Ferrari 812 Superfast: The Italian Icon lives on
Outfitted with the most powerful engine in the company’s history, the Ferrari 812 Superfast revs like a street bike on nitrous and is capable of face-warping cornering
The guest author is Dan Neil Editor of the Wall Street Journal.
I have done it. I have summited Mount Ferrari. The Ferrari 812 Superfast carries the most powerful series-production V12 engine in the company’s 70-year history. And there are good reasons to think it represents the top of the technical mountain.
The first is its extremity: a naturally aspirated 6.5-liter, 60-degree V12 (stroked .2 liter over the Ferrari F12 Tdf) capable of revving like a 1-liter street bike on nitrous, producing a 789 horsepower at a soul-tingling 8,500 rpm—which I could just touch in 2nd gear between mountain switchbacks before having to lift, the engine-overrun spitting and spattering like a quenched sword. Flanking the engine is a pair of equal-length, six-into-one exhaust headers, the primary source of the Ferrari’s atavistic man-drumming.
Other bleeding-edge attributes include ultra-high-pressure fuel injectors and a brilliantly clever hydraulic circuit driving variable-geometry inlet tracts. These ministrations are necessary because—per Enzo himself—Ferrari engines must deliver linear power; which is to say, the accelerative force the driver feels, and the sound heard, must be instantly and directly proportional to the pressure on gas pedal.
Dipping into this power, corner to corner, hairpin to edge, felt like riding the lashing, leaded tip of a centurion’s whip. Ya-pow!
I rallied the car 400 miles in a day, from Maranello to Abetone ski resort toward Pisa, including a 50-mile stretch of winding, snarling downhill. The big GT—casually capable of face-warping, 1+g cornering and braking—negotiated this route with the subtlety of Godzilla sitting down at a Tokyo restaurant.
The other reason to feel wistful about the 812 Superfast? History. The first Ferrari road cars, and still the most coveted, were front-V12 berlinettas. They won’t making them like this anymore, not for long. The backlash of Dieselgate in Europe has only hardened regulatory resolve to restrict and eventually eliminate internal-combustion engines of any description, let alone heroically scaled, naturally aspirated V12s that shout at the devil.
- Type Front-mid engine, rear-drive performance luxury coupe
- Base price $335,275
- Powertrain Naturally aspirated, direct-injected DOHC, 65-degree V12 with variable valve timing/lift and intake geometry seven-speed dual-clutch rear transaxle with electronically controlled differential and rear-wheel steering; rear-wheel drive
- Length/height/width/wheelbase 179.8/50.2/77.5/107.1/inches
- Weight 3,594 pounds (dry)
- 0-60 mph 2.8 seconds
- 0-124 mph 7.9 seconds
- EPA fuel economy 12/16/13 mpg, city/highway/combined
- Cargo capacity 9 cubic feet (est)
I am worried. In case you didn’t know, the Ferrari brand is the most powerful commercial mark in the world, according to the Brand Finance 500 list. From its historic home in Maranello (currently bursting at the seams with success), the company scuderia has dominated Formula One racing for decades. The brand’s flame-bearers include about a billion fans of the Formula One team, generations of tifosi, from dirt-poor farmers in Bolivia to 100-car collectors in Monaco. You can’t buy that kind of advertising.
In an era of luxury fetishism, high-end goods must have a story, a narrative, and the tale of Enzo Ferrari rising from army mule skinner to motor sports immortal is as good as anything Fielding ever wrote. The conceit still holds: Ferrari sells road cars in order to compete in Formula One, for the glory of sport and Italia. The gallantry of that notion is irresistible.
But the Ferrari brand is also fragile, and the company behind it now faces an almost unthinkable transition: from a closely held, tradition-bound powerhouse within Fiat Chrysler Automobiles , to a growth-oriented, publicly traded luxury lifestyle whatever.
And thanks to the annual report, the Red Keep is now an open book. Ferrari delivered 8,014 cars in 2016, up 4.6%, with revenue up 8.8% (total 3.1 billion euros). Industry observers used to wonder, “How much does Ferrari spend on research and development? Does it really make more money from sponsorship and merch than from car sales?”
Now we know. R&D consumes 9.5 % of net revenues—on the high side of industry average, as you would expect. Sponsorship, commercial and brand income, including Formula One racing, represents 15.7 % of net revenues.
But as I trundled back into Maranello, I longed for the old firm’s mystique, its well-oiled lies. No one wants to see their mortadella being made. It was more fun to think of Ferrari gallantly losing money on Formula One racing instead of making it hand-over-fist on licensed sportswear. It was a pleasant fiction to believe that, by virtue of its dignity, damn-the-torpedoes history or status as Italy’s de facto F1 team, the newly public Ferrari would leave some brand value un-maximized.
In April, the Ferrari Land attraction opened in Spain, a red cuff link to the Ferrari World amusement complex in Abu Dhabi. So I guess not.
For the past quarter-century, my affection for the brand has been rooted in the company’s record of self-imposed exceptionalism, its antibusiness practices. Enzo Ferrari nearly bankrupted the company going racing. He raced anyway. He could have walked away a rich man in 1963 but instead he told Henry Ford II to stuff it. Il Commendatore refused stupid requests from classless, money-fisted clients.
In vehicle design, management forbids pylon-mounted wings and spoilers on the mainline road cars, holding that such devices are immature and unaesthetic. This standard obliges the aero team to countless additional man-hours, computational time and cost, searching for other ways to keep these kites on the ground.
The 812 Superfast epitomizes this standard, its face and flanks ventilated in purposeful negative space, its upswept underside ending in a massive diffuser. Hidden at the base of the fastback glass is an integrated spoiler generating meaningful downforce. As for styling, the car’s profile leaves little that the Superfast represents some sort of generative organ.
Enzo’s successor, Luca di Montezemolo, could have moved manufacturing out of Maranello, but he sacrificed operating margin for provenance, keeping the fruit in sacred soil. He did broaden the portfolio to include a front-turbo V8 convertible and even an AWD 2+2, the FF.
But there were lines Montezemolo would not cross. He often threatened to leave Formula One; he never did, F1 being existential to the brand. He resisted increasing production, even as demand skyrocketed in America, Asia and the Middle East, arguing that exclusivity and rarity (and residual values, not to be pecuniary) were better served by restraining production.
And, he vowed, Ferrari would never stoop to build a crossover-style vehicle. Ah, well. All is mutability. Ferrari is reportedly preparing a crossover-style vehicle, using the V12-AWD underlayment of the GTC4Lusso. I am not shocked. Porsche and Bentley are building crossovers and SUVs, with Aston Martin, Rolls-Royce and Lamborghini soon to follow. I’m just a tiny bit disillusioned.
And yet the 812 Superfast reduced me to a slobbering, drunk-on-power tifoso, so it seems the icon is safe for another day.
Why should I care? I will never own a Ferrari or trade a share of stock. But I am invested in the daring notion that, even in business, there are some things more important than money.