When you’re in the New York metropolitan area and it comes time to shake down some extra-fancy, extra-rapid sheetmetal, such as the $240,000 Bentley Continental GT Speed and the $375,000 Ferrari FF we are driving, you don’t have a lot of options. This, of course, would be distinctly unlike either of the window stickers for these two cars, as between them they enumerate a combined $100,000 in options.
What we mean by “lack of options” is this: There are few roads around here to fully reveal a supercar’s superpowers—no experience to be had legally in a place close to New York City that even slightly resembles blasting down the autobahn or traversing the Stelvio Pass at speed. As a result, the thinking has long been that to evaluate stylish and spendy 12-cylinder flagship coupes like these, with seating for two-plus-two and price tags for two-plus-14, you might as well concentrate on psychographics instead of fast driving and simply point your swish ride toward the tony Hamptons at the eastern end of Long Island.
“In terms of the memories its speed and charisma will leave imprinted upon anyone fortunate enough to get close, [the Ferrari F40] is the Car of a Lifetime.” – August ’88
But charged with the two fiendishly expensive coupes and given a choice, New York–based senior editor Joe Lorio and I said, “Ixnay on the Amptonhays.” For one thing, we’ve come to learn that driving there often involves hours in traffic on the Long Island Expressway. Sometimes known as the Big LIE, the Island of Long’s main concrete artery is typically anything but express. You pinch yourself every time you’re lucky enough to approach the modest posted limit on the LIE, because the almost unbelievable speeds of which our steeds are capable—208 mph for the Ferrari, 205 mph for the Bentley—are in this setting irrelevant. And yet we’re in one of the places with the most fast cars putt-putting around. Go figure.
From an authenticity standpoint, the Hamptons peaked sometime in the last century. In what were once predominantly communities of fishermen, farmers, and clam-digging bay men, plus the occasional hereditary millionaire out for the summer, today you find your sensibilities battered by flotillas of Range Rovers, Escalade EXTs, and G-wagens ferrying armies of Botoxed clotheshorses and social astronauts, men and women, who call this place home. That is, when they’re not in one of their other homes.
So, as they will, the artsy movers and groovers of New York have found somewhere else to go besides the Hamptons for their weekend and summer fun. In search of popular prices, many traded the ocean scene they couldn’t afford for a river scene they can float . . . for the time being, anyway. For more than 20 years, New York City hipsters and Hamptons refugees have been repopulating the sleepy, often derelict 18th- and 19th-century towns along the Hudson River. Led by antiques dealers, organic farmers, and fixer-upper types, a healthy serving of the region’s artistic middle classes (including the gay hipoisie) has made its way to a stretch of river not far south of Albany and not much more than 100 miles from New York City. By 21st-century developer standards, the Hudson River Valley is as unspoiled as they come.
In any event, big money always follows the hip. So it is fitting that we collect these opposing imposing coupes and head due north along the Hudson River to one of the psychic centers of the Hudson River craze, the city of—what else?—Hudson.
A once-grand town, Hudson was founded by Nantucket whalers in the 18th century as a protected, aquatically tranquil place to render blubber and other spoils dragged home after multiyear voyages hunting for the giant sea mammals. If Hudson’s residents today aren’t any more familiar with Bentleys and Ferraris than they are with the mating habits of the right whale, well, they better get a move on. If nothing else, we are performing a public service driving these luxo-sleds in their midst, preparing them for the wealth to come as their burgh continues its rapid renaissance from bawdy, decayed, and really rough river town to Brooklyn on the Hudson and future Hamptons. But first we are going to find out a thing or two about these cars for ourselves.
If Hudson’s residents today aren’t any more familiar with Bentleys and Ferraris than they are with the mating habits of the right whale, well, they better get a move on.
The Taconic Parkway traces a narrow path through some especially bucolic countryside east of the Hudson River. It is not the Field of Motorized Dreams it could be, owing to a political accommodation made at the time of its construction, which reserved for local communities the right to issue tickets to those who violate the speed limit as they pass through each town’s little stretch of parkway. The practice is one of the municipalities’ most dependable sources of revenue, and the limits remain low—55 mph—and the penalties high. To say the localities are not bashful about meting out retribution is to understate it.
