Ferris Bueller had the right idea. Why let a perfect day slip through your fingers? Sunshine can’t be stashed in a savings account. Smiles won’t keep in your freezer. Good times are perishable, so smart operators like Ferris grab the gusto when they can.
Lord knows we could all use a shot of Bueller-grade glee to cleanse our souls of bad karma. Smacked by hurricanes, expensive fuel, a mortgage crisis, a stock market crash, and a mean-spirited presidential election, all of us deserve a day off. I took mine in Sicily with audio entertainment provided by a seldom-throttled Ferrari V-8.
And this was not just any Ferrari V-8, but one specifically engineered to uplift the mood of those with the cash reserves to buy it plus everyone fortunate enough to hear eight barely muffled cylinders racing to an 8000-rpm redline. The new Ferrari California wrapped around this engine is exactly the hot car we need to take our minds off a global economy on ice.
The California name says it all. Think palm trees adorning Bel Air boulevards, ruby lips, and blonde tresses ruffled by gentle zephyrs. This is the convertible that Scarlett Johansson would treat herself to if her next movie is a blockbuster.
The California moniker also plucks the heartstrings of every Ferrari fan by harking back to the 250GT sports cars constructed by the Scuderia from 1954 through 1964. About 2500 such Ferraris were built during the Eisenhower and Kennedy years, constituting a major production milestone and this firm’s first volume model for roadgoing customers. All 250GTs were powered by Colombo V-12 engines and dressed in coupe or convertible sportswear fashioned by Italy’s finest coachbuilders.
After the handful of GTO homologation specials (racers disguised as road cars), the California Spider is the most auspicious child in the Ferrari 250 family. Requested by either Ferrari’s East Coast importer Luigi Chinetti or its West Coast distributor John von Neumann, or both (opinions vary), this specially configured 250 was essentially a stripped-down softtop version of Pinin Farina’s berlinetta (coupe) with steel and aluminum bodywork crafted by Scaglietti. During a six-year run that began in 1958, a total of 104 California Spiders were built in two series. Just less than half rode on a 102.4-inch wheelbase and sixteen-inch wire wheels. The 94.5-inch-wheelbase second edition brought a bit more power, fifteen-inch wheels, and about 100 pounds of additional weight attributable to a stiffer chassis. The two variations on the 250 theme are distinguishable by the number of vanes in the front-fender air vents; first-series Spiders have three, second-edition models sport two.
Celebrity ownership and competition success have blessed the Spider California with a golden aura. Brigitte Bardot purchased a long-wheelbase model, and James Coburn topped the list of swells who loved driving one of the short-wheelbase Spiders. Prepped for racing, these Ferraris won their GT class at Sebring in 1959 and 1960, while a car entered by Chinetti’s North American Racing Team and co-driven by Bob Grossman and Fernand Tavano scored fifth overall at the 1959 24 Hours of Le Mans.
Spider California trading prices have been climbing heavenward for decades, prompting Paramount to use a kit car in place of the real thing to immortalize Ferris Bueller’s illustrious day off in the 1986 movie directed by John Hughes. In 2007, a first-series example brought $4.95 million at an auction in Monterey, California, and Coburn’s short-wheelbase car sold for nearly $11 million in Italy last spring.
Beyond the name and a sunny spirit, the new and old Ferrari Californias have little in common. Half a century of technological progress has revolutionized every aspect of Ferrari’s chassis, powertrain, and suspension engineering. The new California’s motorized roof disappears in fourteen seconds, and its interior is a grand salon of magnificently tanned and stitched cowhide accented by polished aluminum castings. While the California Spiders of the 1960s were the last Ferrari convertibles suitable for both road and motorsports use, the twenty-first-century successor’s distinction is that it’s the first-ever roadgoing Ferrari powered by a front-mounted V-8. But is the new California worthy of one of the most illustrious names in the Ferrari pantheon? Is it a truly capable sports car or an Italian-speaking Chevrolet Corvette?
Sicily is the perfect place to resolve these doubts. In 1919, Enzo Ferrari visited the soccer ball off the Italian peninsula’s boot to compete in the Targa Florio, his second-ever race. From a humble start-ninth overall and third in class behind the wheel of a CMN motor buggy-Ferrari went on to achieve a total of thirteen outright victories (with both Alfa Romeo and Ferrari teams) on this volcanic island.
Bathed in the brilliant Sicilian sun, the California looms larger than photos would suggest, a half-size grander than both the Ferrari F430 and the Corvette. But, as its maker is quick to point out, the California ventures beyond sporting intentions to provide two distinct personas in one convenient package: a comfortable and lavishly trimmed top-down cruiser plus a race-bred coupe capable of running hard when pressed.
Twist the key, press the red button on the steering wheel, and the pageant commences with the authoritative din of 453 prancing horses stampeding through pipes that run nearly the full length of the car. The cockpit is a button-puncher’s delight, with the direction of travel, the shift mode, the nav screen, and even the parking brake all commanded by an index finger.
