This decade may well be indexed in automotive history as the era of big brutes hidden within the shells of sleek and sexy coupes. Aston Martin initiated the trend at the turn of the millennium with its Vanquish, a striking, ultrahigh-velocity V-12 that saved its builder from sliding into irrelevance alongside Argyle pullovers, Norfolk jackets, Oxford accents, and similar shreds of the British Empire. Next to impress was the two-door, four-seat, twin-turbocharged Bentley Continental GT, another remarkably quick British heavyweight that saved a company.
Similar in accommodations but even mightier in power and performance is the Mercedes AMG CL65, which generates 604 hp from an engine already being squeezed tighter in hopes of producing 700 hp. Now add Ferrari’s 612 Scaglietti to this collection of supercoupes able to sprint to triple-digit speeds in single-digit times and touch 200 mph, give or take a few knots.
Styling and engineering norms for these cars include long bonnets, tucked butts, and front-mounted V-12 engines driving the rear wheels. They also are laps of luxury, with yards of exotic leathers and coppices of woods, every electronic driving convenience short of a three-axis autopilot, and all the comforts of home, if home happens to be in Mayfair or Bel Air.
They are called berlinettas, but nobody really knows what that term means—go ahead, Google it, consult Webster’s, or peruse any encyclopedia of coachbuilding—except that most berlinettas seem to have come from Italy. Yet all are pure GTs, which stands for gran turismo, a term that in any language conjures up images of well-dressed folk traveling long distances at enormous speeds in expensive coupes while listening to Vivaldi (substitute Vaughan Williams or Leonard Bernstein if driving New England turnpikes or old England motorways) from a 300-amp sound system. The 612 Scaglietti would certainly fit well into such a scene.
It seems as though Ferrari is often a little misty-eyed when titling its machines, hence the Dino after a Ferrari son who died young, the Modena after the town near Bologna in northern Italy where the company and balsamic vinegar began, the Maranello after the neighboring town where Ferrari has lodged since 1947, and the Enzo after the padrino himself. Similarly, the 612 has been christened the Scaglietti to honor designer Sergio Scaglietti, one of the first to use aluminum in car bodies and the man who drew the 1957 500TRC racecar and other classics of Ferrari’s glory years.
Pininfarina, another designing icon for Ferrari, created the Scaglietti, with Ken Okuyama (who sketched the Maserati Quattroporte) and Frank Stephenson (who has achieved near immortality as creator of the Mini Cooper) serving as principal architects. They have built big, evolving the predecessor, the 12-year-old Ferrari 456 2+2, into an Italian cruiser with a wheelbase only 1.6 inches shorter than a Lincoln Town Car’s. The F612 is also wider than a Ford Explorer, longer than a Jaguar XK, as tall as a Mustang, and heavier than a Buick Park Avenue. The trunk is even roomy enough to hold two sets of Callaways or 20 cases of Chianti.
However, any buyer reservations involving girth and heft are dispatched by a V-12 engine plucked from the Maranello 575M and pumped up to 540 hp. It shoves the 612 from zero to 60 mph in a sniff over 4 seconds and produces a top speed just tantalizingly shy of those 200 mph bragging rights.
A rumor has been circulating that Ferrari widened and lengthened the Scaglietti to better appeal to American buyers. After all, Americans prefer larger cars, and today, as the company marks a half century of U.S. sales, no other country buys more Ferraris. Maurizio Manfredini, team leader of Ferrari’s V-12 program, scowls at the suggestion. “We built this car not for the United States but for the traditional Ferrari customer,” he asserts, “and maybe for the older Ferrari buyer who wants a very sporty feeling, but at the same time requires a roomier four-place car.”
Manfredini fears no competition in the supercoupe class, not from Aston Martin, Bentley, or Mercedes. “Performance might be similar, but our acceleration is better. Another difference is the feeling of the Scaglietti. Its driving characteristics are closer to a traditional berlinetta than a two-plus-two. That makes our car unique in its segment.
“And,” he adds, “it is a Ferrari.” But, of course.
Another rumor must be addressed. Yes, Italian movie director Roberto Rossellini and wife, Ingrid Bergman, did own Ferraris. Yes, Sergio Scaglietti did custom design a Ferrari for Rossellini as a gift for Bergman and modeled it on his 375MM exhibited at the Paris Auto Show in 1954. And that car did display a distinctive designer touch: scalloped sides stretching from the front wheel well and into the doors, a subtle signature that is repeated in the new 612.
The fanciful have embraced claims that the 612 was known as Ingrid during development in honor of the scandalous, real-world la dolce vita lovebirds’ car. However, Manfredini is quick to dismiss the story. He also notes that Bergman never took delivery of the Scaglietti 375MM because by 1955 her marriage was already in the divorce courts. Roberto was smart enough to keep the car, which is now in the collection of Michigan attorney Wayne Golomb and likely worth more than a half-dozen 2004 Scagliettis, each of which, it is estimated, will be priced around $250,000.
Yet because no Italian will refuse an opportunity to indulge romance, Ferrari will make the 612 available in a light bluish gray with a hint of yellow. The color will be called Ingrid, though there is also no truth to rumors that in outtakes from Casablanca, Humphrey Bogart says to Ingrid Bergman: “The Germans wore gray, and you wore light bluish gray with a hint of yellow.”
When introduced in 1993, the 612 Scaglietti’s ancestor, the 456GT, was greeted with much curiosity but little adulation. It represented an obvious separation from previous Ferrari sports cars, which, in accordance with what seemed to be Italian tradition, were borderline primal. They were unforgiving at high speeds, mechanically capricious, and their handling was skittish. If you wanted air-conditioning, a radio, a spare tire, comfortable seats, a quiet ride, and velvet shifting that made no demands on your driving skills, better to think Cadillac, or so the prevailing argument went. A Ferrari must always stand for fast and ferocious, and if its parts clattered and loosened, well, ciao baby.
