It is fitting that on the day we arrived in Italy to drive the latest offering from Ferrari, Michael Schumacher took the checkered flag in the French Grand Prix at Magny Cours, bringing Ferrari's star driver his fifth FIA Formula One Drivers' World Championship and moving Ferrari closer to a fourth consecutive constructors' title.
Racing is, after all, the foundation upon which the temple of Ferrari is built. To own a Ferrari is to bask in some of the reflected glory of the company's racing heritage. In recent times, the Ferrari road cars that can most legitimately claim some of that glory for themselves are the "special series" cars, uncompromising sports cars utilizing the most advanced technology for ultimate performance.
F50, F40, 288GTO--these cars, more than any others, reinforce the storied Italian auto-maker's rich tradition of turning out road cars that are tantalizingly close to its competition cars. They are produced only every few years, in tiny batches, and each one is an event. With the turn of the century and Ferrari's return to prominence in Formula 1, it's time for another in this grand sequence, the Enzo Ferrari.
The what? The Ferrari Enzo Ferrari? Or just the Enzo Ferrari? With characteristic Italian clarity, the press kit explains: "The car is called the Enzo Ferrari, but it will be referred to simply as the Enzo."
"After I celebrated Maranello [with the 550 Maranello] and I celebrated Modena [with the 360 Modena], I was really looking for a way to celebrate Enzo Ferrari," explains Ferrari chief Luca di Montezemolo. Clearly, the founder's presence is still strongly felt fourteen years after his death at age ninety. We see the Enzo for the first time in a courtyard, behind which is a brilliant white stucco farmhouse with Ferrari-red shutters. Inside, Enzo Ferrari's first-floor corner office is preserved almost exactly as it was at the time of his death. There's the simple laminate desk, with a closed-circuit television to one side, which showed the Fiorano pit area. There are the low-slung brown leather sofas flanking the fireplace, in front of which was always a TV where Enzo watched races. The walls are adorned with large black-and-white photos marking great moments in Ferrari's competition history: Daytona 1967, when Ferrari took first-second-third; the 1975 Spanish Grand Prix at Barcelona with Lauda and Regazzoni; the Nrburgring with Fangio in 1956, the year he won the world championship for Ferrari; a 125S in Ferrari's first race in 1947.
Enzo Ferrari's passion for Formula 1 explains why this car should bear his (full) name. It is, in Montezemolo's words, "very close to Formula 1 in idea, in concept, and a little bit even in design."
That design was done by Pininfarina, with a directive to "do something outside the crowd." We'd say that goal was achieved, although you'll notice Montezemolo didn't say anything about doing something beautiful. But we can attest that in person the car is exotic and striking--you appreciate it more as a machine than as a work of art. The Enzo comes in red or yellow livery, although in the factory we also saw a particularly sinister-looking one in black, a color that may be added to the palette.
Another part of Montezemolo's design directive was "no showy wings," which necessarily placed additional importance on aerodynamics. Besides going wingless, a functional goal was to have increased downforce at medium to high speed (about 140 mph), so, for example, the Enzo could take a bend at 143 mph that the F50 could do only at 137 mph. This was to be done while preserving a top speed of at least 217 mph.
These conflicting requirements necessitated active aerodynamics. The movable elements are two front-hinged flaps in the underbody under the twin front radiators and a rear body panel between the taillights. For maximum downforce, the front flaps are tucked up flat against the underbody, and the rear spoiler extends up. For less wind resistance (and maximum speed), the front flaps angle down while the rear spoiler retracts. Besides the movable panels, there is considerable attention to air management elsewhere. For instance, air channels run along the car's smooth underbody, from the pointed nose to the two rear diffusers. The Enzo's project leader, Giuseppe Petrotta, claims it's this underbody air management that allowed the engineers to meet Montezemolo's directive to eliminate the huge rear wing, a feature of both the F40 and the F50.
The inside of the Enzo is nearly as exotic as the outside. That's particularly true of the steering wheel, which looks like something out of an F1 car. Indeed, what Ferrari refers to as the man-machine interface is one of the chief areas where the Enzo borrows from Formula 1 technology. So here's this flat-topped wheel with a series of light-emitting diodes in the rim at the top. Yellow and red lights at the far left and right let you know something's up on the gauge cluster. The band of five red diodes in the middle light up in sequence from 6000 rpm up to the 8000-rpm redline. Shifting is via steering-column-mounted paddles, although the gearbox is slightly different here from those in other Ferraris: Shifts are quicker, there is no automatic mode, and reverse is engaged not by a T-handle on the console but by a button on the steering wheel. Other buttons change the info display on the dash, raise the front of the car by 1.2 inches (to cope with bad road surfaces), and switch among the traction control's three settings. The Sport mode has traction control fully engaged; the Race mode allows some wheelspin; the system also can be shut off altogether.
An overview of these controls is the extent of our briefing before the start of the five-lap test drives. We're in the pit garage just a few feet from the long straight. The great red beasts idle on the red-painted floor, the V-12s resonating in the metal building. The mid-mounted engine is visible under the rear window, as per the current supercar custom. The 48-valve, 5998-cc engine is a brand-new design that is the first of a new family of V-12s. Featuring a 65-degree V, it's constructed of aluminum, with Nikasil-lined cylinder walls and titanium connecting rods. In addition to continuously variable intake- and exhaust-valve timing, the intake manifold has telescoping pipes, a torque-boosting technology derived from F1.
Every so often, one of these impossibly exotic machines zooms off, then, a couple of minutes later, comes rocketing past down the straight, so close to the garage windows one could almost lean out and touch it. We listen to the sound of the engine fall and rise and fall again, then we recheck the handwritten list of names to see how many more have to go before it's our turn.
