Stories > How to go from zero to owning a Ferrari in just one year
How to go from zero to owning a Ferrari in just one year

How to go from zero to owning a Ferrari in just one year

Published 2023-01-17 by Peter Ternström

First, we must rewind the tape a bit. All the way back to 1995. I was a poor student at the University of Kalmar in Sweden. One evening I went to the movies with my friends. This evening would change my life. Though, I did not know that yet.

We saw the movie Goldeneye. I like James Bond, but it was a small detail that really got my attention. In a short scene, Pierce Brosnan drove a BMW Z3. A small sports car, that was also a convertible.

I hadn't seen anything as cool in my entire life. I was overwhelmed. I had to get one like this. Immediately.

The problem was that I was a student. And I had no rich parents. The most expensive thing I was ever gifted was a bicycle. I was promised a scooter on my 15th birthday. Something I was really looking forward to. But, on my birthday, I got nothing. A scooter was simply too expensive. My parents couldn't afford it.

The disappointment was huge. Today, however, I am not angry with my mum and dad. I'm rather happy. I got what is the best gift anyone can get. A very important lesson: "If there is something I want then I have to get it myself because no one else will do it for me." Just roll up my sleeves and get started. This attitude got me a scooter on my own (flipping burgers at McDonald's) and has served me faithfully ever since. The next morning I cycled off to the local BMW dealer.

The salesman was very polite. He handed me a beautiful brochure and welcomed me back, in five years or so. Just watch me, I thought. See you next summer. The car was nearly 30 000 euros in base trim. An enormous amount of money, considering my account balance was under 300. Buying a new one was out of the question. However, I found nice used cars in Germany for just over 20 000. This was the amount I needed.

At home, at the kitchen table in my dorm room, I broke down 20 000 euros in the number of weeks there was from now to midsummer. It was eight months away. That's when I wanted to have the car. Then I proceeded to break down the amount to what I must earn per day, and finally per morning and afternoon.

While the amounts now became quite manageable something magic happened. I began to think, seriously, that this plan would go well. I also had an entire winter ahead of me.

I cut out a picture of the car from the brochure and taped it to my bathroom mirror. There I had also written the amount of money I needed to earn, per day. Each morning, I would be reminded of what was the main purpose of my existence.

The next problem was that I had no job. I had lived on student grants that took me from one day to another. Suddenly wanting a new sports car was a very painful awakening from this otherwise comfortably life.

I started with local restaurants. No job offers. Only surprised Greeks. Same with the grocery store, a toy store and all cafes on the main street. No one needed help. As the last desperate resort, I went on with the university I attended. Every living soul at the university soon received a visit from Peter Ternström, who offered his services. Extra teacher, copying papers, carrying books, whatever.

The picture I had on the bathroom mirror

After three weeks I still had no job. The image on the bathroom mirror became painful. Every morning I was reminded what I needed to do. I had still not earned a single cent towards the little sportscar I so badly wanted.

Then it happened. For the tenth time, I stumbled into John Holmberg’s small office at the Department of Economics. John was a professor in IT. Yet again he got the same question from me. Did he need any assistance? He looked at me and let me know that he was getting tired of my constant nagging.

"Do you know HTML?" John asked.

"Sure. I know HTML like the back of my hand", was my immediate and confident answer.

"Good. Then you can teach my students HTML. The class is in two weeks. You need to write a tutorial in HTML as well."

Compensation would be minimal. But it was a start. Unfortunately, I had taken a gigantic risk. I had no idea what HTML was. As soon as I got out of John’s view, I ran to the computer lab and threw myself over a keyboard.

I froze to ice. HTML was a programming language. For web pages. I was basically completely done for. I had never programmed anything in my entire life. I was a computer geek, yes, but programming had never been my thing.

I was stuck in a trap I had created myself. Under no circumstances could I go back to John and explain it was a misunderstanding. I did not know a thing about HTML and programming. The only way out was to improvise. No matter how bad I was, the class was going to be held.