The 456 reversed all of that. It was not only equipped with antilock brakes and a self-leveling rear suspension, it also had automatic window sealing, power seats, and power steering. Then, on the 1996 456GTA, came a 4-speed automatic transmission, which some Ferraristi considered the ultimate indignity for their beloved red machines. But as further evidence that all disciples will adapt if the master so decrees, the 456 and several variants survived for a dozen years and became a sales success, even a paradigm for all these striking two-door V-12 coupes that suddenly are swamping the current scene. The 612 is no less sophisticated, no less exclusive, and certainly no less up to the moment.
The Scaglietti displays large, clean, and uncluttered styling with a great deal of elegance in those long, pure lines. Retroactivity has been kept to a minimum, except for the scalloped flanks and a few ’50s tidbits, such as an egg crate–style grille and headlights with clear plastic covers that follow the contour of the fenders.
The two sets of protruding, dual round rear lamps have been cribbed from the Enzo supercar and are a perfect match for the quad exhausts. The nose, which seems to stretch forever, is another culling from Pininfarina designs of a half century ago.
The entire package, of course, implies performance, and a quick read of the mechanical specifications proves whatever you might be inferring. The engine is a 65-degree V-12 displacing 6 liters and producing torque of 433 ft lbs, which should leave divots in anyone’s driveway. Weight is down to 4,056 pounds—thanks to an aluminum body on an aluminum space frame—which is why an extra 104 hp gives the 612 such a performance edge over the 456. All that aluminum also makes for a 60 percent stiffer vehicle that delivers flatter, stickier handling when the going gets interesting.
Transmission is a choice between a standard 6-speed manual and a paddle-shifted, electrohydraulic F1 system. Unlike with the 456, an automatic will not be available. But like the 456, the Scaglietti offers the full range of electronic safeguards and management systems, including CST—the overseeing of control, stability, and traction, a first for any Ferrari.
Equally novel is the interior, which is heavy on leathers and brushed aluminum and includes only two dials on the dash: a large tach directly in the driver’s line of sight and a smaller, 345 kph speedometer tucked off to the side, because engine revolutions, not speed, should be the viewing priority. Information on fuel, oil, time, miles, and water temperatures is available on a small media screen located to the left of the tachometer.
Befitting the Scaglietti’s task in life, the seats are less Recaro and more Barcalounger. Pedals are made from drilled aluminum, and there is a dimpled plate on the passenger’s floor, presumably for nervous riders who practice phantom braking at every fast turn.
We were given a factory tour several weeks prior to the 612 Scaglietti’s official media launch, and argue and bribe as we might—we even offered to pick up a lunch tab for pig’s feet sausage and tagliatelle at Montana, the restaurant near the Ferrari factory gates that is Michael Schumacher’s favorite trattoria—we were unable to wangle a way behind the wheel. That task went to Simone Caselli, a development driver for Ferrari’s street-car program.
For 30 exhilarating minutes, Caselli thrashed the 612 around hills and villages north of Maranello, running from dry asphalt to snow-sprinkled stretches at speeds as fast as the terrain and conditions allowed. This meant nothing much slower than 160 kph, even when road signs ordered traffic to stay at 50 kph. But ne’er a broom stopped sweeping nor a dog went barking nor a grumpy soul waved angrily as we thundered by.
In the United States, Caselli would have been greeted at the next town by three highway patrol units, six officers, and a shredder to destroy his driver’s license. In Italy, well, driving con brio is the national pastime, and some consider pushing a Ferrari the way it was built to be driven a religious practice. Few question the faith, and many feel the urge to genuflect.
As Caselli drives, the 612’s superior handling becomes clearly evident. The improvement is due in no small part to Ferrari’s mounting the engine far behind the front axle—in almost a mid-front engine layout. This allows for almost perfect balance under heavy braking and acceleration. A lowered center of gravity adds to the handling, bringing the 612 much closer to the driving feel of a 575M Maranello.
When the Scaglietti arrives in the United States this summer, it doubtless, and justifiably, will be embraced as another instant aristocrat from Ferrari. It may even brush our heartstrings, for an emblem on one side of the car will say Pininfarina and the badge on the other will say Scaglietti.
Fast Cars for Fast Times
There has always been a demand for extreme machines, such as the new Ferrari 612 Scaglietti, and a population willing to throw bundles of money in their direction, notes Geoff Wardle, assistant chairman of transportation design at the Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, Calif. As evidence, he cites the Jaguar 220, the Porsche 959, and the McLaren F1 of the late 1980s and early ’90s. But now, he believes, four-seat successors to these million-dollar, high-performance vehicles have been pushed down-market by improved technology that allows for much safer passage for more people at the same lunatic speeds.
Also, says Wardle, a growing community of affluent buyers has created “optimism among designers and builders that there is a market for 200-mile-per-hour family cars.” And, he adds, with even today’s white- bread sedans capable of 155 governed miles per hour, “200 miles per hour is no longer a figure that makes eyes go around and around.
“I also think that there is this egotistical game going on within the industry,” he adds, “with one company saying, ‘We can do it, we can produce the fastest car in the world,’ until another company comes along and says, ‘No, we will build the fastest car.’ ”
There will always be a desire for ultrafast motoring, he says, as long as there are romantics who believe in a lifestyle involving “breakfast in London and lunch in Monaco, although at 200 miles per hour, we’d better make that elevenses in Monaco.”