Some car names are a tad optimistic. The Honda Legend, for example: instantly forgotten. The Mitsubishi Carisma: a car without any. The Skoda Rapid: slower than walking. The Ferrari 812 Superfast, though, nails it with Ronseal certainty. Eight hundred horsepower and a top speed of 211mph see to that. You could call it a rapid and charismatic legend. I called it the most memorable car I drove in 2020.
Now there’s an open-air version: the 812 GTS. And while it has a less literal name, it uses the same 6.5-litre naturally aspirated V12. Rest assured, then, it’s still super-fast. Absolutely bananas-fast, in fact.
Spider that flies
Ferrari says the 812 GTS is its first series production, front-engined V12 convertible since the 365 GTS4 (better known as the Daytona Spider) of 1969. But the key words here are ‘series production’: the limited-run 550 Barchetta and 575M Superamerica followed essentially the same template.
Like its classic forebear, this is one of the most glamorous cars of its era: an excess-all-areas roadster that could whisk you to Cannes before breakfast. All you need is £293,150 – and perhaps a vaccine passport.
In theory, the 812 GTS competes with the Aston Martin DBS Superleggera Volante and Lamborghini Aventador SVJ Roadster. In reality, it’s an experience quite distinct from anything else. The most memorable car of 2021? Let’s see.
This isn’t a Rosso Corsa kind of Ferrari; its long bonnet and fulsome curves suit low-key colours. The rear deck is flat, but two speedster-style humps maintain the elegant side profile of the coupe. The only details that jar are the black plastic panels behind the doors, which are meant to resemble side windows.
Press a button and the metal roof panel lifts, rotates acrobatically through 180º, then folds away in 14 seconds. Or just retract the vertical rear window to enjoy the 12-cylinder soundtrack even when it rains.
Chassis bracing to compensate for the removable roof adds 120kg, taking dry weight to 1,645kg (reckon on another 100kg or so with fluids). Nonetheless, quoted performance figures are identical to the Superfast: 0-62mph in ‘less than 3.0 seconds’ and 211mph flat-out.
The 812 I drove last year had hard-backed bucket seats and wall-to-wall Alcantara trim. This GTS press car has a more indulgent spec, to better suit its target market. Granted, it’s still no Bentley, but the mix of soft leather and carbon fibre reflects both sides of its character.
Close the long door and your eyes are drawn to the squared-off steering wheel. A row of F1-style shift lights stretches around the top, indicator switches are on the spokes (long shift paddles mean no space for column stalks) and Ferrari’s trademark manettino dial is nestled underneath. There are five drive modes: Wet, Sport, Race, CT Off and ESC Off.
The infotainment is last-generation, centred around a small display in the instrument cluster – rather than the tablet-style touchscreen of the new Roma. It’s fiddly at first, but Apple CarPlay (a pricey £2,400 option) soon became my default interface.
Push the red button
Besides, push a red button to awaken the Tipo F140GA engine and you instantly forget about podcasts, playlists or Test Match Special. I blip the throttle and a razor-sharp yelp slashes the atmosphere in half. It sounds exotic and intense, exciting and intimidating.
The visceral snarl of the V12 is ever-present, and amplified gloriously by opening the roof. Yet the Ferrari doesn’t announce its presence as forcefully as you might think, particularly in ‘normal’ driving. There isn’t the rolling-thunder rumble of the Aston Martin, or the rapid-fire crackles of the Lamborghini.
Only when you explore the upper reaches of the rev range – when the LEDs on the steering wheel change from red to piercing blue – does its note harden into a feral, goosebump-inducing howl. By that point, in anything past second gear, you’ll be travelling very super-fast indeed.
More than a feline
This ability to transform, in a split-second, from pussycat to sabre-toothed tiger, is what sets the 812 GTS apart from other cars. It goes from soothing to scintillating (and in the wet, downright scary) in, well, less than 3.0 seconds.
Around town, you can leave manettino in Sport, the gearbox in auto and the suspension in (more compliant) ‘Bumpy Road’, then simply enjoy the abundant torque. Your only worry will be the 812’s sheer size – just 40mm narrower than some London width restrictors.
Then, when you find an open road, switch to Race, take control with the paddles and release all 800 prancing horses. Pinning the throttle, shifting up just before the 8,900rpm limiter, is something you’ll never forget.
That rush to the redline is all the more intoxicating because the V12 isn’t turbocharged, supercharged or electrified. This is internal combustion in all its decadent glory. We all understand why big capacity, naturally aspirated engines can’t survive forever, yet they hit the high notes like nothing else can.
Nothing to prove
The 812’s engine is so omnipotent that its other talents feel overshadowed at first. However, once you accept that, on real roads, the throttle is something to be used sparingly, you quickly dial into the idea of the Ferrari as an effortless, long-striding super-GT.
Perhaps it’s the softer dampers coping better with British roads, perhaps also the psychological effect of removing the roof, but here is where the GTS differs from the Superfast. It seems more comfortable in its own skin, somehow, like it has nothing to prove. For the driver, simply enjoying the sunshine and unfettered soundtrack is ample reward in itself.
Still, this is a Ferrari, and when you grasp the nettle, it grasps right back. The steering is quick and precise, the brakes are mighty and there are huge reserves of grip from the 315-section rear Pirellis – backed up by rear-wheel steering and an arsenal of stability systems.
It isn’t as balletic and fleet-footed as, say, the mid-engined F8 Tributo, but nor does it feel like a wayward, over-engined brute. With the roof down and side windows up, the sensation is of being at the calm centre of a storm.
The soft(er) option
Amazingly, there’s now an even more powerful version of the Superfast. The new 812 Competizione (see above) uses spikier camshafts, titanium conrods and a redesigned intake to stretch the V12 to 830hp – and its rev limiter to a searing 9,500rpm.
Just 999 will be built, plus 599 examples of the drop-top Competizione A (that’s ‘A’ for ‘Aperta’, Italian for ‘open’). And yes, you guessed it: they’re all sold out.
No doubt those cars will be off-the-scale exhilarating, but I’ll stick with the ‘soft option’ 812 GTS. It has a beguiling charm and old-school glamour that many of today’s increasingly laptime-focused supercars have forgotten about. And it’s already plenty fast enough, thank you.
Tim Pitt writes for Motoring Research
PRICE: £293,150 (£335,582 as tested)
0-62MPH: 2.9 seconds
TOP SPEED: 211mph
FUEL ECONOMY: 17.2mpg
CO2 EMISSIONS: 373g/km
WEIGHT: 1,645kg (dry)