Feature Car Ferrari 328 GTS. This isn’t just the ultimate build, it’s the ultimate story of succeeding at life. Mitchell Button is a young man with an old soul. When his custom Ferrari 328 targa blew the roof off SEMA, he was happy to absorb the derision of the purists. Because this unique build is about so much more than petty egos… Words: Daniel Bevis Photography: Mike Kuhn.
SELF MADE The inspirational rags to riches story behind the Ferrari 328 that smashed SEMA
• 400bhp 3.2-litre V8
• Carbon-kevlar widebody
• Custom Rotiform DNO rims
There’s an aura that surrounds the ownership of a Ferrari. It’s not a car you just fall into owning. It’s a dreamlike entity offering endless visceral thrills and demands deep pockets. So you might think having a custom Ferrari would be the ultimate expression of cash-rich hedonism. But don’t be so sure.
“Ferrari – remember that name, Son,” Mitchell Button’s father told him when he was just a kid. “Not because of the car, but because the people who drive them don’t wake up every day with decisions of either paying rent or feeding their family”. A hard-working, blue collar guy, Mitchell grew up with the importance of earning your way in life and keeping dreams alive hard-wired into his very DNA. And while many feature car owners we talk to have an endearing tale to tell about what they drive because their dad used to have one, Mitchell’s story has a rather steelier edge.
“People say, ‘You can take the boy out of the trailer park, but you can’t take the trailer park out of the boy. And I am proud to fit this stereotype” he tell us.” I was an accidental birth born into redneck poverty because my family couldn’t afford the procedure to eliminate my future. From that point, there’s only one way a man can go: up. I appreciate being born with a strong hand, even if many would consider it a weak one. My father was a good man, but not a good father. The only lessons I learned from him pertained to motorsport.”
With troubled family situation Mitchell had to fight from day one finding solace in the few positive life offered him. His father’s work ethic was instrumental, and Mitchell found himself earning pocket money from spraying cars in a plastic-screened trailer porch.
His old man’s mechanical affinity meant Mitchell was exposed to all elements of car maintenance and modification from an early age, and it’s this that informed the direction of his life.
“I began building and modifying scale-model cars, and turned my tiny room into what would now be considered a giant diorama,” he recalls. “I had a vision for each build, but would often leave these cars in primer on scaled-down jack stands, because the process is what I valued most. Enjoying a finished build is incredible, but for me the true beauty is in the journey and I realize now why I found it difficult to pass that phase in my early years.
With a difficult family situation, this toys became my reality and developed into an obsession where model cars would turn into 200-hour therapeutic builds – using watch gears to fabricate functioning windows and rag tops, scratch-built door jambs, hinges and locking mechanisms, genuine leather upholstered seats, gold-plated suspension parts, fully functioning scale hydraulic systems, and anything else that would take me away from reality. I still build these cars today and enjoy them as much as I do the real cars. They remind me where I came from.”
The Ferrari 328 you see spread across these pages, then, is no chequebook SEMA build. This is therapy and the achievement of a lifetime ambition. Button Snr was a man who would never take something that wasn’t earned and never ask for something that wasn’t deserved. So when Mitchell came home from school one day aged 14 to find him and all his belongings gone, he knew the fibre of the family had also taken flight. Our hero left home at 15, set to grafting in the auto industry. He bought himself a Mercedes-Benz 190E W201 at 16 and kept striving onward and upward, buying and selling cars and making a name for himself in the automotive world. That advice about Ferraris reverberating in his brain. Enzo Ferrari became Mitchell’s de facto role model.
“Enzo was the only person I idolised throughout my life, mostly because of the purity of his passion for motorsport and his creations, “he explains. “Second to that was his ability to do so without allowing anyone else to influence his creativity in any way. I was born in 1985, and not long after I uttered my first word, ‘Ferrari’, Enzo passed in 1988. With motorsport running through my veins, I developed an obsession over the following years with the Ferrari name and its history. I believe that legends never truly die, however their art often departs with them. So I chose 1988 as the designated year for my first ?Ferrari, and the 328 as the model, since it’s the last purely analogue Ferrari.”
