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Gavin Green’s Greatest Ferraris (CAR archive, June 2007)
25 July 2012 09:00
Of all the cars gathered, the 275 GTB/4 is my favourite for the road. It handles and goes beautifully, serenades with its fast-revving V12, and charms with its style and refined manners. It is also, in many ways, the purest evocation of the Ferrari magic. It was the last road car that Ferrari built as an independent maker. The next sports car, the Daytona, came after the Fiat takeover. Thereafter, commercial rationality guided the company just as strongly as automotive emotion. The 275 GTB/4 was also the last of the great lightweight road-going Berlinettas, designed more for blasting over Alpine passes than cruising Californian boulevards. All subsequent Ferraris were corrupted, to some extent, by over-arching safety regulations and legislative nannying. The 275 GTB/4 was truly the last of a breed.
The Daytona that followed – surely it should be in this list of all-time greats? – was a heavier and bigger brute, faster but cruder. Rather, my favourite Ferrari from that era wasn’t really a Ferrari at all. The Dino – there was no Ferrari badging on the body or cabin – was a delightful contrast to the mighty meaty Daytona and a far sweeter vehicle to drive. It was no ponderously powerful warhorse but rather a rampant pony.
The Dino 246GT was the Ferrari for the masses (though these things are relative). It was cheaper and made in bigger volumes (3700 between 1969-1973) than any Ferrari that went before, yet made all the right noises, drove fast and handled delightfully. Named after Ferrari’s only (legitimate) son, the Dino was a little jewel, derived from the 1965 V6 sports racer of the same name. To save costs, many of the parts came from Fiat but this hurt the driving experience not one jot.
It does not feel fast today – how could 195bhp? – but what impresses is the sweetness of the V6 engine, singing sonorously behind your shoulder, the linearity of the steering and its agility. Next to a Dino, a Daytona felt like a truck. More than any other Ferrari, you wear a Dino. It’s Ferrari’s Lotus Elise. Whereas the big front-engined Ferraris give much but demand more, the Dino asks very little of its driver. It also offers brilliant all-round visibility, helped by that unusual U-shaped rear glass.
The Dino was a turning point for Ferrari. It was the company’s first mid-engine road car, and progenitor of not only the 308 and Boxer which immediately followed but also, further down the line, the 355, F40 and even the Enzo. None would prove quite so sweet.
Were Ferraris of the ’70s so bad that we now skip to the late ’80s? Well the Boxer was impressive, the Testarossa that replaced it less so, but none was in the same class as the greatest Ferrari of the ’80s, the 288 GTO.
This car was allegedly conceived for motor racing – thus the Omologato suffix – though it rarely turned a wheel in competitive anger. Ferrari’s road cars had long ceased to be racers, despite the pretence of the 288 GTO and the subsequent F40. Rather, the 288 GTO stands alongside the very greatest Ferraris because of its majestic style, the refinement of its performance, its speed, and the sweet nature of the driving experience. Many Ferrari collectors rate the 288 GTO as the finest Ferrari of all. In this pantheon, I would place it second only to the 275 GTB/4.
I confess that I may be biased. The most enjoyable long Ferrari drive of my life was in a 288 GTO in 1985 when the first examples were making their way back to Britain. We collected it from Maranello and then drove it home, mostly on fast back roads. If I close my eyes and reminisce, I can still feel the explosive power – it was never really anger – of the 400bhp twin-turbo V8 coming on boost, I can feel that lovely black little Momo steering wheel dancing in the palms of my hands as we criss-cross the Alps and I can remember the high speeds as we blast across France in beautiful summer weather.
It is so good to be reacquainted with a GTO! And that style! Whereas the F40 and Enzo look like weaponry-on-wheels, the GTO is elegant, poetic. Pity the cabin is so poor, though. Those orange-on-black instruments, Fiat switches and nasty black felt atop the dash do not belong on a Ferrari.
