In the late 50’s Ferrari was faced with a problem. It made some of the fastest and most technically advanced racing cars, and its road cars were pure works of art. But there was one problem – some customers, particularly in America, viewed the road cars as too focused. They wanted a car that enabled them to enjoy the wind in their hair and the company of a special passenger. With old Enzo surely seeing a cash-cow ripe for milking, the solution was the now infamous 250 California Spider, a vehicle that combined the mechanics of their latest GT racer with a svelte Scaglietti designed convertible body style. Just 106 were built, and today they are some of the most collectable Ferrari’s in existence.
Its contemporary namesake, the California T, was previewed to an assembled group of Ferrari owners and enthusiasts recently at the new Ferrari Adelaide showroom on West Terrace in the city. Whilst I’d certainly argue that the modern car doesn’t live up to such a storied name (a 599XX V12 powered, lightweight, limited production racer for the road would be more fitting), the modern iteration certainly embodies the concept if nothing else. Here’s a Ferrari with just enough practicality to be considered for daily duties; with enough luggage space to escape for a weekend away and a folding hard top that can be hidden away for sunny drives.
At $409,880 the California is the cheapest way into a new prancing horse, and the Australian distributor expects a whopping 70% of California’s to be sold to first time Ferrari owners. To facilitate this the California T is some $50,000 cheaper than its predecessor, indicating a business model already utilised by several manufacturers to attract buyers to their high-end brands. Ferrari is world famous for its brand loyalty and repeat purchase, so how many of those 70% first time owners will go on to purchase a second or a third Ferrari, maybe something more focused like a 458? It’s a smart growth strategy.
You can certainly see the resemblance to the outgoing California, however everything is new save for the folding hard top. It looks leaner, edgier and sportier. I find some of the detailing a little fussy, particularly the mesh used in the bonnet and guard vents, but overall it is a harmonious look communicating its intended purpose and the sporting ideals of Ferrari. It’s a huge improvement over the old car.
Folding hard tops are unquestionably the way forward for these types of cars, but they present incredible headaches to designers who must find ways of packaging that huge mechanism whilst avoiding a bulbous posterior. The California T seems to be a mastery of packaging, and I suspect that most of the aesthetic improvements have come from some serious re-packaging to store that hard top whilst still leaving enough boot space for two suitcases. Or maybe the rear end is the same size and they’ve pulled some very clever visual tricks to hide it; either way it’s design genius of the highest order.
The big news is under the bonnet as the California T is the first turbocharged Ferrari since the F40, making it one of the most significant Ferrari’s of the past decade. It’s a sad fact of our modern world that old school, large capacity naturally aspirated engines are the way of the past. For manufacturers like Ferrari, turbocharging is the only way they can meet the expectations of both their customers and of environmental lawmakers.
It’s not all bad news as this new turbocharged V8 is a pretty exciting way of keeping the greenies happy. At 453hp it has a specific output of 145 horsepower per litre, rocketing the California T to 100km/h in 3.4sec (0.2sec faster than the California) and to 200km/h in 9.1sec (2.1 sec faster). And whilst unfortunately a drive wasn’t on offer at the preview to confirm my suspicions, I’d fully expect this engine to feel nothing like a conventional turbo motor. It’s a brilliant example of modern engineering that Ferrari can build an engine with such an improvement in performance that also uses 15% less fuel and produces 20% less carbon emissions than the old one does.
Whilst those stats make interesting factoids for car nerds like us, I suspect most potential buyers won’t care. What they will care about is how the California T will exceed their expectations of performance; it has a Ferrari badge on the front and it’s a fine cruiser for sunny afternoons in the hills with a special passenger. In those regards, it’s a California through and through.
Words and photos by Andrew Coles