Ferrari faces legal challenge from old ally

It appears that the spaghetti is poised to hit the fan. Luigi J Chinetti the racing driver formerly known as ‘Coco’ Chinetti and son of the four-time Le Mans-winning founder of the North American Racing Team, who was a prime mover behind Ferrari’s early commercial success has filed a legal suit against the Italian company. He seeks “declaratory judgment and cancellation of the Trademark Reg Nos 3,223,963 (Ferrari Classiche) and 3,084,412 (Prancing Horse) based upon trademark misuse”.

Since all racing cars are an assembly of consumable parts they often have to be rebuilt. Sometimes modification became vital just to remain competitive. Often NART rebuilt crashed Ferraris with extensive recourse to new parts. Team members were proficient and their work was generally done with Ferrari’s full knowledge, and Chineffi raced the modified cars as ‘Ferraris’, again with the factory’s full knowledge. In fact, a car with Chinetti-designed frame and body not only raced as a Ferrari with the factory’s consent, but scored a top-10 finish at Le Mans. The Miami Division suit relates, however, that Luigi J Chinetti was restoring two Ferrari 275Ps chassis ‘0812’ and ‘0814’ in Italy when the factory claimed they were replicas and began litigation related to them.

The Italian authorities duly seized the cars and criminal counterfeiting charges were brought against Luigi J Chinetti. He then succeeded in convincing the court that the 275Ps were original Ferraris. He was acquitted of all charges and, after more than a year the P-cars were returned to his control for completion. The vast majority of Ferrari lovers are well aware that NART built a number of convertible Daytonas, known as the NART Spiders. Earlier this year, when Goodings auctioneers offered a Daytona Berlinetta that had been modified as a convertible, Ferrari’s New York attorneys protested that the vehicle: “…is being offered in violation of Ferrari’s trademark rights”. They contended that Ferrari’s trademarks were now being applied to a product so radically different from their original that “…as a trademark owner, Ferrari has never controlled or approved of the modifications to its car” and that “these modifications negatively impact on the safety specifications as well as the handling, and in general on its overall quality and image”.

That was knocked back, but the factory that for so many decades expressed zero interest in its old cars has apparently had a change of heart about the market, or in the revenue stream its restoration/ preparation industry now represents. Chineffi’s suit maintains that Ferrari is trying to utilise protection of its trademark to monopolise and manipulate the affermarket In so doing, Ferrari is creating disparate classes of car owners, by stopping the sale of some modified cars while not stopping others. The factory’s Ferrari Classiche division is claimed by the company to protect the integrity of the marques cars and to encourage their preservation.

In contrast, the suit contends that it is not Ferrari’s job to do this once the vehicles are placed “into the stream of commerce”. The suit claims Classiche’s operation negatively affects owners of non-certified/affested cars: “In refusing to certify cars without first receiving payment for inspection and repairs, Ferrari is misusing its trademark to monopolise the affermarket repair and restoration of Ferraris”. Chinetti additionally alleges that Ferrari “…has used and misused its trademarks for anti-competitive purposes and restraint of trade, trying to control the affermarket of its vehicles and generate its business in restoring and improving affermarket Ferraris”. Historically, America takes a dim view of anticompetitive practice. Should Ferrari’s modern, bluntly profit-driven approach to the old car world be explored under the forensic arc light of trial by jury, things could get very interesting…

Doug Nye