Feature: Ferrari Garage Test!
I knew when Mike was close by. Everyone knew. That unmistakable rasp of a Ferrari engine overshadowed and broke the otherwise calm, morning air. Living on a typical UK built-up housing estate, Mike was driving in a quiet and considered manner. Well, as quiet as he could be, he was keeping the revs low but the rumble of the V8 could still be clearly heard from a hundred yards away.
A Ferrari is coming to my house. It’s exciting isn’t it. Even as a 30-something grown-up family guy, a Ferrari coming to my house still makes me feel like that teenager with the poster on his wall. It would have been a dream-come-true in those days but twenty years on, better late than never!
With a bit more hard work and effort, I will hopefully be a position to buy one of these dream cars at some time in the future, but there is a caveat – and hopefully one that Mike will be dispelling today. The mission to fulfil is one of a ‘garage test’ and the size of my garage dictates this is certainly to be a mission.
A Ferrari of some description has been on my ‘to-do’ list now for years, but each time – largely influenced by life factors – I keep opting for Porsches. My stable currently keeps a 911 (997.1) cabriolet warm at night, but today the 360 will temporarily occupy the space ordinarily reserved for the German marque.
But before we try the prancing horse in my otherwise very tight new-build type single garage, we are going for a drive. As Mike arrives and pulls onto my driveway, it takes considerable effort to retain the limited amounts of cool that I possess and curb a natural instinct to jump up and down, clapping my hands with glee. The gloomy clouds of the morning had parted and now a bright ray of sunshine permeated the sky. Mikes 360 is a convertible ‘Spider’ and perfect for a day like this.
After a short break upon arrival to give Mike the opportunity to stretch his legs and rehydrate – and for me to make sure that everyone local knows I’ve got a Ferrari on my driveway today – we head off to a lightly used industrial estate nearby. But not before being papp’d by the neighbours youngest.
At the far end of this lightly used industrial road, we swap seats and I’m the one in control. This isn’t a track drive. It’s a real world drive and people will see me. People will probably judge me too. It’s the experience you just can’t get elsewhere and this type of attention would undoubtedly form part of any Ferrari ownership experience (for better, or for worse).
Mike gives some instruction on how to move the seat and steering column (I’m very surprised to find my 6’4″ frame can find a very comfortable position) and usage of the F1 paddle shift system. This particular car also has an F430 exhaust system with the noise inhibiters removed. It’s a real screamer, even at low revs.
The seats hug nice and tight and all of the important dials are easily readable, less so the speedo. I love how in a Ferrari it is almost disregarded with indifference – anything below 40mph is just a bit-part at the bottom of the instrument cluster. Conversely the rev-counter shouts at you with large fonts and can be understood with a mere glance.
A fast machine this may be, but the level of noise from that exhaust, combined with the V8 power plant, can make this a fun car even at very low speeds. During town driving, this combination makes it sound like you are pressing on, even when you are within the laws of the land. That’s not always a good thing.
“Someone once tried to hit my car with a newspaper!” Mike tells me. “I’m just glad it wasn’t anything more substantial”. Exuberate noise doesn’t do him any favours for neighbour relations either. “A few weeks ago, I was going for an early morning drive. You are supposed to leave these cars running for a few minutes so the gearbox warms up. Whilst I was waiting a somewhat tired and exasperated neighbour came over in a dressing gown pleading ‘Every Sunday! Every Sunday, Mike. Why??’ That claim is an exaggeration though as the 360 isn’t used that much, but it certainly isn’t a car you buy to keep the peace.”
As we set off – gingerly a first, after all I’m in someone else’s pride and joy, I get a little more confident with the controls, the feel of the steering and the travel on the accelerator and brake pedals. It all feels good. Very good, like a giant go-kart.
Reaction from passers-by seems to be one of admiration from petrol heads, and indifference from everyone else. Onlookers who care about such things stop in their tracks and watch the car go by. “If its younger kids who are pointing at the car, I’ll sometimes blip the throttle for them,” Mike informs. “I think back to when I was that age and if an owner would have done that for me, it would have made my day”. I didn’t experience any negative gestures or comments.