Rest assured, FF does not stand for Fifty-Five. Nor does it mean Full o’ Freedom. Limiting drivers of 651-hp Ferraris to 55 mph ought to be a universally recognized act of torture, and yet there it is. As much as possible one obeys the limit, for if there was ever a car to encourage local law enforcement to think that its occupant could afford, and probably deserve, a fine—any fine—this unusual-looking Ferrari shooting brake is it. Finished, like our Bentley, in a subdued charcoal gray, it tries to look discreet but fails totally.
“… Driving the Ferrari 328 is a celebration— your birthday party, Cinco de Mayo, and Mardi Gras, all fused into one.” – May ’86
Progress is vivid if not graceful at the hated double nickel, as quiet desperation quickly turns into noisy desperation and, before long, I am forced to explore the 6.3-liter V-12’s performance envelope by aggressively deploying only the first few cogs of its dual-clutch seven-speed gearbox. Shifting is easy if not smooth thanks to paddles to control gear selection and a more brutal shift speed available with the Sport setting engaged. Aside from a steering wheel that tediously contains more controls than we’ve ever seen in one place before (rear wiper, really?), the FF’s most notable party trick is the way it adds all-wheel drive to Ferrari’s tried and true rear-drive chassis.
Running power to the front wheels from the front of the engine and through a two-speed transaxle (with ratios close to the main gearbox’s second and fourth gears) makes for a more lightweight all-wheel-drive system that can strongly bias the engine’s torque split to the rear wheels. It’s the rare FF driver who will be able to explain how what Ferrari calls the 4RM system actually works. Even fewer are likely to experience its capability, because what owner really wants to drive his personal FF in snow, ice, or mud? I guess it’s nice to know it’s there.
Sixty mph comes up from a standstill in less than 4 seconds, and the mandated 55 mph arrives even sooner, giving us a chance to review the low-down torque. Conclusion: Upstate or down, 504 lb-ft should be adequate for most occasions. So will butter-soft acres of stitched pumpkin leather, done as only the Italians can do it. But yon cubits of decorative carbon fiber? Not so much, sire. Build quality is good overall, but not without a little old-school sketchiness around the edges, such as door jambs that misted up after rainfall and an ashtray in the center console damned with an action so crappy, it would have shamed a Chinese toymaker in the 1970s.
The next morning, we awake to find fresh parking tickets on our cars. Who knew they did the alternate-side-of-the-street thing here?
The comparatively mass-produced Bentley is built like the tank it is. At more than 5100 pounds, it not only feels solid, but also outweighs the Ferrari by close to 1000 pounds. On the speed front, with 616 hp from its 6.0-liter twin-turbo W-12 and 590 lb-ft of torque, even this Bentley can’t quite undo the weight handicap, reaching 60 mph in a less brisk but hardly leisurely 4.0 seconds. But the difference hardly seems important in this setting. Nor would it at 205 mph. For a moment, the GT Speed is the fastest street-legal Bentley ever, although the forthcoming introduction of the Bentley Continental Supersports will soon change this.
Of course, heft is not just a state of matter; it’s a state of mind. Even the Bentley’s switchgear has it, being substantial in a way Ferrari’s big coupe often is not. Bentley’s attention to build quality was pretty good when it was a British-owned firm, and German management has only added another layer of anal retention (attention to detail, I mean). It’s markedly quieter inside the GT Speed, and the Volkswagen family infotainment hardware, artfully skinned to look like a Bentley offering, is far superior. Ferrari’s infotainment screen interface—mi scusi, interfaccia—is better than it used to be, and at least it doesn’t look like the omnipresent Chrysler unit we see nowadays in most every Chrysler-Fiat-Dodge-Jeep product. Of course, this is because it’s an even older Chrysler unit that doesn’t work as well as the new one, though the graphics at least have been hastily retouched, Ferrari-style, to avoid abject embarrassment in a $300,000 car. (The GT Speed starts at $217,000.)
