I drove a Ferrari F430 today. It was a 2005 model in rosso corsa (red) with over 85,000 miles! That's pretty rare to find as most Ferraris tend to be garage queens with less than 20,000 miles on them. This one belonged to the Classic Car Club of Manhattan and sees much more use than single owner cars. And while it's led a long and hard life, today was my first time driving it (or any Ferrari for that matter). Though I wish I had discovered the club a long time ago, they recently introduced a much cheaper membership option that I can actually (barely) afford.
T'was the night before Christmas
When I arrived at the club to pick up the car, I spent a good 5 minutes just staring at it. Sure, I've seen them before on the street, but today was different because soon it would be mine! One of the staff members fired up the engine and my heart really did start pounding. The sound is just so incredible; alive and raw. Put 8 Ducatis in a blender along with some tiger blood and you might come close. And 6 years and multiple drivers still could not mask the scent of Ferrari leather. I wish my apartment could smell this good.
The door opens with the help of a tiny door handle that yields a solid and satisfying click. The seats seemed firm but very comfortable. And having briefly sat in its older brother, a Magnum-style 328, the driving position seemed quite good with well placed pedals and space to rest your left foot. There is almost no visible plastic; nearly every surface is covered in leather, aluminum or carbon fiber. The circular air vents, radio and turn stalks are pretty much the only plastic you see. And nearly everywhere you look reminds you that you! are! in! a! Ferrari! There's even a little badge that reminds you of Ferrari's F1 championships in 1999, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, and you guessed it, 2004.
As you'd expect, almost nothing is where you'd expect it to be. The mirror controls? In the center console. Window swtiches? Next to the radio. Door locks? On the door, but where you'd expect the door release to be. Strangely, the lock switch only locked the doors and I never did figure out how to unlock them again without using the button on the key. The "frunk" release is located on a row of identically shaped switches next to the steering wheel. The horn is activated by pressing a button embedded in the wheel's right thumb rest.
The owner of the club had shown me pictures during my orientation of epic crashes (mostly involving Ferrari F355s) some of which had ended with the cars being burnt to a crisp. These images flashed through my head as I inched past some port authority cops and a few occupy wall street type cyclists. At the first stop light the car decided to toy with me and not shift into first. Being an F1 style gearbox (or flappy paddle as the Brits like to say), there wasn't much to do other than try again and hope for the best. The dump truck behind me wasn't amused and leaned on the horn. After what seemed like an eternity, the car finally decided to shift into first. But despite its high mileage and Italian provenance, nothing else would go wrong with the car that day.
Accelerating onto the West side highway, I became aware of just what a beast I was dealing with. It felt as if the car was urging me to accelerate harder and harder. Up until about 5k, it seemed like a very fast car. After that my neck snapped back and I started laughing maniacally. Downshifting to 3rd brought on such a satisfying "blat" from the exhaust that I just wanted to do it again and again. It is the first "automatic" I've driven where I didn't miss having a clutch pedal. And the shifts are fast and smooth. I'd always read such awful things about sequential manual transmissions that this was a surprise. If you told me it has a dual clutch style gearbox I'd have believed it.
The rear visibility was much better than I expected and the view itself is, of course, amazing because you're looking at the top of the engine and its red intake runners. You can see it rocking on its mounts when you rev the engine. That activity alone could easily occupy me for a day or so. And the heat from the engine becomes quite apparent after about 30 minutes of driving. I don't think I'd ever need to use the heater in this car.
I headed up to the back roads near Greenwich, Connecticut to get off the highway and have some fun. After getting stuck behind various slow moving traffic, I lucked out with a long, empty stretch of curvy road on route 22. Composing my downshift opera while taking corners was fun, but these roads were clearly child's play for this car. And I wasn't about to push my luck on a cold winter day in a feisty exotic.
Being the chronic button pusher that I am, I had to try playing with the various settings on the steering wheel mounted manettino. In addition to adjusting the stability control, it also affects the suspension and gearbox. In any model below "sport" the computer will shift for you at redline. In "race" mode it is content to let you bang off the rev limiter. There's also an auto mode that is activated by pushing a button on the center console. It really should be labeled "granny" because it shifts at about 3k and I quickly tired of it. On the lower modes, the suspension can be surprisingly supple. That's all relative though, because even running over a manhole cover feels a bit like hitting a pothole. I ended up keeping it in "sport" mode most of the time which is probably what most owners do.
By this point, I was down to a half tank of gas and decided to stop. I was happy to find a nearly deserted, self-serve station for this task. No sooner had I congratulated myself for remembering that the gas cap was on the driver's side did I hit my first obstacle. The click I heard after hitting the gas release switch was just a tease. The cover would not budge. After trying various combinations of pushing and pulling on the cover, I got back in the car. It finally dawned on me to turn the key in the ignition and try my luck again. Sure enough, the cover flew open. Same thing goes for the glove compartment in case you're wondering. I guess it's Ferrari's version of a security system. The gas cap itself is a satisfying solid metal piece like something you'd find on a 60s race car.
So, all of the cliches are present and accounted for: handling on rails, spine tingling exhaust noises, leather smoother than a lamb's foreskin, head-snapping acceleration, if you have the means i highly recommend one. Other than needing to be in the top .01% to comfortably own and operate on of these things, are there really any downsides? I understand now why God (or Satan) invented Porsches. A more upright driving position and bit more practicality make them easier to use on a regular basis. While I was comfortable during the 100 miles I had it, I don't think it would be my first choice as a road trip car. And as beautiful as it is, I have to admit to preferring the sleek, understated simplicity of an Aston Martin. Or the approachable, feel good factor of an American muscle car. But with access to 40 cars, making these tough choices is something I'll be able to do over the next year.