Treasures: Ferrari 815

Included in the collection are many items that Z. Taylor Vinson listed in his unpublished autobiography as Treasures. These treasures are items that Vinson was very proud to own, such as extremely rare or even one-of-a-kind catalogs. Among these treasures is a 1940 Ferrari “815” folder. Featured below is an excerpt from page 62 of his autobiography, A Collector’s Life, detailing how he came to own this rare piece of automobile literature.

Cover of the Auto Avio Costruzioni publication. Click to view the item in the digital library.

In November ’96, I read with interest the October 30 issue of “Autocar,” which showed a copy of “the first Ferrari brochure”, on something called the “815.” – I immediately added it to my want list. As I had only known of Ferrari as a postwar manufacturer of cars, I photocopied the page and a couple of days later showed it to Dick Merritt, the font of all wisdom regarding the prancing horse. He explained that, as a condition of his severance with Alfa Romeo in ’39, Enzo Ferrari had agreed not to put his name on any kind of machine for the next four years, and that his new car, the 815, was identified as a product of “Auto Avio Costruzione”. Almost as an afterthought, he went on to say, “there’s a copy available if you’re interested.”

The asking price was twice the highest amount I had previously paid for an item (the 1931 UK Cadillac catalogue and portfolio of custom designs), and 10% less than I’d paid for my ’73 Triumph in ’83. Nevertheless, that’s what a savings account is for. I called the offeror Fred Repass, and when he explained that there were less than 10 known to exist, I didn’t even haggle, as it seemed like a bargain at the price. In the meantime, I ordered a book on the “815″ from another source which, I was told, contained a reproduction of the piece.

The deal was quickly settled, and when the folder arrived, I noted with pleasure that the name of Enzo Ferrari appeared on the rear cover. It was accompanied by a color photocopy of an article which explained that Ferrari had ordered 100 of the folders but, due to the war, had never picked them up. Only two cars were made. Existence of the piece was not confirmed until 1988 when Sotheby’s auctioned one for $8,550. According to the article, only five copies are known (the offeror had said eight to ten). Whatever, it’s bound to be one of the rarest pieces of literature.

Come back for our next post to learn about how the collection is being arranged for researchers to use.

October is American Archives Month and Hagley Library is celebrating by holding a Z. Taylor Vinson Collection Information Day! Come to the library building on Saturday October 8th from 10:00 am-4:00 pm to get a sneak peak at the collection.

Robin Valencia is the Graduate Assistant for the Z. Taylor Vinson Collection at Hagley Museum and Library.

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