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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 2)

To put all that power to the pavement, Ferrari has added its first-ever stability control system to the 612. The carefully tuned system is designed to let an aggressive driver hang the tail out a bit to push the car through a tight corner. During our time on the Fiorano test track, we felt the stability control kick in only once, when we seriously misjudged a corner and caught a bit of snow with one of the wheels. Another first-time feature is a speed-sensitive steering system. Purists might object, but it makes a big car like this a lot easier to handle when maneuvering through tight European streets.

Such technology is only one of the ways that the 612 ushers in an era of change at Ferrari. There's a new level of attention to refinement and creature comforts, as well as reliability. "Our first target for production is not to have big volumes, but to have big quality," asserts Ferrari manager Paolo Damiani.

Entering a New Era
Few customers will ever see the most dramatic changes, which take place at the various Ferrari factories scattered around Modena. Like the city itself, Ferrari has grown up. This is no longer a quaint little carriage shop operation, but one of the automobile world's more sophisticated manufacturing complexes.

The first sign of the "new" Ferrari is visible in the aluminum foundry, where the process of transforming raw aluminum ingots into a Scaglietti begins. In the past, it took the best tradesman two years of training to accurately control the pouring of molten metal into sand molds. New, automatic furnaces have simplified the production of the Scaglietti V-12 block, reducing scrap and later warranty claims, while raising productivity.

Other high-tech processes have been added at the Modena facility's engine plant, such as the robot used for valve seating. Each valve is dipped into liquid nitrogen to shrink it enough for easy insertion. The robot is also programmed to recognize and reject potentially defective valves. Even with such modern additions, it takes up to 42 working days before a Ferrari engine is ready, "a very long process" of machining, heat treating and testing, stresses Giorgio Lasagni, manager of engine operations.

For the aluminum body, Ferrari has formed an alliance with Alcoa, which produces many of the aluminum extrusions used in both the 612 and the older 360 Modena. Working largely by hand, employees use 400 self-tapping rivets, 100 pop rivets and nearly 200 feet of welds to craft a Scaglietti space frame. Once complete, it's loaded onto a carrier and shipped back to the main Ferrari complex.

In April, these bodies began going through a surprisingly sophisticated new paint shop that but for its scale could have been lifted from any of the world's best assembly plants. A high-tech sorting system sequences bodies through the various baths, prepping them for the automated paint sprayer. The shop is able to handle both steel and aluminum, Ferraris as well as Maseratis.

Ferrari acquired its longtime, crosstown rival in 1997 and intends to use it as a way to keep profits growing without diluting the Ferrari brand. The new production complex will be able to produce up to 14,000 cars a year, nearly three-quarters of those under the lower-price Maserati badge. And that, stresses Montezemolo, will avert the need to dilute the Ferrari mystique through overproduction.

Never Say Never
"Racing is in Ferrari's blood," says Montemezolo, a statement of fact, not opinion, to a legion of fans. Still, as hard as it might seem to believe right now, sooner or later, Ferrari is likely to be pushed off the pinnacle of Formula 1's steep hill. Schumacher could very well retire at the end of the year. The rules could change yet again. A competitor might come up with a faster car. It's happened before. When Phil Hill, the first American Grand Prix champ, retired from Formula 1 after the 1961 series, Scuderia Ferrari went into sharp decline. Each time Ferrari has faltered, though, the team has come back strong, reflecting the enormous resources that the company invests in its motor sports program.

Those who know how much that is aren't saying. Estimates run upwards of $200 million annually. Montezemolo says that whatever the figure, "it represents what we would have to spend on advertising and on advanced technology that we get free from Formula 1."

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