LOVE AT FIRST SIGHT
Mitchell always watched the major auctions to keep an eye on prices. He wanted the cleanest 328 he could afford and after viewing a few cars his search led to a collector on the East Coast. This seller had an identical pair of 328 GTSs, hiding behind a single mahogany door, and for Mitchell it was love at first sight. “The car was completely original and meticulously maintained by a true enthusiast, who documented and saved every receipt since it left Maranello in 1988,” he says. “He owned two, because he bought a matching car for his son, who sadly passed away leaving his father with his car as a memory of him, a memory he drove daily to honour his boy. I knew this 328 was special to him and that breathing new life into it would be my way of honouring the relationship they shared together with Ferrari. In short, I don’t believe there was a cleaner 328 GTS in the country I could have begun with.”
Mitchell assembled a tight cast of characters, each A trusted and talented friend, to aid him in fulfilling his vision – and the element that really leaps out at you from the finished build, as those genuine 288 GTO foglights stare you down, is the aggressive widebody aesthetic. Custom-crafted from carbon-Kevlar, the body conversion is respectful to Pininfarina’s original lines, but no stone has been left unturned: the bespoke panels comprise the front wings, bumpers, bonnet, rear quarters, rocker panels, ducktail spoiler, and even a one-off targa panel. It’s all slathered in Ferrari Grigio Medio paint because that’s what Enzo would have done. Although what’s really got the Tifosi frothing is way the thing now sits.
Hidden under those custom curves is a scratchbuilt air-ride system. Mitchell is very rational about this: “A lot of people don’t realise that the subframe and suspension are nearly half-a-foot beneath what appears to be the bottom of the vehicle, while on a modern car the bottom is just that – the bottom. “With the 328, we have the option of a ride height comparable to a 4x4, enabling standard driving yet aesthetic sacrifices; air-ride with a proper racing strut enables us to retain the proper spring rate for driveability, yet the option to lift the car enough for proper performance without risk of failure, while being beautifully parked.”
Makes sense. And did you get a load of those wheels? Developed in conjunction with Rotiform, the DNO was designed just for this car, based in the Dino’s Cromodora wheels that few enthusiasts ever Really liked; the expertise of Rotiform has turned that ugly duckling into a glorious swan – and there’s even a matching spare wheel built to the same size as the original spare! The theme throughout the project has been one of high-end restomodding. Mitchell’s paid close attention to what Singer have been up to with their Reimagined 911s. And that’s precisely the effect he wanted – something that respects the car’s heritage but moves it into the modern era. With flawless attention to detail, and round 400bhp, thanks to ITBs and some clever management, we’d say Button Built has ticked that box with gusto.
Mitchell is philosophical about the scale of his achievement, in the wake of a phenomenal worldwide reaction to the BB328’s SEMA debut. “We live in Los Angeles and since California is blessed with beautiful canyons we take advantage to stretch the car’s legs,” he smiles. “A Ferrari becomes more beautiful as its rpm climbs, so we feel most grateful when we experience its true potential. Apart from the music it creates carving canyons, the aesthetic is extremely humbling, and we love parking outside our favourite Beverly Hills breweries and enjoying a pint as we remind ourselves how fortunate we are to take part in such a beautiful history.
“I spent a lot of time in hospitals as a child,” he continues. “Some of that time was spent wondering when the next trip would be – so you could say cars have been, and always will be, a form of life support for me: a reason to fight, a reason to grow. And I think there’s a beautiful appropriateness in driving a vehicle in honour of its late creator, while feeling it come alive. It leaves me feeling like I’m keeping Enzo’s legacy alive with every shift.”
That sums up the Button Built 328 perfectly. This was never about Insta-fame. This car is therapy, and karma, and just reward for hard work and passion. Mitchell isn’t your typical Ferrari driver. But he’s just the sort of driver Enzo would have respected.
TECH SPEC: Ferrari 328 GTS
STYLING Grigio Medio paint; custom carbon-Kevlar widebody conversion – including front wings, front bumper, bonnet, rear bumper, rear quarter panels, rocker panels, targa top and ducktail spoiler; genuine 288 GTO foglamps; genuine 458 GT3 carbon fibre mirrors; custom two-piece aluminium diffuser with hidden hardware; original badges and emblems powdercoated to match wheels.
