The fast and the curious
I would like to begin by expressing a big thank-you to Santa Claus, for deciding that Christmas should come early this year, in the form of a Spider…
Not your regular eight-legged Arachnid, I hasten to add, although I do admit to a lingering desire to possess a Chilean Rose Hair Tarantula, oh she of the hairy legs and colourful, bulbous form. It is said they make for a nice pet, although best kept in a glass case and fed with a weekly handful of crickets, or the like. They are inexpensive and require little care. Not so my Spider, which came with the number 488, and adorned with a Prancing Horse for good measure. Yes, I write of none other than the unutterably beautiful Ferrari 488 Spider.
You may recall last year and my brief love affair with a sister variety, the California T, the sumptuously comfortable Grand Tourer which caught my imagination and left me bereft when I returned it to its stable at Ferrari’s North European HQ. I had been promised another vehicle for 2017, and the company did not disappoint. My 488 Spider came in the new Blu Corsa livery and such striking lines as to give the public neck ache as they craned to catch a glimpse of this, the most awesome car I have ever had the privilege to drive.
Having stowed my weekend case, tripod, camera and video bags in the deep, front-end luggage compartment, I take my position behind the wheel and power up via the simple ‘Start/Stop’ button. The engine roars into life, before settling down to an idle pattern of a sweet baritone rumble and burble. With a mix of anticipation and excitement pulsating through my fingers, I engage first gear via the right-hand paddle and ease down gently on the throttle, conscious of the fact that the beast I am about to unleash is capable of hitting 60mph in a staggering three seconds. The thought suddenly occurred of riding a horse through the transition of canter to gallop, rising in the saddle with wrists tensed whilst holding back half-a-ton of animal, before allowing it, literally, full rein.
Driving westwards along the M4, I pull in, and immediately out of, three service stations, for fear of parking up within too close a proximity of other vehicles. It is not until I arrive at the services just prior to the Severn Bridge that I find plenty of space, only to be surrounded by an admiring public.
‘The road is long, with many a winding turn, that leads us to who knows where…’ great opening lines from the Hollies’ classic, ‘He ain’t heavy, he’s my brother’. The song is about trust, and support, and responsibility. I find myself in the Ferrari’s hands. I know it will look after me.
The morning breaks over the Black Mountains with a heavy dew and a low sun peeping behind the clouds. A calm day, and perfect for a drive up and over Gospel Pass. The unmistakable low timbre of the Ferrari engine breaks the stillness and sends the birds scurrying for the shelter of the trees. Curiosity then gets the better of them as they gaze down upon the beauty of the open-top, 3,902cc V8 Turbo, a benchmark in anyone’s language and the pinnacle of unsurpassed style, craftsmanship and technology. One can only applaud Ferrari’s Design Centre for creating such exquisite lines.
Sun up, and the retractable hardtop divides into two parts and deploys above the engine in a mere 14 seconds, the mechanism seamlessly smooth. As for the rest of the body, well, it simply oozes classic mid-rear-engined sports car proportions. The front of the car has a yawning, curvaceous grille. From there, one’s eyes are drawn from the short muscular front wing into which the bumper is wedged, through to the flanks with the new side air intakes for the intercoolers. The engine cover features longitudinal ribs, which generate a three-dimensional, dynamic effect. The ribs themselves are flanked outboard by sculpted mesh grills. The engine cover terminates in the rear spoiler and channels air into it. OMG moments are plentiful.
Aside from this being a Ferrari, what attracts many a passer-by is the debut of the new livery. Metallic particles suspended in the Blu Corsa livery give the bodywork a gloss that underscores its sculptural forms, the iridescent effect created by two-layer paintwork.
As for the interior, functionality forms the key to the overall driver experience. Seated in the cockpit, the first impression is one of seamless harmony with one’s surroundings. The sleek and efficient dashboard curves around the cockpit and is very much driver-focused. The multifunctional steering wheel is a dream, with beautifully contoured thumb placements at the ten-to-two position, and again at ten-to-three, where the horn is located. The new profiles and padding of the seats with their fixed headrests make for an extremely comfortable driving experience, and particularly on long journeys, which I will soon happily discover. To be honest, I didn’t expect anything less.
