Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Chapter 5 - Ferrari 360 Test Drive

February of 2009 was a busy month. On the 28th someone wondered “what are the advantages of an older mistress?” What type of question is that? Is it reasonable to expect of find the answer on the internet?


Ferrari 360 Test Drive

On Thursday November 1st I arrived at GP precisely at 1:00 with my friend Tony along for moral support. The red Ferrari with the F1 gear box was unavailable but Joe had a Maserati, which uses the same F1 gear box, I could drive to give me a feeling for the paddle shifters. The Maserati was sitting outside, in blue it is an understated, pretty car. Not beautiful or sexy but pretty. 

Joe started the car then left to fetch a license plate. Sitting in the driver’s seat of the idling Maserati I was torn between amazement for how quickly engine speed increased when tapping the gas pedal to considering that Tony and I could steal this car if only one of us knew how to put a car with paddle shifters in reverse. I assumed it had something to do with pulling the paddle shifters in a certain sequence. It does not. There is a funny little “t” shaped lever where the gear shift would be in a regular manual. Gently pulling up and back on this shifter puts the car in reverse. To get back to first, pull one of the steering column mounted paddles.

With the car in 1st it will sit at idle, provided the brake is pressed and act just like an automatic or a manual with the clutch disengaged. To get the car moving, let off the brake and push the gas.

It’s a bit freaky. Remember when you were a kid and you drove a go cart or tractor with a centripetal clutch? It’s just like that. I remember the first time I drove a go cart. It was at my friend Dirk’s house. I think the go cart was blue and and shaped like a quarter midget. It did not have a starter and needed to be pushed to get it going. Even as a kid I was tall. Dirk was not. After Dirk demonstrated how to drive the car it was my turn. I climbed in and unbeknownst to anyone my big feet completely depressed the accelerator. Dirk and my Mom started pushing the car and when it started it took off. Dirk let go, Mom did not, Mom held on. After a few seconds the go cart was going faster than she could run so she sat down. She still did not let go. She sat down and I dragged her around the track. I remember looking back, being amazed to see my Mom and knowing I was going to be in trouble.

Now is a good to describe my test drive philosophy. I like my first few drives in a car to be slow. I believe driving a car slowly allows me to better understand the car’s characteristics and identify attributes I would miss were I to devote my all attention to keeping on the road. There is a good argument to be made that I will miss the car’s behavior at or near the edge, but the car is new to me, I don’t know where that edge is and don’t want to explore it in my first few minutes in the driver’s seat.

I like to find a nice winding country road where I can roll along, get the feel for the clutch, suspension, brakes, transmission, engine response, everything. I learn more and can better digest what the car is telling me on these kinds of roads at just a few miles per hour over the speed limit than if I were pushing the limit of my skills.

I learned something right away about the F1 style transmission; if you want to accelerate smoothly don’t let off the gas when shifting. My first several shifts were awkward for me, the car, and my passengers. The revs climbed, I got ready to shift, let off the, taped the shifter, then stepped on the gas again. This confused the car; I imagined its little electronic brain wondering what I was doing.

“He is accelerating, he wants to go faster, he is shifting, wait, he is letting off the gas, are we stopping, does he want to stop, is he going to brake, what should I do, oh he is on the gas again, he is accelerating.”

My guess is the car thought I wanted it to act like a roller coaster. I put the car through this confusing cycle five or six time until Joe told me to kept my foot in it.
During the drive Tony suggested we stop by his friend Andy’s house and take a look at a Corvette Andy had purchased. Probably not how Joe wanted to spend his afternoon but hey I might buy a Ferrari so he had to be nice.

I missed the entrance to Andy’s house. Remember how I said to pull up and back gently on the shifter. Turns out if you skip the gently part it is possible to pull the shifter completely out of the car leaving you with an idling Maserati and a bit of metal with some wires attached to it in your hand.

“That’s not supposed to happen” I said looking in the rearview mirror at Joe while holding the shifter in my hand.

“No, you don’t need to pull that hard”

“I think I can fix it.”

Before anyone could object I reattached the wiring harness, snapped the shifter in place and voila we had reverse.

