It may be the most recognized Ferrari 250 GT California in the world, except that it’s not a Ferrari, and it wasn’t actually destroyed in the making of John Hughes’ 1986 blockbuster, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. A Ford-powered fiberglass replica built by Modena Design & Development, it was added to the Historic Vehicle Association’s National Historic Register in April 2018, when it appeared in Washington, D.C., as part of HVA’s Cars at the Capital display. From June 21-October 31, the famous “Fauxrari” will be a featured display at the AACA Museum in Hershey, Pennsylvania.
In the early 1980s, director John Hughes was riding a wave of success that began with 1984’s Sixteen Candles and grew with 1985’s The Breakfast Club. Even major studios have budget caps, and when Hughes wanted to lease a 1961 Ferrari 250 California for his next film, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, the answer was a prompt and firm “no.” With roughly 100 built from 1957-’62, an original 1961 Ferrari 250 GT California – assuming one could even be found – would be cost-prohibitive to lease and insure for the scenes planned in the script.
Enter Bennington, Vermont, native (and then Southern California resident) Mark Goyette. With business partner Neil Glassmoyer, the two had formed a company — Modena Design & Development — to build replicas of the Ferrari 250GT California Spider, using a steel tube frame chassis topped with a fiberglass body. A single client-funded prototype came first, since Modena Design & Development was operating on a shoestring budget.
As David Traver Adolphus wrote in an October 2010 story on Mark Goyette for Hemmings Classic Car, the Modena Design Ferrari prototype was photographed at a Knott’s Berry Farm car show, and shortly after came to the attention of Paramount Pictures executives. The idea of an affordable (and replaceable) Ferrari stand-in was appealing, and a deal was struck for Modena Design to produce three cars for the filming of Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. The finished prototype would be leased by the studio as the hero car, while a partially completed Modena Spyder would be purchased and used for close ups of the actors in the car. A third rolling shell was also procured, and used in the scene where spinning back the Spyder’s odometer produces… unintended consequences for the characters. And the car.
It was good news and bad news for Goyette and Glassmoyer. Though eager for the business — and for the exposure the movie might bring to their fledgling company — Modena Design & Development existed primarily on paper. The duo had no real shop, no tooling, and no body molds, and Paramount expected delivery of the three cars in a mere seven weeks. Ultimately, the deadline was met, though not without a few sleepless nights.
Instead of a 3.0-liter Ferrari V-12, the “1961 Ferrari 250 GT California Spider” that appeared in the movie was powered by a 302-cu.in Ford V-8, mated to a C-4 automatic transmission, sending its power to the ground through a live axle liberated from a Ford Mustang. The trunk lid was donated from an MGB, as was the front bumper, while VW Type 3 taillamps were used along with a Karmann Ghia rear bumper. The windshield came from a Fiat 124 Spider and the speedometer from a Jaguar E-type, while underneath, the torsion-bar suspension used Ford Mustang A-arms in the front.
Dimensionally, the replica matched the Ferrari’s 173-inch length, but carried a wider track of 57 inches, compared the Ferrari’s 53.3-inch front track and 53.1-inch rear track. The Modena Spyder was wider overall, measuring 68 inches, while the actual Ferrari was just under 65 inches, and, surprisingly, the Ferrari was taller in height than the replica, measuring 53.9 inches to the Modena’s 50 inches. As for weight, the Ferrari tipped the scales at 2,365 pounds, while the Modena Spyder weighed in at 2,679 pounds.
When filming wrapped, the leased Modena Spyder was returned to Goyette in less-than-pristine condition, having sustained body damage and a crushed exhaust in the film’s jump scene. Following its repair, the car was sold to Dorian Kunch in San Diego, California, though it came back to Goyette again a few years later for repair following another shunt. By 2003, after passing through a series of owners, the car found its way across the pond, to England. In April 2010, the Modena Spyder’s current owner, Bob Wingard, purchased the car at a Bonhams auction in the U.K. and subsequently re-imported it into the United States, where it was restored to its on-screen appearance by Greg Weldy and American Coventry in Highland, Maryland.
Shortly after the release of Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, Ferrari filed a lawsuit against Modena and several other replica manufacturers. The case was settled out of court, and Modena was granted permission to continue manufacturing replica cars, once subtle changes were made to the design. The business sold in the late 1980s, and today (or at least recently) Goyette owns a classic-car restoration business in Bennington, Vermont. Glassmoyer, who now resides in Arizona, still owns a business — Modena G.T. Spyder — that manufactures Ferrari replicas.
Other current displays at the AACA Museum include Mustangs: Six Generations of America’s Favorite Pony Car and the International Thunderbird Club exhibit. For additional details, visit AACAMuseum.org.