David Lee is soft-spoken. Amicable. And wildly easy to have an hours-long conversation with—about his personal history, the business that enables his automotive addiction, his love for Italy, and his extensive affair with Ferraris both new and old.
After taking over his family’s jewelry business, Lee revamped the business plan, expanded to fine watches and real estate, and turned it into an empire. At first, he took a more traditional approach to supercars, buying the then-current Lamborghini Diablo VT, Porsche Carrera GT, and the sort of new exotica you’d expect from a young man flush with cash. And although he’s still on the list for every new supercar you’re currently dreaming of, his passion split and moved toward cars with history.
Lee, now 52 years old, has owned almost the entirety of Ferrari’s back catalog. Some models have escaped his clutches, like an original California, but he’s been able to painstakingly check off a list that’d make many Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance attendees weep. That collection included a Dino. But how Lee went from merely owning a stock Dino to building something finally worthy of the Ferrari crest was, like the sourcing of this car’s unique engine, a tale of chance. Or perhaps it was fate that allowed for the appropriately named, though not historic, Monza 3.6 Evo to carry something most would consider bastardized sacrilege.
Slotted behind its glass firewall is an engine that was once the beating heart of Enzo’s final creation. A V8 from a Ferrari F40.
Memories today tend to be short, but for what seemed like eons, dyed-in-rosso Corsa Tifosi didn’t give the Dino any attention. The prevailing thought of these collectors was that the Dino was a gut-wrenching overreaction from a man so caught up in heartache and grief that the final product wasn’t even given the Ferrari crest. Harsh, but this decades-long indifference continued as everyone’s wallets opened further and further for 250 GTOs, Monzas, Californias, Testarossas, F40s, and others. The Dino was unloved.
A life it was never intended to lead.
To Enzo, Alfredo “Dino” Ferrari was the “engineer son,” who would one day take up his father’s “Il Commendatore” mantle. He was his father’s light, his world. Enzo Ferrari once stated, “I have, in fact, no interest in life outside of racing cars.” Yet, Dino’s birth saw Enzo leave his own driving career to focus on building race cars.
Dino was honed in the family business and had opportunities his father never did. The two were inseparable: The talented and eager son wanted nothing more than to please the father. Dino’s mechanical knowledge and eye for detail were exploited in a handful of Ferrari’s designs, notably in the 750 Monza, and the engine — a high-strung race-ready V6 — that would later find its way into the concept car that bore his name. From an outsider’s perspective, the young man's rise seemed limitless. But in 1956, Dino succumbed to muscular dystrophy. He was just 24 years old.
Enzo was devastated. Dino’s death sent shockwaves through the figurehead once thought to be unflappable. Enzo was never quite the same. Though in the years after Dino’s death Enzo became ever more reclusive, his grief propelled him to pay tribute to the one who could have been king.
With the help of Enzo’s most devoted engineer, Vittorio Jano (who had assisted Dino in the engineering of his V6 race engines) and given form by famed design dynamo Sergio Pininfarina (who coincidentally had been pestering Enzo to build a mid-engine Ferrari for years) the 246GTS Dino would be birthed from the father’s will and the son’s mind. Yet, the eponymously named Dino would be a flawed creation.
Enzo believed a mid-engine road car’s handling characteristics would be too untameable for the untrained masses. To ensure the Dino’s safety, Enzo all but hobbled its performance, numbing the steering and suspension response. Gone was Dino and Vittorio’s race-ready V6 — it would later see action in Formula 1, Formula 2, as well as a handful of road racers including the Stratos. In its place, a new, less powerful engine co-developed with Fiat. When the Dino was finished, because of Enzo’s changes and his preference for V12s, he refused to allow the prancing horse logo to adorn the Pininfarina sculpture.
To me, the Dino always seemed like a sketch awaiting paint. The lines were there. Enzo had just filled in the wrong colors. It needed the right hues. Enter the vivid Monza 3.6 Evo.
Ever the keen Ferrari enthusiast, Lee came across a about a Dino that had been rebuilt and modified in a bid to be a better Ferrari. The owner had modernized the suspension, updated the wheels and brakes, and packed the minuscule engine bay with a thumping-great V8. At first, Lee didn’t know what to make of it. The combination of parts was quite disparate. But Lee was intrigued and got in touch with Kevin O’Rourke, the man who built the car.
