For people of a certain age, Ferrari is the brand which epitomizes automotive lust. These lucky souls saw people actually driving around in GTOs, Daytonas, and even Dinos in their youth. As these same people grew into adulthood, the truly fortunate found themselves behind the wheel of 308s, Testarossas, and F-40s. These magnificent machines with the prancing horse on the nose had no equal. It took a real man (or Christie Brinkley in the movies) to drive them; heavy clutches, gated manual gear shifters, no ABS, and near telepathic steering meant your average Toyotaist simply couldn’t tame the beast. Sure, there were some missteps, like the Mondial, but you couldn’t argue about the looks. Yes, these cars were truly great; they happened to be brilliantly engineered, wonderful to drive, and quite good looking. And, the F1 team kept on winning. So, if you’re a baby boomer, this what Ferrari means to you.
However, I’m a millennial. I may have gotten to ride in a 308 and a 456 as a child, but I’ve also been exposed to the competition. You see, there happens to be a small outfit in Woking, who dominated everything during my childhood when Ferrari happened to stop winning races and began making mainly ugly cars, save the 456. McLaren won 7 constructors championships to Ferrari’s big fat goose egg, and they happened to make the greatest road-car of all-time in the F1, which also won LeMans. Plus, whilst Ferrari got caught up in the ‘bling-bling’ error, the only ‘bling’ ever associated with McLaren was the gold foil lining the engine compartment of the F1. So, in the span of a decade the prancing horse went from top dog to the poser’s choice.
By the time I could legally drive, Ferrari had bought the services of Ross Brawn and Michael Schumacher to finally win another championship on the race track, but the 21st century brought more challengers on the road. Lamborghini started to make cars that drove as well as they looked, introducing a full range in the process. James Bond switched back to Aston Martin, who happened to start making brilliant cars. Then, Pagani launched the Zonda, and the Germans started building supercars again. Sure the market was growing, but Ferrari no longer stood atop it.
Internally, Ferrari was now part of the FIAT empire with Maserati and Alfa Romeo, which meant the old Dino/308/328 price-point was no longer an option if there was to be a GM-like brand hierarchy. And, since there was now an expectation of higher profits, production nearly doubled. Somehow without a true entry-level car, they managed to sell more high-end GT cars and mid-engined screamers. How could this have happened? Well, Ferrari started making cars any idiot could drive. Sure, ABS is a good thing, but people without the hand-eye coordination to operate a clutch were the core buyers. Now, you cannot buy a new Ferrari with a manual gearbox, so if you desire gated shifter of a classic Bond baddie (see Goldeneye), then you’ll want to visit an Audi showroom to spec your new R8.
Apparently, Ferrari seems to think the market cares more about Apple CarPlay and touch-screens than driving, since the press release for the revised California T spent so much time stressing this cool, new, in-car technology. Maybe their new market cares about this, but those aren’t the cool kids. Maybe it’s because the Japanese are making better supercars than ever in the LFA, GTR, and upcoming NSX that have forced Ferrari go for the gadgets? It’s probably much cheaper to have the best in-car technology than it is to make the best actual car. Plus, when you need to throw countless millions into the F1 team to overtake the likes of Mercedes and Red Bull, you can’t bother to develop an all-new model anyway. No, slapping a on a turbo, deleting the manual gearbox option, and adding the latest Apple stuff is good enough to sell ’em even with the added weight of a folding hard-top.
Fortunately, Corporate cousin Alfa Romeo makes an actual driver’s car in the mold of the 308, though it too lacks a manual gearbox due to cost concerns. However, the only lcd screen is the instrument panel, and the only bit of tech is a bluetooth connection, which you’ll never use anyway. It sounds great, goes like hell, is actually light-weight, and looks the part. So, while Ferrari makes their radio more like an iPad, FIAT gave the make Enzo left to start his own firm a car that Ferrari could have sold – with just a bit more leather – for double or triple the money. Apparently, that makes corporate sense? I don’t have a business degree, so maybe this is what you’re supposed to do. All I know is if you really want the ‘Ferrari’ experience of old in an Italian exotic, then you have to buy an Alfa Romeo 4C.