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Ferrari at 50

Nothing's middle-aged about the 612 Scaglietti, the latest ride from Ferrari, created to celebrate a half century in America
Paul A. Eisenstein
From the Print Edition:
Sharon Stone, July/Aug 2004

(continued from page 1)

Taking it to the Streets
The first world title arrived a year later, and they've never stopped coming. For more than a half century, Ferrari has dominated the Formula 1 circuit like no other automaker. The team's roster reads like a motor sports Who's Who, with the likes of Schumacher, Phil Hill and even Fangio getting their own rides over the years. They have been backed by some of the greatest designers and engineers ever to work on a race car.

Enzo Ferrari "was a brutal man to work for and constantly having fights with his drivers and crew," recalls former racer and longtime automotive journalist Denise McCluggage. But it worked, she adds, because "he was the sand who created the pearls." Ever the savvy entrepreneur, Ferrari knew from the beginning that racing sold sports cars and those sales supported his racing team. So he cultivated the company's fast-growing reputation and used it to attract some of the world's most glamorous and wealthy customers, the likes of the Shah of Iran, the film director Roberto Rossellini and his great love, Ingrid Bergman. Each drove off with a uniquely customized automobile. Such cars are often found today commanding top dollar on the collector car circuit—if they can be found on the market at all—says Craig Jackson, president of the Barrett-Jackson Auction Co., based in Scottsdale, Arizona.

Each of those cars was built by hand, engines carefully assembled one piece at a time, aluminum body panels slowly taking shape with each blow of the hammer. Sergio Scaglietti—for whom the new 612 is named—ran the body shop relying primarily on a skilled eye. If he didn't like the way a design looked, even if it came from the great corrozzeria, Pininfarina, he was likely to get the last word.

Back in the early days, Ferraris were built in ones and twos, not by the hundreds and thousands. McCluggage recalls how folks would follow her when she drove her 250GT Berlinetta, just to find out what it was. She had paid dearly for her Ferrari, which she used to win the GT class at Sebring in 1961. "It was not only my race car. It was my only car. I lived in [Greenwich] Village at the time in a fifth-floor walk-up. I had crates for furniture. But I owned a Ferrari."

The Blizzard of Bologna
There are certain things you prefer not to see when you're blasting down the back straight at Fiorano, hitting close to 150 just as it's time to brake. Like snow. But there was plenty of the white stuff barely cleared off Ferrari's test track, one day in late February, when a freak storm blew in. The crews hadn't plowed a very wide path in the snow because most of the day had been devoted to Formula 1 testing and Michael Schumacher isn't known to stray very far from the ideal race line.

Even without snow, a certain amount of caution always goes along with driving a $250,000 automobile. Yet after a long night's journey to Italy, there was an equal desire not to lose time seeing precisely what the new 612 could do. And it didn't take long to discover the answer: a lot.

As with so many Ferraris over the years, the Scaglietti has been designed by Pininfarina. It's one of the more controversial shapes to roll out of the house of Enzo in quite some time. Skeptics deride what they see as a soft, mushy figure; fans see it as sculpted and sensual. What's harder to debate is the new car's road manners.

Unlike the more familiar Ferrari mid-engine layout, this GT's power plant sits up front, making room for a small but acceptably functional rear seat. The 612 is larger than the old 456M, but also 132 pounds lighter, thanks to its new aluminum space frame and body. It's also a good deal stiffer, with its structural rigidity increased about 60 percent, the effects of which were borne out during a day of driving.

In classic Ferrari form, engineers have squeezed a massive, 48-valve, 5.75-liter V-12 under the Scaglietti's hood. It's a torquey throttle-by-wire system that punches out a neck-snapping 532 horsepower, a full 98 more than the old car. Factory specs claim a top speed of 196 miles an hour, and 0-to-60 times of 4.1 seconds. Numbers aren't everything, of course. There's that honey-smooth roar, as essential to a Ferrari V-12 as that rude braaaaap is to a Harley-Davidson.

The engine can be mated to a conventional, 6-speed manual transmission or, our preference, the Ferrari F1A gearbox, an electronically shifted manual. A little T-bar on the center console shifts between park, forward and reverse. But you run through the gears using a pair of paddle shifters mounted a fingertip's reach behind the steering wheel. Under moderate acceleration, gear changes are smooth and crisp. With the pedal to the floor, you'll feel each shift like a slap.

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