When you go to the Ferrari HQ in Slough to pick up a car, you can’t help but get a little bit nervous with excitement. And when you’re appointment is on a Friday afternoon and the heavens are dispensing the greatest downpour since Noah went for a sail, the butterflies in your stomach flap like rabid bats in a deep, black bore.
The plan had been to take the Ferrari California on a classic grand tour, but with a family focussed twist. We’d blast down to Paris with the two young boys nicely ensconced in the back, and see if it truly was possible to use a real Ferrari like a real, workaday family man.
As it turned out, the weather forecast was so deeply foreboding, with low-pressure systems stacking up over the endless horizon, that we decided to stay in the rain wracked confines of these islands.
But we would find that this is indeed a real Ferrari, and yes: you can use it for the school run without running the endless risk of ridicule or racking up the dings and scrapes – the slings and arrows of everyday life.
When the California was released in 2008 there were predictable intimations of disaster from many of the cognoscenti. There were so many Ferrari firsts in this edition that people were asking if you took the characteristic elements of what classically constituted a Ferrari, could it really be called a Ferrari?
The California was to be the company’s first retractable hardtop; this was to be the first front-mid mounted V8 in the company’s history; this was the first Ferrari to feature direct injection – the more fuel efficient way to squeeze petrol into the cylinders and productive of a smoother, more progressive power band than has previously featured on a car emblazoned with the prancing horse. This was also the first manifestation of a seven speed, dual clutch transmission system that was supposed to ensure an even faster, smoother flow of drive to the rear wheels and promote greater driving comfort in a broader range of driving styles.
The innovations were seen by some to be pandering to the market: a market where a plethora of ‘baby’ Astons and Bentleys, upstart Jags and shopper-centric 911s that have sold beautifully and broadened the brand image of classic marques that previously catered only to the rarefied upper echelons of the car consumption class.
In fact, it isn’t long until you realise that the branding reference to Ferrari’s 1957 250 California (below) is a valid one. There is something in the aspect and the attitude of this car that evokes the spirit of this equally pretty and dual-soulled beast.
In any case, before we had the time with the car, we never realised how subtly tuned a vehicle this could be. In pictures we’d seen, the car looked pretty, if a little more obviously ‘feminine’ than other Ferraris we’d experienced. From certain angles the Pininfarina design evoked something other than Ferrari. There was something sexy, languid and exotic, but certainly other than what we’d become used to. But as soon as this particular California rolled out the apron from the depths of the garage, these thoughts disappeared.
It might have been something to do with the trim. In Nurburgring Silver with a black roof in carbon with matching alloys, this was a truly mean, hard looking Gran Turismo.
In the steel, the lines are instantly gorgeous to behold. There is an achingly beautiful lateral sweep from the A pillar to far out on the rear three-quarter – where the roof is stashed in an incredibly efficient and transformer-like 14 seconds. There is the gape mouthed front with a classic hood scoop and subtle aero detailing that you can gaze at forever. Yes. This is a Ferrari, all right.
The original California might have had a classic V12: but the engine in the California is equally as interesting. The last Ferrari we drove was the leaping, snarling, decidedly non-domesticated F430 Scuderia. For us, it encapsulated a certain unruly essence of the Ferrari that we loved.
So the California was always going to represent a certain other something. And for us, that other something is a supremely manageable version of the typical Ferrari elements: sonic enthusiasm, snarling composure and devastating dynamicism.
There are 460 Cavali, and 485 Torque units. There is usable power up to 8,000 revs, and there is launch control that will let you pull away in less than four seconds. But where you notice the difference of this engine in when you compare it to the snarling Scud.
Where driving the Scuderia was like sitting astride an untamed stallion constantly biting at the bit and begging you to go go go, the California is more like a noble but powerful steed suited to dynamic dressage. Bury the boot and you will be launched in a smooth but dramatic trajectory. Much more usable. Much more sensible. Much more sustainable over a long, spirited drive.
The smooth delivery of power has everything to do with that seven speed, twin-clutched gearbox. Shifts are more or less seamless through the paddles and under hard acceleration and braking – but where the Scud kicked you in the lower back on the explosive shifts, the California presses you encouragingly whilst still providing the gun slinging sonic delivery. In the corners, the weight distribution allowed a quantum of rear-happiness that is welcomed – with the roof stashed and the front-mounted engine weighted perfectly there is a mathematical balance that made your correspondent feel capable of quick, safe driving –even on the slick asphalt of the Welsh mountains.
It was this combination of macho power and subtly curving lines that had the mums cooing over the California on the school run. Where the Scud (for the uninitiated) was a slightly overbearing visual presence the California held itself with a dashing sort of charisma amid an English country backdrop littered with SUVs and Espaces. The kids were aghast at the incredibly deconstruction of the hood, and even my mother in law loved it.
This last point may not be the ultimate accolade for the dedicated Ferrari clienti – but if you’re the type of person to whom things, regretfully matter, then the California just may be the Ferrari you should or could some day own.
Look out for the Full Feature in the Forthcoming Influx Print Zine
Words and pictures Michael Fordham
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