Hoping to know both cars better, we were grateful to receive an invitation to stop at a private racetrack on our way to Hudson. Belonging to investor Alan Wilzig of Taghkanic, New York, the 275-acre compound with a small track initially stirred controversy when it was a proposal known as Wilzig Racing Manor. Unsurprisingly to this New Yorker, the opposition reportedly came not so much from locals as from the huddled masses of weekend escapees from Manhattan.
One mile long and 40 feet wide with 80 feet of elevation change, the lovely track that Wilzig was ultimately able to construct lends itself to several configurations but is ideally suited to exercising his sterling collection of Grand Prix motorcycles. While the track can be used for cars, it feels more like the tarmac equivalent of a wave pool when you’re hustling around in 4145 pounds of Ferrari or 5115 pounds of Bentley.
Even so, a few essential truths emerge: No. 1 among them, the Bentley is big and seriously heavy, and the Ferrari is no featherweight itself. The FF steers more friskily and boasts substantially better visibility through its windshield, while forward reconnaissance in the Bentley is hindered both by sheer weight and by A-pillars as thick as steel I-beams that severely compromise sight lines through corners. Speaking of corners, the Anglo-German hybrid exhibits more body roll than Modena’s king coupe when it’s loaded up in one. The FF’s gearing (and we’re only talking about the shortest ratios) is better suited to a tight track; the cogs of Bentley’s eight-speed automatic are more attuned to intergalactic highway travel.
The Ferrari’s seats, handsome as they are, aren’t meaningfully supportive around corners, and our legs hurt before we got to the track, though the fact that we couldn’t get the lumbar control buttons to work may not have helped. In fact, many of the Ferrari’s controls feel finicky and lightweight next to the Bentley’s unmistakable solidity.
The Continental’s chairs don’t look wildly supportive either, and they aren’t, but then nothing about a Conti ought to put you in mind of racing, even when it’s in GT Speed form. When it sticks to its luxury mission, the Bentley triumphs. While manumatics and big-torque engines rarely play happily together, the resolutely automatic Bentley works with its whisper-smooth engine to take the smooth-shifting crown here, hands down. The W-12 doesn’t rely on revolutions to acquire power, redlining at 6000 rpm with a lusty huff, where the Ferrari screams all the way up to its 8000-rpm limit. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. Far from it. For a spirited drive, we prefer it.
So we’ve learned that neither of these exotic cars is a track-day wonder. Like their vaunted ancestors—say, the Ferrari 365GT 2+2 and the original, 1950s Bentley Continental R—they’re fast bruisers meant for eating highway miles. It is a disappointment, then, that both cars ride so poorly, courtesy of their 20-inch (Ferrari) and 21-inch (Bentley) tires with narrow sidewalls. As the tariff for marginally better performance on the track, the Ferrari exhibits a marked tendency to tramline on lesser quality roads (thank the cruel winter in the Northeast for their prevalence here), while the Bentley crashes randomly over bad surfaces in a most ungenteel way. Giant wheels and tires are now the rule in cars for rich and poor alike and will be until some brave company bucks the trend and sacrifices putatively stylish rim diameter for comfort, a component of luxury that should not be overlooked.
In Hudson (population 7000), we are greeted by Maureen Cassidy-Geiger, an art historian who’s just bought a home in this city’s historic downtown. An inveterate networker who recently moved from downstate, she recommends we meet with Colin Stair, owner of Stair Restorations. A refugee from Long Island, Stair agrees with our thesis that the Hudson River Valley is the new Hamptons. Expanding on a four-generation family involvement with antique furniture sales and restoration in London and New York, he appears to have made a splendid life catering to the good-taste explosion that’s hit the area.
“A Ferrari is pure sound and beauty and fury… A car you want to drive fast in the lowest gear possible just to hear that engine howl.” – April ’96
The next morning, we awake to find fresh parking tickets on our cars. Who knew they did the alternate-side-of-the-street street-sweeper thing here just as they do in New York City? I was worried they didn’t like our cars’ swagger. But Hudson has seen the likes of these cars, and it will see more. Its high street bustles with eateries and shops, many with postmodern names like Sketch, Swallow, and Swoon. Someone tells us that über-hip online craft marketplace Etsy has just moved a back office into town, and we roll our eyes. (Of course it has.) At lunch, we run into Tommy Stinson of the Replacements.