The 110-mile autostrada run from Mazara del Vallo at Sicily’s western edge to the local roads consecrated by the Targa Florio provided an excellent opportunity to savor the California’s softer side. With the manettino controller set on Comfort, the ride is poised and rarely perturbed by uncouth pavement. With the top stowed and the wind blocker on guard, the cockpit is surprisingly tranquil well into triple-digit speeds. What the shoulder-high beltline borrows from beauty, it repays in ruffle-free alfresco pleasure.
The California’s V-8 hums placidly while cruising, then roars to life with a few clicks of the downshift paddle. Blasting through tunnels with the throttle down and the revs up, the serenade is more baritone than bugle and nothing like an F430 V-8’s piercing shriek. Ferrari engineer Vittorio Dini, the new V-8’s godfather, revealed two tricks that trained the engine’s vocal cords and inflated its torque curve: injecting fuel in two doses per combustion cycle and using an H-shaped connector between the pipes to help accelerate the exhaust flow. Compared with the F430’s V-8, the newfound torque amounts to a gain of between 13 and 23 percent through the critical 2500-to-4500-rpm range.
Without that extra urge, the California would have been hopelessly burdened by the climb from sea level to the 2100-foot altitude at Caltavuturo, halfway through the Targa Florio course used from 1932 through 1936 and again from 1951 until the final run in 1977. Weighing nearly 4000 pounds, this hefty grand tourer needs all the powertrain and chassis help it can get from Ferrari’s latest technological strides.
The Getrag-supplied dual-clutch seven-speed transmission, located just behind the rear axle to optimize packaging and weight distribution, is a thing of remarkable mechanical finesse. In automatic mode, it shifts smoothly and unobtrusively. Switched into manual mode, it keeps the engine on an express schedule to the redline and the driver amused by hearty, if not quite breakneck, acceleration.
In the more aggressive Sport and CST-off manettino modes, the magnetic dampers have their work cut out managing nearly two tons of mass. Turn-in is quick and crisp, there’s no midbend understeer, and the tail swings obligingly wide when the throttle is toed exiting the corner. However, there are subtle hints that haring around is not the California’s favorite activity. Steering feel is notably absent until the front tires crowd the edges of adhesion. The lean and bob of the body during aggressive steering, braking, and throttle applications reveal compromises baked into the spring and damper calibrations. You can have a clear view of the 10,000-rpm tach, or you can have the steering wheel set at the perfect height, but not both at once. The manettino has no Race setting, because there are better ways to enjoy a day off behind the wheel of a California.
What it comes down to is horses for courses. The California is not an F430 with a flip top and room for skis and golf clubs. Instead, this is the Ferrari for the successful Beverly Hills plastic surgeon-think Ferris Bueller twenty years out of high school-seeking more flair than any Bentley or Mercedes-Benz could possibly offer, with the versatility to support a weekend trip to Vegas in supreme comfort. The California will not only let you look great at both ends of the journey while enjoying utter contentment en route, it is also the smart way to protect $200,000 from the ravages of the stock market.
My Day Off In Ferris Bueller’s Ferrari
By Don Sherman
Decades ago in a galaxy far away, I test-drove a faux Ferrari Spider California manufactured by Modena Design & Development, located not in Italy but in El Cajon, California. This Ford V-8-powered kit car was a reasonably accurate visual copy, but one detail about it struck me as odd: the bottom surfaces of the four tailpipe extensions were deeply scratched and flattened.
I discovered what caused the damage upon viewing Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, the coolest high-school con job flick ever made. Midway through the film, the car star soars through the air and lands in a shower of sparks. But don’t blame Ferris (Matthew Broderick) for abusing one of the most valuable Ferraris ever created. A depraved parking lot attendant piloted the Spider California on its short film flight.
Except that it wasn’t a real Spider California. The “making of” material included on the latest Bueller . . . Bueller . . . Edition DVD reveals the truth. Paramount Pictures saved the cost of renting and repairing a real Ferrari by using two Modena Design kit cars as stunt doubles. The car I’d tested between filming and the movie’s release was the actual flying machine.
The deception is evident in the film when the parking attendant yanks the kit car’s automatic transmission shifter back to drive forward. Another giveaway is the 6500-rpm redline visible in the mileage-unwinding scene; a real Ferrari Spider California’s tach has no redline marking.
Modena Design is no longer in business, and the movie car’s whereabouts are unknown. Mark Goyette, who designed the kit and is shown above with the movie car, now owns a restoration business in Bennington, Vermont. A 1932 Daimler Double-Six that Goyette restored won Pebble Beach’s Best of Show award in 1999.
To discover what I’d been missing all these years, I arranged a drive in a magnificent 1963 Ferrari Spider California owned by Joseph Moch. Contrary to my expectations, it was a joy to experience, with gentle control efforts, a beguiling exhaust note, and a surprisingly compliant ride. Except for close-coupled pedals, the cockpit is nicely tailored. The 3.0-liter V-12 sounds like a well-oiled sewing machine until 4000 rpm, when the million-dollar howl commences. Now I know why Moch calls his Spider, “The only material object I ever loved.”
