One one thousand. Two one- The V-12 engine of Maserati's $800,000 MC12 supercar bounces off the rev limiter, and I belatedly tug on the paddle protruding from the right side of the steering column to engage second gear through the idiot-proof, shift-without-lifting semiautomatic transmission.One one thousand. Two one thou-
Damn! I'm into the rev limiter again before I can grab third gear. Note to self: Pay attention to the needle arcing wildly across the large, white-faced tachometer. This is, after all, a car based on the chassis, drivetrain, and mojo of the Ferrari Enzo. In other words, wicked fast. One one thousand. Two one thousand. Thr-
Fourth gear, and I continue to flatfoot it around the high-speed oval at the Balocco test track in Italy. Back in the day, Alfa Romeo Formula 1 cars were tested here. Which is only fitting, since the MC12 is a homologation special-the roadgoing version of the racing car that finished fifth in class in the 12 Hours of Sebring this year. One one thousand. Two one thousand. Three one thousand.
Pause, clunk, fifth gear. Over the intoxicating snarl of the exhaust, I can hear vast volumes of air being sucked down the gaping maw of the roof-mounted snorkel and into the ridiculously powerful 6.0-liter engine. You want numbers? How about 623 horsepower, 481 lb-ft of torque, 0 to 60 mph in 3.8 seconds, and a top speed-drag-limited-of 205 mph? One one thousand. Two one thousand. Three one thousand. Four one thousand. Five one thousand.
Sixth gear. The pylons funneling me into a makeshift chicane form an orange blur. I see 260 klicks-a tick more than 160 mph-on the speedo as I bomb past the you-might-seriously-want-to-consider-braking-here marker that Maserati officials have kindly erected to ward off disaster. A barrier at the end of the chicane appears to be approaching at warp speed. Brake!
I hammer the brake pedal. My torso lurches against the four-point harness, and the car hunkers down into the pavement as the ground effect produced by the rear diffusers takes, well, effect. Like something out of a cartoon, the barrier still seems to be doubling in size every nanosecond. Brake harder!
I pull back on the left paddle to go down a gear-and another, and another. With each downshift, the Cambiocorsa gearbox instructs the ECU to blip the throttle, and the successive blasts of glorious double-clutching twelve-cylinder fury make me sound like a hero. The brake pedal is pulsating like a cheap Magic Fingers mattress by the time I make it down to second gear. Pucker up!
The Maserati is long and wide, with compromised visibility. The chicane is tight and narrow, with a formidable band of Armco at the exit. It's a scary moment as I slice toward the apex. And then . . . nothing. No muss, no fuss, that is. A quick left-right flick, and before I can remember what I was worried about, I'm hauling ass down the next straightaway.
And that, in the end, is the most impressive thing about the MC12. Sure, it's stupid fast and crazy capable, but that's only to be expected when you're spending enough money on it to capitalize an entire rental-car fleet. The surprise is that it's so benign, compliant, and user-friendly-a supercar that Clark Kent could love. Think of it as a 200-mph, $800,000 daily driver.
With a two-year production run-recently completed-of a mere fifty units, the MC12 is obviously a halo car, but it's driven by more than corporate ego. On the contrary, it's designed to be a tangible symbol of a new and improved Maserati, a reinvented company that hopes to carve out a small but profitable niche between Jaguar and Porsche.
The MC12 was created to achieve three goals, one for each prong of the trident displayed so prominently on the car's grille. First, it reconnects with the marque's storied competition heritage and racing cars such as the Birdcage. Second, it signals the company's renewed determination to build serious sports cars as well as grand-touring machines such as the Coupe and the Quattroporte. Third, and most important, it sends the message that Maserati isn't just Ferrari Lite.