TUNING F105CB 3.2-litre V8; Bosch K-Jetronic electronic fuel injection; custom stainless exhaust manifolds; custom straight-through exhaust system with upswept megaphone tails; Jenvey IDF individual throttle bodies on Weber IDF manifold; Electromotive ECU; 400bhp @ 9,200rpm; gated manual transmission.
CHASSIS Custom 9.5x17in (front) and 12.5x18in (rear) Rotiform DNO wheels in Matte Death Bronze with satin black hardware (and matching 3-piece spare wheel built to dimensions of original spare); 235/40 (f) and 295/30 (r) Toyo R888R tyres; custom air-ride system with fully adjustable tubular A-arms and control arms; custom reinforced subframe; JRZ struts; Endo-CVT tank and AccuAir e-Level management; Wilwood lightweight racing big brake conversion with 2-piece floating discs.
INTERIOR Bride Histrix carbon-fibre seats; MOMO flat-bottom Alcantara steering wheel; killswitch and extinguisher.
THANKS “First and foremost I thank my wife for providing purpose and validation to my obsession with motorsport, but more so for inspiring me to become a man that I am proud of. Experiencing machines such as this Ferrari is an incredible gift, but one that would be worthless without someone to share the moments they create. Sponsorships can often be impersonal, so I chose to limit companies I involve myself with for this build to those I considered to be true friends prior to planning this build, companies comprised of people I’m proud to be associated with and for this, I thank Toyo Tires and Rotiform for their support and for fortifying relationships that will remain as pillars in my journey through the world of motorsport. Goals provide hope, and for a young man with no family or direction in life I thank Ferrari; the goals that fuelled my journey from rags to ’Rarri were provided by Enzo.”
You can keep your flappy-paddle transmissions, THIS is what it’s all about! Mitchell and his wife love driving around California’s canyons. A MOMO flat-bottom Alcantara steering wheel to go with Bride Histrix carbon-fibre seats
“A Ferrari becomes more beautiful as its rpm climbs”
Some snobs reckon that Mitchell’s ruined a Ferrari here, but that’s an unfair analysis. He’s no purist, sure. But he’s a proud and fastidious historian. “While I deviated from Ferrari’s original design, I remained true to the real spirit of Maranello in each detail of the build,” he assures us. “The paint is an original Ferrari colour that I first saw on a 275 GTB. While the seats are reminiscent of the styling found on the 288 GTO – only with no headrest, to allow visibility through the rear window. The original Dino Cromodora wheels were my inspiration when I teamed up with Rotiform to create the DNO; I wanted to amplify the Dino-style face by adding three-piece construction with a 330 P3-type step lip. The Matte Death Bronze finish was inspired by the race-battered magnesium wheels of the 330 P3!
“The air-ride was engineered to be both functional and aesthetic, to properly enjoy the car for what it was meant for – driving. While the lines of the 458 GT3 mirrors are very modern, they mesh well with the curvature of the body, which makes them appear period-correct. And the exhaust and headers were inspired by the 308 GTB rally cars and the race cars of the ’80s that inspired many of us to be the compulsive creators we are today. And powdercoating engine parts, badges and interior parts to match the wheels was important to keep a consistency.” You see, while some may view this car as an act of vandalism, it’s actually been carried out with the utmost care and respect.
Name: Mitchell Button
Occupation: Owner, Button Built
Inspiration for this project: Ferrari Enzo himself So, you’ve built your dream car here? Sure have. That said, this build was a dream but it was not my goal. My goal was hidden among the reactions to the build and only revealed in the days following its debut.
And how do you feel about people’s reactions? It’s easy for someone who considers themselves a purist to ride the bandwagon and disregard the rationality of various aspects of this design. However, the difference between a true purist and one who believes they earn the title is experience. We can’t speak upon things that we have no first-hand knowledge of.
Indeed. So how does it feel to finally see your own Ferrari in print? Amazing – thank you and everyone involved for your interest in this build and for allowing me another outlet to share its story! I firmly believe that print media will always be the only true outlet to immortalise a build. And I’m happy that you guys will be the first print feature following our debut.
“Enjoying a finished build is incredible, but for me the true beauty is in the journey”