The 488 Spider drove me to drink petrol. There was no warning when it ran out of fuel. OK, the gas light came on about 40 miles back but the way I was driving it, with ‘race’ mode selected on the manettino dial and some heavy application of the right pedal, that distance came and went pretty fast. The car coughed twice before the power died and the steering went heavy. Not ideal when you’re up a narrow switchback somewhere in the Ligurian mountains and the nearest petrol station is a long way beyond walkable.
What a way to run out of fuel for the first time in your life; when you grind to a halt in a bright blue mid-engined Italian supercar, sympathy tends to be in limited supply. I managed to push it off the road, and called a friend to rescue me. We returned the next day with a jerry can full of unleaded and a hosepipe, which I siphoned into the V8 twin-turbo’s tank. I swallowed more than I banked upon.
The reason I ran out of fuel was simple: I was having too much fun. Despite the warning sign, I kept driving into the night, the next corner and downshift the only thing on my mind. We covered 600 miles together, the Spider and I, over the course of four days. I’d picked it up from the factory in Maranello. This, as a lifelong car nut, was akin to a Catholic’s pilgrimage to Lourdes.
Maranello is a company town. Everyone there either works for Ferrari or is married to someone who does. The car plant, the racing team and the Scuderia’s test track spread so far they cross into the neighbouring town of Fiorano and populate that, too. This pastel-coloured industrial zone is a dream factory. The ghost of Enzo Ferrari is all around.
In the middle of the Fiorano circuit is his old office, a handsome, rustic whitewashed three-storey house with red shutters and a yellow Ferrari flag flapping above the scarlet entrance. The study is preserved just as it was when he closed the door for the last time in 1988. But elsewhere there’s now a spa and upstairs are bedrooms which, for years, have been taken by the marque’s drivers. Michael Schumacher practically lived here in the days when F1 testing was a full time job. Now, when Mr Vettel and Mr Raikkonen aren’t in town, the place is let out to VIP owners. How does one qualify for this privilege? You need to be a serious customer. Having one LaFerrari is not enough. You’d need the Enzo, F50, F40 and 288 GTO as well, and membership of Corsa Clienti.
Corsa Clienti is the world’s most exclusive car club. To qualify you need to buy a Ferrari Formula One car, which can come on the market when they’re two years old, or an FXX special and pay annual subs to Ferrari to run it for you. The figures, obviously, are gargantuan. Millions. But if you run a top private equity fund and can afford to be Fernando Alonso for a few days a year, why would you join a golf club? Buy yourself an F2012 and, with the aid of half a dozen engineers with laptops, you can scream around living out your wildest fantasy.
Corsa Clienti is like a working museum, the new kit – like my 488 Spider – is made across the road. The factory is an architectural mix, some buildings dating back to the 1930s, other Brutalist ones date from when the company really got into gear, and there are recent post-modernist offerings from Renzo Piano and Jean Nouvel. It’s over here that the brand’s most demanding VIPs come to spec their cars, and they do so in the Tailor Made department.
Just 100 cars a year are produced by this personalisation atelier, increasing the cost of the car by an average of 20 per cent. Bullhide and alcantara are Ferrari staples, but if you want crocodile or eel, you come here. They never stop looking for new materials. There are three strands; Scuderia for your sporty stuff, Classica for elegance, and Inedita – literally ‘unpublished’ – for innovative designs and materials that have never been tried before. If you want wood from a tree on your estate, or your car the exact colour of Tom Ford Cherry Lush lipstick, or even a centre console shaped like the sole of a Louboutin shoe, Tailor Made will make it happen.
Ferrari, however, remains the ultimate arbiter of taste. While even Rolls-Royce, whose Bespoke department specs the majority of cars leaving Goodwood, won’t judge your choices, Ferrari most certainly will. You’ll never, for example, see a pink Ferrari leave the production line, and if you have one sprayed privately they may ask you to remove the prancing horse and never sell you another. Yet for some reason they didn’t stop golfer Ian Poulter lining the roof of his white FF with tartan.
Personally I love the shade of my 488 Spider: Blu Corsa, which was made specially for this car and looks good enough to lick.
I dined at the legendary Montana, where all the Ferrari brass, the F1 drivers and a host of prancing horse-owning A-listers have dined on Mamma Rosella’s pasta for decades. I spent the night in a hotel wedged between the GT production plant and Gestone Sportiva, home of the F1 team. I could hardly sleep, the promise of the red key on my bedside table and a pure bred Ferrari garaged below prompting me to leap of bed, pack my bags and go. The roof disappears in 14 seconds. The 661bhp engine barks awake like a Rottweiler at the prod of the ignition. I put Portofino in the satnav and deselected highways. Through villages we rumbled and round hairpins we slid.
This is a supercar for sun seekers, and despite the 202mph top speed it’s a spider you needn’t be afraid of. Utterly composed and generally forgiving, it’s packed with electronics that flatter the driver; underbody vortex generators that glue it to the road, and the most glorious forced-induction engine that marries efficiency with brute force. Bella, as its engineers might say.
I picked up a stylist friend on the Italian Riviera. Lobster paccheri provided personal fuel on the sun-drenched marina in Portofino before we made our way to Monaco.
With the grand prix in town, the 488 was introduced to many of its siblings. We swung by the Amber Lounge where my passenger, who had packed a headscarf and big sunglasses especially for the role, was working behind the scenes at the F1 drivers’ fashion show. I spent the night on a superyacht rented by one of the teams, the £205,000 Spider looking at home on the quayside and finding its way into a million fan selfies.
Liguria was on the way back, a pitstop near La Spezia planned before returning the machine to Maranello after redlining on the autoroute, the lights flashing on the steering wheel as it charged through its seven gears, my heart racing with the digits on the speedo. Of course, running out of fuel added a bit of a delay but there are worse cars to be stranded in. Even at standstill it looks like it’s going 200, and without fluids it’s still brimming with soul.
This drop-top has torque that never ends, handling beyond perfection, and a body built for sin. The taste of unleaded lingers.