The ultimate car geek tour: we go inside Ferrari

Published: 09 May 2013

Tues, 7 May. 9.30pm After a flight out of Heathrow and a bewildering detour on a bus, we finally arrive in Maranello for a late dinner at the Museo Ferrari. There's bags of interesting stuff here, but the 288 GTO-based GTO Evoluzione [left] catches my eye - it never raced, but fed into the F40 project – as does the F40 Competizione, one of only two examples with pushrod suspension.

Also present is the short-wheelbase, 250 GT-based 'Bread Van' [below], the car that Count Volpi built to beat the factory 250 GTOs at Le Mans, and there's the full complement of modern-day supercars: 288 GTO, F40, F50, Enzo, and a display showing the evolution of the LaFerrari concepts, plus an unconvincing explanation of that ridiculous name. Nobody is quite sure what’s in store tomorrow…

 

Weds, 8 May. 8.45am A more straightforward bus ride whisks us from our hotel to Maranello for a tour. It begins at the Tailor Made studios, a kind of uber-exclusive personalisation programme with 300 materials reserved for clients who also get a personal designer to help make sense of it all. You can have denim or pinstripe trim, all manner of leather grades, paintjobs inspired by Ferraris past, even teak decking in the boot of your Ferrari California. There's a 458 [below] that takes inspiration from a Niki Lauda F1 car with its paintjob and grippy leather seats, and we're told of golfer's Ian Poulter's special request for his FF: tartan trim to match his trademark trousers. Why is it that these multi-millionaires don't care about resale values? Ferrari will apparently turn down requests that aren't deemed suitable for the brand, but nothing has gone beyond the pale so far.

You'll need to spend ‘at least €30-50,000' to gain access to this club, and you'll wait around one month longer than you would for a car equipped with regular options, or around three months longer if you've got a special Poulter-style request. 1 or 2% of all Ferrari clients opt for the Tailor Made treatment, and they'll typically spend 25-50% of the value of the car.

9am Next stop is the engine line, Ferrari keen to show off its recent €50m investment. The big news is the facility has been extended to make room for the new range of V6 turbo Maserati engines – which will presumably be very convenient when Ferrari starts slotting V6 turbos in its own cars…

There are 21 workstations, and 50 engines produced each day, all of them moved around silently on a magnetic line by a HEV shuttle.

Each engine is now tested 'cold' – the engines are run at 2000-3000rpm for three minutes without actually being fired, a computer programme taking the components through the motions without burning a single drop of petrol.

9.30am Into the Classiche restoration department. Sited in an old foundry, Classiche has been in business since July 2006, has so far completed 70 full restorations, and sees around 70-75 cars every year. The average customer spends €30,000, says Ferrari, but the cars here suggest that's on the conservative side. A key part of the business is certification, where Ferrari 'approves' cars that are 20 years old or more, confirming that they meet the original specification or conform to the spec most associated with their provenance – the non-factory converted 'bread van' racer being an example of the latter.

Our guide explains that it was initially hard to convince customers of the merit of certification, but it's now seen as increasingly essential. 'If you've got a 250 GTO that's worth €35m but doesn't have certification that might cost €8000, you have to ask why.'

There are some breathtakingly tasty cars at Classiche, from a pair of F40s to a 250 GTO [left] that's undergoing painstaking repair work after a smash, and Steve McQueen's 275 GTB/4 [below]. McQueen’s car was converted to a roadster in the US, before being sold to an Australian owner who then commissioned Classiche to return it to the original McQueen spec. Our guide estimates its value at $2.2-2.5m and that it's 'probably four times more valuable than it was in 2005', thanks in no small part to the Classiche restoration.

10am If Ferrari's Tailor Made programme is the top level of bespoke options, consider the Atelier as the affordable option. It generates €200m a year in revenues, up more than double since 2008's €80m, and gets 500 customers through its doors every year. And while the range of options is far more restricted than that offered by Tailor Made, there's still a lot to choose from and special requests – a stripe on your seat here, some extra stitching there – will be accommodated.

10.15am Next it's into a lift and up to the 12-cylinder car production line. With lower volumes than the 8-cylinder line, there are key differences: the V8 line is divided into three parts while the V12 is split into two. For every six F12s that are produced here every day, there are two FFs.

The cars move along the production line at set intervals spelled out by large screens that hang above the workers and count down the time until the car must move along to the next workstation.

I watch as a drivetrain is moved across the room and positioned underneath a raised F12 bodyshell, before the drivetrain itself is raised up to join with the car. On the V8 line, the entire process is automated because higher volumes and a tight 20-minute timeframe demand it. However, the process is semi-automatic for the V12s, three workers connecting the body and drivetrain while their robot helpers take care of the initial positioning and lifting.

The only fully automated process on the entire line is reserved for fitting the front and rear screens.

 

10.45am Roberto Fedeli is Ferrari's technical boss (as well as Fender-wielding leader of the Ferrari band) and greets us while sitting nonchalantly on the carbonfibre sill of a LaFerrari supercar tub.

He explains why Ferrari builds only LaFerrari's monocoque from carbonfibre: 'It takes one week to build [one tub],' he explains. 'So even working in parallel, there will only be one produced per day.' The tubs are handbuilt, and the carbonfibre weave laid specifically to ensure maximum strength in exactly the right places while – because it is so exactly targetted – also limiting weight to a minimum, in this case 70kg, or 30kg less than the Enzo.

