Friday, June 3, 2011

Chapter 14 - Getting Resident Status in Ferriastan

On Saturday June 21 2008 someone wondered “what do women think of ferraris”. Again, Google thought I might have the answer. I don’t have the answer but I suspect many men wonder the same. On that same day someone, probably not the same person Googled “sam kennison” and was rewarded with a visit to my blog.

Gaining Resident Status in Ferristan

Until Wednesday, May 21, 2008, I was a tourist in Ferraristan. It is a coincidence that the search term “how nose rings are safe” and the date I stopped being a tourist are the same. I did not get a Ferrari nose ring. I did not even get a Ferrari tattoo. I do have a Ferrari club name tag but I have never worn it.

Until that Wednesday I was borrowing the car. It was on Wednesday, May 21st that I took the car in for service. At that moment I became a citizen of Ferraristan.

Buying the car, taking it to the track, washing it, putting a new floor in my garage, none of these things made me feel like a Ferrari owner. Taking the car in for service, describing its symptoms, surrounded by other broken Ferraris, made me feel like an owner. Silly, sure, but I was happy the car went in for service. Committing to have the car serviced made me feel like it was mine. If I buy another Ferrari, it is going in for service right away, whether it needs it or not.

While taking the car in for service meant the end of my goal to drive the car for a year without spending any money on maintenance, I did not care. I was in a Ferrari whirlwind. Maintaining a Ferrari is part of the ownership experience. So what if I ended up spending some money on maintenance?

Before getting into the service let’s talk about the floor. A Ferrari really is mistress you keep in the garage and I was unhappy with my mistress’s accommodations. I had been unhappy with our garage before the Ferrari brightened it up but once I had the car I began reducing the amount of detritus by moving unused stuff to the attic or Goodwill. This made garage neater but it was still dark and dingy. I spend a good amount of time in the garage, tinkering with stuff, working out, or messing with the cars.

About 480 commercial flooring tiles later and the garage became a significantly less dingy place. For the bulk of the floor I used white tiles and incorporated a checkered flag motif to each side by adding black tiles. Changing the floor transformed the garage. It now looks like a fitting home for the Ferrari and Porsche. It is remarkable what a change it made.

Back to Ferrari maintenance.

When I dropped the car off and described the “SLOW DOWN” light activity Kelly, the service manager, recommended replacing all the ECUs that monitor the temperature in the catalytic converters. He was unsure of the price, but thought they were around $600 each. I said to go ahead and fix it. They were going to look through the codes on the computer to see if they shed any light on the problem. With regards to the short they would call when they had three hours of labor into trying to fix it.

I received a call from the service center around lunch time. They were unable to get the fuse to blow! No matter what they did the fuse was fine. We discussed the diagnostic work I had done and they decided to spend a bit more time tinkering with the car. The cat ECUs turned out to be the source of the “SLOW DOWN” light and they were replaced. This was good news in the sense that bad ECUs were the least expensive of all the problems with cause “SLOW DOWN” lights. There was more good news, Tonkin charged me only $305 a piece, about $20 cheaper than I could find online.

Total bill, $1372.23. They charged me for ½ hours time to diagnose and fix the short which turned out to be some corrosion on a ground. I probably spent 4 or 5 hours taking the car apart looking for the problem. I was glad I took the car to Tonkin for service. They took care of one service campaign which was outstanding and checked the car for any other problems.

None were found.

Please let me brag for just a moment. When I picked the car up one of the service managers commented that several people had remarked on the color and condition of the car and I should have no problem when I was ready to sell it.

It was raining and the traffic was stop and go on the freeway back to the office. The steam coming off the engine caused the rear window to fog up on the outside.

What a great car.

While the 355 was great it was an older Ferrari. There are more capable machines. I knew this but it did not make the car less magical to drive. The word that best describes the 355 is proportional. All aspects of the car, its size, performance, interior, noise, everything seems to be in proportion. I have said this before. It does not need more or less of anything. Driving this car on a beautiful road is simply fantastic. If you like cars you owe it to yourself to find a way to drive a Ferrari on a sunny day on a beautiful road. Trust me, it is worth it.