Nerd at your service

I started the next day. Early morning, in the same computer lab, writing the tutorial. About a subject, I didn't understand. A strange experience. Which also worked. After two weeks, I held the class. I’ve never been so nervous in my entire life. But, it turned out well. Actually, I held a perfectly acceptable workshop in HTML for a group of students.

The HTML class would soon be followed by another. And another. Then, computers had to be prepared. And, materials printed. Soon, other teachers and professors approached me and asked for assistance.

In a very short time, I became the whole institution’s little magic elf who happily accepted all the shit jobs they didn’t want to do themselves. Even the Prefect of the institution utilized my services and had me build a website for the Department of Economics.

The most strenuous job was formatting computers. One time, over 300 laptops had to be formatted, programs reinstalled and prepared before being distributed to first-year students. This was an unbelievably boring and repetitive task. And time-consuming. And boring. So boring that I would have to use the word boring four times in the same paragraph. But the money started to roll in and I was soon fully in line with my previous plans. In fact, it went so well that I finished before midsummer.

One early morning in May, I went to the ATM to check my balance. My salary would have come in during the night. And yes – there it was. The last salary was in, and my balance was just over 20 000 euros.

I bought a beautiful red BMW Z3 the same afternoon. From a dealership in the south of Sweden called Häggenäs Auto. I have bought over 20 sports and supercars from this dealership since then.

Driving home a car you had on your bathroom mirror for over seven months is a very special feeling. But, what gave me the most satisfaction was to remove the image of the car on the mirror that had haunted me for so long. Throw it in the trash, and say “done” out loud to myself. It felt insanely good. I had accomplished a mission.

I was happy for about two weeks. Then, again, something strange happened. The same James Bond movie I had seen in the cinema was released on DVD. I bought it and saw it again at home. I shouldn’t have done that.

The scene where Xenia Onatopp is racing against James Bond along Route Napoleon was amazing. The sound of the howling V8 in the Ferrari was something else. I watched it over and over. I became enchanted. Again.

The BMW Z3 I just had bought suddenly became incredibly mediocre. What I really wanted was the car that Xenia Onatopp (Famke Janssen) was driving. And it wasn’t a BMW – it was a Ferrari.

What would I do now? There was only one solution. A few hours later, a picture of a Ferrari F355 was placed on the bathroom mirror. Exactly the same method I used before. The money was broken down into weeks, days and parts of days. The only difference was that the amount was astronomical. But I had done it before, so it must go well. The car would be mine before next spring. I had less than a year to get almost one hundred thousand euros. As a poor student. Without a real job.

Later the same evening something else, equally important, happened. An e-mail from a friend. The subject line was "CONGRATULATIONS" in all caps.

The congratulations were not about my new little BMW. It turned out that my first awkward attempt at a website, which I did for the Department of Economics had won a prize. A major Swedish newspaper had designated it “Best university website in Sweden”.

Someone must have been drunk at the editorial board in Stockholm. Or it was a sick joke. The website was made by me. It was my first attempt and I had no idea what I was doing. However, it was ranked as the number one university website in Sweden for its extreme ease of use, according to one of the most important newspapers in the country. (Svenska Dagbladet)

This had immediate consequences. All of a sudden, all the faculties at the university wanted a website from me. To meet demand, I started my own Internet consultancy company and hired first-year students. Quickly, my dorm room was filled with computers, cables and pizza boxes.

I didn’t sleep. None of the first-year students did either. We were fully occupied with our work. And the method with the image on the mirror worked. The wheels started spinning, faster and faster.

However, on several occasions, it looked dark. There was especially one occasion that got dangerously close to ruining everything. Do you remember the 300 laptops I had to format and prepare for new arrivals?

One day these had to be distributed to new students. Another boring job the teachers and professors did not want to do. But one I gladly accepted, just like everything else that was thrown in my general direction.

I prepared the computers at a reception desk in the lobby of the department in the morning. A line quickly formed and I handed out one freshly formated and reinstalled laptop to each one. One after the other.

Already during the first wave of students, I realized something important. This job was maybe not so bad after all. Because I had never seen so many beautiful young girls in my entire life. It was absolutely incredible. This was a fantastic opportunity that would never come again. Something had to be done.

