But instead of calling out the cops or helicopters with rocket launchers the way we would in America, the natives exulted as we barreled through their towns. Children shrieked and jumped up and down excitedly to the accompaniment of squealing, folded-under Multipla tires and the popping and farting of Ferrari's brilliant V-8 on the overrun. Thick-waisted middle-aged women looked up from their chicken tending and smiled, while old folks stopped shuffling long enough to look, nod, and sometimes even wave. Of course, we told ourselves, we were in Ferrari country. It might be different if we were trying this stuff in a yellow Hummer.
If you had to identify a single thing about the Ferrari driving experience that stands out, it would be its engine. Without the V-8's sound and the big balls it confers, you might think you were sitting in a bigger, heavier, more comfortable Lotus Elise, a car that
handles as well, looks as wild, and costs about one-fifth as much as the F430 Spider F1's expected $206,000 list price, while going almost as fast. But the Lotus lacks the exotic engine and the exotic engine sound, as well as the exotic gearbox of the F1 model we were driving, and, as we steeped ourselves in the music they made together, we were increasingly convinced that the noise alone justified the premium.
The route we'd ditched had been designed to celebrate the five senses. But where our compatriots' first stop was Villa Verdi, the home of the legendary Italian composer, signifying the sense of sound, we were treating ourselves to actual sound sweeter than any opera. Call us Philistines.
At idle, the newly chain-driven V-8 ticks over like some sort of high-performance sewing machine. But take the tachometer to four grand or above (it reads all the way to 10,000 rpm but is electronically limited to 8500 rpm) or just stomp the accelerator anywhere past one-quarter of its travel, and the engine instantly transforms, erupting as someone would if someone else had just deliberately dropped a cinder block on his big toe-real mad, real fast. With its state-of-the-art Bosch Motronic injection system, the latest Ferrari V-8 may not make the same great sucking sounds as its carbureted ancestors, but its sound is just as addictive and still worthy of immediate induction into the Engine Note Hall of Fame.
Maximum enjoyment of aural and performance potentiality is made possible by the optional F1 gearbox, a wondrously slick, paddle-operated, six-speed transmission that makes every bozo look like a master of the gearshifting arts. (A six-speed manual is standard.) Its mood is programmable, along with the car's suspension settings and stability and traction controls, thanks to the manettino, a dial on the steering wheel meant to evoke the more complicated steering-wheel controls on Scuderia Ferrari's F1 racing cars. When the manettino is set to Race, the F430 whips off shifts with brutal speed and buttons down its suspension to the max. Other settings include Ice, Low Grip, Sport, and the hotshoe's favorite, Everything Shut Off, which makes entry to the sideways motoring club an option coming out of just about every corner. The rest of the time, traction control systems, working with Ferrari's race-derived electronic differential, work imperceptibly, but with feverish speed, to keep the car and the would-be hero behind the wheel squarely on the black stuff.
A seriously expensive option at close to $11,000, the F1 transmission stands out for its uncanny ability to match engine revs and gears perfectly during downshifts, automatically blipping the throttle for you to minimize unwanted jerking and body motion while offering constant, convenient access to the Ferrari V-8's mellifluous range of tones. Not since the invention of the karaoke machine has a device made singing so easy.
While our fellow journalists were invited to exercise their sense of smell at the scheduled lunch stop, ours had kicked in earlier. While far from the petrochemical-dump aroma of old Weber-carbureted Italian stallions, the open-topped F430 did give us a generous whiff of old-fashioned gasoline fumes.
It is hard to sidestep one's sense of taste in connection with an F430 Spider. Some will doubt the taste of those who buy them. Not because they're not great cars but because they tend to be painted bright red, look like demented anteaters, and have enormous yellow prancing-horse badges stuck to their fenders, outsized emblems that might look more at home on a teenager's bedroom wall.
Price: $195,000 (est.)
Engine: 4.3L DOHC V-8, 483hp, 343lb-ft
0-62 mph: 4.1 sec
Top speed: 193 mph