Ferrari is a brand that captivates the imagination like no other. Careful cultivation and strong ties to the legendary racetracks and drivers of decades past means that the Prancing Horse holds an almost mythical status today, arguably outstripping the material value of the cars that wear its badges. These days the commercialization of the brand verges on cringeworthy – how many airport Ferrari apparel stores and red co-branded Puma shoes do you need to see before you’re left with no option but to run into the arms of some obscure hipster car manufacturer that nobody has heard of? I mean, who actually buys a Gumpert for any other reason than Ferrari escapism?
But who am I to comment? Ferrari is and always has been the be-all-and-end-all sports and supercar manufacturer for me. I know that some of them aren’t actually that good, aren’t that reliable and the wrong one can make you look like a drug dealer or attention seeking poseur, or both. But I don’t care. I dream of driving them, I dream of owning one. My pulse rises every time I see one. I regularly check Carsales to see what the cheapest Ferrari is, and then ponder the realities of dropping fifty large on a thirty year old hunk of rusting Italian steel with dodgy wiring. Would I? In a heartbeat if I could.
When I set out on my recent Vespa trip around Europe I had almost no plans – I didn’t even know what countries I was going to visit. The only thing I had was a small handful of places in the back of my mind that I wanted to experience, and number one was Maranello.
Because you don’t really visit Maranello – you experience it. Museo Ferrari is the hot-ticket tourist attraction, but the rest of the small industrial suburb of Modena, steeped in so much legend, sits there waiting to be discovered. Just around the corner from the museum are the famous factory gates, looking almost identical as depicted in period photos of the 60’s and 70’s.
Across the road from the factory gates is the equally famous Il Cavallino Ristorante, the factory restaurant where Il Commendatore himself dined for lunch most days. It’s now a rather exclusive tourist attraction and exceedingly difficult to get a reservation, however you can still peer through the gates.
These days the old gates are more for show than anything else, however the factory has continually been expanded on the same site and you can access the modern gates by traveling around the (very large) block.
There’s more security here than at any of the Italian border crossings, so gaining entry is out of the question unless you’re a Ferrari owner on a factory tour. Unfortunately I am not, so using my zoom lens to peer as far into the inner sanctum was about as close as I got to the magic.
Sometimes if you’re lucky the magic comes to you, so I sat out the front of the factory with a picnic lunch and my camera at the ready. One thing I can confirm is that at Ferrari there is a large population of Vespa (wasps) that love fresh brie and salami rolls and press the issue of sampling your lunch. Luckily I did see this 458 Speciale prototype coming back from a test drive, vindicating my somewhat slapstick lunch break.
The funny thing about Fiorano is that it is located smack in the middle of a residential area and has houses and apartment buildings on most of its borders. Can you imagine anything more glorious than being awoken to the sounds of a yet-to-be released Prancing Horse being put through its paces?
Of course if we’re talking famous Ferrari factory test drive routes, the sinuous roads slicing the hills behind Maranello hold just as much mystique as Fiorano does. Some of the best driving roads in all of Italy are just a few minutes away, so I stumped up the money to have a play on these roads in a 430 Scuderia. But more on that in a future post.
Racing is more imbedded in Ferrari’s DNA than in any other manufacturer, and the company holds the record as the only team to compete in every single World Championship since its inception in 1950. Situated with convenient access to Fiorano and, ironically, at the end of another innocent looking suburban side street, is Scuderia Ferrari, the Formula One team. It wears a recently tarted-up face, but you can look past the fresh paint and see the same buildings that have housed generations of the fastest racing cars on the planet.
Unless you are particularly well connected it is the museum you’ll spend the most time at, and it begins with a walk through the Formula One years from the beginning until the early nineties, where it abruptly stops.
And incredible history, too. The Ferrari F1-89 was the first to use a semi-automatic paddle shift gearbox over a conventional manual. The F1-89 benefited from a revolutionary design by John Barnard and ran the famous V12 engine. It was by far the fastest car that year, but teething reliability troubles with its revolutionary gearbox kept it away from major success, other than a few race wins. But the F1-89 holds a special place in automotive history as this very car is the exact start of the ‘flappy paddle’ revolution now sweeping the world.
There was a variety of fascinating technical displays, too. Carbon fibre gearbox casing, anyone? (For the anoraks, the important mounting surfaces for bearings etc were still machined from metal, that was then bonded into the carbon pieces which formed the outer casing).
My visit coincided with the Belgium Grand Prix at Spa, so I arrived a little early and watched the race from the museum café. The atmosphere here would be electric if Ferrari were winning, but this was the middle of the Vettel domination and a second place for Fernando Alonso was the best the Scuderia could manage. The other downside was that the entire broadcast was in Italian and I didn’t understand a word of it, however at least hearing a badly dubbed Mark Webber gave rise to a laugh from the few Aussie’s in the crowd.
One of the more unexpected and beautiful open wheelers was this 1986 Ferrari 637 CART Indy Car which was tested and unveiled to the press but never raced. In the mid eighties Enzo Ferrari was unhappy with the demise of the F1 turbo era and the FIA’s new rule stipulating a V8 engine, so he commissioned the Indy Car project and made public his desire to win the Indy 500.
The 637’s upper body is aluminum which is mechanically fastened and bonded to a lower carbon frame, and as-per CART regulations the engine is a turbocharged 2.65 litre V8. The 637 was seen as more of a bargaining tool to force the FIA into changing their regulations, and it is a shame that such a well-engineered car never turned a wheel in anger. Elements of the design were used in Alfa Romeo’s subsequent Indy campaign.