Design Analysis : 2009 Ferrari California
By Robert Cumberford
There was always an appreciable visual break between racing and roadgoing Ferraris, but during Enzo Ferrari’s lifetime, all of them-by intent-were beautiful objects. When Ferrari abandoned frontline sports car racing, it was a styling disaster for pure road cars. From objects of exceptional beauty, Ferraris have little by little descended to being collections of backward-looking “cues” and “references” and “identity marks” that push client hot buttons. The cars aren’t based on form, function, or fidelity of purpose, and certainly not on advancing design as Ferraris once did. This California is a perfect expression of that rather cynical attitude. It is a good car, but in no way does it represent the best work Italian designers can do today.
1 Exaggerated brake-cooling air inlets on lower front corners are overly sculpted compared with pragmatic holes on earlier Ferraris. It is not a Buick, after all.
2 The cut-out headlamps are dynamic, and the fender peak derived from the rear point is elegant and helps the overall shape.
3 All credit to Pininfarina for making the A-pillar straight, not sharply curved back over the driver’s head as in many cheap folding hardtops.
4 The scooped line below the headlamp flows up into the hood, allowing the statutory clearance over the engine for European pedestrian-safety regulations.
5 The 1950s-style hood scoop is decorative, evocative, and also functional.
6 The vent on the fender side is traditional, but the convoluted shapes deriving from it are simply messy, leading to a contrived rear fender that’s lower than the tall deck needed to house the roof panels.
7 Traditional five-spoke aluminum wheels are reduced to the minimum, increasing open area. This, at least, is admirably forward-looking.
8 The indent on the lower door and the supposed brake scoop in the lower rear fender seem to be present for no particular purpose. The tiny inlet points directly at the tires, not the brakes.
2009 Ferrari California
Base price $200,000 (est.)
Engine DOHC 32-valve V-8
Displacement 4.3 liters (262 cu in)
Horsepower 453 hp @ 7750 rpm
Torque 358 lb-ft @ 5000 rpm
Transmission Type 7-speed dual-clutch automatic
Steering Power-assisted rack-and-pinion
Suspension, front Control arms, coil springs
Suspension, rear Multilink, coil springs
Brakes Carbon-ceramic vented discs, ABS
Tires Bridgestone Potenza RE050A
Tire size f, r 245/40YR-19, 285/40YR-19
L x W x H 179.6 x 74.9 x 51.5 in
Wheelbase 105.1 in
Track f/r 64.2/63.2 in
Weight 3969 lb (per manufacturer)
Factory Performance Figures
0-62 mph Less than 4.0 sec
1/4-mile 12.2 sec
Top speed 193 mph
Fuel mileage 18 mpg (combined, European cycle)
Grand Touring Redefined
By Don Sherman
Ferrari’s new California V-8 shares its basic architecture and defining features with the F430 and 430 Scuderia V-8s: a 4.3-liter displacement, a 90-degree V-angle, a flat (180-degree) crankshaft, and variable intake and exhaust valve timing. Added attractions include direct fuel injection, a larger bore, a shorter stroke, and a higher compression ratio (raised from 11.9 to 12.2:1). The 453-hp peak is less than Ferrari’s mid-mounted V-8s and the redline drops from 8500 to 8000 rpm, but the California’s torque curve is substantially broader and taller, with 358 lb-ft of maximum twist available at 5000 rpm. Superlative audio entertainment is orchestrated by equally spaced power pulses from each bank of cylinders and two muffler bypass valves.
The California’s new rear-mounted, paddleshifted, dual-clutch transaxle is manufactured by Getrag, the German gear grinder that also supplies the BMW M3’s dual-clutch transmission. Advantages over Ferrari’s highly refined F1 automated-manual transmissions include no interruption of torque delivery during shifts-one clutch engages simultaneously with the other one releasing-and seven, instead of six, gear ratios. Clutch pedal and gated lever devotees needn’t fret, because a conventional manual transmission will be offered in the California about six months after production starts.
Ferrari reports that the 0.32 drag coefficient achieved for the California yields ten percent less aerodynamic drag than any previous model, improving both mileage and performance. The aluminum unibody consists of the usual spaceframe clad with sculpted skin. Compared with the F430 Spider, the California is larger and heavier but also stiffer in both bending and torsion. Its convertible top, which weighs but eleven pounds, folds away in fourteen seconds. In the event of a rollover, a safety bar automatically deploys in 0.19 second from its guard station at the rear of the cockpit.
Brembo carbon-ceramic brake rotors are standard. The rear suspension is a new multilink design tuned to provide longitudinal resilience (for low impact harshness) with high lateral stiffness (for optimum handling). Magnetically adjustable dampers are optional. As in other Ferraris, damping rates, transmission actions, traction control, and stability control can all be adjusted through one steering-wheel-mounted manettino switch. Three settings fine-tune the California’s dynamics for casual, sporting, and racy moods.