Thousands thronged the Ferrari stand at Geneva's motor show for the debut of the machine called simply, and not a little curiously, LaFerrari. Earlier that same day, rather fewer had made their way to the first showing of the production version of English Formula 1 constructor McLaren's new roadgoing hypercar, an equally badass monument to overqualified overkill, blandly named P1. Proving in sum what we already knew: nothing.
Any new Ferrari is a big deal. And this one is a bigger deal than most. The successor to the mental Enzo (and F50, F40, and 288GTO before it), LaFerrari is the limited-production (499 only) top of the line and the most powerful street machine the legendary establishment has ever built. It stakes out new ground stylistically, technically, and in the all-important realm of sticker shock.
For style, think classic 1960s Ferrari P3 and P4 prototypes with a dollop of insectlike Transformer, the unfortunate lifeblood of modern car design. And think Ferrari's first production hybrid. Thanks to an electric motor there to assist an already shatteringly studly V-12, LaFerrari serves up go to the tune of a combined 950 hp, enabling this extraordinarily prancey machine to reach 60 mph from rest in less than three seconds. It will travel more than 217 miles in an hour. And it costs more than a million dollars. Not sounding green yet? Call it green lite. And get used to it; race-bred hybrids are the main event at the top of the automotive food chain.
Impressive as LaFerrari sounds, we can barely wait till someone gets around to testing it against the P1. Previewed at last fall's Paris show, the new McLaren is also a hybrid that costs more than a million clams, its production limited to an even more rarefied 375 units. The P1 is a wonder of modern technology with a Kevlar/carbon-fiber "MonoCage" at its core that weighs just 198 pounds. A bit of a Transformer itself, the P1 varies its ride height for more ground-effect suction and uses an automatically adjustable electric rear wing to optimize downforce -- more downforce than any road car has ever mustered, McLaren claims.
Unlike the Ferrari, the P1 runs in all-electric mode for up to twelve miles. Its CO2 emissions are expected to run about 40 percent lower, making it the greener choice on paper. Ferrari figures no one ought to pay for one of its V-12s and then have to go even a moment without actually hearing its glorious bark, even if it means an emissions penalty. The company may have a point. We're betting the V-12 sounds better than McLaren's 3.8-liter twin-turbo V-8 and its AC motor put together. Even so, with a combined 903 hp, the P1 ought to reside in LaFerrari's accelerative ballpark, and its top speed of 217 mph is right there, as well.
Too frequently the media have let the Ferrari mystique lead them to dismiss McLaren's efforts. When you have an outfit that has won more than 180 F1 races spanning six decades, one that made the 1990s' definitive supercar, the F1 -- a towering, instant megaclassic -- it ought to be judged eminently real competition for Ferrari. When McLaren supremo Ron Dennis says the P1 will be quicker around the Nordschleife than anything, Ferrari ignores him. We'll see.
One thing I am unable to ignore is the name. LaFerrari. The company corrects those who insist on calling it the Ferrari LaFerrari, but I fear that won't help its maker reclaim the good-taste high ground it has long since ceded. True, you have the right to call yourself what you wish. Gordon Matthew Thomas Sumner would have been a supremely pretentious pop star even if he hadn't chosen to call himself Sting.
LaFerrari strikes me as the lexiconic equivalent of the inches-high prancing-horse badge that Ferrari's most vulgar customers insist must emblazon their fenders. Now, just in case anyone missed you pulling up in your noisy red phallus or your logo-strewn sunglasses, tracksuit, and gold chains, you get another opportunity to impress. "Did I mention that my Ferrari is the LaFerrari?" Final judgment awaits, but unless it turns out that the P in P1 stands for penis (Penis 1, I like it), the only thing we do know between these two is whose name gets the good-taste seal of approval.