It's been a good year on the motoring front for me. I have released my first motoring book, been on a superb Ferrari trip through France and Switzerland, and bought a modern classic BMW.
Having spent the first half of the year getting One Careful Owner
ready for publication, it was hugely exciting to host the launch on Monday 16th July in central London. In fact, I think much of what I was feeling was relief at having finally finished the project. Even so, I came to find great satisfaction every time that I received another order for the book over the months that would follow. Further relief came with the positive feedback the book received. Octane
magazine, The Scotsman
and even the mighty Burton Mail
covered its launch. Better yet, reader reviews on Amazon
were all positive, even from those that weren't usually interested in cars.
On completion of the book, I realised that the time had come to part with the Ferrari F355 Berlinetta
in which I had enjoyed so many of my adventures. I originally bought it as a means of engaging with the dormant petrolhead within and I knew that my time with it would be limited. Of course, selling a car like that, at the right price, was never going to happen overnight. When plans for a road trip with some Ferrari-owning friends emerged, I was quickly coerced into taking my car off the market and enjoying one final jaunt. I'm pleased that I did.
In convoy with a Ferrari F40
and a Ferrari 575M
, I experienced every positive motoring emotion possible. It was the kind of experience that I had sought out when I first decided that there was a F355-shaped hole in my life. After much planning, June came and we rolled out of London for the coast. The prospect of a week driving through Europe with two good mates in three stunning cars was mouthwatering. Heavy rain dampened our spirits as we blasted across northern France. The prospect of further bad weather encouraged us to change our plans of heading for the Black Forest and to the autobahn for some high-speed runs. We made our way to Lausanne instead and, with an eye on the weather forecasts, focused on the Swiss Alps and then Route Napoleon a couple of days later.
Though more congested than when I had driven it the previous year
, Route Napoleon was great fun. One of the party had never driven it before and was blown away by the diverse nature of this epic road. I swapped between the F355 and the 575, coming to realise how accomplished the big silver GT car was when equipped with the Fiorano handling pack. It was really great fun on the endlessly twisting roads we were chasing each other along. The F40 was quickly out of sight, arriving at our destination a full hour before the slower Ferraris. A day or so before putting our cars in a transporter and returning to the UK, I had a chance to find out just how amazing the Ferrari F40 is when my generous friend let me have a quick driving of it. You can read my impressions here
but suffice to say that it lived up to the hype.
Eventually the F355 was gone for good and it was only a matter of time before I replaced it with something else. I considered numerous options, from Porsche 911s and Caymans to Lotus Exiges. In truth, I wasn't quite sure what I wanted. It had to be fast, interesting, reliable, not too common, and good looking. I wanted something that would be both cheaper to buy and run than the Ferrari. Eventually I settled on a BMW M3 CSL
. For some people it is nothing more than a tarted-up, overpriced 3-series but in truth it is quite a special car, significantly enhanced over the standard E46 M3. Looking at discussions regarding the CSL on various motoring forums, I had never before come across a car that so many people regretted selling. One such person was my F40-owning friend.
I ended up buying the first car that I saw. The manager of the specialist dealership showed me just what the car was capable of on the way back from the train station and I was blown away. It was clearly a very serious piece of kit - more F40 than F355 - even if I knew that it would take me some time to be able to hustle it along country roads in the same manner. Sadly I haven't had a truly great drive in it yet, though I have seen how comically easy it is to get the tail out on greasy roads. So bring on 2013 and some more adventures behind the wheel so I can tell just how good this car is.
There are few road cars more revered than the Ferrari F40. Even many veteran motoring journalists rate it as one of the most exciting cars ever created and it is not difficult to understand why.
The F40 was launched in 1987 to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the marque and it would be the last car that Enzo Ferrari would sign-off before he died. Though intended to be a limited edition car, by the end of production in 1992 just over 1,300 cars had been sold. Ferrari were more than happy to capitalise on the demand for its fastest ever road car even if that meant upsetting the original customers who thought they had invested in a much rarer, more exclusive car.
