Behind the Wheel | Ferrari F430
Machine Is a Dream. Wait Is a Nightmare.
FERRARI is on a roll. These days, we take for granted that auto enthusiasts with very deep pockets line up for whatever the Maranello factory deigns to produce, but this wasn’t always so. Consider the unloved 348 of the late 1980s and early ’90s, which has depreciated enough that an irresponsible family man could ask himself, “Do I buy the loaded Honda Odyssey or the used Ferrari?”
I’m going to venture a guess that the F430, the entry-level car in the Ferrari line, will never depreciate into minivan territory. In fact, for the moment, it’s not depreciating at all. While new F430s list for about $185,000, my unscientific eBay research found that used F430s are going for around $300,000.
This thing must cause meltdowns in the mainframe at Kelly Blue Book. Used-car appreciation? Does not compute!
The F430’s unlikely worth in the used-car market comes down to two factors. First, it’s a brilliant car, as I’ll explain. Perhaps more important, Ferrari refuses to build enough cars to satisfy demand.
Because nothing whips rich people into a frenzy quite like telling them they can’t have something, the line for F430 ownership is like the wait for Space Mountain — as soon as you turn a corner and think you’re there, you discover the line just keeps going.
Last summer, a Boston-area Ferrari owner, Dennis Liu, told me he was on the waiting list for an F430. He’s still waiting. “I’ve been on the waiting list since 2004,” Mr. Liu said. “And the delivery date is always nine months away.”
It bears mentioning that Mr. Liu is president of the New England chapter of the Ferrari Club of America. Even he can’t conjure an F430.
Ferrari had 1,000 orders for the $650,000 Enzo after the car was unveiled in 2002, but the company stuck to its decision to build only 399 cars (plus one for the pope). By my math, that means it left $390,000,000 on the table in the name of exclusivity and almighty demand. With those 600 never-built Enzos, Ferrari essentially invested $390 million in its own legend.
“It’s not a case where we can produce as many cars as we want to,” said Maurizio Parlato, president and chief executive of Ferrari North America. That said, Ferrari could produce more cars than it does.
“There’s a magic relationship between volume and price,” Mr. Parlato said. “We have very sophisticated market intelligence working for us.” That intelligence says Ferrari needs to find its growth in untapped markets.
“Ferrari has increased production capability for emerging markets — China, Singapore, Australia — while maintaining exclusivity,” Mr. Parlato said. You’d have to be some kind of snob if you live in Palm Beach and you’re upset about a few extra F430s tooling around Shanghai.
Of course, stoking demand with limited production doesn’t make sense unless the demand is there in the first place. With all the hoopla over this car, you’d think it would be nearly impossible for it to live up to expectations. But the F430 manages to deliver, despite the baggage inherent in its status as the It Car of the prancing-horse brand.
This car plays in the realm where performance numbers are everything, and on that front it duly hangs with the Porsche 911 Turbos and Corvette Z06s of the world (as well it should, considering its price).
But the F430 is more than a cold-blooded G-force generator. It’s a total experience, one that dopes every pleasure receptor in your brain with automotive giddiness. Achieving that abstract goal is always trickier than hitting hard performance targets — call it the alchemy of desirability.
You get the impression that in designing the F430, Ferrari’s every decision was framed by the question, “How can we make this more like a Formula One car?”
So the 4.3-liter, 479-horsepower V-8 got a motor with a high-pitched, hard-edged wail that’s unlike anything else you’ll hear from a car with license plates. That high-strung motor is mounted behind the passenger compartment and ahead of the rear axles, just like a Formula One car.
The F1 sequential manual transmission does away with a clutch pedal, instead giving the driver shift paddles on either side of the steering column, just like a Formula One car (although traditionalists can still order a six-speed manual). The steering wheel features Ferrari’s “mannetino,” a small rotary switch with six settings to tailor the car’s electronic aggressiveness, from a snow-and-ice mode (as if!) to race, to the position beyond race that Ferrari’s people politely asked me not to engage, as it disables all traction and stability control and could easily lead to a Code Red Disgraced Journalist Situation.
In some vehicles — a Dale Earnhardt edition Monte Carlo springs to mind — racecar affectations come off as marketing silliness. Here, you get the idea that they’re not only a tangible link to the real open-wheel deal, but they enhance both the F430’s performance and the experience of driving it.
In some ways, this car is amazingly civilized — consider the interior bedecked in leather and carbon fiber, the ride quality that is counterintuitively supple, the downright practical nine-cubic-foot trunk up front.
(The F1 transmission even has an automatic function, but I’m proud to say that I can’t tell you how it works because I never tried it. If you’re too lazy to twitch your fingers for a shift, you shouldn’t be driving a Ferrari.)
But the beast within is always just beneath the surface. A nudge of the throttle recalls Russell Crowe’s line in “Gladiator”: “At my signal, unleash hell.”
The F430 feels even faster than its 0-to-60 time (four seconds) suggests, because everything it does, it does dramatically. The exhaust system has flaps that bypass the mufflers, essentially plugging that trademark howl into a giant megaphone.
One habit I got into with the F430 was digging deep into the throttle and then pulling back for an upshift a few thousand r.p.m. short of the redline. This seems to trick the engine computer into dumping loads of fuel into the intake ports in anticipation of a run to 8,500 r.p.m., because when the F1 transmission clicks off the shift, it’s accompanied by a rifle-shot report, a supersonic whip-crack from the exhaust that prompts you to look in the mirror to see if the car behind you is engulfed in a contrail of flame. That never got old, frankly.
Some of my colleagues in the motoring press tell me that on a track, the F430 can be drifted, tail-out, balanced on the razor edge of adhesion.On the street, its handling imparts a sense of invulnerability that finds you wondering why everyone else is dawdling down off-ramps when they’re perfectly negotiable at 80 m.p.h.
The steering has a quick ratio but isn’t nervous — you’re not constantly correcting your path, but should you decide to change lanes you need only glance in the proper direction and you’re there. The car evinces careful engineering to nurture this ferocious-yet-livable split personality.
For instance, this may sound as lame as pointing out that there are no cup holders, but I also came to truly appreciate the sharp turning circle. When you’re parking a violently red $200,000 Ferrari, it’s nice to pull into a spot without doing Austin Powers back-and-forth corrections for half an hour. Because, believe me, people are watching.
On the debit side of the ledger, the F430 is really expensive. And, with the F1 transmission, it’s hard to parallel-park on a hill because you have to stab the throttle and guess how far the clutch will engage. But that’s really about all I’ve got.
The F430 can tone down its act enough to play the role of daily driver, but when you let it off its leash there are few cars out there with a more raw-edged devotion to driver involvement. I have a feeling that when Dennis Liu finally gets his F430, he won’t be disappointed.
INSIDE TRACK: In your dreams.