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Ferrari, Odds & Ends, Porsche, Vintage & Classic — August 2, 2012 at 11:50 pm

Porsche 918 Spyder Martini Racing: Memory Machine


The latest press release on the new Porsche 918 Spyder really jogged my memory, but not because I’m quite old enough to remember watching Martini liveried 917s and 935s win endurance races in the 1970s. No, it was the late eighties that came to mind, when I was barely a teenager. At that time, I saw for the first time in person some cars that I’d previously seen only in print, and that I, like other boys my age, had plastered all over my bedroom walls. One was a Ferrari F40. The other was, if memory serves, a 1978 Porsche 930 Martini special edition.

One man was responsible for my opportunity to see both of these fine cars. He was a trim guy that my dad hired to restore the interior on his 1967 Porsche 912 Targa. Joe Nitti was an authentic old-school craftsman with an Italian accent and the kind of skills and patience necessary for working on the world’s finest automobiles. My dad’s 912 was not one of those cars. It was a neat vehicle, and its restoration was certainly proper. But I got the feeling that Joe typically worked on cars that were much more valuable. People trusted him with old Ferraris and the like. This four-cylinder Porsche was child’s play. But he took it on at the tiny workshop in his home east of Atlanta, and we’d stop in occasionally to see the progress.

One time we stopped by and Joe told us about a minor mechanical issue with the car.

“It leaks oil,” Joe said.

“All Porsches leak oil,” my father replied.

Joe disagreed, sounding more German than Italian. “MY TURBO DOES NOT LEAK OIL!”

His turbo was parked across the street from his modest and nondescript home in a middle-class subdivision. He explained that he didn’t have space for it in his two-car garage, so Joe’s neighbor provided him with a spot for the Turbo. We walked across the street, and Joe lifted the garage door. The car was white with the distinctive Martini striping. I recall Joe telling us that it had 12,000 miles on it at the time. I’m not certain that it was a 1978 model, but that number sticks in my head even today. He opened the door and let me poke my head inside. The black leather interior was immaculate and smelled like it was brand new. That was it; I wanted that car. Not one like it, but Joe Nitti’s Turbo.

Joe did work for FAF, the old Ferrari dealer in Tucker, just outside of Atlanta. FAF was so cool, nothing like modern Ferrari dealerships. It was off the beaten path and housed in an unremarkable building with a small sign. It was Enzo’s kind of dealership, a place that sells cars made by a guy who hates customers. We caught up with Joe a few times at FAF, too. It was mind-blowing for a car-obsessed kid.

We went to FAF to see Joe once, and he invited us into the shop where he was working. I don’t recall Joe’s project that day, because sitting on the shop floor was an F40, a new car at the time and the first one I’d ever seen in person. It sat with its rear hood propped up, its enormously wide rear tires exposed. I was amazed that anyone in my town had an F40. I’d seen a lot of cool cars on the roads of Atlanta, but no 959s, no F40s.

I asked one of the mechanics if he’d driven it. He explained that it was necessary to test drive the car to be sure that the work was done properly and that the car was running as it should. Then he told me about his high-speed adventures in it. So I wanted to be a Ferrari mechanic. Joe Nitti’s Turbo would be my daily driver.

I don’t know what ever happened to Joe Nitti. Every once in a while, I do a search for him online, but Joe wasn’t an online kind of guy. He didn’t have to be. I recently found this, an auction listing for a 1967 Ferrari 330 GTS that went through RM’s Amelia Island auction a few years ago. This Atlanta car’s interior was restored by “reknowned trimmer Joe Nitti.”

Thanks for the trip down memory lane, Porsche. Your 918 Spyder looks like an amazing car, one that, aside from its paint scheme, would’ve been hard for me to imagine when I was a kid. And if anyone knows what ever happened to Joe Nitti, let me know. I’m still saving up for that Turbo.

1967 Porsche 912 soft-window Targa photo from California Porsche Restoration.

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  • Adam Nitti

    hey nick, i just stumbled across this article and it put a smile on my face. joe nitti is my father, so i really appreciated reading this. i tried to connect with you via your social networking links, but could not find any way to email you or message you directly. if you get this message, please feel free to get in touch with me. i’d love to update you on my father’s restoration adventures and maybe share some stories with you.

    • AutoPalermo

      Very exciting, Adam! I’m so glad you came across this. I look forward to hearing more about your father. I’ll be in touch.