Thus, before the next wave of new students arrived, I divided the laptops into two piles. One pile contained laptops with defects and errors. And the finest girls got a computer that was guaranteed to have problems.

Already the same evening I got the first call. A student wanted help. "My modem doesn’t work. I can’t call the internet. Can you help me?" I was in her dorm in less than 15 minutes. With a small sweet convertible parked outside, I helped her get started with her internet. Do I even need to add that it took all night to get the modem up and running?

After that, the situation escalated very quickly. Incoming traffic on my phone was comparable with Dell's support department. Some evenings I made up to three or four house calls. I visited some of the most beautiful girls I had ever seen. For "consultation" about misbehaving computers. I quickly drifted into a dream world where I was a superhero – "Doctor Modem".

Several times I reached the limit of what was physically possible for a 24-year-old man. The number of young girls I visited each evening was incredible. And, before I left, I made sure there was a new little problem on the computer. A guaranteed return visit. The Ferrari was forgotten.

Doctor Modem was allowed to roam freely for about three weeks. Then, suddenly, it stopped. You shouldn't think that pretty girls automatically are stupid. Some of them put two and two together and realised why the computer never worked as it should. Ternström should be punished for his morally questionable behaviour, and I was summoned to the magnificent office of the faculty Prefect. My final moment had arrived. Everything would go to hell. I could forget the Ferrari. The happy days were definitely over.

But what was to be the scolding of the century ended with a giggle. When the Prefect understood what I had done, he couldn’t keep himself from laughing. He let me go with a very gentle warning. After this near-death experience, all laptops worked like the finest Swiss watches. Completely flawless. "Doctor Modem" was no more, and I regained focus on the main task. After all, on the bathroom mirror at home was still a picture of a red Ferrari.

The work continued with rejuvenated energy. During the days, we coded websites, during the nights, we played Quake. The stereo played Nitzer Ebb, Front 242 and other wonderfully motivating and monotonous music. We accepted assignments we did not have a chance to fulfil. But in the end, always would.

At the same time, I finished my degree. By the smallest possible margin. Particularly, I remember my professor in statistics saying: "I really shouldn’t let you pass. But I cannot fail you. Because you will punish me later in life. Now get out of here, and leave me alone. You are a mentally deranged individual."

An early Saturday morning, six months later, I traded in my Z3 for a Ferrari F355 Berlinetta. It was red. Almost new. I spent exactly 71 700 euros on a car. An absolutely insane act. In my defence, I was only 24 years old, and I didn’t know better. To this day, however, I am convinced I absolutely made the right decision.

When you read this you might think I was very lucky. I can assure you this was not the case. The amount of time invested was enormous. The number of mistakes and disappointments along the way as well. And while my fellow students were partying all night, I sat in my room and worked like an animal. With a tremendous effort, I created my own fortune. My Ferrari was never just a car for me. It was a symbol that with the right attitude, anything is possible. Nothing is beyond your reach.

After the Ferrari, many other things ended up on the mirror. There was an aircraft, among other things. And then a private pilot's license. Something that turned out to be much harder than I anticipated. The seller of the aircraft described it as a formality. But it was much more difficult than that. Meteorology. Navigation. Aerodynamics. Radio with Air Traffic Control. It took me a full year to get my Private Pilots License.

I think everyone can get a Ferrari in two years. I am totally convinced. Because I am neither better looking nor smarter than the average Joe. My intelligence is average. My ears are the size of Dumbo’s. My trick was that I broke down a big task into much smaller ones, and I worked hard every day. The success had nothing to do with talent or luck. It was pure discipline.

With the bathroom mirror method mentioned above, there is nothing that can stop you. Ask yourself what you want: A Ferrari, a trip around the world, or a border collie puppy? Stop limiting yourself by thinking that something is impossible. And do not give up at the first setback. Everything is possible. You can have anything you want. All you need is to want it badly enough.

Peter Ternström
Peter Ternström
peter@granturismo.org
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