Monte Carlo - You don't argue with the classics. In the case of Ferraris, the front-engine V-12 cars have a purity of form and an aristocratic bloodline that puts a bedrock foundation of substance beneath their undeniable style. After a long absence from the lineup, the 550 Maranello reintroduced that classic Ferrari layout and, as it happened, ushered in a new golden age for the storied Italian marque. Now the old man in the Ferrari stable, the 575--ne 550--Maranello for its final model year has spun off a special variant, the Superamerica. Aside from resurrecting a name from a previous Ferrari glory era, the Superamerica is most notable for its one-of-a-kind rotating glass roof.
What at first might seem to be the gimmicky gilding of an aged lily turns out to be just the right flourish for a car that has aged like a good malt whisky. The point may be infinitely arguable, but we'd assert that the 575 Maranello is the most enjoyable current Ferrari, more relaxed than the F430 yet more svelte than the 612 Scaglietti. The Superamerica's flashy top, as well as its other, lesser modifications, makes it even more of a pleasure-mobile than the standard 575.
We drove the Superamerica in Monaco, which, like most locales in which Ferraris gather in number, is a place where seeing and being seen are major pastimes. In the Superamerica, the fun starts after just seven seconds, which is the time it takes the electrochromatic, laminated-glass roof to fling itself back onto the deck lid (after a quick yank of the parking brake and a release of the handle on the windshield header). Not only is the fancy flip top fast-acting, but its integrated rear window, which pivots around but remains in place, acts as a wind blocker, protecting your artfully mussed hair from the ignominy of natural mussing. Because the open top lies on top of the carbon-fiber deck lid (without interfering with its operation), trunk space is undiminished. When the top is up and it's shade rather than sun that you seek, a dial on the console turns the glass from pale green to dark blue, thereby blocking 99.5 percent of the heat and much of the light. The car also does this automatically when shut off, to keep the interior from baking.
It would be a shame to let the sun roast the acres of soft leather lining this lovely cabin. Ours had a tiny T-bar on the console, for engaging reverse with Ferrari's F1A transmission. A button alongside selects the much-improved auto mode, which is just the thing for slogging through the prerace madness in Monte Carlo. Only a handful of the 559 cars to be built will be equipped with the manual six-speed.
When the crush got to be too much, we headed out of town and then up the steep cliffs to La Turbie. Perfectly weighted, laser-accurate steering helped immeasurably in placing the car along the narrow roads cut into the jagged, cream-colored rock. The F1 gearbox's ever-charming rev matching fed Michael Schumacher fantasies (after all, ego stroking is as pleasurable as any other kind) and whipped off superquick shifts that sent the front-and-center-mounted tach zooming toward its 7750-rpm redline.
Intakes, cylinder heads, and an exhaust all redesigned for freer airflow have imbued the Superamerica's 5.7-liter V-12 with 24 more prancing horses than in the 575 Maranello, sufficient to compensate for the fliptop's additional 132 pounds and to send the car hurtling toward the next hairpin at eye-widening speeds. Ferrari asserts that the Superamerica is the world's fastest convertible, able to reach 199 mph with sufficient room and the proper devil-may-care attitude.
Although we came up short in both, our high-speed descents back and forth through the hairpin-studded cornices made us glad for the carbon-ceramic brakes in our red test car. Part of the GTC package--which also includes firmer springs, a larger rear antiroll bar, and a retuned exhaust--the high-tech brakes are impervious to fade (maintaining performance even after 300 laps at Fiorano, according to Ferrari). Like the 575, the Superamerica corners essentially flat; its neutral behavior can be coaxed into oversteer with the stability control switched off and a determined shove of the throttle. The ride is firm, and flicking the Sport switch on the dash makes it even more so (by firming up the active damping). However, for all modern carmakers' carrying on about reducing dive and squat, we're glad to see that the Superamerica still has some. There are few better feelings in the world than booting this car's throttle and feeling the Superamerica rear back onto its haunches as it charges off down the road, V-12 in full song. You won't want the good times to end.
Price: $290,000 (est.)
Engine: 5.7L V-12, 532 hp, 434 lb-ft
Engine: 5.7L V-12, 532 hp, 434 lb-ft