During my honeymoon with the car there was only one gas station I was comfortable taking it to. In Oregon you are not allowed to pump your own gas. It was not that I didn’t trust other gas station attendants but the first time I had to put gas in the car I took it to this station. The attendant was very careful and asked a bunch of questions about the car. The mechanics came out and looked at the car and took pictures. It was sometime before I had the nerve to take the car anywhere else for gas.

One day, while I was getting gas at my favorite station a fellow walked up and commented that “Grigio” was a great color on the car.

“So you have a Ferrari, what are you getting next?”

“Good question. I have driven a Gallardo, but I’m not sure it would be a good next car.”

I drove the Lamborghini a few months after purchasing the Ferrari. What an impressive car. The performance was out of this world. The 355 was fast, but not in the same way the Gallardo was fast. This was the first car that I have been in where straight line acceleration was so violent that no other word than scary is applicable. The car was scary even without full throttle. When an open stretch of road presented itself I pulled the left paddle to put the car in second and pressed the throttle to the floor. Second gear went by in a flash. About ¾ of the way through third gear I lost my nerve and let off. I suppose that was what I should expect from an all wheel drive car with 500 horsepower but I was unprepared for the speed.

The car I drove was a dark blue 2004 Gallardo with the E gear (paddle shifter) transmission. The car had a mostly black interior with blue stitching. I have always liked the looks of Lamborghinis and think the Gallardo is one of the better looking cars they have produced. I don’t think I would call it a pretty car. The Gallardo is more masculine and intimidating than the 355.

If I were to fault it I would say the Gallardo was too competent and the interior too Audi. I know competency and Audiness are seldom considered faults but in the lexicon supercar they can be.

When does competency become a fault? When it takes a mediocre driver like me and makes me feel like Michael Schumacher, but in a Lamborghini not a Ferrari. The car spackled over the rough spots and imperfections in my driving, allowing me to go more quickly than I would in a lesser car.

Doesn’t sound like a fault does it?

If the goal were to get from point A to point B as quickly as possible it wouldn’t be. When driving on the street absolute speed is not as important as relative speed or imagined speed. In most situations a driver is unable to use even a fraction of the capability of an average car. The Lamborghini would be unfazed at two or three times the speed limit. This excess capacity removes the pleasure that comes from piloting a car on a twisty road at a speed which will not result in jail time. The Lamborghini is simply too good. The Ferrari, with less sure handling and 125 fewer horsepower is more fun to drive.

There was more to it than that. The Lambo with all wheel drive and traction control does more than its fair share of the driving. It provides an unfair advantage. An unfair advantage in what? I am not sure but it does. It should be the driver who makes the car not the car which makes the driver. While the all wheel drive certainly contributes to the cars phenomenal grip and does a heroic job of harnessing the cars power, I believe it makes the car drive heavily and dulls the feedback through the steering wheel causing the Gallardo to lack life. If an accountant or business consultant could be embodied in a car it would drive like this; very precise and very solid but without art or poetry.

The interior of the car looks German rather than Italian. It looks and feels high quality and well laid out but mass produced. I have no doubt that the knobs, dials, and electronics in the Gallardo will outlast those in the Ferrari but they are not as fun. They lack the whimsy and the not for everyone ethic of the Ferrari.

Add it all up and the Gallardo is faster, handles better, is more comfortable, and less expensive to maintain than the Ferrari. It appears the perfect car. But it lacks that extra something, the joie de vie which exists in the Ferrari. The heady affair which exists between Ferrari and driver is less intoxicating in the Lamborghini. I don’t think this was an oversight by Lamborghini. I think it is the German soul in the Italian body.

I know why someone searching for “sam kennison” would visit my site. Starting December 23, 2007 I dreamt of Sam Kennison the next three times I slept. I remembered the dreams but could not remember Sam’s name until the day of the last dream. During a nap on Christmas day, between opening gifts and cooking dinner I dreamt that Sam Kennison and the Ferrari were the same thing and that thing was the leather tongue on a pair of brown shoes that I wear to work.

