Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, a 1986 John Hughes coming-of-age comedy, made stars of actor Matthew Broderick and a relatively obscure Ferrari convertible, the 250 GT California Spider. Genuine Ferraris were too expensive for production, so replica cars built by a company called Modena Design were used for the driving scenes during filming. On August 17, one of three Modena GT Spyder California models reportedly built for the film heads to auction in California, part of Mecum’s Monterey sale.
Ferrari built its 250 GT California Spider from 1957-’62, first with a long wheelbase (LWB) of 102.4-inches and in 1960, with a short wheelbase (SWB) of 94.5-inches. Both variants came powered by a 3.0-liter V-12, fed by a trio of Weber carburetors and rated at 240-hp (in LWB models) and 280-hp (in later SWB cars). Ferrari claimed a top speed of 268 km/h (166 mph), which would have made the Ferrari Spider among the fastest cars of the day. In total, less than 100 examples were built.
Knowing that a genuine Ferrari 250 GT California Spider could not be used for the movie’s driving scenes, director John Hughes learned that Modena Design in El Cajon, California was producing replicas that might prove ideal for filming. More accurately, perhaps, Modena Design was planning to produce replicas, once funding had been raised, but at the time Hughes sought them out had assembled just a single customer-funded prototype. In fact, the company did not even have a factory, or the tooling necessary to complete kits in volume.
The Modena Spyder used a steel tube frame chassis, topped by a fiberglass body and powered by a Ford V-8. At the time of Hughes’s visit, the existing example was powered by a 289 mated to an automatic transmission, though the shifter was covered in a leather boot and designed to resemble a manual gear shift lever. The wheelbase measured the same 102.4-inches as the LWB Ferraris and carried similar bumpers, though the Modena Spider tipped the scales at 2,498 pounds, 133 pounds heavier than the original from Maranello.
Hughes was sold on the Modena Spyder during his visit, and requested three cars for filming. (A genuine Ferrari 250 GT Spider was borrowed by the studio for the tightly cropped interior shots, though this car was not used during any of the driving scenes.) Pressed for time, the studio requested delivery in less than two months, leaving Modena Designs employees Neil Glassmoyer and Mark Goyette scrambling to assemble the components needed. The customer-owned completed car was leased to the studio, while Neil and Mark completed two Modena Spyder kits for sale to Paramount Pictures within their deadline.
As David Traver Adolphus wrote in a December 2009 Hemmings Daily article, the three cars were delivered in various states of completion. Only the customer-owned car, leased to the studio, was finished and road-ready, while the two kits were delivered partially assembled, to be finished by Paramount staff. Neil recalls this differently, stating that two cars were drivers, while the third (the one destroyed during the turn-back-the-odometer scene) was just a roller, in which Paramount installed an engine and transmission. He also recalls that all three were stamped with a build sequence number, ranging from 1-3, on the driver’s side upper suspension mount.
According to Neil, the Modena Spyders were used interchangeably during filming, making it impossible to say which car is featured in any given scene. When filming concluded, the leased Modena Spyder was returned to Neil and Mark with body damage and a crushed exhaust, and after repairs were carried out the car was sold to a buyer in San Diego. Circa 2003, the Modena Spyder was sold to a collector in England, and in 2010 the car sold at a Bonhams auction to its current owner, Bob Winegard. In 2018, this car was enshrined on the Historic Vehicle Association’s National Historic Register, a testament to the cultural importance of the film.
Which leaves two movie cars remaining. One was reportedly rebuilt by Paramount and later sold to the Planet Hollywood restaurant chain, where it was displayed in a Minneapolis location before falling off the radar. The third car, said to be the Modena Spyder that exited the shrine constructed by Cameron’s dad, fell off the map after filming wrapped. Speculation was that the car was restored and sold, though details of any kind were sparse.
In 2013, Neil got word of an early Modena Spyder for sale in Southern California, so he went to inspect the car. A quick look at the upper suspension mount revealed the car was stamped with number 001, making it one of the three cars built for the filming of the movie. The car was partially disassembled and had no drivetrain, but none of those details mattered. Neil struck a deal with the seller and purchased the car on the spot.
Other evidence supported Neil’s assertion that this was a Ferris Bueller car. Only the first three examples built—the ones sold to leased to Paramount—used torsion bar suspensions, while later production used a coilover setup. The grille was cracked and had been kicked in, potentially by actor Alan Ruck during the tantrum scene that led to the car’s destruction, though this evidence is anecdotal at best. Per Neil’s recollection, Modena Design supplied Paramount with nine grilles and spare aluminum noses, though the exact reason why wasn’t clear at the time. The leased car was returned with front end damage as well, and as Neil related to us,
The studio didn’t tell us they had used our cars to kick in the front turn signals and grill until the car came back. They had the car completely wrapped in a car cover and duct tape so it would take us a while to unwrap it, and the last words the driver said was “If there is any damage just call Paramount.” Not a good sign and we found out why after it was unwrapped.
Whether it was the “living room” car or not, Neil approached the restoration intending to keep the convertible as his daily driver. Wanting more power than early Modena Spyders, he installed a 351 Windsor V-8 stroked to 427-cu.in. and dyno tested at 564 hp. The automatic transmission was dropped in favor of a Tremec TKO five-speed, and to improve handling, the torsion bar suspension was dropped in favor of QA1 coilovers. Front and rear disc brakes were supplied by Wilwood, and replaced the original Mustang II front disc and rear drum setup. The movie cars rode on 15-inch wire wheels, but Neil’s car rides on 16-inch wires from the same supplier since 15-inch performance tires are harder to find.
Inside, luxury was the theme of the day. The seats were wrapped in tan leather, and the same material was used for the top boot. A Retrosound audio system looks vintage, but sends music through a pair of Blaupunkt amps to a hidden 14-speaker array. The wooden Nardi steering wheel appears period correct, as do the analog gauges, but the speedometer uses a GPS feed instead of a cable or wired connection to a sensor.
One other visible difference between Neil’s car and the movie cars is the side vent. The original LWB Ferrari 250 California Spiders carried a three-fin side vent, as did the movie cars. Neil’s car currently wears the two-fin vent found on later short wheelbase examples, but this change may be out of necessity. Shortly after the movie was released, Ferrari sued a number of replica builders, including Modena Design. Ultimately, Modena was allowed to continue building its Spyders, but only after a number of design changes were made, presumably to prevent an exact copy.
In 2010, the Modena Spyder now listed on the Historic Vehicle Register sold for £79,600 (then, $99,005) at auction. For Neil’s car, Mecum is predicting a selling price between $300,000 and $400,000.
For additional details on the Monterey auction, visit Mecum.com.