Let’s make no mistake: I want one of these.
I want one. Not because it’s fast (although it is); not because it’s ridiculously expensive (although it is); not because it’s pretty (although it is, in a pugnacious, Michelle-Rodriguez-in-Girlfight kind of way). I want one for one reason and one reason only: the sound.
You’re looking at a 2007 Ferrari F430. The F430, which replaced the 360 Modena in 2005, is Ferrari’s “entry-level” model (if one can call prices approaching $200,000 “entry level” with a straight face). It’s the latest in a genus dating back to the mid-engine Dinos of the late 1960s and 1970s. Like its predecessor, the F430 has a V8 engine mounted ahead of the rear wheels. As the numerical designation implies, it displaces about 4.3 liters (4,308 cc — about 263 cubic inches — to be precise). It has dual overhead cams on each cylinder bank, 32 valves, and variable valve timing on both intake and exhaust, all of which yields 490 hp (365 kW) at 8,500 rpm. It drives an F1-style six-speed sequential gearbox whose clutch is managed automatically.
Why would you put the engine between the cockpit and the rear wheels? It’s certainly not for packaging efficiency — it ruins any semblance of really useful cargo room, precludes a habitable back seat, and tends to make the interior cramped, hot, and noisy. The reason is a low polar moment of inertia. The more you concentrate the largest masses in the car towards the center, the less resistance it has to changing direction.
Mid-engine cars are intrinsically agile, with a purity of steering response and balance that front- or rear-engine cars can never match. It’s not a layout for amateurs; the low rotational inertia means a mid-engine car is far from spin-proof if not treated with respect (or a heavy slathering of protective electronics). But, in combination with a sophisticated double-wishbone suspension and fat, sticky tires, it make for a car capable of astounding feats, at least on a smooth race track.
It’s difficult to express exactly how fast this car is. With less mass than a V6 Honda Accord and almost 500 horsepower, reaching 60 mph (97 km/h) in a Ferrari F430 requires less than four seconds. Hitting 100 mph (161 km/h) takes about eight seconds flat. Top speed is close to 200 mph (320 km/h). Despite the complete absence of spoilers, there is no aerodynamic lift at any speed, with more than 600 pounds (2,700 N-m) of downforce at 185 mph (300 km/h).
But let’s be honest: Who cares? There’s no public road in the world where you can really use even 80% of this car’s potential. First and second gear alone are enough to cost you your driver’s license in most municipalities. If you want a car with serious over-the-road, real-world speed potential, get a Subaru WRX sedan in a neutral color, minus the ludicrous rear wing. Paradoxical as it may sound, there’s no point buying a Ferrari for speed.
This is not the most beautiful Ferrari ever, and Pininfarina design chief Frank Stephenson has sacrificed a certain amount of the previous 360 Modena’s sheer grace for a more muscular look. But the Ferrari F430 is the best-looking modern Ferrari, with exquisite detailing in every area, from the red crackle finish on the engine cam covers to the yellow-painted calipers of the enormous ceramic discs. You could almost buy it just to look at it.
But you don’t buy a Ferrari just for looks, either. It’s all about the sound. The flat-plane V8 sits behind the cockpit, beneath a vented glass dome, separated from the driver by a double-walled glass window. In motion, at high rpm, the engine note rises to a hair-raising, primordial shriek, something more animal than machine — a mountain lion with perfect pitch and a concert-grade amplifier. You can almost see the exhaust note ricochet off of nearby buildings and it sets up sympathetic vibrations in your sternum and ribcage. When the throttle is lifted it pops and burbles on the overrun. It makes you want to cackle with glee.
Exotic sports cars do not exist for practical reasons. There is nothing quantifiable that a $180,000 car can do for you that a $30,000 car can’t do just as well. Exotics suck down premium fuel like a drunk at last call. They can’t necessarily be counted on to start in the morning and a routine service will cost you more than some people’s rent. But these cars are not about need, they’re about want: pure, wild-eyed lust. This is something the Germans have never really grasped — which is why most of the big über-Benzes and Audis are rather passionless exercises — but Ferrari understands.
So, if some monied bastard goes scorching past you, shifting at 7,000 rpm just to hear it scream (and around here it happens every so often), forgive them a little.
If you had one, you’d do it, too.
NOTES ON SOURCES
Most information on the F430 came from Mark Wan, “Ferrari F430,” AutoZine.org, 1 February 2005, www.autozine. org/ Archive/Ferrari/old/F430.html, accessed 16 April 2007.