What Went Wrong with Ferrari
above statement (and note
that it is not a question) may imply that I am mad, or at
delusional; after all, having dominated Formula One over the
last ten years, and produced a string of class leading
supercars, the marque has seemed to have hardly put a foot
(or should that be a hoof) wrong. And with profits of over
260 million Euros in 2007, there is not even the usual
financial instability to cloud the sky.
But, in my eyes, at least, Ferrari has been irrevocably
damaged by a combination of brand dilution, changing
buyer profiles, and, more worryingly, the production of cars
that are more brutally functional than beautiful.
In the early days of the company, when it was still under
Enzo's control, buyers knew exactly where they stood; that
is to say at the back of a queue that stretched out of the
factory door, round the block, and ended somewhere in
Liguria. When they finally reached Enzo's office there was a
high likelihood that the Old Man would take a sudden and
unfounded dislike to them and refuse to sell them one of his
cars, regardless of the price they were willing to pay.
Whilst this may have made the process of buying a Ferrari
something like a cross between a Japanese endurance
game-show and a
popularity contest, it did one important thing - it ensured
complete exclusivity, and meant that Ferraris were the most
glamorous cars on the road.
Today, in comparison, the company produces ten times as many
cars as it did in the mid 1960s, and has no qualms about
selling them to virtually anyone who is capable of stumping up
the necessary cash. The net result of this is lines of 599s
and 430s in Premiership football club car parks, and other
such undesirable places.
To make matters worse, Ferrari has embarked on an aggressive
franchised merchandising campaign that has seen the prancing
logo adorning all sorts of incongruously inexpensive tat,
from t-shirts to steering wheels for games consoles.
This has made Ferrari an extremely profitable car producer
(although, interestingly, not to the same extent as its
German rival, Porsche), but one that, in maximising its return on
investment, has lost its magic and mystique and has become
just another company.
Even its F1 team, which once seemed to exemplify the spirit
of post-war Italy, its chaos and its charm, is now a
boringly efficient, characterless corporate entity more
concerned with sponsorship deals than the the thrill of
It would be wrong to argue that the latest Ferraris are
anything other than supremely capable machines, but it is
clear that they lack beauty. If you don't agree with me,
compare a 430 with a Dino or a 599 with a Daytona; some of
the sweeping lines remain, but the elegance and grace of the
earlier cars are gone - presumably to the same place as the
classic gated gearbox. In their place are diffusers and
splitters; addenda that would have been anathema to Enzo
Ferrari, who once proclaimed that 'aerodynamics are for
people who cannot build engines'.
This leaves the following quandary: if there are a few
hundred thousand pounds burning a car- shaped hole in your
pocket, what should you buy? Modern Ferraris are out, for
the reasons outlined above. So too are most of today's
supercars, as their ubiquity in the wrong hands undermines
their status and discounts them from consideration. The fact
that they are often overweight jacks of all trade, optimised
neither as bare-boned track cars nor as luxurious cruisers,
does little to strengthen their case.
However, there is still the odd glimmer of hope for the
traditional supercar: the
Ultima GTR is
rare enough (and dramatic enough) to retain some of the
'wow' factor that Lamborghinis used to have, and the Pagani
Zonda is so beautifully aggressive that few would argue that
it is not worthy of consideration.
The other option, of course is to go for a classic, and, in
this case, most pre-1970s supercars from Ferrari,
Maserati are more than stylish enough to make up for any
shortfall in performance compared to their modern rivals.
Just don't forget to take out comprehensive breakdown cover,
for, while the aesthetics of the modern supercar may not
have improved, the reliability certainly has.