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What Went Wrong with Ferrari

 

The above statement (and note that it is not a question) may imply that I am mad, or at least 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 racing.

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, Lamborghini, 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.



 

 
 

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