James May

James on Ferrari

James on Ferrari

If possible, shouldn't a chap own a Ferrari just once? When I am old and dribbling in an armchair somewhere, and cars have been forgotten, I will not regret that I never had a Citroen C6 or a Bentley Arnage or any number of other cars that I currently admire. I will probably have forgotten Mary-Lou and the carnal promise sensed but ignored in a moment down a green lane in 1988, and the size of my house will be irrelevant, because I'll have forgotten where it is. But I might wish I'd had a Ferrari.

There is no rational reason I can think of for having a Ferrari, and that makes it all the more enticing. A Ferrari is a deeply and almost embarrassingly conspicuous consumer good, but driving around in one is an act of generosity, like appearing in The Sun's ‘News in briefs'. A Ferrari, flashing past or nestling in a grubby corner of an industrial estate, is a treat.

There are plenty of psychological barriers to buying into the mystique of the Fezza - the Ferrari barbecue, for example - but all of that, and the paddock jacketed slobbering of fools, is swept aside by the experience of being in a good one. Ferraris are genuinely not like other supercars; not on a spiritual level. Someone at Maranello is gifted with the ability to take the sensation of driving and somehow make it feel keener, as if a steel has been run down all its edges to tidy them up. Something about every operation in a Ferrari is more crisply defined than it is anywhere else in life. What makes a Ferrari great is not, as some might imagine, a matter of heritage and brand image and all that prancing horseshit. It really is something to do with metalworking and engineering.

So help me, every time I step into an F430 I want one, quite badly. It stays with me for several days afterwards, like a bad hangover, before fading away. Other supercars fade from thought within a few hours, but with a Ferrari I still wake up on the third morning with the heart disease called love.

"Every time I step into an F430 I want one, quite badly. It stays with me for several days afterwards, like a bad hangover"

But I'm not sure I want this Scuderia version. The problems start on opening the door when, in a regular F430, I would be assailed by the whiff of Italian leatherworking and that warm, inviting ambience that a good pub has on a cold evening. The Scuderia, because it is trimmed with tiresome race-car materials, smells a bit like a pair of new trainers. This is not a smell that does much for me. There is no carpet and too much naked carbon fibre, which I find an ugly material.

I'm also constantly staggered by the ability of Ferrari's designers to produce an artefact of such achingly good taste and then ruin it with baubles: the plaque on the fascia, the explosion of logos on the dash, the plastic Ferrari logo on the radio that wobbles about as you drive along. If I'd just spent £170,000 on a car I think I'd be able to remember who'd made it.

And there aren't enough dials. Where is the ammeter and other stuff that, like the existence of the Women's Institute, I find faintly reassuring? Why is the fuel gauge an annoying graphic made up from bars that suddenly disappear when you're not looking? Why, when this car is equipped with the F1 paddle gearbox for serious drivers, does the software change gear for me when I was about to do it myself anyway? Honest I was. If it's my car and my engine, leave me alone to blow it up.

My biggest gripe with the Scuderia, though, is that, like so many of these supposedly honed lightweight specials, it isn't as good as the regular version. In the normal F430 Spider, the performance is almost a happy side effect, the icing on the indulgence of owning and being in something so intoxicatingly special. In the Scuderia it feels like an obligation, and that somehow isn't proper. The tyres are twitchy and the ride, which is surprisingly supple on the proper version, is too crashy. The Scuderia seemed to end up driving me around, and if I wanted that I'd have spent the money on a butler.

But I still can't help liking it. I like 510bhp, and I like the (actually rather pointless) flap that opens up in the exhaust system amplifying the engine note, which is like someone opening the door to a room where a band is rehearsing. A Ferrari is so magical that even Ferrari can't completely muck it up.

I realise that I keep saying the same thing in this column. Normal supercars are better than the extreme versions of the same thing. In normal form, the F430 is my favourite car of all. So I should have one. I bet you a million pounds I never do.

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James May, Column, Ferrari, Citroen C6, Citroen, Ferrari Scuderia

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