Italian police swoop to halt production of fake Ferraris

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Operation Red Passion netted its first counterfeiters yesterday as Italian police arrested 15 people in a nationwide crackdown on imitation Ferraris, Lotuses and Lamborghinis.

Carefully copied versions of the original cars have been emerging from secret workshops for years. They are usually based on secondhand Pontiac Fieros, the production line model apparently best suited to reincarnation as a Testarossa, says Francesco Carofiglio, commander of the police operation.

The customers, who normally order over the internet, are fully aware that they are buying a counterfeit, and the deceit is spelt out in the log book. Prices range from €20,000 (£15,000) to €50,000.

Finance police raided offices and workshops in the Agrigento area of southern Sicily and several other cities across Italy, including Milan. They confiscated 14 finished cars and eight more under construction.

The police were acting on tip-offs provided by Ferrari's headquarters in Maranello, near Modena. They claim that at least 1,000 cloned supercars are already at large on Italy's roads, of varying degrees of verisimilitude.

But of course the phenomenon is by no means restricted to Italy. Other countries, including the US and Britain produce plenty of cars which "pay homage" to the great brands and legendary models. So common has the postmodern compulsion become that the clones have obtained a sort of legitimacy and celebrity of their own.

Two years ago the EU's justice commissioner, an Italian, Franco Frattini, claimed to have spotted a fake vintage 1967 Ferrari 330P4 at large in China. Although copied with exceptional care, it was readily identified as a clone because only four of the cars were manufactured in that year, and the whereabouts of all of them is known.

Mr Carofiglio said not only had copyright been breached but the cars were a hazard to other road users.