The F40 that followed was a different sort of animal. Now 20 years old it was a loud, brutal, aggressive car. Although Ferrari claimed it was produced solely to celebrate the company’s 40th anniversary, the view outside Maranello was that the 288GTO – fine car such that it was – had been outshone by Porsche’s 959 and something had to be done to redress the balance. Whatever the reason, it was also the last car created under the watch of Enzo Ferrari, who died in 1988. Power came from a fettled version of the 288 GTO’s twin-turbo V8. No lip service was paid to comfort; there weren’t even any inner doorhandles. Instead, a pull cord (as on the 250 GTO) would suffice. There was no power steering, no carpets. Windows, at least on the early examples, were sliding plexiglass just like an old Mini’s. This was a full-blown hardcore racer for the road. Except that, unlike the old GTO, it never raced with any real distinction.
For all its faults, and there are many, the F40 is probably the most exciting road Ferrari of all. To get behind the wheel you first have to vault a plank of carbonfibre, part of the sill. You sit absurdly low, backside only a few inches off the tarmac.
The V8 sounds more aggressive and angrier than it does in the 288 GTO. It’s a more potent engine, in a higher state of hyperactive tune. Not only can you hear it, as it barks and rasps a few inches behind your back, but you can clearly see it too, behind its vast Perspex cover. The engine, such a masterpiece of engineering, is on full glorious view to the outside world.
The F40’s performance wrote a new chapter into the supercar rulebook. It was the first production car to break through the 200mph barrier, with the engine truly coming on song from around 4000rpm, then relentlessly propelling the car forward to its 7750rpm redline. Exciting? Yes, but real world usable? Considerably less so. With space to breathe on smooth tarmac, the F40 would consume almost everything in its path, but on tight, uneven back roads, a capably driven hot hatch may well be able to stay in touch with the monstrously spoilered rear.
The F40 was eventually replaced by the F50, an inferior car apart from its V12 Formula 1-derived engine. In turn, the F50 was succeeded by the Enzo, the fastest and most technically advanced Ferrari of all time.
The most faithful adoption of a Formula 1 car for the road yet, the Enzo simply bristles with tech – such as its carbonfibre monocoque body, its F1-derived 650bhp V12 engine, its six-speed electro paddle gearchange, carbon-ceramic brakes and even an F1-style launch control (just perfect for Sunday drives in Sloane Square). In many ways its tech is beyond regulation-strangled F1 – including a trick semi-active suspension that continually adjusts to the road and speed conditions.
Drive it and it’s a breathtaking experience. Unbelievably fast. Yet without all the drama and huff and puff of the F40. What’s more, it’s so easy to drive. Power steering. Simple, clutchless semi-auto paddleshift (forget to change down at the traffic lights and it does it for you) that affects gear changes in just 150 milliseconds. Not anyone could get into a 250 GTO or F40 and drive briskly. The Enzo, on the other hand, is easier to drive than a five-speed Fiesta. A five-speed Fiesta with a couple of rockets strapped to the roof, that is.
As such, it’s symptomatic of its times. Technology makes life faster and easier. I just wish it were more challenging, more engaging. There’s little to deny that the Enzo is viscerally quick – it lunges forward so relentlessly that you can almost feel your body parts hastily re-arranging themselves to catch up, but upward technology means that drivers can dumb down. I suspect the deceptive ease with which Enzos can be driven at three miles a minute is a reason why such a large number seem to be crashed. Strap a relatively novice driver in the cockpit, give them an empty circuit to play with and the Enzo’s drive is so flattering that they’d have the traction control switched off after a half dozen laps. Then be plucked out of the crash barrier just a couple of laps later. I wish it were also smaller – it’s over seven feet wide for heaven’s sake – and lighter.
Plus I wish it looked better. While most Ferraris are elegant birds, the Enzo is an ugly insect. The body shape is more a product of aerodynamic need than aesthetic desire. The 6.0-litre V12 engine requires huge amounts of oxygen to chew on, the carbon-ceramic discs need ample dollops of cooling and achieving 0-62mph in 3.7 seconds and a top speed of 217mph can only be made possible with extreme bodywork sculpting.
Of course, the result is spectacular and eye-catching, but as we gathered on that glorious spring day, beautiful cars in abundance, only one vehicle visually jarred: the newest one. If the prerequisites for great Ferraris are red paint, stunning performance and an unmatched sense of occasion, then I shall add one more: all great Ferraris must be beautiful.