As we arrive at the supermarket (Mike has instructions to bring back a disposable BBQ for an impromptu party that night), a young petrol head comes over as we lock up the car. The expression on his face is one of amazement, excitement and delight. “Wooooooaaaaahhh”, is about all he can muster. His expression tells you all you need to know. “Ca…can I take a picture of your car please?” he says, eyes transfixed on the 360. Of course the answer is yes and Mike is accommodating, showing him around the car. “So, do you like it?” Mike asks. “Like it? I want to own it!” the lad replies. Me too, I guess we never really grow up.
Back in the car and armed with a BBQ in the boot we head back to the house to see if it will fit in garage. A Ferrari is such an event to drive. The feel of the car will be familiar to anyone who has owned a mid-engined car, just a lot bigger, a lot wider and a lot noiser. Oh the noise. The noise. It’s that instant switch at 3,000 rpm when the exhaust valves open and the engine just explodes its soundtrack through those fat tailpipes! It is a continual giggle fest and something I reflected on after fifteen minutes of driving that I hadn’t actually stopped smiling the entire time – and we hadn’t really pressed on other than a couple of test runs on a quiet speed-restricted road – real lough out loud moments those.
When you do firmly commit the loud pedal, this car is just sublime. The noise, the howl, is by far the most satisfying element, closely followed by the wonderfully linear acceleration and – on this dry day at least – confident handling. Even the gear change on the F1 is great. My reference is a previously loaned PDK ‘box from Porsche which is probably the most efficient automatic gearbox ever designed. The shift on the Porsche is immediate, whereas the F1 on this 360 feels more like a manual. There is a momentary delay where you can imagine the auto gearbox engaging the clutch and changing gear, and the result just makes it feels more interactive.
The feeling of driving a Ferrari on the road is totally different to that on track – it makes you feel like a big kid. It is everything that I hoped it would be all those years ago looking at the mad angles and shapes of the poster Ferrari’s and wondering then what they are like to drive and whether I would ever see one in the metal.
Someone once described his Ferrari to me as “silly”. A silly car that always makes you smile because it serves no purpose other than fun. It is totally impractical, expensive, a noise nuisance and at the same time utterly amazing. That same person also told me he always leaves his Ferrari at work, so that after a bad day at the office, he can opt for a drive home in the Ferrari and in doing so, will always arrive home happy.
Back at my house, it’s time to see whether the dream could ever be a reality. The 911 is demoted from the garage and we tentatively coast the 360 into position to see if it will fit. Money matters aside, this will determine whether or not a Ferrari could ever purchased in the future. Mike drives the car in, folding the mirrors as the 360 approaches the doorway. To my surprise – and delight – the car fits without any real problems. It’s a mordern, and typically small, garage and yet the ultra wide 360 can be stored in there without issue – but only if it is a convertible! The downside is that the width of the garage is just too narrow to open the door wide enough to be able to get out, but with a convertible the exit is to simply climb over those low doors and raise the roof once you are out of the car.
So, the Coupe is a reluctant ‘no’, but the spider is a firm ‘yes!’ The downside of the spider means more saving is required as the spiders come at a premium. However, I love the light blue coloured 360’s and the resale market seems to hate them so maybe that will even things out on price. As much as I love red coupes, I couldn’t own a red convertible because I’m not an Italian, twenty-something playboy singleton with a chiselled jaw and rock hard man-muscles. But a blue spider might make me look less of an arse. Hopefully.
For now though, I’ve got the Porsche and the more I drive it, the more I love it. But would I change the 911 for one? The 911 looks good, it drives great, it is desirable, relatively good value and can transport the family with ease. My daughter (who has just turned three) loves going out (and playing in!) my “Porsch-a!” and it’s getting a lot of use as our sunny-day car, as well as for the spirited solo-drives should the mood take once fancy. It’s a great all round sports car.
By comparison, the 360 is bonkers. It’s a slightly unhinged, impractical, ridiculously loud, desirable machine that makes people stop and stare.
The quote the old adage, a Porsche is a wife – everything you want and need to be content with life. The Ferrari is the mistress and, as far as cars are concerned, I think I want both.
Time to get a second job…
Photos by Dom Fisher (dfishpix) and used with permission.