Ferrari Superamerica: Open-Air Theatre
WORD MICHAEL STAHL
Like the look of this, do you? Nice open-topped sports job; something for the weekend? See yourself ripping along the edge of some soaring, cliffy coastline? Figure she's probably pretty fast, maybe a bit spesh and expensive, got some sort of new-fangled folding roof that'll amaze the neighbours?
Well, you're too late. And probably too normal.
If you wanted a Ferrari Superamerica - that's want-ed - you would already have heard from Ferrari about 14 months ago. They'd have had your number because you’re already a serious collector, or at least the owner of a current Ferrari V12, which in itself is still a half-million-dollar qualification.
Back then, your Ferrari pals would have told you a bit about the car, about its being a sister to the 575M coupe, but with a nifty, back-flipping sunroof. Better yet, the glass roof has this variable-tint feature that lets you set it in any of five positions from near-clear to very dark. First thing on the market with it. They may have even let you know that the Superamerica would get an extra pinch of power to keep its performance close to the ‘Maranello' coupe's.
They certainly couldn't have told you, as you absent-mindedly licked your pencil and jotted out a cheque in five figures, how much the thing would ultimately cost. No, you and your deposit would have to wait another 12 months until you heard the price: $648,000. Oh, and if sir fancies the GTC handling and braking package, it's an extra-cost option at $56,000.
Does this sound normal? Does $56.000 sound more like an extra-car option to you? How does anybody really buy a car like this?
Without skimping, basically. No fewer than eight Australians have done all of the above and will take delivery of their cars between July and December. Not a man among them bulked at ticking the GTC option box.
We are jealous as hell.
Conceptually, the Superamerica is a limited-edition Ferrari, though admittedly not as exclusive or expensive as the Enzo, nor even the '410 Superamerica' (1955-'59) from which its name derives, and of which only 34 were built. Still, Ferrari will build just 559 examples of the new Superamerica.
This figure was explained, rather unconvincingly, as 550 because the car was originally derived from the 550 Maranello, plus nine units because Ferrari's limited-edition production runs always end in nine. Being a Ferrari rule, it's probably outnumbered by exceptions - two topical ones being the Enzo and the Superamerica's cousin, the 550 Barchetta, of which 448 were produced. Fact is, Ferrari builds as many as it knows it will sell. Limited-edition models are usually sold out before production even begins.
In cold, physical terms, the Superamerica is a targa-roofed version of the 575M coupe (though 'targa' is the least diplomatic term one could use). The 575 coupe is facing replacement next year, after nine years of being the most awesome and capable GT out there. Not to mention the first car I ever drove at 300km/h, which is a whole other story. The Superamerica's stunning achievement is that, for the most part, it adds to everything that's already great about the 575M. Yes, the drop- top version is 60 kilograms heavier (totalling a hefty 1790kg), but those extra love-handles and bigger lungs to match - make the Superamerica no less fit or sexy.
Leonardo Fioravanti's design achievements are covered over; the variable- tint tricknology of Saint-Gobain Sekurit's glass above right, but the operation of the ‘Revocromico rotating sunroof’ could well be Fioravanti's crowning achievement in simplicity and elegance.
The roof operation takes only 10 seconds, whirred quietly by electric motors positioned at the rotational point in each rear window pillar. Ferrari retained a manual locking handle on the upper windscreen frame, not only for reasons of safety, but to avoid the high-mounted weight of electric locking motors. As it is, the thick A-pillars now have steel reinforcing bars inside.
However, it does have such motors (and iffy, fake-carbon locking arms) concealed beneath the scalloped bootlid, to lock the open roof against it. The housings for these certainly compromise the shape, though not the capacity, of the boot.
Speaking of distributing loads, the bootlid and all its supporting framework is made from carbonfibre. And the rotating roof/ rear-window unit's frame is likewise crafted in gorgeous carbonfibre, here left in its glossy resin finish. Meanwhile, the extra reinforcement needed for the chassis is, naturally, down low in the sills. The result is that Ferrari claims the same centre of gravity as for the 575M coupe.
If you drive a 575M and your wife or girlfriend weighs 60 kilos, she's costing you 18 kilowatts. We know this because that's how much extra power Ferrari engineered into the Superamerica to keep performance on par with that of the 379kW coupe.
The Superamerica's 397kW at 7250rpm - that rev point, and the torque of 588Nm at 5250rpm all otherwise identical to the 575M - comes about through higher-flow inlet tracts and a revised exhaust system with reduced backpressure. Zero to 100km/h acceleration in 4.2 seconds matches that of a similarly F1-equipped 575M coupe, although the Superamerica's top speed of 320km/h falls short by 5km/h. No matter. That still makes the Ferrari Superamerica the fastest convertible in the world.