Putting us in the care of Erika Clarke, Stair’s special assistant when she’s not running a rare-book shop in Hudson with her mom, we are invited to photograph our cars outside his home, which overlooks the Hudson River. He calls its architectural style “Arts and Crafts, loosely,” but it looks pretty grand to us. Stair and his wife, Katrina, restored it a few years back to include a couple of large garages, which he seems intent on filling with old Chevrolets, including a one-owner 1957 Bel Air coupe, a ’69 Impala convertible, a ’70 Chevelle with an LS7, a 2007 Z06, and, with a friend, a 2012 Camaro SS that’s supercharged for drag racing. Speaking to our new pal, it occurs to us that he must be one of the only people we’ve met lately who is as comfortable describing the role of the cabriole leg in 18th-century furniture as he is conversing about the inner workings of the big-block Chevy V-8.
Maybe it’s the old “you can take the boy out of Long Island but you can’t take the Long Island out of the boy” thing. Maybe he’s just emblematic of the type of creative people who wind up this way, obsessively rooted in culture high and low, like they used to be back in the Hamptons, back when there were more choices, before all that was left was to gild the lily. Speaking of options, it’s good to know there’s a new place near New York also suitable for taking new Bentleys and Ferraris.
Trip Notes: Hudson Valley
Directly across from the Amtrak station, Relish serves up healthy breakfast and lunch fare.
60 S. Front Street, 518-828-1825
Northern Italian cuisine is particularly well done at Ca’mea.
333 Warren Street, 518-822-0005
Hudson is chock-full of antique shops, but the prices often reflect the area’s popularity. Try the auctions at Stair Galleries. The Friday sales are low/no reserve.
549 Warren Street, 518-751-1000
The Hudson Milliner is not a B&B; it’s more like staying in a cool apartment (complete with kitchen) in an old brownstone.
415 Warren Street, 917-930-4302
Located on the prettiest street in town, the Inn at Hudson is a baronial manse designed by architect Marcus Reynolds. Check out the stained-glass ceiling in the foyer.
317 Allen Street, 518-822-9322
A monument to one (rich) man’s vision, Wilzig Racing Manor is a 1.15-mile private track on a Columbia County hilltop. Available for special events.
450 Post Hill Road, West Taghkanic, N.Y.
- $217,000/$237,400 (base/as tested)
- $298,750/$375,087 (base/as tested)
- 48-Valve DOHC Twin-Turbo W-12
- 48-Valve DOHC V-12
- 6.0 liters (366 cu-in)
- 6.3 liters (382 cu-in)
- 616 hp @ 6000 rpm
- 651 hp @ 8000 rpm
- 590 lb-ft @ 2000â5000 rpm
- 504 lb-ft @ 6000 rpm
- 8-Speed Automatic
- 7-Speed Dual-Clutch Automatic
- Electrically Assisted
- Hydraulically Assisted
- Front Suspension
- Control Arms, Air Springs
- Control Arms, Coil Springs
- Rear Suspension
- Multilink, Air Springs
- Multilink, Coil Springs
- Vented Discs
- Vented Carbon-Ceramic Discs
- Dunlop Sp Winter Sport 3D
- Pirelli P Zero
- Tire Size
- F, R: 245/35Zr20, 295/35Zr20
- L X W X H
- 189.2 X 76.5 X 54.9 In
- 193.2 X 76.9 X 54.3 In
- 108.1 In
- 117.7 In
- Track F/R
- 65.5/65.2 In
- 66.0/65.4 In
- 5115 Lb
- 4145 Lb
- Weight Dist. F/R
- EPA Mileage
- 13/20 mpg
- 11/17 mpg
- 0-60 mph
- 4.0 Sec
- 3.7 Sec (62 mph)
- Top Speed
- 205 mph
- 208 mph