Finally, the time arrives. The Enzo's front-hinged scissor/gullwing door extends down into the sill to make ingress and egress somewhat easier, but you still have to drop yourself into the firm racing-style seat. Because the door wraps over almost to mid-roof, you have to mind your head when closing it. We're able to slide the seat back and forth manually, but owners also can customize the fit by specifying one of four widths for the seatback and the bottom; the two floor-hinged pedals and footrest configure sixteen different ways (variable height and placement for the pedals and two sizes for the footrest).
Although the windshield is narrow and the seats are close together, the cabin is wide and not at all confining. Aside from a few patches of leather, the interior is a festival of carbon fiber. Some control oddities: What look like horn buttons actually operate the turn signals, the horn switch is in the steering wheel rim, and the windows are crank-operated.
The car has been left running, and the air conditioning is blowing furiously, battling the midsummer heat. I release the handbrake under my left thigh and get the signal to go.
I pull into the straight, and the roar of the engine rises up behind my ears in a glorious growl. The steering wheel LEDs light up, and I tap the carbon fiber paddle for second gear. As I approach the first hairpin, the brakes slow the car so quickly that I end up braking much too early, just as executive editor Mark Gillies predicted in his pre-departure Fiorano track briefing.
Up to third, fourth, then back down to third, second--the paddle shift is a miracle, essential for its super-quick, clutch-free, almost thought-free shifts. (The transmission varies the speed of its gearchanges based on throttle angle and engine speed.) Steering is fantastic, quick, direct, perfectly weighted. And, unlike some supercars, the Enzo is easy to see out of.
But above it all is that engine. The Enzo accelerates so fiercely that there seems to be no place to hold your foot down for more than a moment before the next corner comes rushing up to the windshield right now. That's what 650 horsepower will do for you. We're told that lighter reciprocating parts in the new V-12 make for less inertia and quicker revving, not that you have to light up the steering wheel LEDs to get a lot out of this engine. At 3000 rpm, the V-12 is already pushing out 383 pound-feet of torque, with 485 pound-feet coming at 5500 rpm.
We come flying down the straight, which seems to shorten so fast it could be telescoping under the car. Deep into the brakes this time--they're a little strange-feeling at the top of the pedal travel but heroically strong and easy to modulate the harder you're using them. The anti-lock system tries to interfere as little as possible--even letting through a brief bit of lock-up toward the end of a hard stop.
The brake discs are made of carbon-ceramic material, a first on a Ferrari street car and one of the Enzo's most notable adoptions of Formula 1 technology. The Brembo-supplied braking system uses four fifteen-inch discs squeezed by six-piston aluminum calipers at the front and four-piston calipers at the rear. Ferrari claims four advantages to this exotic componentry: low weight, fade-free performance with consistent pedal effort and travel, long disc life, and perfect dimensional stability for a near-total absence of vibration.
Our driving laps are over almost as soon as they've begun, but there's one more Enzo experience in store: a ride with Dario Benuzzi, Ferrari's chief test driver.
While most of the Ferrari people are sweating through their red shirts, Benuzzi's tan knit shirt and slacks are immaculate, his hair unmussed. The man exudes a rat-pack cool, a natural byproduct, no doubt, of having the coolest job in the world.
Benuzzi speaks little English, so there's no talking as we strap into the seats. The Enzo squiggles its tail a bit as he blasts out of the pit lane, then it's hard on the brakes as we close in on the first hairpin, where the g-forces plaster us to our seats. He eases the car into a gentle oversteer on some of the next few corners before an eye-widening blast back down the straight. Benuzzi drives with a slight grin that breaks into a smile during his more bravura moments, when he takes the Enzo up to the very high limits of the tires' adhesion.
Those tires are Bridgestones that are unique to the Enzo, and they are wrapped around nineteen-inch aluminum wheels attached with a single center lug nut. They mate to a control-arm suspension that features pushrod-actuated dampers with remote reservoirs, another bit of racing technology. (As are the fully carbon fiber composite monocoque chassis and the carbon composite body.) There's an active damping system that's tuned for a more forgiving ride when the traction control is set to Sport and a firmer one when it is set to Race or is switched off.
Benuzzi loosens up a bit on the second lap, doing a bigger power slide on the first corner after the long straight. This being Italy, his cell phone starts to ring. Benuzzi is so unflappable I half expect him to answer it. Instead, he pushes the tail out again on the right-hander leading over the bridge, while the phone provides a bizarre counterpoint to the V-12.
The next hairpin sees his most spectacular performance. After braking hard at the end of the back straight, busily tapping the downshift paddle, he comes out of the turn in a lurid, Miami Vice-style first-gear power slide, then drives casually for the rest of the lap to cool the car down. As we roll up to the garage, he says, "Handling is fantastico." No argument here.
Ferrari's Enzo is an intense experience, and you walk away woozy but grinning. Our man Georg Kacher was so taken by the car that he was heard to offer Ferrari PR supremo Antonio Ghini 175 euros (all the money in his wallet) for five more laps, an offer politely declined.
If you want to park one in your own garage, that will empty your wallet to the tune of $670,000. But a word of warning before you go rushing down to your local dealership with your lottery check--or, for you CEOs out there, your week's wages: You're already too late.
Ferrari plans to build only 349 Enzos (the same as the F50's total production), with only 70 of those coming to the United States (where there are 220 orders so far). Just as it was in the founder's day, money alone doesn't guarantee you a Ferrari.