WE BRITISH like to think of ourselves as being well mannered and cultured, with a great sense of humour and a steely resolve that manifests itself in the shape of a stiff upper lip. But when you drive a Ferrari through this green and pleasant land, you realise quite quickly that, actually, we are mealy-mouthed, bitter and racked with envy and hate.
If I drive a normal car to work, I pull up to the junction at the end of my street, and people let me into the slow-moving crawl on the main road. But when I’m in a Ferrari, they don’t. And it’s the same story on a motorway. People pull over to let a normal car overtake. But when I’m in a Ferrari, they just sit in the outside lane for ever.
In Britain, Mr Normal sees a Ferrari as a reminder that his life hasn’t worked out quite as well as he had hoped. And he sees its driver as a living embodiment of the good-looking kid at school who got the girls, and the sixth-former who nicked his packed lunch on a field trip.
He believes that if he can inconvenience a Ferrari driver, just for a moment, it’s one in the eye for the rich and the privileged. It’s “score one” for the little man.
Then you have the cyclists. Many, as we know, use their bicycles to wage a class war. They see all car drivers as an unholy cross between Margaret Thatcher and Hitler, so they spit and they yell and they put footage of you on their bicycling websites when they get home.
If, however, you are in a Ferrari, they go berserk because now you are an ambassador for the devil himself. You used child labour to make your money. You were responsible for Bhopal. You may even be a Tory. So it is their duty as a comrade to bang on your roof and scream obscenities.
“In Britain a Ferrari causes everyone to say: ‘It’s all right for some.’ Which is the most depressing phrase in the English language”
Even the moderately well off can’t cope with a Ferrari. It upsets their inner zebra. Last week, in one of those towns outside London that’s exactly the same as all the others, I encountered the owner of a hunkered-down, souped-up BMW M3. This was his patch. He was the alpha male in this manor. He probably owned a wine bar. And he really didn’t take kindly to someone turning up with what was very obviously a bigger member. So he came alongside and he roared his exhausts and he danced and skittered to make me go away. Which I did.
You simply do not get any of these responses in other countries. A Ferrari in America is a spur, a reminder that you need to get up earlier in the morning and try harder. In Italy it’s a thing of beauty to be admired. Elsewhere it’s a dream made real. But in Britain it causes everyone to say: “It’s all right for some.” Which is the most depressing phrase in the English language.
And it means that for every minute of enjoyment you get from your Ferrari, you have to endure 10 minutes of abuse and hate. This means you need a thick skin to drive one. Unless you encounter me on your travels. Because when I see someone driving a Ferrari these days, I want to run over and embrace them and offer to have their babies.
The problem is capital gains tax. Because there isn’t any on most cars, they have become a zero-rated currency. You buy something rare, then you put it in a garage, in cotton wool, and then you sell it and trouser 100% of the increase in value. George Osborne gets not one penny.
This means it’s your nest egg. It’s your pension. It’s an Isa with windscreen wipers. And so, obviously, you’re not going to drive it anywhere. The risk is too great.
That saddens me because all of the world’s wonderful cars are now locked away in dehumidified cellars, which means they aren’t on the road where they belong. If I were chancellor of the exchequer, I’d introduce capital gains tax on cars tomorrow. And I’d make it retrospective. It would be a vote winner among the mealy-mouthed and the bitter. And because rare cars are now changing hands for millions, it would net enough to pay for a kiddie’s iron lung or something. And, best of all, it would get all of these wonderful cars back into public view where we can enjoy looking at them.
Certainly, if I owned the Ferrari I was driving last week, I’d use it to go everywhere. I would take it on unnecessary journeys. I would volunteer to run errands for friends. And I would be happy when one of the children rang at three in the morning to say they had no money and couldn’t get home. Because I could go and pick them up.
There are those who say that a 488 is not a proper Ferrari because it’s turbocharged. And that turbocharging has no place on such a thoroughbred. They argue that it’s turbocharged only so that it can meet EU emission regulations and that sticking to the letter of the law flies in the face of the Ferrari ethos. A Ferrari is about freedom and adrenaline and speed and passion and beauty and soul. It’s not about carbon dioxide and bureaucracy.
Yes. I get that. But let’s not forget Gilles Villeneuve’s Ferrari race car was turbocharged or that the best Ferrari of them all — the F40 — used forced induction. And also let’s not forget that thanks to modern engine management systems, you simply don’t know that witchcraft is being used to pump fuel and air into the V8. It doesn’t even sound turbocharged. It sounds like a Ferrari. It sounds baleful. It sounds wonderful.
“Ferrari’s greatest achievement with the 488 is to take something so highly tuned and highly strung and powerful and make it feel like a pussy cat”
And, oh my God, it’s lovely to drive. You can potter about with the gearbox in automatic and it’s not uncomfortable or difficult in any way. That is probably Ferrari’s greatest achievement with the 488. To take something so highly tuned and highly strung and powerful and make it feel like a pussy cat.
It’s so docile that you get the impression it can’t possibly work when you put your foot down. But it just does. I know of no mid-engined car that feels so friendly. So on your side. There’s no understeer at all and there’s no suddenness from the back end either. The old 458 was not as good as a McLaren 12C. But this new car puts the prancing horse back on top. As a driving machine, it’s — there’s no other word — perfect.
I still hate the dashboard, though. Putting all the controls for the lights and indicators and wipers on the steering wheel is silly. And so is the sat nav and radio, which can be operated only by the driver.
I suppose you’d get used to it if you used the car a lot. And that’s the best thing about the 488. Because you can. James May recently bought the old 458 Speciale, which, because the car market is mad, has rocketed in value to such an extent that he hardly ever uses it.
The 488, because it’s not a limited-edition special, will not make you any money. So you can, and you may as well, use it as a car.
Yes, it’ll cause everyone else on the road to become Arthur Scargill. But look at it this way. When you’re filling it with fuel and you’re being sneered at by the man at the next pump, give him a real reason to dislike you. Saunter over and point out that if you didn’t have a Ferrari, it would make no difference to his life.
He’d still be on his way to a useless garden centre, in his crummy Citroën with his ugly wife and his two gormless children.
Head to head
|Ferrari 488 GTB
|Lamborghini Huracan LP 610-4