William Cash is not a 200 kilometres-an-hour kind of guy, even with the Ferrari California. Lucky his girlfriend is, then
I WAS RECENTLY reading a column in the FT in which the hedge-fund manager Alan Miller confessed that pretty much the first thing he did when he received his windfall from New Star was buy himself a Ferrari 612 Scaglietti. When Spear’s was based in Chelsea, I would regularly see Alan — decked out in jeans and Ray Bans — growling along the King’s Road in the magnificently polished lipstick red beast of a car. He was grinning like an alley cat as he took his Italian thoroughbred out for a morning ride.
I would wave. Occasionally we would even find ourselves bumper to bumper as we crawled through Chelsea. As a humble fortysomething publisher who drove an old BMW Seven series — a car so ancient that it could still play cassettes — I didn’t harbour any serious envy as a Ferrari was, to be brutally honest, a flash man’s car. Too snazzy. Too much showmanship. If I had £150,000 to spend on a set of wheels, I’d more likely buy a Maserati and spend the rest on Henry Moore drawings.
That is until some genius at Ferrari HQ in Modena (or was it Slough?) had the idea of inviting Spear’s to drive a Ferrari Scaglietti from Modena down to Tuscany for a few days. I took my (now ex-)wife, who is a Ferrari nut, and suddenly I began to understand what all the fuss is about. Admittedly, my ex-wife was so taken with the car and its throaty, masculine, raw acceleration that she only let me drive the car a few times — half-hour shifts if I was lucky — but it was enough.
By the time the dust had settled on the ancient drive of the Villa Mangiacane hotel, the former home of the Machiavelli family where we spent the first night, I was hooked on the Ferrari beau ideal. I realised that owning a Ferrari was not about being able to reach 100kmh in 4.3 seconds; indeed, I had been far too scared to go anywhere near the 200kmh that my wife preferred to aim for. No. Owning a Ferrari is about adopting an Alpha attitude of mind; it is a cultural and aesthetic philosophy — or religion, if you happen to be Italian — as much as about just owning a very beautiful car.
WHICH BRINGS ME on to the Ferrari California. As I was leaving the Maranello factory some four years ago, secretly harbouring a private fantasy to buy a Scaglietti Gran Turismo one day, the charming PR girl to whom I returned the keys pointed at a convertible Ferrari sportscar in white parked outside the factory and said: ‘Next time you come back, you can try the California, our new car.’
As we sped away from the factory in a taxi, I turned to my wife and said: ‘It looks like they are making a chick’s Ferrari — would you buy one?’
I can’t reply for my ex, but the answer from my car-crazy girlfriend is certainly a ‘yes’. This is a woman whose motor-racing pedigree is as much part of her family DNA as the California is bred from the classic Ferrari Daytona stable. In short, she made it clear that she was going to be doing most of the driving.
Once again, therefore, I found myself staring out of the passenger window as the Swiss and French scenery flashed past us while we screamed across Europe for over a thousand kilometres (including driving in the wrong direction for at least 120) from Geneva back to London.
The Ferrari people know all about getting you in the mood for such a trip. As an hors d’oeuvre, we spent a few hours before jumping into the car on the Ferrari stand at the 81st Geneva Motor Show. What a circus. A thronging, surging, melee of car maniacs — tens of thousands — with the Ferrari stand worshipped like a shrine. After loading up on Italian coffee (typically, Ferrari imports its own Gaggia machines and served the best coffee at the show), we just wanted to hit the road.
An immaculately turned-out Ferrari salesman showed us the revolutionary FF, Ferrari’s new four-wheel-drive four-seater — its first ever — with a mid-front V12 that is the most powerful and sophisticated sportscar Ferrari has ever built, and also the 458 Italia, sporting the HELE (high emotions low emissions) system, which, I was politely told, cuts CO2 to just 275 g/km: ‘The 458 Italia boasts the lowest emissions of any sports car in its class on the market.’
When we arrived to pick up the car from the Fred Muller Ferrari depot on the outskirts of Geneva around 1pm, the depot was closed, and so we began our California road trip sitting on the side of the road on an industrial estate with two large suitcases, looking like the opening scene of some postmodern jet-set version of Waiting for Godot. ‘Don’t worry, Anna,’ I said. ‘The one thing I know about the Swiss is that they are always back at their desks by 2pm exactly — it’s a national religion.’
I privately wondered if the California really could be called a Gran Turismo. From the side of the road, as we sat with our suitcases waiting for the showroom to open, I rang Charles Dean, my motor-racing friend who has a classic Seventies Ferrari.
‘If you can get two decent suitcases in the boot, and your girlfriend and you can drive comfortably across France, then it’s a GT,’ he said.
The first thing I will say that I love about the California is that they have sorted the luggage issue. You can’t expect somebody to spend £150,000 on a Gran Turismo and then give them only enough luggage space for a toothbrush and a pair of pyjamas. Anna’s brother has a Porsche which is hopeless for long-distance touring as the engine is in the boot, so you can’t travel with any luggage. Not so with the California: we piled all our suitcases and various bottles of duty-free champagne into the boot.
LATER, WE PULLED up outside the Hotel Angleterre, which overlooks Lake Geneva, where the staff did more than the usual amount of fawning and purring at the Ferrari. The Angleterre is by far my favourite hotel in Geneva, and they took perfect care of the car in their garage, although I was bemused that my girlfriend and I were put into separate rooms.
As I breezed through the various instructions I had been sent by Ferrari, I glanced at the rights that I had signed away: I was ‘liable for all speeding and parking fines, penalties and motoring offences’ while driving. Well, that wouldn’t apply to me. When I had the Scaglietti — the California’s GT cousin — I was too scared to go above 150kmh.
We hit the road early the next morning. We were heading for the Château D’Isenbourg in Rouffach, Alsace, in the heart of Bugatti country. But despite driving around 120km out of our way, and getting stopped on the autoroute by the French police — and having to pay a €100 fine for speeding — we made it to Rouffach by 7pm. Actually we made it in time for a Bach concert in the hotel’s ancient hall.
The California is a car ingeniously tuned into the tradition of Ferrari design: it has the grunt and growl of the Scaglietti but is softer and perhaps more feminine. It effortlessly joins Ferrari’s eight-cylinder range, being a pretty and racy sister to the twelve-cylinder flagship 612 Scaglietti.
But it is a car with plenty of stamina and pedigree, harking back to 1957 250 California, an elegant open-top car designed for the racetrack. It was also one of the cars that helped put Ferrari on the map for combining extreme sport performance with everything that makes Gran Turismo travel still the best way to cross Europe.
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