How A Ferrari Taught Us All We Need to Know About the American Dream and Philanthropy

My usual routine for Thursdays is to write about something automotive—something “techie.”  This week, I wanted to do something different.  I wanted to give a respectful nod to a humble man who is the epitome of the American “rags to riches” story.  This man started out with nothing—not even parents.  In the end, he was a successful businessman and the owner of one of the most desirable Ferraris in the world.  This past weekend, his Ferrari 275 GTB/4 N.A.R.T. Spider went to the auction block.  It sold for $27.5 million.

This is a story of hard work, a Ferrari, and unfettered kindness that has brightened the lives of thousands of people.

The Value of Hard Work

The name of this respected businessman is Eddie Smith.  But before he was well known or successful, he was an orphaned 10-year old trying to get by with three siblings in an orphanage.  For several years, Smith woke early each day and went to work tending farms.  Upon gaining his freedom from the orphanage at age 18, he left for Lexington, North Carolina to build a better life.

In Lexington, Smith worked several odd jobs; cab driver, theater usher, before making his way to a small mail-order hosiery business.  Faced with unemployment after the death of the owner, Smith and some friends decided to start their own hosiery business; National Wholesale Company.

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Showing Love and Kindness

Less than a decade later, Smith had a booming business on his hands. He had bought out his partners and slowly started to expand the brand to include both lingerie and apparel.  Despite his success, he never let it go to his head.  Every Monday, Smith and several volunteers would rise early to prepare breakfast for his employees; hundreds of eggs, sausages, and grits were passed out to workers to express his appreciation for their hard work.  He was known as both a kind, family man and a generous boss who had an infections personality and a heart of gold.  Eddie Smith’s dedication to his employees and customers transferred to his sons; both attribute their success in business to his lessons about good customer service, hard work and honor.  He knew how to love and how to show it.

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The (Fun) Fruits of Labor

In addition to his love for his family, employees, and business, Eddie Smith also had a love of another kind: an appreciation for raw, Italian automobiles.

Although Ferrari ownership is associated with the rich, famous, or, in today’s terminology, the “1 percent,” for Smith it was a different experience that didn’t revolve around money or “being seen.”  Smith acquired the infamous 275 GTB/4 N.A.R.T. from his friend, legendary racing driver and Ferrari importer, Luigi Chinetti, in the late 1960s.  He owned several Ferraris through the years but never let go of his N.A.R.T.  Many of the rich and famous tried to buy the car from him—including Steve McQueen who had starred alongside the car in his movie, The Thomas Crowne Affair.  Despite extravagant offers from the A-listers of Hollywood and millionaires abroad, Smith wouldn’t even consider selling.

Eddie Smith was initially struck by the beauty and uniqueness of the N.A.R.T, but he purchased and held on to it because he continued to be mesmerized by its sound, smell, and the sheer thrill it gave him when he pressed the gas to the floor.  To him, that Ferrari was the real car experience—it made him grin ear to ear while driving.  He fully appreciated the car and, most importantly, he loved it.

In his refusal to sell, Smith became the embodiment of a true car lover.  It wasn’t about the potential value of the car years later or the prestige of owning a Ferrari—it was all about the feeling and the experience–and he didn’t want to sell his.  No matter how astronomical the offer might be.


Giving Back

Eddie Smith passed away in 2007 and his beloved Ferrari was placed in one of the company hangers owned by his son, Eddie Jr., in order to keep it safe. However, after making an appearance at a Ferrari Club of America event, the Smith family decided the car needed to be emancipated from its prison of an airplane hangar and placed somewhere so that it could be appreciated. They decided to part with the car; putting it up for auction this month.  However, following the spirit and values of Eddie, the family decided not to accept any money from the sale and, instead, committed to donating all of the proceeds to charity.  In the end, $27.5 million.

The work ethic and determination displayed by Eddie Smith throughout his life resulted in a comfortable living for his family. However, instead of showering his children and grandchildren with brand new SUVs for their 16th birthdays or allowing them to have a free ride through life, he gave them something better: an example of the richness that can be attained by adhering to true, American values.  Smith taught them the value of hard work, humility, and set the bar high for giving back.

During his life and after his passing, the Smith family has continued to give back. They have granted financial assistance to numerous kids so that they could attend college, and have erected a new hospital, civic-center, library, and homeless shelter in Lexington, North Carolina. Eddie Smith never forgot where he came from.  He knew how to love and the value in showing his appreciate for good things when he had them.  Whether they be family, friends, or a good car.

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More Than a Car

The 1967 Ferrari 275 GTB/4 N.A.R.T. may be priceless because it is a rare chassis, a Ferrari, and connected to both Luigi Chinetti and Steve McQueen but I think its life with Eddie Smith is the richest part of its story. It was a car that was truly loved.  And it was loved by a great man.  A great American.  And whenever somebody whines about the “1 percent” not giving back, I think about people like Eddie Smith, who gave back 10-fold, and his family, who sold one of his most prized possessions in order to continue the cycle of giving.

All I can say is Bravo.

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