June 25, 2024

‘Sex on Wheels’? Now Ferrari Has ‘Room for Groceries,’ Too

THE yellow Ferrari Italia twists out of a steep curve and rockets down the ribbon of blacktop.

The tires smoke. The V-8 howls. Somewhere on the long straightaway, the needle on the speedometer touches 150 miles an hour. The test driver downshifts and hurtles into a hairpin turn.

So this is what Ferraristi mean by “sex on wheels.”

Here, outside the north central Italian town of Maranello, yellow, blue and blood-red Ferraris race through 14 curves on the company’s 1.9-mile-long track known as the Fiorano circuit. This is the heart of Ferrari-land, a seductive, mysterious place that at times seems to defy logic, or at least the economics of the conventional automotive industry.

It is a place of sonorous engines and sinuous curves, where engineers don’t just tune up engines — they tune them, like pianos, to produce that libidinous vroom. It is a place where the price of admission is at least 180,000 euros ($250,000) and can zoom toward a million with custom colors, hand-stitched calfskin seats and dashboards upholstered with manta ray hide.

And where Ferrari executives are now looking to get a bit practical — or at least what passes for practical here in this rarefied world.

So, brace yourself: Ferrari is making a hatchback. Mind you, this is no ordinary hatchback. With a cobra-like front end and a 660-horsepower engine, it starts at 260,000 euros ($370,000).

Luca Cordero di Montezemolo, the company’s chairman, says the car, an all-wheel drive known as the FF, is intended for the man who craves a Ferrari but finds himself hauling a baby seat and sports equipment on the weekends.

“Ferrari used to be the car that you kept in your garage, took out to polish and show, and put back into the garage,” Mr. Montezemolo, 63, said as he gave a tour of Ferrari’s headquarters recently. “Today,” he said, “people want to do more with a car.”

Going hatchback — Ferrari style — is part of Mr. Montezemolo’s survival strategy for a company whose name has been synonymous with power, braggadocio and Italy itself for more than 60 years. It comes as Sergio Marchionne, the chief executive of Fiat, which owns 85 percent of Ferrari, has been asking Ferrari and its sister brand, Maserati, to aim for higher profit and sales by offering a wider range of cars.

As Mr. Marchionne moves to raise Fiat’s stake in Chrysler to 51 percent, he has also suggested an eventual initial public offering of Ferrari, which could compel it to start dialing up profitability.

But Ferrari is about more than cars and profit: its selling point is prestige, status and sex appeal, carefully calibrated through the economics of high-end luxury.

DRIVING in from the Bologna airport, you can tell immediately when you reach the realm of Ferrari. One minute, small, squat cars — mostly Fiats — are puttering along on the narrow roads that wind through the countryside. Then, suddenly, a roar of engines rips into the pastoral quiet, and a parade of sports cars zooms around a curve in a blaze of color.

The machines have just rolled out of a plant after a four-month birthing process that begins with a custom order at one of 200 Ferrari dealerships around the world. After the car bodies are glossed with a triple coat of paint, workers install custom dashboards, hand-sewn seats and transmissions that allow drivers to shift gears, Formula One-style, with the touch of a lever.

The secret to any Ferrari is the sound of its engine, whose power is depicted by a prancing horse, a symbol that was emblazoned on a lightning-fast World War I plane flown by an Italian pilot. To fire up the engine’s magic, Mr. Montezemolo gathers with top officials in a secret facility three years before a model hits showrooms to vote on a playlist of engine tones that are composed with the help of a musician. A prototype Ferrari is built around the most thrilling pitch, and the men gather again in a soundproofed, padded room to judge the real thing. If the engine hits the right primal note, the car is approved for production.

I got a taste of the engine’s power when a test driver took me for a spin in that canary yellow Italia on the Fiorano Circuit. As we hit what is known as Straightaway 1, I was pinned to my seat by the g-forces. The driver turned to make sure I was smiling.

“You feel the excitement in your skin!” he said, gunning the engine. The sound was glorious, the vibrations electric.

This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:

Correction: May 14, 2011

An earlier version of this article misstated the year that Enzo Ferrari died. It was 1988, not 1998.

Article source: http://www.nytimes.com/2011/05/15/business/15ferrari.html?partner=rss&emc=rss

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