There are sports cars, there are Ferraris, and then there are the super-Ferraris. We chart the strides Maranello has made to offer ever more astounding abilities
Think back to your favourite car. Maybe one you’ve owned, perhaps just one you’ve been lucky enough to drive or even ride in as a kid: That magic momonet when a friend’s dad picks you up in a 911, or a Golf GTi or whatever it might have been that fired your imagination. You remember it in little snapshots, right? The feel of the door handle as you unclick the latch to swing open the door, the sound of the starter motor, the feel of a shift from second to third, the sticky action of the throttle pedal, or maybe just the smell of the interior or the bark of the exhaust.
From my life as a road tester I have millions of these little scenes committed to memory, from the cool sensation of titanium and the stubby heft and super-precise shift of an NSX R’s six-speed ’box, to the feeling of a Renault Mégane 275 Cup-S leaping into the air, landing, settling and then clawing its way towards the next corner in one fluid movement. Each one is precious.
Some cars aren’t remembered in moments, though. They etch such a vivid picture that it plays lout over minutes or hours, rich in detail, sensation land sound. They’re rare, of course. Not even Ferrari can hit these heights every time. But since the 288 GTO launched in 1984 their fiercest line of midengined supercars has never failed to deliver. GTO, F40, F50, Enzo and La Ferrari. The reddest of the blood red. If you ever feel as if you’re losing faith with Ferrari, these are the cars to make you believe again.
What makes them so special? Take your pick. The animal beauty of the 288 GTO, the Fl-derived 4.7-litre V12 of the F50 closing in on 8500rpm, the scalpel-sharp dynamics of the Enzo, the unhinged drama and crazed boost of the F40 or the way LaFerrari utilises so much technology to create a driving experience that’s seamless, exploitable and almost overwhelmingly accelerative. There are a million more reasons, too. One thing, however, unites them. When you open the door to each, drop into their driver’s seat, take a deep breath and start the engine you’re drawn into an experience that’s unique and completely absorbing. They might be poster cars but when you’ve got them in your hands they’re living, breathing, tactile monsters.
Let’s start at the beginning with the 288 GTO. Launched in 1984 and built to meet Group Bregulations, it was essentially a modified 308 GTB. But what modifications. The engine was turned through 90 degrees and gained two IHI turbochargers. To accommodate the longitudinal 2855cc V8 the wheelbase increased by some 110mm and Leonardo Fioravanti created a sinfully shaped body of fibreglass, steel and Kevlar.
Instead of the 308’s semi-monocoque design the chassis was tubular steel but, thanks to the late great Dr Harvey Postlethwaite (Ferrari’s F1 designer at the time), it was reinforced with a carbon Kevlar bulkhead, too. The numbers, in ’84 at least, were startling: 400bhp at 7000rpm, 366)b ft at 3800rpm, 1161kg and a top speed of 189mph.
In 2017 those figures might seem almost normal, but approaching the 288 GTO today it seems more extraordinary than ever. True, it looks tiny and almost delicate in proportion, but there’s outrageousness in the details: The way the wings swell to accommodate the wider track and tyres, the slashes and louvres cut into the bodywork for cooling, the differential hanging below the rear bumper and those beautiful split-rim alloys (just 16 inches in diameter). That noise you can hear is your heart thumping a little bit harder.
Inside it’s not stripped-out racer. The seats are set a fraction high but they’re of that classic Ferrari ribbed design and trimmed in leather. There’s a full carpet set and the dash is neatly covered in a soft, velvety material. It even has electric windows. But the open gated shifter is so evocative and the view ahead and in those distinctive rectangular mirrors is from the gods. Twist the tiny little key, press the plain black rubber start button and let a great big smile crack across your face.
That look will return later, but once you’re up and running it’ll be replaced by one of intense concentration. The 288 GTO isn’t a spiky animal to drive in anyway, but it is really, shockingly good, and that means you soon forget the value and want to exploit all that it has to offer: The supple, controlled poise; the massive thrust once the turbos have hit boost and the fantastically communicative steering (non-assisted). It’s the sheer ease with which the 288 GTO generates speed that’s a surprise, and the way it seems capable of untangling the trickiest of roads and gliding over the scabbiest of surfaces.