Tony drove back. Tony’s test drive philosophy is different than mine. I was a bit sea sick and more than a bit thankful when I climbed out of the Maserati at the dealership. We poked around the Maserati for a few minutes until Joe uttered a truly wonderful phrase.

“Ready to drive the 360”?

The car I got to drive was titanium silver with a Bordeaux and black interior. It had 19” 430 wheels and Scuderia shields on each front fender. Scuderia shields are little shields about four inches tall and three inches wide. They are placed on the front fenders just behind the wheel arches. The shields have the Cavallino, the prancing horse in the middle, the letter S on one side and the letter F on the other. At the top of the shield there are green, white, and red stripes, the colors of the Italian flag. The S and F stand for “Scuderia” and “Ferrari” respectively. Owners who were paying attention paid extra to have the shield inset into the fenders. Some folks just glued the shields on later. This 360 has inset shields.

The instant Joe fired it up it was obvious this was an entirely different animal. The Maserati had a subdued tone. The Ferrari did not. It shouted. I had an immediate and visceral reaction; a voice in my head shouted BUY THIS CAR NOW! I am not impulsive, it took me over a year to buy my 911 and that was after several years of talking about it but I almost bought the Ferrari right then and there.

Before I could reach for my checkbook I was in the car and Joe was driving out of the dealership. The manner in which the car was thrown forward by the engine was nothing short of obscene. The car did not accelerate in that pin you to your seat feeling you get from a car with big torque. It accelerated like an object dropped from a building; smoothly, effortlessly building up more and more speed.

We were about 150 feet from the dealership entrance when Joe broke the speed limit in Oregon while I sat in the passenger seat with a big, silly grin on my face. I have been in fast cars before but there is something different about accelerating quickly in a Ferrari. The combination of the engine sound, view over the hood, seating position, expectations, and all the history of Ferrari reinforced my perception that I was in a special car.

There is a reason Ferraris are Ferraris. Even from the passenger’s seat the connection to the road was apparent. Driving the Maserati was fun but I did not have any desire to buy it. I really wanted this car. My time in the passenger seat was divided, between being absolutely thrilled, frantically concocting plots which will allow me to take it home, and trying to act cool.

Joe pulled into a parking lot by a church, stopped the car and we switched places. I was intimidated. I am not embarrassed to admit it. I have not driven many sports cars and I had never driven a Ferrari. The seat was manual with no annoying power adjustment, just levers and knobs. I moved the seat to a comfortable position, checked the mirrors and familiarized myself with all the other important bits so I would not have to hunt for them later.

It was really great to sit in this car, not in a dealership surrounded by glass, concrete, and other cars but out on the road. The view out the front was great; the view out the back was great.

I closed the door, took a deep breath, pushed in the firm but not too firm clutch, slipped the shifter into first, let out the clutch and away we went. I did not stall it, we didn’t even jerk back and forth the way cars do when you let the clutch out improperly.

I was driving a Ferrari.

Once I was able to contain my excitement, put aside the nerves and giddiness I realized how effortless it was to drive. Ferrari has created the most beautiful, most talented dance partner in the world, but she is not for dancing, she is for driving. The steering was perfectly balanced and precise. The clutch pickup was progressive with great feedback. The whole car worked together, flawlessly. There did not seem to be any part, function, or aspect of the car that was incongruous. Rolling down a curvy country road the car imparted a sense of complete composure.

If anything the Ferrari was too easy to drive.

I expected the car to be more raw, more intimidating. I grew up reading stories about how difficult it was to drive a Ferrari. This car was the antithesis of difficult to drive. I have to admit I never exceeded the speed limit by more than 10 miles per hour during the drive. The car was nothing but civil, graceful, and entirely fulfilling to drive. Maybe if I were going fast it would have been more difficult.

One aspect of driving a Ferrari I had not anticipated was the commotion the car caused on the road. Other drivers took pictures. Pedestrians took pictures. No one takes pictures of me when I drive my truck. Did they just realize how special I am? In Oregon celebrity status is bestowed upon the driver of a Ferrari. It would be difficult not to get carried away by this attention.