This is key in the decision not to make higher volume Ferrari road cars from carbonfibre, unlike McLaren with its 12C.

'To make more,' explains Fedeli, 'you need to industrialise the process, and you lose the benefit of this [ie the extra strength and low weight created by laying the carbon by hand]. So we will continue to use aluminium for the other cars – it is the same weight as using carbon made in an industrialised way, and we can build 10-20 cars per day.'

He also reveals that LaFerrari will lap the Fiorano test track in about 1min 20sec, fully 5sec faster than the Enzo.

Fedeli's dream? 'That computers work together with the brain of the driver. The computers that control the major functions of the car – those controlling the engine, gearbox, brakes, shocks, diff and so on – create a network between themselves, optimising the behaviour not only of every single component, but of the entire car. And then if you are able to interpret the brain of the driver, you can give him what he wants.'

Anyone who's ever driven a Ferrari 458 would probably argue that this is already happening, but anything that improves this further is good news by us.

11.15am E-commerce, says Ferrari, is a natural extension of its 50 Ferrari stores, with 120,000 visitors to Ferraristore.com every day. And Ferrari wants to increase that while also making the process more efficient. In 2010, 80,000 goods were shipped from Maranello to customers around the world, but a new distribution base in the US will help to streamline the delivery process in one of Ferrari's key markets, while other bases in key markets will follow.

Ferrari is also trying to keep a more watchful eye over its brand extensions. Says an insider: 'we are trying to do products that are appropriate to the brand, and we know that hasn't always been the case. Ferrari Barbie dolls, for instance, but Hasselblad cameras – they're the best in their field.'

Evidence of this subtler, more considered approach is found with the Primi clothing range, which starts from a whopping €1500 for off-the-peg items that are all made in Italy, bear discreet Ferrari references – barely noticeable script on shirt buttons, for instance – and can be tailored to your specific requests.

11.30am In 1997, just one person worked on Computational Fluid Dynamics in Ferrari's F1 division. There are now 25 people carrying out 700 simulations per week, and a pair of Ferrari F1 nosecones sit side-by-side to illustrate the aerodynamic gains over the past four years: 2009's part is able to take 600kg of downforce, where the latest item is subjected to 850kg - equating to a gain in laptime of around 1sec. All they need now is that 26th person: Adrian Newey.With the regulations pushing Ferrari all the way, there have been big gains in F1 engine efficiency too: from 2002 to 2013, fuel consumption has fallen by 10%, while engine life has been extended from 350km to 2500km. And with the rise of 2014's 1.6 V6 turbo engines, we can expect a 35% increase in efficiency over the next five years.

12.15pm Ferrari CEO Amadeo Felisa takes the stage for our press conference, warm-up act for Ferrari boss Luca di Montezemolo. Felisa tells us that 15-18% of all Ferrari turnover is invested in product development each year, that Ferrari has decreased its fleet CO2 by 40% but increased power by an average of 100bhp over the last five years, and that there's a €250m R&D investment in place for a reduction in emissions over the next five years – that's 50% of the budget.

What happens in F1 today will be on the road in four or five years, he says. Later, I ask Felisa whether the 2014 turbo F1 engines will be a good excuse for Ferrari to debut its road-car turbo engines.

'We have to reduce our CO2 emissions, but we don't like to just follow F1, we want to make the best technical designs for the future. Remember the 355? Part of the reason behind us fitting five valves was because of Formula One, but by the time we reached production, F1 had switched back to four valves!'

Are customers worried about the switch to turbo engines in road cars? 'No, the customers are interested in the best possible performance.'

12.30pm Luca takes the stage. 'Ferrari is the most important thing in my life,' he says. 'I feel thankful to share my life with these extraordinary men and women from 29 nations.'

In 2013, reveals di Montezemolo, Ferrari is creating 250 new jobs, with a 20% increase in its blue-collar workforce. We’re then treated to the bombshell that Ferrari plans to sell fewer cars in 2013 than it did in 2012 – despite sales being up by 4% already in the first quarter of the year – and some very choice quotes. Some favourites for you:

‘Italy accounts for just 5% of our turnover, and crazy policies adopted by the Italian government mean we need to develop an international corporate culture.’

‘We will never build an electric car when I am president.’

‘Our dealers must learn to grow on quality, not just quantity. My 12-year-old daughter can take reservations for a Ferrari, even a 12-year-old girl can do it!’

‘I have an FF – I have children, but I love pushing the accelerator.’

‘F1 is our advertising and it must remain our most important research centre.’

And, finally, Luca di Montezemolo turns into Swiss Toni from The Fast Show…

‘Ferrari is like a beautiful woman – you must desire her. As soon as you meet her you might be struck by her beauty, but when you have dinner, you might be disappointed. But when you start a Ferrari, you won’t be disappointed – it’s a beautiful woman fulfilling her promises.’

13.30pm A quick lunch, and we’re back on a bus and off to the airport. Maranello, it’s been a pleasure.

By Ben Barry

Contributing editor, sideways merchant, tyre disintegrator

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