September 30, 2012 – The Ferrari 458 Italia Spider, their first mid-engine retractable-hardtop convertible: News of Ferrari’s new $300,000, 562-horsepower, 3,400 pound retractable-hardtop convertible, might seem a trifle irrelevant to the moment. Never mind the 1%; buyers of this car are the 0.001%, and some of them are pretty unsympathetic characters: Russian kleptocrats in track suits that match their mobile phones; Brazilian soccer stars with microwave-size wristwatches. If Silvio Berlusconi doesn’t have one on order, maybe he should have.
And at least a few of the new client have galaxy-class bad taste. As I was touring the factory’s new “Tailor Made” customization atelier in Maranello, Italy, I confronted a customer’s electric-lime-and-black 599 GTO, with chartreuse hides and monogrammed seats, destined for the Middle East. Had you requested such a car from Enzo Ferrari himself, he would have swatted you with a tire iron and had you dumped onto the Via Abetone. Ah, the good old days.
Ferrari continues to walk the iciest tightrope: It’s a legend, a motorsports mythology, the Camelot of fast cars. It’s also a business, the most profitable unit for parent company Fiat, and an ultra-luxury trophy worth billions if Fiat should decide to sell.
All cars are “tribal,” and no tribe is more self-regarding than the Ferraristi. You may think you’re joining a tribe of noble automotive connoisseurs such as Ralph Lauren and Pink Floyd drummer Nick Mason; but people who see you in your car might think, “Hey is that Charlie Sheen?”
Make no mistake: In the 458 Italia Spider, you will be seen. This is Ferrari’s first mid-engine retractable-hardtop convertible, combining the brilliant operability of the Ferrari California’s disappearing hardtop with the Tantric sports-car ecstasy of the 458 Italia. Fascinating design, exquisite stick-and-rudder handling, raw power like Samson on Rogaine, the Italia is absolutely one of the three best sports cars in the world.
Engineered by Ferrari and Webasto, the two-panel aluminum roof folds like window blinds as the assembly goes vertical and dives into a compartment behind the seat, as the twin-buttress rear deck opens and shuts. The one-button cycling process takes a mere 14 seconds.
In the Spider, with the top down, the sound of the machine takes up the very center of the experience, a high-octane chord of surpassing transcendence resonating in your forebrain.
Thanks to the 458 Italia’s active exhaust system, the Spider is able to burr quietly and without resentment at low speeds around town (the system helps the car pass European noise standards). But when the revs roll above 4,000 rpm, the valve in the three-pipe exhaust opens up and, man, that’s when the Seraphims’ brass section comes in. This is me with adrenaline running out of my ears.
Another nice feature of the Spider is the two-position motorized backlight—what Americans call the rear window. This small tab of safety glass rises up between the deck buttresses as a draft-stop, helping to keep the high-priced hurricane just outside the cockpit.
It all adds up to a supercar with the most comfortable, accessible and aurally compelling open-air experience on the market. I mean, really, short of something Biblical—locusts or a torrent of frogs or something—why wouldn’t you have the top down?
The Master of Disaster