The voice in my head was shouting “BUY THIS CAR!” even more loudly now that I was driving it. Remember when you were a kid and you really wanted something? An ice cream cone, an AC/DC tee shirt, a skateboard it doesn’t matter what, just that you really wanted it. There was a physical attraction which accompanied the want. As a child I was physically drawn to things I wanted by an attractive force. I was physically drawn to this Ferrari. I could feel it in my stomach.

Before driving the car I wanted to experience a Ferrari in an abstracted way. The thing I wanted was Ferrari the experience not Ferrari the thing. Now driving a Ferrari that abstract want has been replaced with a visceral, gut level want. I am so lucky the folks at Tonkin did not offer me a ride or, even worse, a test drive in the 430; I would have sold our house.

Barb wouldn’t be surprised if I came home with the car; she knew what I was up to. One night, over dinner and a bottle of wine, I told her I wanted to buy a Ferrari. I spilled the beans, told her everything. She did not say no, she did not say yes either but the idea is now on the table. Over the course of two or three days I built my case. It went something like this.

“Hun, the kids are getting older and more expensive. If I don’t get a Ferrari soon I am going to be too old and feeble to drive it by the time I am done paying for private school, orthodontics, their cars, college, and weddings.”

“Barb, you know these cars are not depreciating, we won’t lose too much money and it will be a lot of fun for you and your friends to take the Ferrari when you go out to dinner.”

“I know parking is an issue but I can park the 911 at Mom’s house or get a lift for our garage.”

“I have a clever plan. I will buy it without using any of our money then write a book and make a profit on the experience.”

How could she disagree with that? The long and short of it was she didn’t. Barb gave me permission to buy a Ferrari. She was not going through a mid life crisis, not even interested in cars but she was getting a Ferrari. Until writing this book I did not realize what a huge vote of confidence in me and in our relationship she had made.

Too soon we were back at the dealership and it was time to get out of the car. I wanted to just buy it. I didn’t. Before driving the car Joe mentioned he expected it to sell for around $140,000, a heck of a lot to spend on a car. I asked Joe what I could expect if I sold the car back to them after one year with and about 6,000 more miles. Joe replied it might be as high as 92%. That means I will have to shell out about $11,000 in depreciation for one year plus payments on the debt of about $825 per month. I can write off the interest so that $825 will look more like $555 but that still amounts to over $17,000 to drive the car for one year and I have not paid for insurance, gas, or maintenance yet.

That was too much.

For a week I spent more time thinking about Ferraris, really one specific Ferrari, than I had in my entire life, then it sold. I received an email from Joe telling me the car was sold. He offered to set up a test drive of the red car and has a few others on the hook, but the silver car was gone.

Well, on to the next car. There were other 360s for sale and I wanted to drive a 355 and 456. It is not the end of the world. It is not even the end of my Ferrari experiment. There are many things worse than not buying a Ferrari.

Buying the wrong Ferrari might be worse than not buying a Ferrari. From my perspective a Ferrari can be the wrong Ferrari for two reasons. First, and by far the lesser of these two evils, the wrong car will not provide a Ferrari ownership experience, whatever that is. The experience of owning and driving the car would be vanilla, like a Camry.

For someone with my goals and limited budget a car with serious mechanical issues would definitely be the wrong car. A car requiring significant repair would be akin to starring in my own reality TV show but without any commercial breaks and no easy way to get voted off the island. I am not so worried about buying a Ferrari which falls short in the experience category. I am petrified by the prospect of buying a Ferrari which breaks down on the drive home.

I expect to become less petrified once I have the car and get accustomed to it. When I was going through the process of finding and buying our 911 I had similar worries. What’s going to happen if the engine is bad, what if it needs a clutch, what if it needs something I did not even know the car had? After a few months with the car I realized it was much the same as our other cars. The Porsche has always started when asked, hasn’t needed much care and feeding, and has generally been a good citizen in the garage. I expect the Ferrari will be the same.

5 comments:

Anonymous said...

Great blog here, excellent to read!

andromedanwarmachine said...

Hello David,

sorry if this goes down the wrong way, as I have probably not read enough of your blog to garner the tone of your humour, but I feel I must speak out over something I have just read.
Regarding your most recent post about your test drive; "This is a nice car. I know you probably wanted a Ferrari but decided the Maserati makes more sense".