Keen Ferrari fans (and there's no other kind) will spot the few, minor styling differences in their rear-view mirrors. Silver headlight surrounds (instead of grey), bonnet nostril grille in grey (instead of black) and body-coloured front air splitter (instead of black) are the only front-on giveaways; a raised shield on the bootlid supports the horse.
Inside, there's little obviously different from the regular 575M coupe aside from a small carbonfibre panel for the roof's tilt and tint switches. Our test car, like all eight bound for Australia, had the (optional) F1 paddleshift and the GTC handling pack.
Man, if you're already a mega-bucked cat in a cravat, you may as well tick the box. The GTC package brings the latest version of the Fiorano suspension, 19-inch wheels with (on our car) Bridgestone Potenza RE-050A rubber (255/35 front, 305/30 rear), a retuned exhaust system and, not least, the super-trick Brembo carbon-ceramic brakes (with 398mm front and 360mm rear rotors). The same brakes, as a stand-alone option on the Ferrari F430, cost $36,000.
They squealed all day. So did I.
Monaco is the most densely populated country in the world. With a population of 32,000 and a land area of less than two square kilometres, it's almost four times more squeezy than second-placed Singapore. It's also clawed onto a cliff-face: driving 500 metres inland also means driving 500 metres upwards, along tight, trafficked, goat-track roads that almost collapse onto themselves like a clapped-out accordion. Would you really be wanting a 540-horsepower, two-metre-wide,1.8-tonne, $700,000, 320km/h Ferrari V12 around here? God ... yes.
There is something so unique, so soul-touching about the sound of a Ferrari engine ricocheting through the multi-million-dollar canyons and apricot-white cliffs of Monaco. Maybe once or twice each night, like shooting stars, the ripping-canvas shriek of a V8 (or, less often, a V12) will curl through your hotel window. Not everyone in their lifetime will get the chance to scratch the Monte Carlo sky with a Ferrari's song. That opportunity, all by itself, is indescribably special.
But there's more to the Superamerica experience than that. Again, it's all the things that make the 575M one of the best cars you'll ever drive, plus an unexpected, added involvement thanks to the open roof. Even at. speed, the Superamerica remains one of the more subtle drop-tops around, with the cabin remaining quiet and unruffled by wind intrusion.
Some of that's owed to this short-arse's driving position, which had my forehead maybe only 10cm aft of the windscreen frame with most of the open sky behind me. But the concave surface of the rear window (it's convex when the roof's closed) just scoops the wind away. Too bad I didn't get to test it out at 320km/h. But I could have. Can't say that with any other convertible.
The biggest frustration on these roads is that the thick A-pillars seem to obscure vision precisely in synch with the radii of the hairpins. Behind your head, the Superamerica's solid B-pillars (where the coupe has windows) are, for the most part, obscured by the passenger headrest - in three-quarter glances, anyway.
I didn't notice the scuttle shake, until I switched off the adaptive damping's Sport function. Some of this might have been owed to the marginally lazier damping in Comfort mode, although it had more to do with the driver's mindset. I'd just been freed from the terror of sitting 30 centimetres off the rump of the Fiat Multipla camera car, jagged granite walls and oncoming garbage trucks leering into my side windows like a sweaty Hitchcock scene. It's a subtle shimmer through the wheel, no more. Ferrari says the chassis' torsional and flexing rigidity are about halfway between the coupe and the 550 Barchetta.
Roof or no roof, it's pure 575M, meaning you plant the front end into a corner like slapping a magnet on a fridge door. The F1 transmission that's still a bit ponderous around town is in its element here, two flicks of the left-side lever banging down the box and ripping up the tacho. With five grand on board at the apex you'd better either have the ASR left on, or the confidence (or cash balance) to steer a prancing horse by the tail through these narrow and unforgiving canyons.
But then you spill back down to Monaco, lap along the waterfront, and appreciate the other side of the Superamerica's visibility. There are other convertibles that go fast; none, ultimately, as fast as this. There are other convertibles with distinctive roofs; no other has this brilliantly simple design, its lavish carbonfibre frame, nor its five-stage tint. There are other convertibles that look a bit like V12 Ferraris. They're plainly not.
And it dawns why those who can afford these cars - those who are unfazed by a $700K sword of Damocles, who already have another Ferrari or three to help them through the one-year wait - make the commitment on the strength of the prancing-horse badge and an expectation.
It's because this isn't just the live broadcast or the DVD; this isn't even the live stadium concert. This is the box seat, for a very private, open-air performance.
Body steel, 2 doors, 2 seats
Drivetrain front engine (north-south), rear drive
Engine 5748cc V12, dohc, 48V
Power 397kW @ 7250rpm
Torque 588Nm @ 5250rpm
Transmission 6-speed sequential
Size I/w/h 4550/1935/1277mm
Price $648,000 (+ $56,000 GTC handling & braking package)