Looking at it now, It is perhaps no surprise that the F40 was so popular. Its striking looks and hard-hitting performance ensured that this Ferrari instantly became a dream car for thousands of enthusiasts around the world. Its 471 bhp twin-turbocharged V8 engine, impressive aerodynamics and low-weight construction meant that it would hit 60 mph in well under 4 seconds and go on to a top speed of 202 mph. These are big numbers by any standards even if there are numerous supercars that can keep up with the F40 today. But the raw driving experience and the ferocity of acceleration when the turbos kicked-in meant that this was a car that deserved respect. When I interviewed renowned car collector Lord Mexborough, he told me that it felt faster than any other car he had ever driven, even though others were supposedly faster. Coming from a man who had just told me he had driven a Bugatti Veyron and McLaren F1, that meant a lot. It wasn't just Lord Mexborough that felt this way. In the articles I had read it always came across a car that would bite you if you weren't concentrating. I had even been told by some Ferrari specialists that it was likely to spit you off the road if the turbos came on boost on a wet surface.
So the Ferrari F40 is rare, fast and seriously eye-catching. It is also quite scary to drive and, costing between £300,000 - £400,000, very expensive to replace should you crash one.
All these things were weighing on mind last Saturday, as I sat in the passenger seat of an F40 for the first time. It was the penultimate day of a week-long Ferrari tour through France and Switzerland and I was excited and nervous in equal measure. Over the preceding 1,000 miles I had watched this car blast along the motorway in torrential rain, scythe through Alpine mountain passes and creep over speed bumps and into underground car parks. Its flat snout had become a familiar sight in my rear-view mirror and then, moments later, its huge rear wing would dominate the view through my windscreen. I lost count of the number of times that I watched it disappearing off into the distance, slowing only to let the other cars catch up and to check we were heading the right direction. But familiarity certainly didn't lessen the aura of this iconic car.
In fact, I experienced quite the opposite reaction. Before this trip the F40 had seemed so distant from my world that it was a car I rarely thought of. For many car enthusiasts it is one of the cars that they would most like to drive, if only once in their lives, but I didn't feel that way. I had assumed that there was no way it could be that exciting and other cars topped my list. But spending each day in a convoy with one, hearing the noise it made as we passed through tunnels, watching passers-by point and stare, and seeing it sat next to my own car every morning soon started to change that feeling.
There had been some hints in the planning stages of the trip but I was still slightly taken aback when the offer came to drive this legendary Ferrari. First the generous owner would show me what the car was capable of and then we would find somewhere quiet for me to have a go. Once I had clambered into the carbon-fibre tub and strapped myself into the low-set sports seats, we trundled off to find a decent road, closely following the 575M which was on navigation duties.
I don't quite know what I was expecting but the acceleration was ferocious. I had never experienced anything quite like it this side of a jet plane. Every time that a gap appeared we would spring forwards violently, noise seemingly erupting from all around until the next corner appeared and spoiled the party. We were supposed to be heading towards the long winding road that follows the Var inland from Nice, a road that I had driven a year earlier and been very impressed by. Instead we were struggling to escape a sinuous network of roads that linked hillside villages together high above the valley. Though frustrating, it gave me a chance to see that an F40 can be hustled quickly along tight roads without incident if you know what you're doing, calling on a strong grip from its huge tyres and changing direction with no discernible body roll. It helped that the owner was a very experienced driver and racer. I would probably have felt uncomfortable with the speed we were carrying along these roads in almost any other scenario but I felt very safe in this car with a driver who knew how to get the best out of it.