Have you owned more than one Italian car yourself? For some people (most Maserati drivers) the choice of marque is not a compromise but deliberate. The Trident and the Prancing Horse may share many engineering aspects these days, but the functionality and ownership ethos of the vehicles is entirely different. Maserati owners are usually pursuing a less "bling" more low key, classic driving persona whereas Ferrari owners seem to pursue a more extrovert flamboyant "showy" kind of display.
It's rather hard to round-up in a few sentences but I did read a quote once regarding the design of vehicles with a Trident badge which would "turn the heads of those that the owners would want to turn" which kind of sums it up.

I hope I haven't offended you and that I have not misjudged your take on things...

JimP

David said...

Jim,

No offense taken. What is interesting is that each time I write something that does not sit right with me someone calls me on it. Thanks. I need to follow my gut and do a better job removing those passages. David

Anonymous said...

David,

At some point you have to just throw yourself over the edge man! Logic must give way to passion.I picked up a neglected '78 308 because it was cheap, needed loving and I "knew" I could make it go. Took me 6 months. I did and then drove it for a year savouring all the curvy roads I could find and doing amateur motor sports for the first time. Given lots of first Ferrari rides and for a trusted few first Ferrari driving experiences. Now the motor is out for major service and clean up of "Exxon Valdiz" situation caused by 32yr old seals and gaskets. Parts are affordable. It is a certified bitch to work on. The main cost of maintenance is that they must be assembled by double jointed aliens and designed with intent to torture mere mortals with wrench in hand who wander the holy ground under the hood. Worship at the aluminum altar requires blood sacrifice. On the other hand I now have the pleasure of being the "local expert on tuning 4 webers and 2 points distributors", for what ever that is worth. Not a damn thing, but it still makes me grin foolishly to say it. What if I don't get it going this season? Who cares, better to have one in the garage and be up to my elbows in grease and car parts (the cost of sweat equity) than looking at pictures on the internet and wishing. What is the value of snaking down a smooth mountain road in the company of a vintage 911 and a couple non-descript newer sports cars that you "fell in" with, at speed, on a fine fall day? Your accountant can't tell you. I can. Priceless. My dad spent his life reading Road and Track and dreaming of cars like this. What was the value of handing him the keys and going for an afternoon drive? Man that was a pleasure. Can't wait to do it again. Better get that motor back in, he isn't getting any younger. "The Ferrari is a dream - people dream of owning this special vehicle, and for most people it will remain a dream, apart from those lucky few." Live your dream, sooner than later. You know what it feels like to go for a day drive and still hear the high pitched whine of the valvetrain in your head when you go to sleep? How about the clank of the gated shifter on each shift? How the road feel at the wheel is so refined that you could be running your hand over the pavement? How about just going to the garage and looking at it because it is rolling art? It is pure simple pleasure and contentment. I did lots of research before buying. In the end emotion must break logic, at some level it is never a logical thing to do. Having said that I am sure that over time it will be less expensive than any daily driver I have ever owned. Buying a good depreciated model is actually wise, provided you keep it up and don't crunch it. Good luck, it will be the best thing you have ever done! If you are a true enthusiast, nothing can possibly make you regret possessing and being possessed by a Ferrari. Spend time with one and you will suspect it of having a soul. I can attest to the fact that they love to sweat and after some serious exercise seem to purr with contentment. Mine actually runs smoother for a few hundred miles after a track session or a hard run on a nice road. When you get yours use it, work it, make it do what it was meant to do. You will make her happy and you will have a very rich life experience. Most importantly, share the experience and the passion. You remember your first ride as if it was yesterday. I find ownership a responsibility to share the mystique with anyone you can. When you see a window roll down, drop a gear and let her sing for her audience. It is a duty of ownership. Enjoy it, we may see our lifetime when only the whisper of electric cars and hybrids are the norm and there will only be memories of crude mechanical beasts capable of making these intoxicating sounds. For now, you can get one and you can use one at your leisure. Do it, share it!

David said...

That is fantastic. You are right. Thanks for the comment.

David