They are all so different in their own character. The F40 is a raw beast with turbos that come on boost and propel the car at serious speed even by today’s standards. It’s also fantastic on track. The F50 with its normally-aspirated V12 makes the car very different from the F40. With a removable roof, a lot more refinement and Fl technology, the F50 is technically miles ahead of the F40. The Enzo is a another huge leap forward, though. On my car, I have a Tubi exhaust and the sound, particularly on start-up, is unique to the Enzo. With paddle-change gearbox the car moves through the gears at fantastic pace and on track feels like a race car. Finally, LaFerrari. The leap in technology for this car is the biggest of all. Power seems never-ending and huge speeds are achieved time and time again with ease. For me the most important thing is to cherish these cars but also to drive them as Enzo would have wanted.”
The way the GTO melds gorgeous tactility with huge, elastic power and surprising grip and agility is something very special. The F40, launched just three years later, could hardly be more different. Its beauty is more brutal, the interior exposes much more carbon fibre (it’s now bonded into the tubular steel chassis to form stressed panels and also used for the entire body) and it’s clumsily joined with green adhesive that looks like it was applied by somebody in a hurry.
The flat-plane crank twin-turbocharged V8 has grown to 2936cc, the raw numbers reading 478bhp at 7000rpm and 425lb ft at 4000rpm with weight pegged at 1100kg. The steering is heavier than the GTO’s at low speed but somehow feels a little slower and less accurate at speed, the brake pedal seems to do not very much at all, and the engine has the same fantastic feeling of a massive wave of torque building quickly and then getting more and more furious as the revs build towards 7000rpm. It is still an unbelievably fast car.
The problem is that using that performance is very tricky. Partly due to the way the delivery ramps up so quickly and partly because the set-up is so much more aggressive. On your average UK B road (and many A roads) the F40 seems to spend more time leaping into the air than it does driving across the Tarmac. Trying to juggle the boost, predict what effect the road surface will have on the rear axle’s purchase and work the stiff, awkward gearshift is, to put it politely, a ‘challenge’. God, the noise is fantastic, though. As if there’s a small war breaking out just behind your head. And on smoother roads the F40 has amazing balance. If only you could lean on it with a bit more confidence on real roads
Ferrari broke the mould completely with the F50 in 1995. Out went the blown V8, in came a V12 derived from Ferrari’s 1990 F1 car, the 641. The four-cam, 60-valve, 4699cc engine (up from 3498cc in the F1 car) is bolted directly to the carbon-fibre tub, there’s inboard pushrod-actuated suspension but still a six-speed manual gearbox and no power assistance for the steering or ABS for the brakes. Traction control? Forget it. All 513bhp at 8000rpm and 3471b ft of torque at 6500rpm is yours to manage. And yet people think the F50 is a bit soft…
Certainly, it’s less combative than its predecessor. Where the F40 would be skipping the F50 is hooked up and flowing. But it’s anything but soft. That engine TY sends vibrations fizzing through the deeply sculpted seat and screams up towards its 8700rpm limiter.
Above 4500rpm it is ferocious. It’s also hooked up to perhaps the best gearbox ever fitted to a road car. The steering at first seems too slow, but it’s full of feel and it works beautifully with the chassis balance – providing a perfect picture of the grip available and allowing you to nudge up to the initial understeer or unlieash the engine to find a neutral balance. Raw immediacy and on-limit progressiveness have rarely melded like this.
For me the F50 is the ultimate analogue car. It is everything Ferrari knew about making a car without driver aids. The weight of the controls is just about perfect, the gear shift is possibly the best manual that Ferrari ever produced.
It is so raw, with no traction control, ABS or power steering. Yet once you get used to it, it’s not intimidating, The control weights are such that you always know what the car is doing, and while it takes a little learning to get the best out of, it rewards time spent in the driver’s seat.
Simply put, I don’t just think it is the best driver’s car Ferrari ever built, I think it is possibly the best driver’s car, full stop.”
