Music of the spheres

If you are going to go about in a spanking new Ferrari F430, you had better not be shy. There can be no more efficient way of getting noticed on a public highway, short of being Posh and Becks or dressing up as a hand of bananas. Heads turn, fingers point.
At least, I think they were pointing.

Each time I returned to the car, during a weekend in its fascinating and exhausting company, I would have to ease my way to the door through the knots of people who had gathered to take its picture on their cellphones. That’s not something I was particularly aware of when we reviewed, for example, the Daewoo Matiz.

Ah, the perils of going out with a famous car: surely they would be bound to tell on your relationship in the end. The apotheosis of this relentless attention came when a white van drew alongside me in the fast lane of the westbound M4 motorway out of London. As it strained to get ahead, I noticed, in the passenger window, a hand held up to the glass, capturing the F430 for posterity on what I was close enough to be fairly certain was a Nokia 6230i.

Say cheese, indeed. I should add that my F430 wasn’t even in the standout Ferrari red livery. It was a satiny brown, and about as understated as a low-flying, mile-wide Ferrari can be. But, in any case, the car’s rock concert engine ensures that the people who don’t see you are going to hear you.

The minute you hit the succulent red start button, the engine burbles and roars, before going on to play an only mildly toned-down version of the ever-popular formula one floor-filler. Shrink into your seat, or feign an abstract nonchalance (just another day in £120 000-worth of whiplash-fast Italian engineering), it makes no difference. You might as well be leaning out of the side window with a megaphone, shouting: “Gangway! Ferrari!”

The core fan base, of course, is speed demons, valve addicts, distributor nuts and lovers of the shaft. Having created a rear-mounted 4,3-litre V8 engine as artistic as the one here on the F430, the last thing Ferrari was going to do was conceal it under a metal lid. So instead, in the F430, it’s pinned under glass, like a rare butterfly—an invitation to gather round and marvel.

The interior, meanwhile, is a roomy, twin-seat arrangement of red leather and black metal that will either connect you thrillingly to Ferrari’s lusty Italian heritage, or make you feel like you are sitting inside Barbie’s make-up box. But it’s not about the trim, of course, it’s about the drive. And the shock was how easy the F430 was to cope with.

I had nervously imagined that the car would perform an exacting review of my racing credentials and find them wanting in many of the key areas, such as speed, cornering and gear selection. I had speculated that I would spend a lot of time in a white-knuckled wrestling match with the steering wheel, trying to dissuade the back end from coming round the front and talking to me through the windscreen. I had envisaged a scenario in which the rescue services would look long and hard for me, before finding me very high up in a tree. In fact, the F430 is loaded with driver-friendly tackle, imported from Ferrari’s adventures in Formula One. In the F1 format, it offers clutchless gear changes, via the paddles behind the steering wheel, leaving you that much freer to concentrate as the world around you rapidly dissolves into hyperspace.

And you get a racing style manettino, a rotary switch on the steering wheel, like a small, metal pencil sharpener. This way, you can instantly reconfigure the car for icy roads, or move it up to “Sport” for shorter, harder intervals between the gears. There is also a setting for racetracks and, beyond that, a setting in which every single one of the car’s electronic assistance devices come off—this should be marked, like the unknown regions on early maps, “there be dragons’”.

In a preliminary briefing session, conducted around lovely Slough in southern England, the man from Ferrari sagely counselled me, in third gear, to push the car up to 8 000 revs before changing up. I promptly decamped to the Isle of Wight to work on my technique. And it’s true that up around the 8 000 mark, at a point where most cars would simply give up and burst, the sound of the engine breaks through into a kind of automobile version of the music of the spheres—an otherworldly, questing growl that you would need to be dead and buried not to find, in some way or other, stimulating.

What’s also true, however, is that, if you properly stretch its legs in this way, the car is nudging 160kph before you have even composed a smile for the photographers. And if you happen to be on the Isle of Wight at the time, you find yourself continually having to brake to avoid the Solent.

One is obliged to concede, then, that the British Isles may not be the optimum place to enjoy a Ferrari in its achingly glorious fullness. Unless, that is, you want to go to prison for a very long time. Instead, you’re looking at German autobahns, Arizona, those areas of Montana where speed limits don’t apply, or, best of all, another planet, as yet undiscovered.

Bear in mind, then, as well as finding the on-the-road price for the Ferrari, you’ve probably got to factor in the cost and upheaval involved in a radical relocation. Hard to think it wouldn’t be worth it, however.—Â

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