My first Ferrari drive - in a 456
Stuff We've Done
03 May 2007 09:40
Popping your Ferrari virginity is fraught with the risk of disappointment, says Ben Barry
Two weeks ago I'd never driven a Ferrari. I'd had the F40 poster on the wall, played Outrun with a Testarossa, smudged numerous side windows at motor shows, but I hadn't even climbed inside one before. For this month's Prancing Horse special, however, I found myself with the keys to a mid-1990s 456. Around £156k new, they're now something of a bargain at £35k.
Bounding out of bed at 5am had never been easier, and the 456 proved a surprisingly accessible drive. Sure, the clutch was heavy, and second gear required the use of both hands, but it was hugely comfortable, rode supremely well and accelerated with crushing alacrity. It was also incredibly benign, the chassis engineered to be predictably entertaining and exploitable, not an unresolved brute reined in by electronic safety gizmos.
Inevitably, though, coming face-to-face with an icon after a lifetime of dreaming would entail some form of anti-climax. And so it proved with the 456. The interior, after just 31,000 miles, smacked more of the supercar kit cars advertised in Auto Trader as unfinished projects than one of Maranello's finest: the electric window switches were hanging from the door cards; the centre console inlay was peeling away; some of the dash looked more '70s than '90s. It also overheated in traffic, and the wind noise above 80mph made my gentle cruise feel like an autobahn blast.
Most bewildering, though, were the reactions it generated. One minute I was being followed at a respectful distance by gawping car nuts, the next tailgated by have-a-go heroes. Filling up, the less fortunate jovially tried to trade with me; pulling out of the forecourt, a small child instinctively called me a rude swear word. It was like being tickled under the chin, then slapped round the chops.
But that's all part of the Ferrari deal. These cars astound with their visceral performance, trigger polar reactions and require constant pampering to keep in their prime. For £35k, the 456 is incredible value, but something I'd always eschew for a 911 or even an M-badged BMW. Utterly predictable, I'll concede. But would you ever take a punt on a prancing horse? Let us know by responding to this blog.