"A Ferrari is a scaled-down version of God". Jeremy Clarkson's always knew how to define best a Ferrari. The Prancing Horse always commands a different approach when talking about its cars: talking about technical data and numbers always feel inappropriate when talking about these cars.
Numbers, technical definitions and anything having to do with engineering doesn't apply to a Ferrari. In the end, you cannot explain something special with mere numbers, right? For us which weren't born with the gift of a mechanical view of the world, we might just say that Ferraris are the concretization of our dreams as petrolheads.
There's so much more than the myth of this name: every car from Maranello represents the ultimate automotive aspiration. Ferraris are able to transcend the ideas of speed and beauty because they reflect the character of Enzo Ferrari. It's the one man-one vision philosophy which always creates something unique: in order to realize something of your own, you need the strength of a whole army all in you. this is what every Ferrari does reflect, the one-man burning will to succeed. It's not how fast you can go around a track, it is how you can make things happen and be a constant winner.
The dynasty of the classic road going 2 seater 8 cylinder berlinettas, have always represented a winning family of Prancing Horses. Since the introduction of the first model in 1976, the 308 GTB these kind of supercar always represented the quintessential Ferrari: flashy, desirable and great to drive. Not as complicated as the prestigious front-engined V12 GT's but as interesting and captivating as any Ferrari can get. This Family of Prancing Horses belongs to the true heirs of the famed 206 and 246 V6 Dinos of the 1960ies, cars that truly revolutionized the world of Supercars.
With the institution of the single-make Ferrari Challenge in 1993, the family of mid-engned 8 cylinder cars was enlarged with track-ready streetable racers. The Challenge was conceived as a true gentlemen driver's championship and Ferrari produced the 348 Challenge, a lighter and more powerful variant of the standard model to be raced specifically in this series. In 1995, it was replaced by the 355 in 1995 which has been the last truly streetable Challenge Ferrari. With the introduction of the more extreme and highly advanced 360 in 2000, it was impossible to homologate it for the road as with the previous models, so Ferrari introduced the Challenge Stradale in 2003. It was the model which drew a line between the old 348 and 355's in many ways, and the first one that created the special family of special V8 Ferraris that we still enjoy today.
It was an upgraded version of the 360, with a faster F1 gearbox, less weight and more power. When it came out in 2003, it was a pure sensation: it was pure and involving like nothing else on the road. Today, the Stradale it doesn't feel old in any way and has aged extremely well. What makes it so special? It's raw and mean as a pure racing car that you can actually take on the road can be. It doesn't have any compromises: Alcantara and composite materials rule here and the whole car is dominated by its purpose. The gearbox is slow for today's standards but rewarding to use, as each gearshift is accompanied by a delightful kick in your back. The throttle is responsive and the handling sharp: the absence of an invasive electronics will test your driving skills to the limit, like every proper sports car. What makes this car so desirable is the fact that this car was produced by Ferrari at the height of the Schumacher dominance in F1. La 360 Challenge Stradale has a winning DNA and a character of its own: this is one of the last pure supercas you can buy today.
Perhaps the 360 was too harsh and extreme for many customers, who demanded Ferrari to build a more user-friendly track-day special. Introduced in 2007, the F430 Scuderia took a step further in the evolution of this family of Ferraris. This model meant a change of Ferrari's building philosophy on these kind of cars: despite openly declaring its race-bred status, the Scuderia was aimed at a larger public. It lost part of the 360's homologation-special attitude but it gained in friendliness towards the driver despite the massive power increase over its predecessor. As Michael Schumacher was responsible for much of the testing of the Scuderia, it was possible to boost the performance to a never-before-seen level.
The introduction of the "Manettino" switch on the steering wheel allowed a fast and almost instantaneous tune up of the car's setup without taking the eyes off the road. The sense of purpose defines the Scuderia, which offers an ever-more focused driving experience. It feels more mature and grown up than the raw 360 it replaces. It's comfortable on the road and it is devastatingly fast on the track: if the Challenge Stradale was the rebellious maverick, the Scuderia seems to be a civilized warrior, more involving than ever.
In 2013, the Scuderia was replaced to what is now considered as a true masterpiece and possibly the last Ferrari equipped with a naturally aspirated engine, the 458 Speciale.
The evolution of a road-going series-production Ferrari never saw such a forward step in the development of a road car: the distinctive Side Slip Control system, which allowed to make the car drift perfectly between the corners, the active aerodynamics and the quick engine response gave the Speciale a truly...special place among the family of race-bred 8 cylinder Ferrari berlinettas. The aggression that this Prancing Horse had on the corners was its signature feature and the most involving trait of its character: the playfulness of the chassis allowed high precision driving with a unique feeling.
Despite this whole generation of Ferraris has been derived from the single-make Challenge series, the latest model, the 2018 488 Pista has been derived from the 488 GTE, a car born to race in international competition. Employing F1 technology such as the innovative S-duct and a new turbocharged 4 litre V8, the new Pista is a comeback to the racing traditions of the early 360 Challenge Stradale. Developed from a racer competing in Endurance championship, the Pista is the sum of all Ferrari's know-how on how to make a proper mid-engined supercar. The driving experience is like having a 458 Speciale on steroids: it makes you feel like a racing driver, and transforms every drive into a 24 hour of Le Mans!
The Pista's performance is just a stone-throw away from the mighty LaFerrari and it is indeed a fantastic sight on the road. The aerodynamic bodywork and the fabulous design impose the same respect of the great Ferraris of old: numbers may define a machine, but in the end, it is the mind who turns these numbers into reality that defines pure beauty.
Words: Jacopo Villa, contributor
Photos: Sajin Park
Cars: private collection