Thursday, 25 October 2007

Ferrari 599 GTB

Having famous parents is a mixed blessing. The opulent surroundings of your upbringing and easily-opened doors to your chosen career are offset by the pressure of being thrust into the limelight for the formative years of your life, the world’s press clamouring for you to hold up a Post Office or try to score heroin from a Daily Mail reporter. Certain spawns of famous seed have grasped the opportunities of their lineage with both hands – look at Liv Tyler, Stella McCartney and Michael Douglas. They built on their heritage with aplomb. Likewise, Kelly Osborne is having a game stab at making an unpleasant noise on MTV and Peaches Geldof is doing a fine job of crawling from bar to pub to club without any real idea of what’s going on, just like their respective fathers.

With this continuation of respect (or, at least, action) in mind, Ferrari’s 599 GTB has a lot to live up to. Any new Ferrari is, of course, a huge event in the automotive world, but the formaggi grandi at Maranello made very public their intentions to use the legendary F40 as the benchmark for the 599. This is confusing at best. The F40, a motoring icon of the who-can-break-200mph-first era of the eighties (charging head-on towards the Jaguar XJ220 and Porsche 959), was a stripped out, balls out, mid-engined hypercar. The 599 is a luxurious, leather-festooned, front-engined grand tourer. As machines, they are poles apart.

Or are they? It seems that Ferrari decided to use their rich heritage as a marketing tool to demonstrate how the breed has developed over the past couple of decades. The F40 will always be among the most evocative and recognisable Ferraris – alongside the 250GTO, Testarossa and Daytona – and is a pure sports car for the ├╝berwealthy connoisseur. There are no frills; everything within its lightweight frame is present for a significant purpose. Ferrari’s tactic with the 599 GTB was to demonstrate how the ballistic performance of such a mighty racer could be grafted into the plush comfort of a 21st century GT.

The results are really quite impressive. Obviously you would expect strong improvements in design, manufacturing, component efficiency and so forth over the course of twenty years, but the fact that the 599 is 600kg heavier than the F40 and still pips it to sixty mph by half a second raises an impressed eyebrow.

Quite simply, the 599 is a staggering piece of kit. It uses a 6-litre V12 derived from that in the Enzo, front-mounted but nestled way back in the engine bay, the engine’s centre of gravity falling behind the front axle line and creating a front-mid-engined configuration. This is very good news for handling, as the weight distribution from this set-up provides impressively fluid and controllable handling.

There’s a heady 611bhp available – that’s 133bhp (or one 205 GTi) more than the F40 – and a tarmac-worrying 448lb/ft of torque; approximately enough to pull the Newhaven lifeboat through a lake of treacle. It will crack 100mph in just 7.4 seconds – easy figures to throw around but look at your watch and count that out… it’s bloody quick – and storm on to a faintly ridiculous 205mph. This car is a force to be reckoned with.

Now, it costs £170,000, but presumably if you’ve got that kind of money to spend on a car then the price is largely immaterial in the first place. You do get a lot of toys for the outlay, including clever magnetorheological dampers, launch control, carbon-ceramic brakes, an impossibly luxurious interior and, most importantly, that prancing horse on the nose. You’d pay about the same for an F40, but this is where the cars demonstrate their basic dissimilarity of purpose… if your playboy lifestyle involves lots of jolly jaunts to Monaco, you’d probably prefer to eat up the swiftly-passing motorway miles with a stereo, aircon, comfy seats and the knowledge that when you arrive you won’t smell faintly of petrol. If, however, you want to feel like a driving god and make everyone you encounter weep tears of bitter jealousy you’d be better off with the F40. Either way you’ll be experiencing a slice of motoring perfection… but in very different ways. With the F40, you’ll be constantly terrifying yourself with the sheer anger of the beast. With the 599 GTB, you can pass the morning being very silly at Magny Cours, spend the afternoon blasting down the autoroute and arrive for dinner at Monaco as one of the locals. That, surely, is worth £170k of anyone’s money.

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