The taxi is taking me to the airport for the flight to Bologna. Half an hour after we exit the airport we’ll be at Ferrari’s Maranello HQ. The task – which will take until late Thursday afternoon – is to collect a 430 Scuderia 16M and deliver it to Goodwood House in West Sussex in pristine condition, ready for its “official” debut at Goodwood’s Festival of Speed. Ferrari thought it might be a good idea to ask journalists to act as transcontinental delivery drivers.
What really concentrates my mind is that, in the UK, the 16M will cost £198,524 ($325k), so there’s no chance I’ll be trying out my Carlos Fandango impressions on some Alpine pass. Nobody wants to see shards of expensive and exclusive carbon fiber strewn about the place; after all, they’re only making 499 of these machines. No, this is going to be a brisk, perhaps once-in-a-lifetime chance to drive a Ferrari across Europe.
Over a quick plate of pasta, we’re briefed by Ferrari’s English PR officer. The first leg of the trip will see us pick up the E35 and bolt for Milan, then head northwest and cross the southern end of the Alps, before picking our way through the mountains to the first hotel stop in Montreux, a run of 300 miles or so.
The entrance space in front of Ferrari’s factory is cramped, with parking for just a handful of cars. But our bright yellow 16M is ready, shining in the intense heat. The luggage space in the nose is surprisingly generous, but we still have to find space behind the carbon-shell seats for our photographer’s tripod collection.
Launching, unsighted, up a sharp slope and out of the factory gates onto the main road would be risky, so Ferrari has installed its own traffic lights to halt the passing traffic. Still, picking your way out of Maranello towards the autostrada is frustrating, progress hampered by speed humps and miserable signage.
Eventually, though, we’re on the slip road and we have the lengthy slog up the central plain to Milan. The E35 is not too crowded and there’s good lane discipline, so we can slip into lane three for long periods, executing one long overtaking maneuver.
The 16M’s roof is up in deference to the exceptional heat and the fierce sun, which beats on the side of my head as we head northwest in a near-unbroken trajectory. After a while I become slightly fixated by the fact that the front wing has been running just inches from the concrete central barrier, nearly continuously, for well over an hour.
First impressions are overwhelmingly, er, overwhelming. Despite the 16M’s size, it’s clear from the off that it has genuine agility and is wieldy enough for everyday driving. Ferrari has managed to shave 176 lbs off the weight of the standard F430 Spider, bringing the 16M down to a credible 3175 lbs. Under-skin changes are significant, including redesigned suspension wishbones, different shock absorbers, a new steering box and exotic touches such as titanium springs and wheel nuts. The folding fabric roof is also a satisfyingly simple and effective riposte to the current trend for heavy, space-hungry folding roofs.
Traffic builds up and weaves about as we skirt around Milan on the tangenziale. We spear off onto the E62 and as we edge around Lake Maggiore, the landscape becomes lusher. The highway stretches out into long, languorous curves and the 16M starts to come alive. A moderate prod on the accelerator wakes the engine, which announces its intentions with a mighty (perhaps a little too mighty) bellow from the tweaked intake and exhaust systems.
There’s real satisfaction to be had from exploiting the 16M’s enthusiasm for slicing around bends and up hills. On well-surfaced roads it sits four-square and runs impressively true, allowing the driver to vacuum up traffic. The 503hp 4.3-liter V8 gets around 80 percent of its torque from 3000rpm, and there’s a clear step in its response above that mark. Under hard acceleration it howls maniacally, delivering a kind of bulldozing performance.
As the road climbs higher, it narrows and the weather closes in, the heat of lowland Italy replaced by heavy rain and a chill. The E62 is magnificent here as it winds alongside the rocky river, flanked by sheer mountain faces on both sides. It then climbs over the Simplon Pass, before beginning the most magnificent descent that lasts for miles, the superb road graded along flyovers and modernist bridges.
This is where the roof comes off and open-top motoring really delivers; the landscapes are huge and can only be viewed in 180-degree vision. Despite all the track day talk, the 16M couldn’t be more perfectly placed on these roads, which give it room to devour turns and switchbacks. The big carbon-ceramic discs are so confident that I won’t think about the 16M’s brakes until I climb into another car at the end of the trip.
Still on the E62, we have a long drag down fast, freeway-standard roads, watching the light fade through bright amber to dark orange. The road then sweeps hard to the right and by the time we eventually exit this wide-bottomed valley, Montreux is in darkness. Its peace is disturbed, though, by the 16M’s party trick (when in auto mode) of downshifting through the six-speed ’box and blipping each change in sequence.
The following morning is very bright and already very hot. We need to be in Epernay, heart of the Champagne-producing region, by 6:30pm, a distance of around 350 miles. We edge along the affluent lakeside and then spool out onto the freeway, killing distance swiftly, and then onto the grim E23, picking through industrial Pontarlier.
A few miles north we turn onto the D67 in search of challenging roads. Certainly the few miles of asphalt to Vuillafans, winding and twisting along a mountain face, offer the kind of gently uncoiling but fundamentally quick road that allows the 16M to play to its strengths.
But we couldn’t have guessed what lies around the corner. Climbing out of Vuillafans village rises probably the most magnificent switchback road I have ever seen. Running in long, uphill stretches across the face of a near-sheer-faced mountain, it is just 2.98 miles long, but includes five stupendous hairpins. It doesn’t take us long to realize that this is, in fact, used as a hill climb course.
I take two uphill and downhill runs and find that the 16M is in its element. This is partly because of the inherent balance of a mid-engined car but also because the driver sits so close to the front wheels, with his feet close to the front axle line. It’s this, and the forward view, that makes it so peculiarly satisfying to press this big beast up and down the Vuillafans-Echevannes course.
I’m being surprised by the accessibility and relative friendliness of the 16M (especially thanks to the gearbox’s effective auto mode, which can be overridden instantly via the paddle shifters). This is not just a car for steely eyed professionals.
We’ve now run out of interesting roads and thoughts have turned to the long (360-mile-plus) freeway blat from Epernay to the French/UK “chunnel,” then along the M20 and M25 to the A3 highways and Goodwood.
The long haul north shows again how relatively civilized this car is with its top down. But 85mph is probably the maximum comfortable long-distance speed before the wind noise and cockpit racket get too much.
After hours of civility, the UK roads upset the 16M a little. They’re so universally badly surfaced that the 430’s wheels rumble and crash for the first time in over 800 miles of driving.
We peel off the A3 just south of Guildford and I get a proper run on British back roads. It’s still impressive, but the 16M isn’t quite a happy as it was in the Alps and southern France, although some of the West Sussex roads do have the right combination of long bends and sweeping gradients for the best Scuderia effect.
At 5:30 pm, after 1,100 miles, we pull onto the Goodwood estate. The 16M is in one near-pristine piece. But I’m not sure that the 16M could operate in the UK as the focused grand touring car it so clearly is on the Continent. British roads are too poor, A-roads too busy and freeways simply too noisy to enjoy open-top motoring with a car as expansive as this. Off the track it needs high-quality, smooth, open roads to really sing. But it can really sing as a road car.
Words: Hilton Holloway/Autocar
Photos: Stan Papior/Autocar