite,” Ed adds. “If somebody introduces me, fine, but I don’t walk up and introduce myself. He’s the opposite. He eventually had access to all the famous people in the Ferrari world because he wasn’t afraid to go up to them and shake their hand – a quality that I admired and to some degree envied.”
It’s worth noting that as we are putting the final touches on this story, Ed is going to press with his book, ADVENTURES IN FERRARI LAND.
Chuck shares another fond memory from those days:
“Francisco Mir, who probably had the smallest Ferrari dealership in the country in Santa Monica, announced that he was going to be entering a car in the 1973 Le Mans 24 Hours. So, he got Phil, Ed, and I to come along as the crew. I did the timing and scoring, Phil was sort of the crew chief, and Ed handled signaling at the end of the Mulsanne Straight.
“I always used to think, Boy, I wish I was born 10 years earlier because I would have liked to go racing against Phil Hill and Stirling Moss and those guys. I was so fortunate that I managed to meet all my heroes, just about everybody that I’ve ever wanted to meet. I met Olivier Gendebien at Phil’s house once, and later down at Road & Track. I also met Paul Frere in France and in Belgium. I got to meet a lot of guys from Emerson Fittipaldi to Jacky Ickx. I did a poster of Emerson for the Amelia Island Concours a few years back, and when Bill Warner asked me to get up and say something about it, I got up and said I never was a big Emerson fan until I met him, and the reason for that was that he always beat the Ferrari guys. Everyone laughed. He thought that was the funniest thing, and we had a great time that weekend.
“I’d met Dan Gurney at Phil’s house. Phil always used to have a thing called a Musical. He had two baby grand pianos that sat back to back and he’d have these parties in the spring where he’d invite Gurney and Shelby (that’s how I got to meet Shelby). I did the poster for Dan Gurney for Amelia Island, and he loved it, thought it was terrific. He sent me this big package, a tie, a bunch of stickers, a lot of Gurney memorabilia. I recently got their Christmas card, with a picture of Dan in a Volkswagen, down in Bahamas Speed Weeks, Naussau 1953 that says ‘Appropriately Distanced’ (as per Covid), and Gurney’s got a 100 yards on the rest of the field.” [LAUGHS]
Chuck became good friends with Innes Ireland, who he knew from R&T, traveled with on GTO trips, and as Innes would often say, ‘shared many a sore head.’ Chuck also became friends with Sir Stirling Moss after a series of drawings of Rob Walker’s cars for R&T. “Who’d have thought I’d get Christmas cards from Stirling Moss!”.
He lent his design skill to FF40, Jacques Swaters & Garage Francorchamps’ 40th Anniversary. He has designed the poster and produced the event program for the Amelia Island Concours d’Elegance since 1996, and created a number of posters Club Ferrari France, including a Ferrari poster for the Elegance et Automobile Concours in Monte Carlo.
He’s also designed a number of award-winning books with Murray Smith for publisher David Bull, including The Alphabet and the Automobile, Salute to Ferrari by Louis Klemantaski & Jesse Alexander, Phil Hill’s A Champion’s View and Phil Hill: A Driving Life, and John Lamm’s Ferrari: Stories from Those Who Lived the Legend.
“I just managed to get into places where I was able to make a living,” Chuck bemuses. However, it would be hard to discount the role his Southern California endeavors have played in his automotive journey. His passion for driving, racing, and Ferrari manifested in his seeking and engaging the hotbed enthusiast culture that so characterized the 1960’s – 1970’s, and he was able to turn his hobby into a successful career as an Illustrator, Art Director, and magazine Editor. And beyond the GTO’s and iconic Ferrari road cars, Chuck’s had the chance to drive some significant race cars along the way.
“I’ve gotten to drive F1 cars at Riverside. I drove a 312 B3 F1, one of Niki Lauda’s cars (Chassis 014, USGP Watkins Glen 1974). I’m looking at a picture right now, I’m in the car, helmet on, the Niki Lauda script clearly visible on the side, chatting with Phil, getting ready to take off.
“I’ve just been very fortunate to be allowed this passion, and to earn a living at it, doing what I wanted to do.”
All images © Chuck Queener, courtesy of Queener Design
Originally published in Vol. 29, No. 5 of SEMPRE FERRARI, the bi-monthly of the Ferrari Club of America Southwest Region