The Enzo of2002 and LaFerrari of2013 are very different again, the former really signposting Ferrari’s future direction and the latter feeling like a spectacular conclusion. First, the Enzo. You can see and feel the shift from the F50 of seven years earlier in every detail. Gone is the open-gate ’box to be replaced by paddles. The F50’s deliberate, unassisted steering is superseded by an incredibly light, superdirect rack and the steering wheel it self could act as a metaphor for the whole experience. Where before there was a plain black three-spoke leather wheel there’s now a flat-topped carbon and leather sculpture with shift lights running along its top, and buttons that tweak throttle response, traction control settings and much more.
To drive, at least compared to the proudly analogue F50, the Enzo does feel slightly digital. The steering is almost unnerving in its response and weighting. Every little input has a big reaction but it doesn’t pulsate with feedback, and even when you feel like you’re really loading the 245/35 front tyres there’s little to tell you what the Enzo has in reserve. The answer, usually, is a lot. This is a car with fantastic agility and superb traction even in the face of the 6-litre V12’2 650bhp at 7800rpm and 485lb ft at 5500rpm. The chassis feels unbelievably stiff and wide, giving the suspension a perfect platform to simultaneously control the body and react with real precision. But again, that absolute ability isn’t matched by an intuitive, natural feel. You have to learn to trust the Enzo rather than drive it purely by feel.
One area that does feel creaky is the single- clutch paddle-operated gearbox. What once seemed lightning fast but slightly uncouth now feels a bit shoddy. Such is the pace of development. The frightening truth is that the twin-clutch ’box in, say, a Skoda Octavia is smoother and faster. Even so, when you’ve got temperature in the tyres and that V12 is filling its lungs, the Enzo is an exciting place to be. The visor-like windscreen, the big gearshift paddles, blazing shift lights and the car’s laser accuracy make for a manic experience.
But it’s nothing compared to LaFerrari. Some numbers: Ferrari’s most recent hypercar has a 6262cc V12 that revs to 9250rpm and produces 789bhp and 516lb ft of torque. It features a seven speed dual-clutch box and in the differential there’s an electric motor that spins at 16.500rpm and is capable of delivering 161bhp and 199lb ft. Instantly. The combined power outputs are just astonishing: 950bhp at 9000rpm and 664) lb ft at 6750rpm. It’ll do over 217mph and cover 0-100mph in around five seconds… FIVE.
After the angular, almost awkward Enzo it’s also beautiful. Almost 288 GTO beautiful. Raise up the doors and a narrow, slim-silled carbon tub is revealed. The driver’s seat doesn’t move, instead you adjust the pedal box and the small almost dead square steering ‘wheel’ to find the right driving position. Again, there are shift lights, buttons and now a ‘manettino’ dial to switch driver modes from Wet, to Sport, Race, CT Off and ESC Off.
The driving experience builds on the hyper-alert feel of the Enzo but now it feels like there’s more depth and cohesion. The steering is incredibly fast but the chassis reacts seamlessly to your inputs, the ’box is outrageous but punches so cleanly and the engine is nothing short of extraordinary. I say ‘engine’ but I guess I mean ‘powertrain’ as the electric motor boosts the V12 at low and mid-range to create phenomenal torque delivery and then continues to supplement the screaming engine as it rips up to 9250rpm.
Your brain says it shouldn’t be possible to accelerate like this but the 345-section tyres are almost freakish in their ability to transmit every scrap of power to the road. It really is one of the few cars you never really hit full throttle in. You s-q-u-e-e-z-e the accelerator, eyes widening with every millimetre of travel. But and here’s the real magic LaFerrari is exploitable and even friendly. Like all modern Ferraris it seems to use unfathomable technology to flatter you as a driver but still keeps you fully involved.
LaFerrari makes you feel superhuman. I guess you can’t ask much more of supercar than that. Where do they go from here? I just can’t wait to find out.
“The LaFerrari is such an easy car to get in and drive. The simplicity of the controls and the seamless way the electrical power interacts with the naturally aspirated V12 makes the car very drivable as well as inspiring confidence with the linear power delivery. The balance of the car makes it feel like it would never understeer! It’s a joy to fire up the V12 and go for a Sunday morning blast. Cross country touring is easy, as long as you DHL your luggage ahead the day before!”
Watch this video for Hypercar of Ferraris