In my dream I was not bothered by the non sequitur of Sam Kennison and a car being represented in their entirety by a piece of textured brown leather. When I awoke I remembered Sam’s name but could not get my waking mind comfortable with the concept of Sam, the car, and my shoes as one.

The first time I dreamt about Sam Kennison he was not Sam Kennison but the first employee John Halsey, my business partner, and I hired. I was constantly worried that he would yell at our clients. Unfortunately, in the dream I didn’t know his name and felt too uncomfortable to discuss my worry with him. The next night I dreamt that Sam was one of our clients and was yelling at me. I still did not know his name which again put me at a disadvantage.

My next dalliance with a different car, a 911 twin turbo, reinforced my thoughts about the difference between the Ferrari and Gallardo. The 911 I drove was a 996 body style car, I believe it was a 2001, maybe a 2002. It was a metallic tan with a tan interior.


A tan supercar? Double tan even. Tan with red would have been something. How about tan and green? Porsche should not have offered this car in tan. I am sure the marketing folks came up with some fancy name for it, Sahara Beige or something equally foolish but regardless of the name this Porsche supercar was the same color as the 1980 Oldsmobile Cutlass Supreme I drove to high school, tan. The Cutlass had an “I LOVE HAWAII” sticker in the rear window.

Even though it was tan, when I drove the 911 I felt like I was cheating on the Ferrari. I think I will be able to get away with it since I had driven our 911 to work and all 911s smell the same, a reassuring combination of gas, oil, and leather.

If you like cars you must own, or better yet have a friend who owns and lets you drive a Ferrari, a 911 TT, and a Lamborghini. I am sure there are others to add to this list but for now these are the big three, each car delivers a unique driving experience. Until driving the twin turbo I did not think it would make this list. I love our Porsche. Not for its performance but for its personality. I did not think the twin would deliver enough performance to make up for the lack of personality I was expecting. It did.

The 911 Turbo accelerated and decelerated with such ferocity that I worried I might become sick. It felt like my insides were all fighting, trying to see who could be first to get to the back seat. The car pulled harder and harder as the turbos spooled up. More impressive than the performance was the car’s Jekyll and Hyde personality. This is truly a car which could tear around the track then, with perfect civility be used to take the kids to school or pick up groceries. The twin was a race car masquerading as a Lexus while simultaneously being a Lexus masquerading as a race car. In this sense the 911 was superior to the Ferrari and the Lambo. It may be the perfect car if you could only have one vehicle.

When compared to the Ferrari the 911 turbo was not beautiful or engaging to drive. It was dead, where the Lambo was an accountant the 911 was a mortician. Sure, it was faster than the 355 and probably handled better but both cars are well past the point where faster and better handling cease to be important. At this level of car faster and better handling are paper specifications and not exploitable on the road or even the track by someone of my meager talent. What matters is the driving experience. What matters is the whole package and for me the Ferrari delivers that package in a way the 911 did not.

All that said I expect I will own a 911TT someday but after the Ferrari it will be a distant second place. These same feelings have kept me from being too excited about the Lambo. Great car, really fast, but not a Ferrari. It did not have the same ballet dancer, first growth, absolutely refined, designed by genius, no compromise, feeling the Ferrari does.


Anonymous said...

I love the way you described the differences between the three cars. I totally understand you. You've found what you like in a car, the driving experience! I believe that's what a real driver looks for in a car. I own a 1998 BMW M3 coupe and simply love the way it makes me feel everytime I drive it. Its like my hands are the front tires and my feet the rear. You really are one with car and road. Sure the newer m3 is better on paper and it really is a great car. However I wouldn't trade my car for it just because I feel perfect in mine. I love Ferraris and have always had a particular love foe the 355. I enjoy reading ur blogs about your experiences with it!
Best regards,

Steve Vigus said...

An excellent article. Of course the real win is being able to drive them to make the comparison.

I am now inspired to write my own: One year in an Aston Martin with my supermodel wife by my side. It's going to be great!