No, Ferrari Did Not Send a Cease and Desist Letter to This Rotary-Swapped 456 GT Builder

The anatomy of a fake viral story.

ferrari rotary swap
Danny Wood Photography NZ

Ferrari, maker of fine Italian supercars, has a habit of threatening to sue the owners of said cars who modify them in ways that Maranello deems problematic the brand. So when a story about its lawyers slinging a cease-and-desist letter at the builder of a rotary engine-swapped Ferrari 456 GT hit the internet this week, enthusiasts were appropriately incensed. Ferrari may not love that sort of thing, but it crosses the line when lawyers get involved. But this is 2020, and you can't believe everything you read on the internet.

That aspect of this story is completely made up—a very real example of fake news, the tempting kind that can sweep across the internet like wildfire before anyone stops to question it. No, Ferrari did not send this New Zealand tuner cease-and-desist letter, nor is it in the business of hunting for salvage model engine swaps to destroy. The entire episode was a case study in wasted outrage. 

Here's how it all went down.

On Tuesday, New Zealand's 1News ran a segment on a salvaged Ferrari 456 GT with a Mazda 13B rotary engine swap built by a local engineer named Reuben Bemrose. In its story, it mentioned that the project's appearance and trophy for Best Conversion at the country's famed Rotary Reunion car show earlier this month "caught the eye of Ferrari bigwigs in Italy," who "aren't big fans of Reuben's handiwork."

"Obviously they are quite protective of their image and their brand, which I completely understand," Bemrose said on air. "I've just taken their iconic V12 out of it and put an iconic New Zealand motor in it." He concluded the piece by offering up a tongue-in-cheek apology to Ferrari, asking "Can't you see I just want to be friends?"

Aaron Mai Media

What he never said were the magic words "cease-and-desist." It turns out Autoevolution picked up the story on Wednesday and added that crucial detail themselves, writing: "[t]he hubbub was loud enough to get Ferrari’s attention, and from what Bemrose is saying in a new interview with News1, we gather he’d been served a cease and desist. That’s the Ferrari way, after all."

"We gather" is a very small phrase doing a ton of heavy lifting here, and slapping that detail in a matter-of-fact headline didn't help. Soon after publication, the article was linked to on the ever-popular /r/cars subreddit, where it quickly gained steam as one of the top posts on Wednesday evening. From there, the story made its way to DriveTribe with the not-at-all-subtle headline of "NZ Owner of Rotary Engine Swapped Ferrari Gets Cease & Desist Order." Then it jumped to the huge constellation of Facebook car groups, blogs, and independent forums—all with the same shared outrage.

But the wishy-washy language in the original story and the absence of any sort of confirmation gave us pause. So we reached out to Bemrose, who told us that the whole story was, and this is an exact quote here, "bullshit." There was no cease-and-desist letter, no legal threat lobbed halfway around the world from Ferrari's team of incredibly stylish lawyers.

"Ferrari [has] been in contact, but it wasn't a C&D," Bemrose added. "I've messaged the guy, [but the] media just spins it so badly."

We also reached out to Ferrari to verify they hadn't tried to squash the project, and we'll update if the automaker responds. Bemrose wouldn't share the exact nature of the correspondence, but his statement is unequivocal: no cease-and-desist. Anything else you read to the contrary is incorrect.

Writing about tuner cars may not be one of the more serious corners of journalism, but it still demands the same standards, safeguards, and common sense as any other. It's pretty hard to make a company like Ferrari into a sympathetic victim, but the fact remains that there are tens of thousands of people who got extremely upset with the company this week for what turns out to be no reason at all. Outrage is a precious resource these days—be sure to use yours wisely.

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