Peter's 550 / by Zach Sorensen-Nielsen

Before I post the photos that I took of this car, first, some photos that my grandfather took of me with some Ferraris almost 5 years ago. Here I am in San Francisco on my 16th birthday after my first ride in a Ferrari ever. Yeah, I look fantastic. This is not the car I went for a ride in, but a perfect Rosso Corsa 550 Maranello owned by the same person. The owner, Peter, a long-time friend and business partner of my grandparents, is just out of frame speaking to my grandmother.



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For my 16th birthday, my grandparents took me to lunch with Peter and promised me a ride in his newly acquired Ferrari 458 after we ate. We were quickly stuffed with Chinese food and drove back to Peter’s house in my grandparents Corolla. It was now time to start the 458 for the first time. I was never really in love with cars before this moment because I had never been in an interesting car. My parents owned cars like Rav4s, Mazda station wagons, even a Camry while I was growing up. Cars were not their priority so I did not give them much thought.  A big italian V8 firing up inside a garage was something I had never experienced. Holy shit. I remember the anticipation as Peter flipped the starter, and the tail lights came on. Everything whirred and buzzed to life before the engine cranked twice and was suddenly alive. The entire house vibrated; I bet the entire city block was rumbling along with those 8 cylinders firing as they warmed up. I remember this feeling, and this sound so incredibly vividly. Peter pulled the car out into the street for a few photographs before I hopped in and we pulled down Potrero Hill towards the freeway for a little Tom Foolery.

I did not know until later, but my grandpa had warned Peter, “not to do any stupid shit with my grandson.” Peter, bless his heart, did every stupid shit possible. All of the stupid shits. It was faster than I had ever been in my life. Yet the entire time, I felt planted, secure and safe in the daytona seats of the 458. Whenever a gap in traffic presented itself, it was down 3 gears and through the gap we flew. Peter drove the wheels off of his cars.


Too soon, Peter and I returned to his garage. After checking out his modified Mercedes E55 AMG and collection of motorcycles, I looked out the window into the garage next door also owned by Peter. I could see the back end of his 550 Maranello poking out from behind a wall. We walked next door to see the 550 sitting spotless in a completely stripped out garage with bare walls and a concrete floor. He opened the driver’s door and told me to hop in. I was alone in the driver’s seat of a Ferrari for the first time in my life. I depressed the clutch and began to click the shifter from gate to gate. I had no key, and on that day, the 550 remained off as Peter was busy showing us other things. I hopped out and sadly, did not get to hear that car run. The 550 Maranello has always stuck with me, not as my favorite Ferrari, not even my favorite V12 Ferrari, but it is special for a different reason. It stuck with me as one of the car that got me interested in cars. I got an amazing ride in the 458, but I sat in the driver’s seat, ran through the gears and felt the experience of the 550’s interior.


About a month after my visit, Peter passed away incredibly suddenly. I am incredibly lucky to have been able to see Peter one more time before we lost him. I was left with memories and an itching desire to go fast in a red Italian car with a prancing horse on the front. Ever since, I have been photographing, learning about and doing everything I can to spend as much time around these cars as possible. 

A few years after Peter’s passing I felt like I should to contact his mechanic, Phil. He inherited the 550 Maranello upon Peter’s death. I wanted to meet Peter and see the car again. It took a few months for me to set up a time to be in the Bay Area, but finally when I arrived at Phil’s house, the garage door opened, revealing that very familiar red V12 monster.


I was immediately brought back to memories of sitting in Peter’s garage, it still has Peter’s license plate, he has Peter’s eulogy strapped in the leather lined rear parcel shelf (most 550s have carpet back there) and he even has an identical Mercedes to one that Peter used to own. Phil went on to tell me stories about him and Peter, showing me old photographs of them together at different events like hill climbs, car shows, and customer drives.