Clearly getting bored with these restrictive roads and with the sight of another village up ahead, the car's owner reacted to the frenzied waves of a father and son out for an afternoon walk by spinning up the rear wheels in first gear and wiggling up the road on full boost, somehow controlling the surge of power before normal service was resumed. In an instant I had been shown how this car is far from unpredictable if you know what you're doing but, by contrast, is capable of breaking traction very easily if you're not careful. We eventually found ourselves down near the Var and identified a quiet stretch of dual carriageway scattered with roundabouts. It would do nicely for a beginner F40 driver. I was given a few more pointers - the brakes are not the most responsive, the top of the throttle pedal travel is a bit sticky and the gearbox can be notchy - and then it was my turn. Typically, as I played with the pedals to get a feel for their weighting in the roadside car park we had stopped in, I stalled the car. Somehow that made me feel a lot more comfortable, reminding me that this car is just like any other at low speeds.
Within a couple of minutes of setting off, the Ferrari F40 no longer frightened me. I had been given all the warnings and I knew that the turbos would come on boost at around 4,000 rpm. I found the gearbox to be no more challenging than that in the F355 and the throttle pedal no stickier, though the brakes did need a good stab to get any real response. That said, for the first run I didn't venture above 4,000 rpm, choosing instead to get a feel for the controls and the dimensions of the car. On the second run the owner urged me to give it a bit more power. The F40 already feels quick at low revs but when the boost kicks-in it reconfigures your understanding of speed. The car catapults you towards the horizon with no respect for the laws of physics. A couple more runs up and down the dual carriageway and I was grinning from ear to ear.
It's a strange machine. In some ways it feels crude and dated but in others it feels focused and very ahead of its time. The steering is heavy at low speeds but direct. The car feels rigid and will bobble around on road imperfections but the suspension is not uncomfortably firm. The sound is intoxicating from within and outside of the cabin, with the roar of the engine overlayed with a "psshhhht" sound whenever you lift off the throttle. It looks like a big car but it feels very intimate from behind the wheel and, judging by some of the roads we experienced in the course of the week, is actually very usable. It managed high speed runs along the motorway in torrential rain, tackled slower traffic on tight mountain roads and even dealt with the French speed bumps and underground car parks I had feared would be an issue before the trip.
I stepped out of the driver's seat barely 15 minutes after strapping myself in. I looked again at the evocative design of the car and glanced once more at its stripped-out interior. Now all apprehension had completely evaporated and I was hooked. I hadn't even begun to scratch the surface of the abilities of this fantastic machine but thankfully I had already been shown what it was capable of from the passenger seat. My thanks go to the owner of this F40 for trusting me with his pride and joy for long enough to understand why it is so highly rated. I have now driven one of the motoring world's biggest icons and I am no less excited about the experience five days later.
It's been ten months since I bought my dream car - a 1996 Ferrari F355 Berlinetta
. If you have been following me on Twitter or visiting my website you will know that I bought this car to enjoy it. It was never meant to be a museum piece or an investment. That's not to say I am uninterested in the value of my car. One of the reasons that I went for an F355 is because depreciation should be minimal.
I never expected my car to be cheap to run, even though I had read that Ferrari had upped their game with the F355 and made it more reliable. Honda had shown with the NSX that a supercar could be usable and reliable, forcing other manufacturers to react accordingly. This knowledge didn't put me at ease and it took me quite some time at the wheel before I stopped worrying that something horribly expensive would go wrong. Thankfully my car had been driven and well-maintained over the years. As Evo
's "secret supercar owner" reported in his recent blog post
, you shouldn't be hit with huge bills all at once if you attend to issues as they arise.
There are still horror stories of course. It was reading the readers' letters section in Evo
magazine today that pushed me to finally add up how much I have spent on my car over the past ten months of ownership, something I had been intentionally putting off. One reader told of how an F355 he had viewed had a single bill for £8,000 "for replacing worn-out parts". I knew it wasn't that bad for me but I also knew that I had spent thousands of pounds.
I had taken the car back to independent Ferrari specialists Foskers
, from whom I bought it, on three occasions since April 2011. The first visit was to have a new stereo fitted, to attend to the throttle sticking and to fit a battery conditioner. The second visit was essentially an unofficial service after my 2,000 mile trip around Europe. It included new brake discs and pads, all fluids changed, new coolant hoses and a new fan control switch. The third visit was to attend to an issue with the car starting. Mum, look away now...
