DREAMS: AT ONE TIME YOU OWNED MANY DIFFERENT TYPES OF HIGH-PERFORMANCE CARS, INCLUDING PORCHES AND LAMBORGHINIS. YET, YOU SOLD THEM ALL AND NOW JUST OWN FERRARI AUTOMOBILES. SIXTEEN OF THEM, TO BE EXACT. WHY?
DAVID LEE: The procedure for buying a Ferrari is a very different animal than what is followed for other cars, where you go in, choose the model, order it and then get the car. Buying a Ferrari isn’t like that at all. You can’t just walk in and purchase a new Ferrari. Maybe a used one, but certainly not a new one. And you won’t get it when you want it, either. With Ferrari, you have to already be a good customer. If you are, you’re eligible to join the queue waiting to purchase the model. For example, Ferrari is launching the 488 GTB, which comes out in January. If you had previously bought a Ferrari and you wanted to buy this one, you may be able to get it a year after it comes out. If you had already bought a number of Ferraris, then your wait might go down to six months.
Three years ago I decided that I wanted to focus only on one brand and to create a situation where I became a valued and important customer to Ferrari, where I would be offered one of the very first cars off the line. To achieve this, I sold my other cars and put my focus entirely on Ferrari — and not just any Ferrari, but the really high-end collectible Ferrari. I decided that I was only going to buy Ferraris and only drive a Ferrari. Who else does that? That was what motivated me three years ago to focus only on the Ferrari.
From a business perspective, buying and collecting these cars makes total sense, since they appreciate in value tremendously over time. When I bought my first classic, which was a 1965 275 GTS, there were less than 200 built. They were very “blue chip,” as we say in the car-collecting world. The investment value of the other cars that I bought was also a primary consideration in my decision to become a collector.
DREAMS: HOW DO FERRARIS DIFFER?
DAVID LEE: Well, these are special cars, special Ferraris, and when you say Ferraris, there are all kinds. There’s the blue chip cars and there is also a kind of premier type. Then there is just the regular Ferrari, which sounds kind of funny to say, “Just a regular Ferrari.” But they don’t all appreciate equally. It’s the limited special edition Ferrari that will appreciate in value the most. And for these special Ferraris, it’s pretty much a seller’s market. The people that own these cars don’t necessarily need to sell. Periodically at these big car auctions, like Gooding & Company, you might see one of these special cars. But very often they are sold privately, so it really helps to have a good broker who can locate the cars that may or may not become available. Many times the owners don’t want to sell, so you have to make them an offer that you hope will entice them. Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t.
DREAMS: SO HAS YOUR STRATEGY OF ONLY OWNING FERRARIS INCREASED YOUR PROFILE WITH THE COMPANY?
DAVID LEE: Well, at this point, I am Ferrari of North America’s client ambassador. To be a client ambassador, you first have to have a collection. And I do. I have a number of classic Ferraris, which are very valuable and desirable. I have some new classics, like the super car collection, the 288 GTO’s. I also have a number of Enzo Ferraris, as well as the new LaFerrari, which can reach a speed of more than 215 miles per hour and hit 60 in under three seconds. So there is a classic era, the mid-classic, the new classic and the new cars. I think it’s important to buy the new cars because you are supporting the factories that produce Ferraris. Many collectors only buy the classic editions and not the new cars, which is not really directly benefiting the Ferrari organization. On the other hand, some people only buy the new models and don’t have a good collection of classic cars. So, being that I have a collection of Ferraris from all the different eras demonstrates to them that I have an appreciation of Ferrari’s lineage, which I think they recognize. They also like that I visit the factory, which I’ve visited twice.
I also stage events to promote these cars, which people seem to love. My Instagram has more than 100,000 followers, and I really promote Ferrari on the site. I also think they feel like to see a relatively younger guy having an appreciation of both the classics and the new cars. The fact that I’m Asian is of interest to a lot of the car companies who are looking towards the market in China and would like to use me as an example of an ideal client. A lot of people have collections certainly bigger than mine but they don’t show them. They don’t share them with the public. I do. I share it on Instagram. I share it on Facebook. I share it by doing these car events and therefore I am the ideal client ambassador for them.
DREAMS: HOW DID FERRARI ACTUALLY APPROACH YOU ABOUT BEING A CLIENT AMBASSADOR? DID THEY CALL YOU AND SAY “WOULD YOU LIKE TO BE AN AMBASSADOR FOR OUR PRODUCT?”
DAVID LEE: It was a combination of things. They knew I had a collection and I work closely with the dealer. I also have an Instagram account where Ferrari is featured. They obviously know what a good customer I have been, so it’s only natural, that with all the face time that I’ve had with them, that their executives have gotten to know me and appreciate the interest and publicity that I have generated for them. I remember two years ago they invited me to the Quail Motorsports Gathering up in Carmel, and asked me to display all of my super cars. It was the first time that one person had displayed five cars, and it brought me a lot of exposure. People were wondering, “Who is this guy? Professional golfer Ian Poulter also has an extensive Ferrari collection and is very outspoken about the car. He is a sports celebrity and is also a client ambassador for Ferrari. We are very different people from different walks of life, but we each bring something unique to the table, I guess.
DREAMS: HOW LONG HAVE YOU BEEN AMBASSADOR FOR FERRARI?
DAVID LEE: Only about six months, or so. You don’t sign a contract or anything. They ask, you agree and it’s a very informal arrangement. They don’t pay me or anything like that.
Three years ago I wasn’t on that list. I had the ambition to be important to Ferrari and I worked at it these last three years. It was a goal that I set out to accomplish and I am now happy to be where I wanted to be those three years ago.
DREAMS: ARE THERE ANY PUBLIC EVENTS THAT YOU SPONSOR OR ARE PART OF WHERE ONE COULD SEE YOUR COLLECTION OF CARS?
DAVID LEE: Well, it so happens that the Rusnak Auto Group and I co-sponsor the “Morning Octane.” We wanted to create a community car event where people can go on a Saturday morning, have some coffee and showcase their super-luxury cars. It’s now in third year and getting bigger every year.
Then there is our RPM Car Meet, which we hold every third Saturday from 9 until 11 a.m. at the Hing Wa Lee Plaza in Walnut. It’s kind of where my cars are stored. Of course, if you have Instagram and you want to get a preview first, you can go to “Ferraricollector_Davidlee.” That would give you a glimpse of what cars I have.
DREAMS: WITH HING WA LEE JEWELERS, YOU TRANSFORMED YOUR FATHER’S SUCCESSFUL GEM IMPORT BUSINESS INTO ONE OF AMERICA’S TOP INDEPENDENT LUXURY WATCH AND JEWELRY RETAILERS. HOW DO YOU COMPARE THE PRECISION MECHANICS OF FINE WATCHES AND FERRARIS.
DAVID LEE: They are very much alike. They are both finely engineered and both are limited in production. Ferrari only produces a very limited number of cars and a lot of the fine watch companies only produce a rather limited amount of watches a year. So, both have low production numbers and employ high precision machinery and engineering. It’s also about the image and the marketing of both because nobody really needs a Ferrari or a Vacheron Constantin watch. It’s a matter of a lifestyle and a dream. Just like your magazine is a dream. The dream to have the lifestyle that is associated with using these products, of being part of something that is both very rare and made with care and precision.