James May

James May

James and the Ferrari 612 Scaglietti

I often think the world would be a better place if it had a lot less Ferrari in it. Not the cars - there aren't actually that many of them - but the jackets, the hats, the pens, the radios, the hold-alls and the Maranello condoms. I may have made up the bit about the condoms.

The wallet, the scarf, the desk ornament in the shape of a gearstick, the Michael Schumacher commemorative podium leap statuette (not making that bit up) - you can even buy a Ferrari barbecue.

Compare this with the merchandise on offer from Bristol Cars of Kensington. At ‘B isto Cars', as the dicky neon signage often proclaims, one may buy a Bristol car (and that's all). And you can only do that if the gaffer likes the look of you.

Meanwhile, you need only slide behind the wheel of Maranello's finest, fondle the leather-clad wheel, glance at the evocative cavalino rampante motif on the speedo and savour the olfactory delight of the archetype of supercar artisanship to remind yourself that the world does not offer a richer seam of prancing horseshit than is found in the topic of Scuderia bloody Ferrari.

This is what worries me. If I drive one, people might think I believe all this Bolognese.

Now then. I have driven the 612 before, at its introduction, but only around the back streets within spine-tingling earshot of the historic Fiorano, etc. etc. etc. This time, though, I had it for real.

And if I may be picky - and I believe I may at £185,000 - I still don't like the feel of the toggle switches on the dashboard, or the chunkiness of the ventilation controls, or the simple fact that the fuel gauge is a vertical stack of electro-luminescent bars instead of a proper dial. I just don't trust anything wired up that far south of Stuttgart.

I should also point out that the ride is a little bit unseemly at low speed, that the paddle gearbox still doesn't perform that remarkably in auto mode but works rather well during manual shifting, and that there's a pointless button to make it work less well, if that's what you fancy. But that's about it. This is a truly fabulous car.

"It looks truly modern, is undeniably cool, and has an enticing name that the plebs can’t pronounce"

In fact, it's now my fave Fezza. For a start, it looks truly modern, is undeniably cool, and has an enticing name that the plebs can't pronounce (like Belvoir Castle or, for that matter, Cinquecento). In Scaglietti, in case anyone asks, the ‘g' all but disappears. The car is named after the godfather of Ferrari coach-builders, and that's much less pretentious than naming it after Enzo's favourite restaurant, or whatever else it is they do.

It's an undeniably indulgent beast, being a pretty massive car with not a great deal of space inside, but that's absolutely fine by me. If I've paid that much for my wheels, I don't want people thinking they can just get in the back without so much as a by your leave, or anything like that.

The engine is at the front (where aficionados will tell you it should be), and the number of cylinders is a multiple of six (ditto). This sort of thing makes me feel good, like knowing there's beer in the house, and I feel smug as I nose the 612 out among the proletariat tinsel on the A5.

I absolutely adored this car, but had trouble putting my finger on exactly what it was that made it so intoxicating. Of course it's fast, but so's a Subaru Impreza. Of course it's svelte, but so is a Jaguar XK. Every obvious attribute of this car could be found somewhere else, but in the 612 the effect was just better.

After a while, I began to suspect what it was that I liked. For a start, and even though the Scaglietti is to my mind a wonderful piece of design, no one really noticed it. It was just a long-nosed car in a gentle thermos-flask blue driving along.

The engine is magnificent and feels as though it's being fuelled with Cornish clotted cream, but instead of the snap and crackle we know from the exhaust of the V8 cars, this one emits only a faint bark, like the timely ahem of a discreet butler. I doubt anyone else even noticed it, but from inside it's just enough to trigger a faint tingle. There's none of that Mantovani switch malarkey, just a tractable 12-pot dollop of Italian piston power surging away up front. It's a proper GT car: one in which the front bumper arrives at your destination notably earlier than you do.

And that's what this Ferrari is all about - it's not for showing off, there's no sense that you need to know about great overtaking manoeuvres from a GP in 1975, and no suggestion that its driver would ever be seen in anything like a hat. It's a rare thing in supercars; it's grown up. And, these days, so am I.

I therefore like to believe it suits me.

 

James May, Column

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