- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 15, 2006

I’ve been an auto enthusiast nearly all my life, and I’ve been writing about things automotive on a weekly basis for more than 15 years, and it seems that one of the questions I’m asked more than any other, aside from what my personal transport happens to be is, “Have you ever driven a Ferrari”?

I’ve ridden in a couple before, chauffeured by notable professional drivers at high speed around a race course, but have always had to answer in the negative as far as actually driving one of the legendary and exclusive machines. Well, the dry spell is finally over. I was able to enjoy my very first seat time behind the wheel of the heretofore elusive Italian machine at the recent “Ferrari Challenge” held at Infineon Raceway in beautiful Sonoma, California — one of six track venues wherein Ferrari owners (all amateurs) race in competition against one another.

This memorable experience took place following a Ferrari marketing and product presentation, along with a company background and mission statement conducted by Toscan Bennett, Ferrari North America, Inc. Public Relations Manager .

Ferrari ownership is predominantly male (98%), age 35-55, married, most of whom are self-employed (82%).

Forty-eight percent of them own five or more vehicles, and 65 percent own more than one Ferrari. Owners household income is generally in excess of $1 million annually, and most have an extremely high net worth. This all translates pretty much to… I don’t fit the demographic profile, or, Ferrari possession isn’t for everyone.

There were five vehicles available to drive (we would only be allowed to drive one) by predetermined assignment: an F430 Coupe powered by a 490 horsepower V8 valued at $175,000; an F430 Spider (roadster) with an identical motive force for a paltry $199,000; and three 612 Scaglietti 2+2 Coupes with a 530 horsepower V-12 for power and a base sticker of $257,000. though most were equipped with the GTC option package that included 19-inch alloy wheels, special suspension tuning and carbon ceramic brakes for another $26,000. The car that I most wanted to drive, was the F430 Spider (I love open cars), so naturally, I was assigned to the 612 Scaglietti with a co-driver and a racing instructor riding shotgun. When I wasn’t driving, I was in the cozy but comfortable back seat.

The 612 Scaglietti transfers its 530 horsepower from the mighty V-12 to the rear wheels via a special transmission — it is in reality a manual transmission, but without a clutch. Gear changes are made utilizing wheel-mounted paddle shifters. The right paddle shift gears upward sequentially, while the left paddle is for downshifts. There is no need to lift off the accelerator when changing gears, and when parking, a double blip of the right paddle sets the car in neutral.The 612 Scaglietti weighs in at more than two tons (4,056 pounds), but despite its mass, it is capable of reaching a top speed of 199 mph, and will zip from 0-60 mph in a mere 4.1 seconds, accompanied by what may well be the most pleasing and melodious exhaust note on the planet.

The test 612 Scaglietti’s exterior was finished in a gun metal gray metallic, while the sumptuous interior sported camel-colored leather with silver accents throughout, highlighted by yellow Ferrari insignias here and there. The base price was set at $257,000, but after adding for the GTC package, the final tally was at $283,000. The car is exquisitely designed in a Coupe configuration with a low profile. There is a familiar egg-crate grille insert complete with the prancing “Cavellino”, and the outer curve of the grille surround sweeps to the inside of the pronounced fenders, flanking the smooth, flat hood.

Air intakes positioned outside the grille on both sides aid in brake cooling. The fender lines flow into the car’s beltline and on into the downward swept deck with its integrated spoiler lip. An inset cove radiuses off the forward wheel well just below a character line that develops off the leading edge of the front wheel well. Twin taillamps match the twin dual exhaust symmetrically in the view that most motorists will see.

The car accelerates rapidly with a broad torque range, shifts quickly, if somewhat abruptly, and sticks to the road in a flat stance, all the while emitting that magical exhaust tone that offers up a delightful and distinctive back-pressure burble when lifting suddenly.

Ferrari is a small volume company by American standards, selling just more than 5,000 vehicles worldwide last year, with 1,400 sold in the North American market through 36 dealers. Ferrari is rich in racing DNA, with six consecutive world championship titles ranging from 1999 through 2005…and 2006 isn’t over yet. The Italian carmaker celebrated its 50th anniversary in North America in 2004.

The Scaglietti is truly a blistering performer and Grand Tourer in one.

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