Thursday, November 1, 2007

Driving a Maserati and Ferrari 360

I arranged a meeting with a client in Wilsonville for 11:00. I then emailed Joe to make sure he would be available at 1:00 so I could test drive the car. After this I called Tony, a friend who works in Wilsonville, and invited him along. Good to have morale support. I arrived at GP at 1:00. The blue Maserati was sitting outside. The Maserati is a understated, pretty car. Not beautiful but pretty with a very comfortable and roomy interior. Tony liked the car quite a bit. I wanted to drive it to see how the F1 gear box worked and since this gearbox is similar to the gearbox in the 360 we would drive it first. One thing I noticed immediately about the Maserati is how quickly the RPMs build. It feels like the car has a very light fly wheel. Tap the accelerator and the engine is instantly alive. Let of and the revs drop immediately. This is different from my 911 where the revs build more slowly.
I was never quite sure how you put a car with an F1 Gearbox in reverse. Turns out there is a funny little “t” shaped shifter where the gear shift would be if you were in a regular manual. You pull up and back gently on this shifter to put the car in reverse. To get back to first you tap one of the steering column mounted shifters. With the car in 1st you can sit at an idle with a foot on the brake and it feels just like an automatic or a manual with the clutch disengaged. To get the car going you let off the brake and push the gas. You can feel the clutch engaging. I found myself trying to feather the gas and hunting for the non-existent clutch pedal. Once the car is rolling you tap the paddle on the right for a higher gear, the paddle on the left for a lower gear.
I think now is a good time to describe by test drive philosophy. I like my first several drives in a car to be slow. I think that by driving the car at a reasonable rate of speed that does not require you to constantly focus on keeping the car pointed in the right direction you can better understand the cars characteristics. I know skeptics will immediately and rightly argue that you will miss the cars behavior at or near the edge but as I don’t know where that edge exists I don’t want to explore it after 10 minutes in the car. I like to find a nice winding country road with a few good turns, where I can roll along in the car, get the feel for the clutch, suspension, brakes, tranny, engine response. Everything. I find that I learn more and can better digest what the car is telling me on these kinds of roads at 10 or 15 miles an hour over the speed limit than if I were pushing the limit of my skills.
So I have the Maserati rolling. The car sounds great, the engine and gear box are made by Ferrari. The sound is like listening to a Ferrari with a soft pillow over your head. Nice, not obtrusive with a great howl if you step on it. Something I learned right away about the f1 tranny. You don’t have to let off the gas when shifting. Actually, it shifts more smoothly if you keep your foot on the gas. My first several shifts were awkward for me, the car, and my passengers. Revs come up, I get ready to shift, simultaneously tap the shifter, let off the gas for an instant the step on it again. I think this confused the car. I can imagine its brain. He is accelerating, we are going faster, he is shifting, wait, he is letting off the gas, are we stopping, is he going to brake, what should we do, oh he is on the gas again, he is accelerating. I put the car through this confusing cycle five or six time until Joe said it worked better if I kept my foot in it.
If you are reading this and you own one of these Maseratis you should consider yourself very lucky. This is a great car. It steers easily, lightly. There is great feedback through the wheel. The interior is beautiful if a bit busy. It is very comfortable to sit in with great visibility. When you step on it the back squats down nicely, and the car goes like nobody’s business. This car is certainly faster than my 911. It is also a lot easier to drive. I think the handling in my 911 is more direct but the steering feel heavier. As much as I like the sound of the flat 6 in the 911 the Ferrari under a pillow sound track is intoxicating. Once up to speed on a country road it is immediately apparent that this is a competent, fantastic GT car.
The car felt like it would understeer predictably through corners unless the tail was pitched out with the throttle. After driving it for a bit longer I detected a bit more body role than I would want in a sports car but certainly not more than one would expect in a GT.
At this point in the test drive Tony suggested we stop by his friend Andy’s house, where Tony’s 911 is spending the winter, and take a look at a Corvette Andy had purchased. We pulled onto a little side road in the country outside Lake Oswego and into a drive way. I missed the entrance to Andy’s house and had to put the Maserati into reverse using the “t”shifter. Remember how I said to pull up and back gently on the shifter. Turns out if you pull up to hard you can pull the shifter, and the entire module it is plugged into out of the car.
“That’s not supposed to happen” I said to Joe holding the shifter, the module it attaches to and ½ of the wiring harness in my hand.
“No, you don’t need to pull that hard”
“I think I can fix it.” I said.
I reattached the wiring harness, figured out how the thing went back in and volia we had reverse. The really amazing thing is that the car accepted the whole incident without a hiccup. One minute we are driving along. The next minute some goofball has pulled the shifter out. The next minute the same goofball has put the shifter back in and we are on our way. The car went into reverse and we pulled into Andy’s driveway just as Andy arrived.
Tony was interested in the car as well so he drove it back. Tony has a different test drive philosophy than mine.
A bit sea sick and more than a bit thankful I step out of the Maserati back a the dealership. Tony asks to see the trunk and spend a few more minutes looking at the car then Joe utters to most wonderful phrase I had heard that day.
“Ready to drive the 360”?
This car is titanium grey with a burgundy and black interior. It looks better than it sounds. It has 19” 430 wheels on it and has the Ferrari crest on each front fender. It is great looking. As understated as a 360 can be and the unique grey and red appeals to the non conformist in me. Joe fires it up and immediately I can tell that this is an entirely different beast. Where the Maserati had a wonderful, subdued tone the Ferrari shouts. The engine sounds ready to go. It sounds light as if the parts in it weigh nothing. I have an immediate and visceral reaction. A voice in my head shouts BUY THIS CAR NOW!
