Midnight Espresso

PETER ROBINSON’SClassic

PETER ROBINSON

EPIC TALES FROM OUR ARCHIVES FIRST PUBLISHED JULY 1993

IT WAS MEANT AS A CHEEKY JOKE. GIVEN PAST EXPERIENCES WITH FERRARI, THERE WAS NO EXPECTATION THAT MARANELLO WOULD AGREE TO MY THROWAWAY LINE: “WE COULD KEEP THE CAR OVERNIGHT.”

Until the 456 GT, in my experience, testing a new Ferrari involved a maximum five laps of Fiorano followed by a couple of hours, under strict supervision by a test driver, on the lovely roads in the hills to the south of Maranello.

For the 456 we’d requested Fiorano and two hours in the evening to take advantage of the soft light, never dreaming we could keep the car until the following day.

It was when Franco Gozzi, Enzo’s assistant and press officer, smilingly consented: “You must have the car back at 1:00pm tomorrow” that, without consulting photographer Stan Papior, I decided there was no alternative but to drive through the night. Wouldn’t you, given the chance, in Ferrari’s first new, front-engine, V12 grand tourer in 20 years?

Just weeks earlier, competing in the retrospective Mille Miglia, I’d found a magic road 1496 metres high on a plateau in the Umbrian mountains. The little Fiat 1100 coupe struggled miserably to take advantage of the zig-zag bends down from the summit to a long straight that led to another set of corners hiding the village of Castelluccio below the next peak around four kilometres away.

“One day,” I shouted across at my co-driver, Mel Nichols, “one day, I’m going to come back here in a Ferrari.”

Just 20 days later, just after dawn, the 456 hunted through the same roads, tacho needle punching close to the 7200rpm redline, the old-style (and still muchmissed) gearchange clanging through the chrome gate.

The 456 never troubled the mid-engine V8s on Ferrari’s best-seller lists, but this was a terrific car and all the better if driven frequently.

Gone was the dreadful old Ferrari long-arm/short leg driving position, while the rear seat was sufficiently commodious for this to be a serious four-seater.

Ferrari developed an all-new V12 for the 456/550 range.

In the 456 it made an effortless and smooth 325kW at 6250rpm and 550Nm at 4500rpm. Comfortable, with an agility that belied its 1690kg, and plenty of grip, refined (despite plenty of wind noise) yet combined with Ferrarilevel excitement, this was a superb touring car, provided the 20 litres per 100km fuel consumption wasn’t a bother.

Today, responding to competitive pressure from McLaren, Porsche, Lamborghini, Aston Martin and Audi, Ferrari is far more enlightened and test cars are readily available, at least to the A-list journos.

“THERE WAS NO ALTERNATIVE BUT TO DRIVE THROUGH THE NIGHT. WOULDN’T YOU, GIVEN THE CHANCE, IN FERRARI’S FIRST NEW V12 GRAND TOURER IN 20 YEARS?” – PETER ROBINSON, 1993

issue

Stahly spends precious wheel-time in a Jaguar C-Type, by 1987 already worth $350,000

Coming clean

Years later Franco Cimatti, now Ferrari’s advanced development boss, admitted that despite at least three production fixes, the 456’s wind-noise problem, created by the frameless side glass, was never cured. Today I’m happy to admit I got it wrong regarding the styling.

Like so many Pininfarina designs, the 456 has aged elegantly and any of my original thoughts that it was derivative have long since vanished. This is classic PF, cleaner and more graceful than the (also Pininfarina-styled) 550 Maranello that came later off the same mechanical architecture (though with a shorter wheelbase) and borrowed too many design cues from older Ferraris.

ALSO IN WHEELS, July 1993

Our first drive of the benchmark-shattering McLaren F1; Stahly compares the Ford Capri XR2 Turbo with the Mazda MX-5 Classic, Carey compares the Mitsubishi Magna with the Toyota Camry; Robbo profiles BMW’s maverick head of design, Chris Bangle; Evan Green contests the reprise of the London-to-Sydney marathon.

THE WAY IT WAS

9 ’ 3

And the winner is...

IOC president Juan Antonio Samaranch announces Sydney as the host city of the 2000 Summer Olympics.

Beijing, Manchester, Istanbul and Berlin are runners up.

Just a bit off the end

Virginia woman Lorena Bobbitt grabs global headlines after chopping off her husband John’s appendage while he is asleep.

Godzilla be gone

The 5.0-litre V8 Group 3A touring car formula kicks off in Oz (replacing the international Group A regs.)

The category would become V8 Supercars four years later.