The total cost for this work came to £5,694.18.
On top of this outlay, there is all the fuel I have used (I have no idea what that might come to), insurance (around £1,200 per year), the garage space I have rented in London to keep the car in, and road tax.
What about depreciation? Well, I haven't had the car valued but I don't think it will have lost much. Looking on Pistonheads
today, there are only seven manual, right-hand drive Berlinettas for sale at present. The manual Berlinettas are seen as the purest of the breed and are, for many people, the most desirable. Of the 11,000 or so 355s that were made, less than 4,000 were to this specification and hopefully this will have a positive impact on the long-term value of my car.
As that implies, I don't want to sell it and I will keep it as long as I can afford to do so. I certainly have days when I think about changing but I get so much pleasure from driving such an exotic and high-performing car that there is little to compete within my price range. I must admit that I love the fact that values aren't plummeting on the F355 as they have with almost every other car I have owned. Comparing the depreciation on a new car, even a hot hatch, suddenly my Ferrari doesn't look such bad value after all.
There's one more thing that I would like to share about my car. I recently discovered that it is the exact car that Jeremy Clarkson drove in his video Unleashed on Cars
. In it he proclaimed that the Ferrari F355 is the greatest car in the world, while driving my
car. That's got to do something for its credentials!
I've just begun writing up the return leg of my road trip - a four day journey through France in my Ferrari F355 with my good friend Tom Jelley - and I was reminded how good a driving road the Route Napoleon was.
The journey home was simply never going to be as interesting as the earlier stages of the trip. That ten day period allowed me to experience some of the many must-do experiences for petrolheads and I enjoyed it as much as I hoped I would. But the prospect of driving up through France didn't excite me in the same way and the motorsport-related activities I had enquired about had come to nothing. Thankfully there was the Route Napoleon
to look forward to.
I had first heard of this road through evo
magazine. They have organised a lot of their group tests here and for good reason. It has everything you could want to enjoy a high performance car. The roads are wide, well-surfaced and have an excellent combination of straights and challenging corners. It doesn't seem to be very busy either, even though you might find yourself stuck behind a caravan on a section of hairpin corners.
It is also stunning to look at. The road climbs from the French Riviera and runs all the way to Grenoble at the base of the French Alps, the scenery shifting as you go. Like some of the better roads I have driven you don't have to drive like a maniac to enjoy it but there are plenty of opportunities to see what your car can do should that be of interest. There are challenging sections, hairpins, imposing rock-faces, and long, open winding sections. It has it all. It ranks of one of my favourite roads from the whole trip and is well worth a detour if you find yourself with an extra day to play with on your way through France.
I won't give too much away here but here's a short (low quality) video clip showing a pretty typical section of the Route Napoleon. Excuse the background music.
I've had a pretty good month on the car and driving front and it all started with me being reunited with my car on French soil.
I had left my Ferrari F355 Berlinetta in the south of France for a couple of months following my road trip through Belgium, Germany, Switzerland and Italy. I had been really missing having it during the summer months and the prospect of the drive back through France was fairly mouth-watering, particularly as I had included Route Napoleon in the itinerary. First though, I wanted to ensure that the car was running without issue after two months without use and luckily for me the Col de Vence was only a few miles from where I was staying.
The Col de Vence is a road that will be familiar to readers of evo magazine
as a favourite place for group tests. It is certainly a challenging road, with frequent blind corners and hairpins to catch out the foolish. But it is a fun road as well, particularly if you are willing to do a few runs and learn the corners better.
At first it climbs inland through an endless array of hairpins over quite barren landscape. The views are great, particularly when you catch a glimpse of the bright blue Mediterranean behind you. The fun really begins when it levels out a little and the road opens up with more straights and better sighted corners. It dips down through tree-lined hills and passes sheer rock faces; sometimes the landscape seems perfectly designed for deflecting the sound of the car right back at you. You have to beware of the few other motorists and the eager cyclists but for much of the time the road seems deserted.
