These are the five greatest Ferrari road cars
Argue between yourselves, but these are the five Ferraris with numberplates we love the most
Ferrari 250 GT California Spyder
The 250 model line was the foundation on which the mighty Ferrari edifice was built, and by the late Fifties the company’s potent mix of glamour and performance had won it a global fan base. The California Spyder was dreamt up by John von Neumann, Ferrari’s US West Coast agent, who figured a racier convertible would suit his rapidly expanding showbiz clientele. Luigi Chinetti, a former Le Mans winner for Ferrari and a key consigliere, persuaded Il Commendatore to back it.
Launched in 1958 in long wheelbase form, the car soon morphed into the 200mm shorter, 30mm lower SWB car, an unfeasibly cool looking home for Giacchino Colombo’s eternally magnificent 3.0-litre V12. Although Pininfarina was by now Ferrari’s couturier of choice, the Cali Spyder was designed and built by body fabricator Scaglietti. Just 106 of all types were made, plenty were raced, and owners included French screen idol Alain Delon, and Hollywood star James Coburn. A replica starred and got trashed in Eighties movie classic Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.
Illustrations: Peter GreenwoodAdvertisement - Page continues below
Ferrari 365 GTB4 ‘Daytona’
Ferrari had scored a famous 1-2-3 win at the 24 Hours of Daytona in 1967, and the name stuck when its new GT arrived the following year. Pininfarina’s talented young designer Leonardo Fioravanti devised a body that was advanced even for those progressive times, a sharky nose and side groove marking a car that was a bridge between Ferrari’s classic era and the modern one to come. The Daytona set the template for the imperious, front-engined trans-European ‘playboy’ express, six huge Weber carburettors shovelling fuel into that mighty 4390cc V12 engine.
Early cars hid their headlights under a Plexiglas cover, but these were later replaced with pop-up units to satisfy strict US legislators. Some thought that the car was too American in look and concept, a suspicion that was upheld by its status as the winner of the first ever coast-to-coast Cannonball Run, when Brock Yates and Dan Gurney drove a Daytona from New York to Redondo Beach, California in an impressive 35 hours and 54 minutes.
The last Ferrari to be personally overseen by the boss, the F40 used a tubular steel spaceframe chassis with Kevlar panels bonded on, while the doors, bonnet and bootlid were made of carbon fibre. The engine was a 2936cc V8, twin-turbocharged to produce 478bhp, rocketing the F40 to 60mph in 3.7 seconds and more importantly to a manufacturer claimed 201mph top speed. In 1987, that really was something – the F40 was the first production car to breach that quasi-mystical marker.
It weighed just 1,100kg, and the years have only enhanced its reputation for flame-spitting turbo thuggery. The F40 demands real skill from its driver and doesn’t suffer fools one iota. Ferrari planned to make 400, but in the mega-money late-Eighties production rose to 1,315 cars off the back of runaway demand. Visually, the black swage line is pure Eighties supercar. The ducts and spectacular full-length rear spoiler and louvred, lightweight rear screen signify, for many, the greatest Ferrari of them all.Advertisement - Page continues below
Ferrari 458 Speciale
We toyed with the idea of including the F12berlinetta or the 812 Competizione. After all, few cars provoke an excess of the fizz more than a front-engined Ferrari V12. But the 458 Speciale is part of the bloodline that gave us the 360 CS and 430 Scuderia, cars that strip things back while pioneering hot new tech. “We are at the limit of what we can do in a normally aspirated engine,” Gaetano Cecchinelli, one of Ferrari’s engine guys, told me during the 458 Speciale’s launch. And that’s exactly how it feels: the ultimate celebration of unfettered internal combustion.
The 458 Speciale is an end of an era Ferrari, a car that a lot of enormously clever, extraordinarily passionate people poured everything they know into. We’re talking 597bhp here, wrung from a 4.5-litre V8 that spins to a dizzying 9,000rpm, an engine that sits at the heart of a chassis whose e-diff and software allow the driver to dictate slip angles with millimetric accuracy. A work of pure excellence.
Ferrari 296 GTB
The 296 GTB is an object lesson in how to network the additional energy a hybrid provides. The 2.9-litre V6 is in a 120° ‘hot’ vee configuration, with
a pair of IHI turbos sitting within the cylinder banks, so it’s low, wide, and has a fabulous centre of gravity. The engine produces 654bhp on its own, and it’s hooked up to an eight-speed dual-clutch gearbox and an electronic differential, integrated with a rear-mounted electric motor that produces an additional 165bhp.
Creating meaningful dialogue between all the hardware is the really cool bit: Ferrari uses a device called TMA – ‘transition manager actuator’ – and proprietary software to oversee and optimise the flow of energy between electric and internal combustion. It’s seamlessly done, but the piccolo V12 – little V12, as it was nicknamed during development – really sings. And the chassis might be the most approachable that Ferrari has ever created. Maybe that hybrid thing isn’t such a duff idea after all. Oh, it’s also very pretty.