After some discussion, a viewing, and a lap around the block, Lee decided that this amalgam of parts was a combination he could no longer live without. He made an offer. O’Rourke didn’t want to sell. According to Lee, O’Rourke plans on taking the car to his grave. Instead of just closing the door on Lee, O’Rourke countered: He’d build a second Dino. It would take some time, but when O’Rourke was finished, Lee’s Dino would be wholly Lee’s. Every part and modification, Lee would be consulted on. Lee didn’t have to think all that long to agree to O’Rourke’s conditions. After just a year and a half, Lee got his car. A car with the right qualities, centered around that fabulous engine.
Lee and O’Rourke had originally planned to source a more ubiquitous Ferrari V8. Something relatively cheap, easy to work on, with a parts shelf that’s never empty. A V8 like the one in the F355 or 360. Fate intervened with a homeless 2.9-liter F40 V8.
That V8, when still ensconced in the F40’s carbon bodywork, is muffled by a turbocharger strapped to each cylinder bank. Even uncorked F40s can’t compete with the apocalyptic sonatas from Ferrari’s unfiltered aspirations. For Monza, the 2.9-liter V8 was stripped of its turbines and ancillary parts, punched out to 3.6-liter displacement, and given eight individual throttle bodies, each on display like a watch’s movement. It was mated to a five-speed gated dog-leg transmission. Sum total: 400 horses and a shiver-inducing 7500 rpm redline.
Hold all my calls, I’m leaving reality.
As my hair drifts in the wind, the arid SoCal mountain roads have disappeared. In their stead, the winding, breezy, sol-kissed, but increasingly narrow roads that skirt centuries-old buildings and public squares around Lake Como. We’ve checked out and there is nothing but the road and the seductive drive from what was once a Dino.
Lightly tipping into the gas, the eight throttle bodies open. Sucking and hissing. The fuel pump whirs and, as if obeying a conductor vigorously tapping his lecturn, the engine takes heed and begins its operatic performance. It starts with the classic soprano burble. Then the baritone growl grows from the naturally aspirated V8. Finally, the percussion is added through the metallic shifts of the gated dog-box. I am engulfed in sound unlike any Ferrari of old or new.
A wholly distinct and new composition, the 3.6-liter V8 conjures Muse’s Matt Belamy shredding a wild guitar solo to 40,000 screaming fans. Yet, instead of the Brit’s warbly vocals, it’s opera superstar Andrea Bocelli belting La Vie En Rose to the rock-god’s guitar licks. It’s not a score you’d ever think of, but I’ll be damned if it doesn’t just work.
With each increasingly tight turn, downshifts bring the most satisfying “clink” of metal-on-metal from the gated shifter, followed once again by the renewed vibrato reverberating through the firewall. Shifting to third, my mind drifts from the day, the heat, the sun and sky. Away from life, its complications, the time; everything seems to melt away in the Monza’s presence. Once you sit down in the original, reupholstered one-piece leather seats, there’s nothing but the next clink of the shifter, the hiss of induction from the throttle bodies, the roar of the V8 and the turning of that gorgeous Momo steering wheel twirling a steering rack that’s undergone an injection of hydraulic boosting.
Underneath the Pininfarina bodywork, the bespoke Koni shocks compress and set with each successive apex, keeping the ride firm, but on a footing sure enough to rival modern sports coupes through the mountain’s spider’s web of paved arteries. Dipping into a quarter of the throttle mid way through the corner quickens the Monza’s tempo. The apex brings back the noise. Three-quarters depressed, the engine is on full song. What feels like half a moment later, the straight is over. The metal-on-metal of the gates clink and the Monza dives into the next corner, once again hunting for the apex. The only play in the chassis comes from the Pirelli’s sidewall. To that end, it has a classic Ferrari persona, something that still shines through the modern tuning and restoration. I want one. And so do others.
After driving this creation, falling hopelessly in love, and then hearing from a cadre of his equally-excited friends, Lee asked O’Rourke if he would be up to build a limited 25-unit run. He agreed. Each will cost a cool million bucks with custom touches unique to its owner.
Peering across the desolate mountain landscape, I look over to Lee, who’s been sitting shotgun next to me. Over the wild V8 ballad, he asks the most simple of questions: “So?”
Though I’ve spent these last paragraphs describing the Monza 3.6 Evo in the best detail I can, in that moment, I’m all out of turns of phrase. Words seem meaningless. This is a car that takes the libretto of its on-paper stats and turns it into a performance worthy of Milan’s Teatro alla Scala. There are too few cars that deliver Monza’s world-altering mindset.
George Clooney , “At Lake Como, you live your life the way you're supposed to live.” Monza is the life the Dino was always supposed to live.