The car’s dynamic behaviour is at once exhilarating, astonishing and effortless, for, lest we forget, at the heart of every Ferrari is its formidable engine. This is where Maranello’s engineers have come into their own, with the V8’s performance the result of a focus on achieving maximum efficiency across the board.
With the Ferrari 488 Spider we are glimpsing yet another creative masterpiece
Snaking its way over the Black Mountains between Monmouthshire and Powys, Gospel Pass is the highest stretch of road in Wales. Linking the towns of Abergavenny and Hay-on-Wye, this 18-mile, narrow lane passes historic Llanthony Priory, an excellent stop-off point for a coffee break. The former Augustinian priory lies in the secluded Vale of Ewyas and dates back to around the year 1100. The meandering road then twists and turns all the way up to the 1,801ft-high (549m) Gospel Pass itself. Folklore would have you believe that St Paul passed by this way taking the bible to Wales. As a reader of medieval history, I find the alternative version that the Crusaders took passage through here in the 12th century whilst preaching and fundraising, somewhat endearing. I did mutter the odd prayer or two myself as the road seemed to close ever further in on me and the occasional approaching vehicle forced me to take to one of the passing spots.
I knew I had arrived at the actual Pass itself, having driven over a cattle grid. Flanked by the peaks of Waun Fach to the west and Hay Bluff to the east (which is also the English border), they say it is possible to enjoy expansive views north over the Wye Valley and south over the once-glacial Vale of Ewyas. Here, atop the Brecon Beacons National Park, I can see precisely nothing, thanks to dense, low cloud and driving mist. Five miles of precisely nothingness, in fact. Ah well, once I safely descend to the valley floor and am back on decent, tarmacadam roads, there is plenty of time to enjoy the cut and thrust of the Spider as I weave a web through the gently unfolding countryside.
Whether idling around the Welsh towns or efficiently dispatching slower moving vehicles on the open road, the Spider remains so incredibly responsive that I find myself more often than not employing restraint on the accelerator pedal, whilst being wholly impressed by the total lack of understeer when encountering tight bends, despite approaching at speed that, given any other circumstance, I would find my heart in my mouth.
The mere fact that I find myself interacting almost as much with the public as I do with the car speaks volumes for Ferrari. People want to talk or simply admire from a distance, to take selfies and offer straight swaps with Transit vans (three times!). One childish schoolboy shouted ‘W..ker’ as I drove slowly through Chepstow, whilst others merely utter the word ‘Wow’. This drop-dead gorgeous supercar makes me feel like a superstar, albeit an ageing but well-heeled one, not a footballer (far too objectionable a breed), and to that end some may have puzzled over the personalised plate (the FNE actually stands for Ferrari North Europe. As for the S8, that will nicely pass as S [Spider] 8 (legs!). Anyway, as I was saying, the Ferrari brand is all about passion to the aficionado and fascination for the onlooker. Every schoolboy knows the name. It is what makes one’s pulse spill into overdrive.
Would I buy one? What a daft question. For the next ten years I will need to stop the weekly food run, stop buying designer clothes, stop dining in posh restaurants, and not book any more cruises. But then, after all that, in ten years I will be much thinner and crinklier, and a miserable old sod, and Ferrari would have to employ a hoist to lift me in and out of the cockpit, for fear that I might spill out backwards and break by coccyx, and that would only mean even more additional cover on the insurance policy. But I don’t care. I can dream. The 488 Spider might well merely be the latest chapter in Maranello’s ongoing love affair with open-top V8 sports cars, but to my mind we are glimpsing yet another creative masterpiece; a new benchmark of excellence. Innovative and dynamic, seductive and ridiculously sexy, it is an arranged marriage of blistering performance and razor-sharp responsiveness, all neatly wrapped up in a ridiculously gorgeous exterior. It will go down in history as one of the greats. I am so glad to have been given the opportunity to experience the journey.
The 488 Spider has V8 – 90º turbo-charged, dry sump engine with a total displacement of 3902cc, 7-speed F1 dual-clutch transmission, a maximum speed of 203mph, and a price tag in excess of £200,000, underpinned by an extended seven-year scheduled maintenance programme. Ferrari’s Personalisation Programme allows for a broad range of options, and the Tailor Made programme allows for an even more bespoke ‘tailoring’, rather like a Savile Row suit.
Oh yes, lest I forget, if you would like the Spider with all the trimmings, do not expect any change out of £282,000.