Ah, the transaxle, master of delayed gratification. The engine has no problem warming up – this particular car even had a second set of owner-installed radiator fans to deal with its thermal output – it’s the transaxle that takes time. I planned on eventually shifting out of first gear, so with Mark, the owner, sitting passenger, we took a tepid parade lap through a typical Houston neighborhood of ranch houses.
Mark instructed me to take advantage of the stretch of beltway ahead of us.
“It’s your license.”
If I had known how to interpret the beeps coming from the radar detector, I probably would have been able to judge the likelihood of losing my license more precisely. But, with 20 or so gallons in the tank, and a lawyer in the passenger seat, I was in a position to severely bend the law, or at least argue with it to the point of exhaustion. I’m sure the anticipation would be appreciable for most enthusiasts, but I’m used to driving my 90hp VW or staring at all 0 hp produced by my twelve cylinders of ailing Alfas, so 436hp were a siren song to me.
From fourth gear, I clinked the shifter into the second gear gate and proceeded with the most thorough Italian tune-up I could muster. I stopped somewhere in fourth gear thinking to myself – I don’t think I’ll be able to beat the 149mph in a M-B CLK320 CDI we did on the Autobahn. Eh, that was a diesel anyway. Doesn’t count.
Peak torque in a Ferrari V12 of this era comes in around 5,000 RPM. A similarly-priced Corvette Z06 makes all of its torque at what, idle? So, the Ferrari definitely demands classic excuses common among owners of high-strung engines, such as – well, you’ve got to keep it on boil! – or – of course it lacks low-end torque! Why won’t you acknowledge its racing pedigree! But, the Ferrari’s overhead cam design frees up port space normally occupied by push rods in a Vette engine, resulting in massive breathing advantages at high RPM. To illustrate, imagine Michael Phelps and Lance Armstrong having a child that turned out to be an elephant. Sure, it would be Pontiac Aztec ugly, but imagine the lungs on that calf! The over-square Ferrari V12, with its gentle ports leading air to toadstools of valves, approaches those levels of lung capacity. Seek full throttle above 4,000 RPM, and the wail is moving enough to make even George Washington question his patriotism.
With a racetrack-bred engine, it must ride like a Conestoga wagon, no? Not really. Houston roads are bumpy enough for me to suspect that the throngs of winners in bro-trucks are actually on to something, so an exotic with social skills on Houston roads must be supremely comfortable in the rest of the country.
And, the 2+2 Gran Turismo configuration of the 456 really does lend to highway travel. Firm seats promote alertness, analog gauges project vital information to the driver, and a hyperbolically leatherized cabin drastically reduces the risk of the occupants making contact with anything other than leather. Unfortunately, the swaths of hide are bonded to interior surfaces by seemingly vegan-strength adhesive, and this, coupled with the fact that most Ferraris reside in locales with lovely winters and satanic summers, leads to unbecoming wrinkling of the leather.
So, $40,000 for a 20 year-old Ferrari V12, or a 5 year-old C6 Corvette Z06? And, why would I compare the 456 to a used Z06? And when did this become a comparison between a car I’ve spent less than an hour driving and a car that I’ve merely ridden in?
First, the prices are close. You can pay more for both, but $40,000 isn’t unreasonable for either. Second, both are highly visible, powerful objects of lust to teenagers and retirees alike. And, one is made in Italy, the other in Kentucky, so they’re practically the same car.
The Z06 is obviously the faster, more economical, more reliable, and more reasonable of the two, so it’s really a matter of justifying the Ferrari experience. Doug Demuro has that experience pretty well-documented, but on a mere V8 example with its engine in the “peasant-position” pioneered by the plebian 246 Dino. The 456 is a prosciutto and parmesan, honest-to-Italy Ferrari. World Cup 2006. Some may even hear the exotic timbre of an Alfa Romeo in its soundtrack. It screams Ferrari every second that you drive it, whether during banal tasks like parking, or during risky maneuvers like crossing four lanes of highway traffic to take an exit you almost missed because you thought you had touched something plastic but it turned out to be leather.
Thank you to Mark providing the car and the Marracks for the hospitality. Most photos credited to Andrew Marrack.