Joe pulls it out of the show room. A group of younger guys looking at a Chaterham 7 gather around to watch the Ferrari pull out. I walk out and hop in the passenger seat. Loads of room. Once on the street Joe gets on the gas in 1st and 2nd. This car is amazingly fast and sounds incredible. What shocks me is how fast this car is. The acceleration really picks up about ½ way through 1st gear. The car is being thrown forward by the engine. Joe drops it into 2nd with a quick smooth shift and the rate of acceleration continues. We have now broken the speed limit in Oregon in about 5 seconds. Really, really impressive. There is something different about accelerating quickly in this car. The combination of the engine sound, view over the hood, seating position, really makes you feel like you are in a race car.
We wind out onto the country roads we drove the Maserati on earlier. Driving the Maserati was fun but I did not have any desire to buy it. I want this car.
Sitting in the passenger seat the car feels taut, there is no flex, no give, no unnecessary movement. The car seems absolutely balanced. I want to do a bit of research and determine the front and rear weight balance of the car. From the passenger set the increased connection to the road when compared to the Maserati is immediately apparent. Joe gets on the gas on another straight but misses the shift from 2nd to third and drops the car into 4th instead.
"What happened there?" I ask.
"Foot got hung up and I did not get the clutch in." Joe replies.
Joe pulls into the parking lot of a church and stops the car. I have to admit that I was intimidated. In hindsight I am not completely sure why. I was pretty sure that the clutch, shifter, and steering on the 360 functioned in the same way as other cars but none the less I was intimidated.
I am a tall guy but I don’t need the seat all the way back in the car. The seat is manual. I move it to a comfortable position, check the mirrors and familiarize myself with all the important parts. It is really great to sit in this car. The view out the front is great; the view out the back is great.
Deep breath, close the door, push in the firm but not too firm clutch, guide the shifter into first, let out the clutch and here we go. No, I did not stall it. Wasn’t the smoothest transition either but good enough.
We pull out onto the same road we had driven the Maserati down earlier. This is a whole different car. There is a reason this 360 costs $86000 more than the Maserati. It is worth it. After just a few seconds of driving this car you realize how effortless it is to drive. The steering is beautifully balanced and precise. The clutch pickup is progressive and gives great feedback. The whole car works together flawlessly. There does not seem to be any part, function, or aspect of the car that incongruous everything is in perfect proportion. Rolling down a curvy country road this car imparts a sense of complete composure in comparison the Maserati now seems disconnected and fuzzy. I have to admit that I doubt I ever broke the speed limit by more than 10 miles per hour during this test drive. No outrageous bursts of speed. No Top Gear drifts through turns. Just a smooth, graceful drive down a nice drive.
What a great car. Go drive one.
I decide I am not going to learn much by driving the car on the highway so we make a U turn and head back on the same twisty section. On the way back there is one turn that we hustle through at a good clip. The car remains flat, solid, and confident. All you have to do is steer the car. Effortless. This is certainly a car that rewards confidence and smooth inputs.
One aspect of Ferrari ownership, or in this case drivership, immediately manifests itself. When you drive a Ferrari most people notice. They take pictures, not of you but of the car. They drive close behind you; they wave as they go by. It would be difficult not to get carried away by this attention. When I drive my 911 I get a few thumbs up, I get a few folks asking me about the car. In the 360 almost everyone looks, waves, does something. But it is not directed at me, it is directed towards the car. I think this will be difficult to remember.
I think my wife and daughters will get a hoot out of driving and riding in this car.
Too soon we are back at the dealership and it is time to get out of the car. I would really like to buy it. There is a problem with that. I have not arranged financing yet. Again, it takes quite a bit of discipline not to tell Joe that I will take car. Again I ask Joe what I can expect if I sell the car back to them after one year with and about 6000 more miles. We are starting to play for real now and Joe says it may be as high as 92%. That means I will have to shell out about $11000 in depreciation for one year plus payments on the debt of about $825 per month. Now I can write off the interest so that $825 will look more like $555 but that still amount s to over $17000 to drive the car for one year and I have not paid for insurance, gas, or maintenance yet. That is too much. Not that too much but too much.
There is one incongruous note to this entire experience. Joe points out a dot of yellow paint on the left front headlight cover on the Ferrari and mentions that some people will see this and think that the car has had body work. He explains the paint dot as a sign that the car was inspected at the factory. The factory picks one car every 50 or 100 and puts a dot of paint on them to test. Sounds nice but I notice the Maserati parked next to the Ferrari also has the yellow dot. I am to suspicious to believe that coincidence; however, I do not see why an inspection at the factory would matter on a mostly hand build exotic car this is several years old. There does not seem to be anything to gain by fabricating this story and Joe has been a straight up guy so I am going to take him at his word.
Joe said something that will prolong my search, and increase his sales cycle, each of these cars ride, handle and feel differently. When I was test driving 911s I noticed different cars handled differently. I drove one 911 which felt and handled horribly. The car looked great but felt bad. I drove similar looking car that was phenomenally tight and handled great. Its owner decided he liked it better than I did. When I finally found a 911 to buy I had used the tight, solid car as a benchmark. I will have to find an few other 360s to drive. I also still want to drive a 456 but think a 360 is the right car. I now have a benchmark in the Titanium F360 but will have to drive others to compare.

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