William H. Swanson is a serious and committed driving enthusiast and car collector, with something more than 40 superb top-end exotics and classics in his real and metaphoric car barn. And only his Ford Model A and Super-Duty pickup are painted anything but red.
The now-retired former CEO and Chairman of global technology giant Raytheon is a busy man, fettling, maintaining, and fortunately driving his magnificent cars; he and (first, original, and only) wife Cheryl built and ran a first-class, organic, and sustainably farmed vineyard and winery in Arroyo Grande (near San Luis Obispo), California, and head their own philanthropic foundation.
The Swansons have clearly done well in their lives and thoughtfully yet enthusiastically indulge in their many passions. Mr. Swanson is deeply connected politically and sits on many corporate board of directors; some are for-profit businesses, others are non-profits or charity-related concerns.
As you can see from these eyeopening photos, the bulk of the Swansons’ collection is made up of Ferraris, although it’s by no means Maranello exclusive. There’s a Bugatti Veyron here; a BMW 507, an Aston Martin Volante, a range of mouthwatering Porsches. and Ford GTs.
Most of the Swansons cars were built to order, and of the Ferraris, that means only one color – Rosso Corsa (Racing Red), of course. Funny about the Porsches – they are also all red.
When restoring his older 356s, he proudly painted them Ferrari Rosso Corsa instead of the more expected Guards Red. He enjoys the fact that most people, even experts, can’t tell the difference, or at least never say anything about it.
When Swanson discloses the secret, he said that everyone comments on how great they look in this ironically Italian color. World-class restorer Paul Russell maintains and restores most of Swanson’s prized machines.
So just how did the whole “Red Thing” get started?
Somewhat organically, in that his first Ferrari some many years ago was a 308, painted Rosso Corsa of course, Swanson generally subscribing to the notion that “all Ferraris are red, no matter what color they’re painted.”
Then came a second Ferrari, then another, then another, with the red ones always looking and feeling right to him. As time went along, he had dozens of red Ferraris and none of them are non-running statues or lawn sculptures.
You may query how many miles can William drive his collection of approximately 40 vehicles? Some of the vehicles are essentially new and immaculate, with test-only or insignificant miles on them. Some have traveled significant ground. One aspect of his similar cars is that each car in every photo is spotless; this originates from Swanson’s recognized nature as a “clean freak.” Yet all vehicles are driven and maintained. There is lots of glass cleaner and detailing equipment within his garages, although admittedly, he doesn’t utilize them as much as he did in the past.
“Bill used to start out in the garage on a Saturday morning, checking tire pressures and fluid levels, ‘quick detailing’ or waxing paint, and he’d finally come into the house at the end of the day (or weekend) just exhausted, so he’s since brought in some help to keep every car charged up, clean, serviced, and ready to fire and drive on the button.”
There are battery “tenders” everywhere, supported by an intricate network of outlets, extension cords, and powerstrips.
The Swansons have visited the Ferrari factory on numerous occasions, sometimes to spec out a new car, other times simply to visit the many friends and acquaintances they’ve established in Maranello. Retired Ferrari CEO Amedeo Felisa is among his closest personal friend.
Mr. Swanson’s Ferrari holdings run from the early 60s through the latest and greatest; including a few on order not yet visible in these photos.
Early V-12 greats include a 250 GTL Lusso, a Pebble Beach class-winning Pininfarina Cabriolet, and an alloy-bodied 4-cam 275 GTB, which he says if he has to name a favorite and “last one he’d sell” this 275 would be it.
He also has most of the hypercars, from F40 to La Ferrari. Curiously missing from that gamut is a 288 GTO; he acknowledges its place in Ferrari model history, but feels it’s too similar to his F40, and still looks too much like a “308 or a 328.”
He also tends to lean a bit toward the V-12 cars, although obviously not exclusively;
“There’s just something about the V-12s, partly because that’s where it started for Ferrari production cars, and because the power delivery is so smooth, and of course that sound.”
William H. Swanson
All of which points to Mr. Swanson as someone who puts great thought into what he does and collects. He obviously can afford anything he wants, but no model earns a gratuitous entry to his garage. In other words, he’s not just another rich guy who simply says, “send me the new one,” no matter what it is. Every license plate on every car contains a version of his initials “WHS.” Lest any onlooker ever forgot whose hardware they’re drooling over.
Taking the “Red Thing” to an extreme, he’s even sold cars that he otherwise loved but weren’t painted red; among them a rare 2008 Ford Shelby GT500KR and one Ferrari, all because they just “didn’t fit” with the rest of his cars.
What’s next? Swanson is somewhat impatiently awaiting his SF90, and he’s recently acquired a mid-60s Ford GT40 with a highly unique provenance; its awaiting restoration and a new red paint job, as is his also recently acquired Bizzarrini 5300 Strada.
Something interesting accomplished by having all the cars in nearly identical hues is that the design, lines, curves, and details can be compared without the effect of color; pick nearly any car in this collection, and if you parked a white, a red, a silver, and a black example next to each other, they would look startlingly unique from each other; the shapes and surface detail would read differently, and various curves and bulges would also be enhanced or diminished. Remove color as a variable (or, in this case, make it all the same), and it engenders a more like-to-like comparison of the model to model or era to era.
The Swansons’ cars can be seen at this Concours or another. Understand, however, that this is a very private collection, not a public museum – you can’t just buy a ticket somewhere and take the tour. But the photos tell you much of the story.
It shouldn’t surprise you that the Swansons’ winery’s flagship label is a specially and very carefully vinted, aged, and fermented Pinot Noir red named, appropriately enough – Rosso Corsa. And it, like this wonderful collection, is positively delicious.