I took it pretty easy but still enjoyed myself. The Ferrari seemed ideal for these roads, particularly compared with the Bentley Continental GTC that I once tried down here which was simply too wide. That said, a good hot hatch would have been as much, if not more fun than my F355.
I stopped at Chateau Saint Martin for a drink on the way back down. It's pricey but the building, grounds and views are all stunning and I can recommend it. The car ran perfectly and all that was left to do was enjoy the sunshine for a couple of days before heading north via Grenoble, Dijon and Reims.
Leaving Turin early on a Sunday morning meant that we were soon turning off the motorway and passing through numerous small towns, as we climbed constantly towards the mountains that join the south-east of France with the north-east of Italy. The further we travelled the less frequent the towns and villages and the more deserted the roads.
The bulk of the traffic during this segment of the journey were motorcyclists who also wanted to make the most of the fine weather and quiet, challenging driving roads. At times they were frustrating, accelerating off on the straights and then getting in the way on the corners. We would stop to take a few photos only for a large group of motorcyclists to whizz by, ready to hold us up again.We actually didn't mind at all and I was pleased to see others enjoying the joys of motoring in what felt like a remote corner of Europe blessed with unrestricted driving roads.As it turned out, the Colle della Maddalena
that connects Cuneo in Italy and Barcelonnette in France was one of the best drivers' roads that we experienced in the course of the trip. The video clip below gives an idea of how fun this road is.
I've always loved the feeling of adventure associated with a journey free from time constraints; the kind where you can just meander along, stopping and starting as you please. This is the best way to see things and get to know places. You can stay longer where the action is and move along if you don't like a place. I have very fond memories of doing this around New South Wales, Australia, before I started university.
This road trip was never going to be like that, particularly if I was to work around the time commitments of my co-drivers. I had already decided to reduce the itinerary from two weeks to one, leaving the car in France and picking it up at a later date. I knew the distance would be easily covered in a week but soon came to realise that other aspects of my plans were a bit ambitious, particularly when you put traffic jams and getting lost into the equation.As we got caught up in another traffic jam on the outskirts of Modena, it seemed that our plans to drive from Brescia to Maranello (Ferrari), Maranello to Sant'Agata (Lamborghini), and Sant'Agata to Castelfranco Emilia (Pagani)
in one day were far too ambitious. Once again we were having navigational issues which only added to the tension and we rolled into Maranello with an hour and a half before we'd have to leave for our arranged tour of the Pagani factory - something I had no intention of missing!Maranello seems like a place that you could spend a good few hours wandering around. If you like Ferraris then you simply must go there. Having seen only two Ferraris since Spa-Francorchamps, things suddenly and dramatically changed. There were plenty of the new FFs cruising around
, the first I have seen. Test drive experiences in Californias
were an obvious attraction for visitors and meant that these were also rolling up and down the roads almost constantly. We even saw another F355 parked there, the only other spotted in the course of the journey. The museum
is well worth a look, with an excellent room dedicated to the company's motorsport successes over the decades, and lunch at Il Cavallino was a good call by Spencer, who had visited the town once before. For us though, the experience was rushed and the planned visit to Sant'Agata - the home of Lamborghini - was scrapped as we made our way to the Pagani factory at Castelfranco Emilia.The Pagani factory is a small and unassuming place within an industrial estate on the edge of town, though I am told that they are soon to move to new premises. As you enter the building you are greeted by the sight of two Zonda Rs - racing specification versions of the car that placed Pagani alongside the established supercar royalty - before being given a knowledgeable tour of the small facilities and the practicalities of carbon fibre construction. Having been told it wouldn't be present, we were excited to see that the new Pagani Huayra was parked outside and we would be welcome to look around and sit in it. Apparently this stunning car is currently Horacio Pagani's daily driver.If you get a chance to visit the Pagani factory, I can strongly recommend it. It is an amazingly welcoming environment and a great opportunity to see how a bespoke, low-volume manufacturer goes about things.
They are rightly very proud of their products and talk with passion about the processes.