01/07/2005 Ferrari 612 Scaglietti F1 Trans Europe Express
"Designed to combine the roominess of a Grand Tourer with the blistering performance of a sports berlinetta" is how Ferrari describes its latest four-seater. A drive from Maranello to Monte Carlo via the Tuscan coast would be typical for a likely purchaser - our route for testing the big car last week.
Consider the facts. 540 bhp from a 5,748 cc 65° V12, meaning 0 - 62 mph acceleration in just 4.2 seconds and a top speed of 199 mph - all achieved via (in the F1 version) a Formula 1-derived electro-hydraulic 6-speed gearbox. Comparing the car to the outgoing 456M GTA, that’s almost another 100 bhp clothed in a slightly longer - by 139mm - all-aluminium body that will give genuine four-seater capability with an increased (to 240-litre) luggage capacity. In short, it’s designed to be the ultimate 21st century GT car, a machine specified by Ferrari president Luca di Montezemolo to set new standards of weight reduction, performance, interior space and comfort.
Although launched a year or so ago now, the shape is a rare one on UK roads, and a quick walk around the 4.9 metre-long car reveals an elegant, understated coupé fit for a discerning client; one that prefers to keep his or her profile low. The scalloped sides reflect the company’s heritage with the special 375MM built for actress Ingrid Bergman in the ‘50s (as a present from Roberto Rosellini). In fact the colour of our test car is ‘Grigio Ingrid’, a champagne-infused silver that suits the 612’s lines well and complements the charcoal leather interior. Careful attention to the aerodynamics of a 320 kph car means the use of diffusers and tunnels fore and aft, while the weight distribution of 46% front - 54% rear is achieved by the Scaglietti’s innovative use of aluminium for both body and chassis, coupled with a rearward-mounted engine and rear transaxle.
However its visual impact is classic Ferrari. One of a long bonnet, tall side-glass, and a sloping roof with raised rear ‘haunches’. The back is all 250GT SWB meets 575M, and the general result is a real ‘man’s machine’ totally lacking in ‘bling’ or excess.
No red button, the car fires up on a key, and a swift click of the right-hand paddle engages first gear. Small openings of the effortlessly linear fly-by-wire throttle mean town traffic is easily negotiated, the visibility being generally good all round and the speed-sensitive electronic power steering allowing one-handed cruising. A lot has been written about these ‘paddle’ gear changes, but really the system Ferrari has developed for its latest product range has to be the best in the world. In fully automatic setting, careful throttle application will be needed to ensure completely smooth changes, but having been briefed last year prior to driving the Maserati GranSport, I can go up and down the gearbox as easily as retracting a ball-point pen, with just a little-finger’s effort, both hands firmly set on the wheel.
Opening the car up on the autoroute or RN roads reveals its true nature, and squeezing the loud pedal right down to the floor brings memories of the TGV train from Le Mans to Paris Charles de Gaulle the night before. The new engine is based on the 575M Maranello’s, and it leaves the DB9, and even the Vanquish trailing. Its maximum power is reached at a slightly higher point (7,250 vs. 7,000 rpm for the latest Vanquish S), but it’s more torquey lower down despite its smaller capacity. Take your pick of the usual metaphors or similes, a big-capacity Ferrari V12 on full-chat is one of the wonders of the mechanical world. It’s a more aural experience than in the Superamerica, totally intoxicating and the merest glimpse of a clear road will have you experiencing the full range of sound again and again. With the easy gear-box and quiet, gloriously luxurious cabin you feel you can drive mile, after mile, after mile in total comfort - with that 540 bhp to play with at will.
Sweeping autoroute curves can be dealt with so easily at speeds that would have you in the next country before the average Gendarme can stub his Gauloise, raise his goggles and kick-start his BMW. The active damping, variable calibration suspension system, coupled with a carefully-designed almost ‘ground-effect’ bodywork (it has the equivalent to a vertical load of just 115 kg at 300 km/h), mean the car is so stable at the very high velocities needed to conduct true trans-European journeys. And it’s not phased by twisting mountain roads either - press the ‘Sport’ button and it’ll keep up an ‘everyday’ pace with an F430 or Superamerica, while Control for Stability and Traction (CST) will look after you in extremis, and the big brakes, if not matching their carbon-ceramic cousins for staying power, will certainly be up to most people’s requirements.
Turning into the narrow roads of the Principalité the car’s width (nearly two metres) reveals itself, but it’s a small price to pay for the spacious cabin and awesome performance for four. A parking valet taking the keys of ‘your’ Ferrari at a five star hotel alongside the Monaco harbour is one of life’s finer pleasures, and (just) about makes up for that the fact you will have to relinquish the driving seat for a while.
Ferrari are expecting to sell around 80 612 Scagliettis in the UK this year. Twice their usual number of 456s, but compare that to the number of Bentley Continental GTs you see around now. Sure it’s a little more expensive (£177,500.00 for the F1-gearbox car in the UK), but rear-seat passengers will have more room and, as it says in the book, "get to experience the clean, thrilling roar of the Ferrari V12". It also has just about all the ‘standard’ equipment you’d want (bar sat-nav, a £2,410.00 extra that also includes plumbed-in telephone).
Everything has its price, and that manufactured in-house exclusivity, together with such awesome performance makes the 612 Scaglietti worth the premium.
Text - Steve Wakefield Photos - : Ferrari UK ALL STRICTLY COPYRIGHT