March 25, 2008

Photo Gallery: 2008 Ferrari F430 Spider F1

Specifications: 2008 Ferrari F430 Spider F1

The Guide: 2008 Ferrari F430 Spider F1

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North Vancouver, British Columbia – “The Ferrari F430 Spider is the only mid rear-engined convertible to feature a fully automatic electric top while still leaving the engine exposed through a pane of glass.”

When I read this while leafing through Ferrari press kit notes, I wondered how many prospective buyers of the exotic super car would base their decision on this fact. “But honey, you can put the top up by pressing this button, and look, you can still see the engine.”

My guess is none.

Instead, what appeals to the well-heeled hot shoes who plop down hundreds of thousands of dollars for something that ultimately achieves the same as a $14,000 sub-compact — that old A to B thing — is that a Ferrari is so much more than two dozen Toyota Echos could ever hope to be – even if you disassembled all 24 of them and remade them into some outrageous 96-cylinder rice rocket. It’s a little like asking why pay a hundred bucks for a Baccarat water glass when you can score a free one with a bucket from the Colonel.

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A combination of “because I can” and “because I like the best” is part of the typical response.

After driving in and drooling on a Giallo Modena (that’d be ‘yellow’) 430 Spider one recent sunny West Coast day, if I won the lotto and bought one of these sublime sports cars, I’d add this bit of newly acquired millionaire advice to the debate: “Get in. Cancel all your appointments for the day. We’re going for a drive.”

As you’d expect of a super model, the Ferrari F430 made its world debut in Paris. The highly anticipated replacement to the 360, called ‘Evo’ within the inner sanctum of Ferrari, the F430 was the belle of the 2004 Paris Auto Show, and by the summer of the next year, Ferrari dealers throughout Canada and the United States were selling the select few they could get their hands on.

No wonder.

With subtle yet so strong styling by Pininfarina, a 490-horsepower 4.3-litre 90-degree V8, big brakes by Brembo and a chassis that is, for all intents and purposes, built for the race track, the F430 Spider is the strongest contender for super car of the Century, young as it is.

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Before braying from Bugatti Veyron backers begins, and poisoned penned pleas from Porsche Carrera GT fans flood my editor’s in-box, I would ask all those in disagreement with this claim to go down to their local Ferrari dealer, press their nose up against the showroom glass and take a long and lingering look at the F430’s lines.

See how Pininfarina has incorporated a little of Ferrari’s storied racing history into the nose, the two large elliptical air intakes reminiscent of the Ferrari 156 F1 that Phil Hill claimed the 1961 Grand Prix World Championship in. They also serve an important function, as the air gobbled up by them is channeled over a spoiler and along the F430’s smooth underbody to help create 572 lbs. of down force at 300 km/h.

See how the rear end of the 430 is also a case of beauty meets functionality, with its twin set of dual exhaust ports pushed to the outside edges to make room for the serious aerodynamic underbody that peeks out from below.

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Look at that chrome Prancing Horse badge proudly placed dead centre on the rear, leaving no doubt the heritage of this exclusive thoroughbred.

And if you can get close enough to the F430, take a peek at that engine-you-can-eat-off beneath the large glass engine compartment lid.

Still not convinced?

Ask the sales manager to press the steering wheel mounted start button. I guarantee you will forever from that day forward look upon the Veyron’s bulbous exterior as an Audi TT on steroids, and the Carrera GT as a cold and calculated Teutonic take on a Japanese tuner, albeit with 612 ponies.

The 2008 Ferrari F430 is available in three configurations — Coupe, Spider and the Scuderia, a lighter and more powerful version for those who really like to take things to the limit.

Back to the press notes: “Significant improvements have been wrought in the (F430’s) chassis department, with a 10 per cent increase in torsional rigidity and a five per cent improvement in beam strength over the 360 Spider.”

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Rare that Ferrari would admit that even an out-of-production model had shortcomings, but that kind of uncompromising attention to detail is what has long set the Italian carmaker apart from the competition. To that end, F430 Spider press notes also go out of their way to distance the new car’s engine from the 360’s, stating “this is an all-new unit that does not share any components with the 360’s Modena’s engine.”

While I’m sure the 360’s engine was no slouch, the F430’s flat crank power unit is the thing gearhead’s dreams are made of. And when mated to the track-inspired electronic differential, the combination is incredible.

Called E-Diff and standard on the F430 Spider, the technology is the same used by Ferrari’s F1 cars to effectively and efficiently transfer massive torque levels to the track under extremely high cornering g-forces.

Another nod to the planet’s ultimate race series is the F1-inspired manettino, a steering wheel mounted switch that controls the electronics governing suspension settings, traction and slip control, the E-Diff and the shift-speed of the transmission.

Driving Impressions

An occupational hazard of writing about cars for a living — apart from a well-worn gas credit card — is getting buttonholed at social gatherings and peppered with questions, the most common of which is “What’s the best car you ever drove?” Up until last week, my stock answer was a BMW Z8. After driving the F430 Spider, I have a new answer.

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It wasn’t so much the Schumi-like acceleration (0 to 100 km-h in 3.9 seconds), the throaty bark of the four exhaust tips with each downshift with the left paddle or the pinpoint handling of the low-to-the-ground machine. It was the entire package.

Once the initial nervousness wore off and I’d piloted the F430 out of Vancouver’s urban jungle south to some open road, my comfort level in the low-slung seat was high.

To get a sense of the car’s power and handling nature, I’d left the F1 transmission in automatic, meaning I could concentrate on steering and braking while the computer looked after the shifting.

As wild and intimidating as the F430 may appear, its handling is as easy as it is precise. Likewise, accelerating is not unlike that would you’d experience in any performance vehicle. Only that’s with a very gentle and light right foot and both hands firmly in the 10-and-2 position.

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Where the Ferrari F430 Spider separated from the pack was in the ‘entire sensation’ department. And that really starts and ends with the aural sensation of that 4.3-litre engine, either when burbling through some downshifts or whining up through the six gears at full song.

My tester was outfitted with a fancy Kenwood sound system, but once I heard that engine, I forgot all about the CD I’d packed along to fulfill a boyhood fantasy moment of cranking some Zeppelin while driving a convertible Ferrari.

The F430’s cockpit is larger than the V8 car’s it replaced in the Ferrari stable, the 360 Modena, meaning NBA players can trade-in their Bentley GTs and Escalades for some Italian style. Well, guards and small forwards anyway.

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Unlike other luxury cars — even limited run units — there was no feeling of mass production about the F430’s interior. Usually you can see how a dash or door panel went together, their separate parts distinct from one another. Not so with the F430, where instead there was a sense of organic growth about how it all fit together to create a perfect balance between function and aesthetic.

From inside to out and from top to bottom, the 2008 Ferrari F430 Spider is a super car of unsurpassed excellence.

It is everything a Ferrari aspires to be, and everything a Ferrari owner expects it to be.

Aspirations and expectations often are found wanting in this imperfect world. For a handful of fortunate Ferrari-philes, they’re just a button-push away from perfection any time they want it.

Pricing: 2008 Ferrari F430 Spyder F1

Base price: $


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