…and arguably the most visually arresting of the pack, a 288 Evolutzione and it’s younger brother, the F40 LM. It’s interesting to compare the two, and side by side you car really see how the 288 evolved into the F40.
…and its closest modern descendent, the 599XX EVO. The 599XX, and its FXX brother, are part of the Ferrari Corse Clienti program where experienced gentleman drivers can buy a car to be used at Scuderia Ferrari test days, with the data and development being (theoretically) fed back for input into the road cars and for the race team. At the end of the year-long program the car then belongs to the owner. I’ve heard rumors of a couple of 599XX’s getting around places like Turkey with full street registration, which is mind boggling when you think of it.
Heading up a small set of stairs you are greeted with a large glass box containing a slightly eerie recreation of Enzo’s office, complete with his actual furniture. I’m not going to lie – that Enzo Ferrari manikin is a tad disturbing.
The detailing of the display, however, was superb and included gems such as this scale replica of Count Francesco Baracca’s biplane showing the origin of the Prancing Horse. I just love the graphic design of that old Pirelli advertising, too.
In the same room as Enzo’s office was a small exhibition of the roll Ferrari’s have played in the lives of movie stars. The most famous car here is the 275 GTB/4 of Steve McQueen, fresh from its factory Ferrari Classiche restoration.
Opposing McQueens car is the one-of-one P540 Superfast Aperta, a 599GTB based special that is the second car to come out of Ferrari’s Special Projects department, a skunk works that will build whatever you like providing you can pay for it. Commissioned by Edward Wilson, son of the inventor of cable TV, the bespoke Pininfarina design is a modern interpretation of the Carrozzeria Fantuzzi designed Ferrari built for the 1968 film Toby Dammit. Given that the P540 is now a convertible, extensive use of carbon-fibre was employed to maintain rigidity and it is said to weigh just 20kg more than the 599 from which it is based.
Around the perimeter of the circular room is a tribute to each driver who has won a World Championship for the Scuderia, featuring a scale model of their car and the actual helmet used in the victorious season.
At this stage I thought the museum was relatively small, so I took my time carefully inspecting each of the exhibits. You can imagine my shock when I crested what I thought was the exit stairs to discover that I was only half way through the museum, and there was only half an hour until closing time! The main hall I’d discovered highlighted the correlation between the Formula One cars and the limited production supercars. In this hall was a 288 GTO, F40, F50…
In the next hall was a special display of Ferrari concepts and test mules, and I found this to be the most fascinating part of the museum. All of the other stuff is fantastic, but these were the only cars that you truly can’t see anywhere else. This green machine is the 599 Hy-Kers, a special 599 GTB built to test a V12 electric hybrid running through a dual clutch transmission, technology which can now be found on the LaFerrari.
Does that centre section look like that of an F50 to you? The project was based on a 360 Modena, to which a passenger compartment based on the F50 was added, suspended on elastic blocks. The idea was to create an extremely rigid load-bearing engine/chassis unit with a passenger compartment isolated from the noise and vibration, giving the best of both handling and comfort worlds. The project ran from 2000-2005, but was shelved due to not meeting expectations.
This mule looks like some sort of 458 prototype, but is actually one of the hybrid powertrain mules for the LaFerrari project and runs a V12 Hy-Kers with two high voltage electric motors. The entire rear of the car is modified from a 458 and the wheelbase is the same as the LaFerrari, however great care was made not to change the body dimensions so as to make it difficult to understand what work is being done.
This oddly proportioned 348 based contraption is an engine development mule, which has a 13cm longer wheelbase to house the longitudinally-positioned V8 and gearbox of the 360. The same chassis was used for the first testing of the Enzo’s V12, and was modified back again for work on the 430 and 458’s V8. The rear panels have quick release fittings to allow easy access to the engine bay.
This 612 Scaglietti is a suspension test mule, built to test the suspension found in the current Ferrari range. The lumps in the bonnet provide extra space around the strut tops for different setups and for the relocation of air boxes.
At the time of my visit the LaFerrari had not officially been released, other than a few official pre-launch photographs of the final design. There was an excited buzz about the place because the launch was not far away, and I saw a prototype driving on the public road but wasn’t quick enough with the camera to capture it. In the museum it was a privilege to see a special display containing the design exercises and iterations of the F150 (that became LaFerrari) project and you could see how the design evolved.
As a trained Industrial Designer myself it was fascinating to see their model making techniques. Notice how the wheel of this mockup is supported only on the steel rim, enabling different wheel designs, most likely quickly and cheaply 3D printed out, to be attached so that it may be evaluated with the perspective of the full car.
The computer is a vital part of the design process but you still need to see things in the flesh to make final decisions, which is why the clay model still has its place. Although, these days the clay model is most likely computer cut with some sort of 3D CNC machine rather than shaped purely by hand.
Sitting with pride of place in the middle of the room is the final mockup of the LaFerrari, which for all intensive purposes looks like a real car. It’s funny to think that just a few weeks prior to my visit all of these models would have been absolutely top secret, but now they merely sit in a public gallery such is the passage of time.
Few manufacturers have a history as illustrious as Ferrari, and few curate it with such vigor and passion. The flame that is the legend and spirit of Ferrari is kept alive here in Maranello, and it burns brighter than almost anything else in the country. Even if you aren’t the number one Tifosi, it’s impossible to visit Maranello and not be at least a little impressed by the mystique surrounding the marque. And if you’re already swept up by the Prancing Horse, well then you’re in for a fantastic day out.