The story that struck me the most was the beginning of Peter and Phil's love affair with the Ferrari brand. It began at a Mercedes client drive featuring their new supercar. Phil could not remember the model, but based on the cars in attendance, it was most certainly the Mercedes, McLaren SLR. In addition to the SLR, the event included other cars for clients to test. One of those other cars was a Ferrari F430. After trying each car, Phil, Peter and apparently most of the people at the drive, all agreed that the Ferrari was the superior car of the group. The Mercedes representatives were chagrined as everybody opted for the Ferrari memorabilia to take home instead of theirs. A few weeks went by, and Peter developed the itch to own a car from the brand that had shamed his beloved Benz. He went down to Ferrari San Francisco and purchased the 550 Maranello with little knowledge of the car. 

It turned out that a different client, whom Phil and Peter met at the Mercedes drive, brought his 550 in to trade up to a 575. So Peter became the second owner of the car and at the same time, he joined the Ferrari Club of San Francisco. The previous owner was a member so Peter decided to keep the car in the club. Peter fell hard and fast in love with the car and the Ferrari brand after doing drives and Ferrari events all over California.


Years went by with the car under Peter’s ownership. During that time, whenever Peter needed something done to the car, he brought it to Phil. Phil and Peter brought the car on hill climbs, to car shows, and to Monterey Car Week. Peter brought it back home to the gates of Maranello. He truly appreciated that car for what it was and gave it all the respect in the world. Peter always said that when he died, that he would give the 550 to Phil. I heard those claims even before I was able to reconnect with Peter back in 2013. Luckily, Phil was able to receive the car after Peter’s passing and has been taking care of it ever since. This means that since this car was purchased new, it has been a part of the Ferrari club of San Francisco.

After we told stories about Peter for a while, Phil asked if I would like to go for a ride. You know I said, “yes.” We hopped in the car, and he fired it up. I have heard 550s run in person before, so I knew exactly how it was going to sound, but damn did it feel special. I was finally hearing Peter’s car run. Phil and Peter had experimented with many different exhaust variations, straight pipes, mufflers and so on, but this was the one that Peter and Phil had finally agreed upon.


We backed out of the garage slowly as to not scrape the front end and slowly brought the car up to temp, idling through the streets near his house. We made our way far from other people and things like stop lights to a windy mountain road that cut through the brown winter California hillsides. It was a curvy strip of asphalt with giant, banked, race-track like corners. As soon as it was apparent that we were alone on this road, I heard the click of the shifter going from 4th, to 3rd, to 2nd gear. A wave of torque smoothly kicked up the front as the balanced and smooth V12 howled out of the exhaust behind us. The faster we went, the less I felt the bumps on the road as the tires stretched and glided over the road. The first corner approached quickly and Phil lifted off of the throttle, allowing us to decelerate just enough to ease the car into the curve. Halfway through the corner, he rolled back into the throttle and the car grabbed the road, hard. We accelerated out to find nothing but more curves for the next mile or so. It was not the quickest car around this road, and it wasn’t the most comfortable, but damn was it perfect. That is what a Ferrari is all about. It is about being out on an empty road, going way too fucking fast, and hearing the best soundtrack you could ever imagine bounce off the hillsides back at you. Ferrari is about emotion. Ferrari is about stories. Ferrari is about driving and way more.


When Phil and Peter went to that Mercedes press drive event, they decided that the Ferrari 430 was the superior car. Having studied the cars on that drive, I can guarantee that the Ferrari was not the fastest, most dynamic or innovative. Peter chose the Ferrari because it was what felt the best to him. For some, the quest for the quickest handling and most precise car is everything. I almost see it as two different hobbies, those who are looking at cars for their engineering capabilities and build quality. Others, like the italians, who want a car that looks good, sounds good and not much else, including having a car that works well. Gotta pay to play with cars like that. I hate that this was impressed upon my so young because I now do my best to own difficult and finicky, but very fun cars. Thanks, Peter; thank you so much.

I am beyond elated to have been able to reconnect with the 550 Maranello and make a new friend in the process. I truly have Peter to thank for my love and appreciation for what cars really are. They tell stories, they hold memories, and they bring people together. The next time you get into your car to drive to the grocery store or to go to work, appreciate the sound it makes turning over, the engine burbling into life saying “where are we going today?” and the feeling you get when you push the accelerator. I also have Phil to thank for welcoming me into his home, sharing with me his stories, and even putting miles on his car.