Thursday, August 23, 2012

Would Enzo Ferrari be happy with his company today?

The horse that inspired the infamous logo for Mr. Enzo Ferrari's company.

Any passionate Ferrari enthusiast can tell you how the company was founded: Enzo Ferrari was working for Alfa Romeo's racing teams in the 1930s and needed to fund Scuderia Ferrari, so he started to produce road cars as a side gig, and well, the rest is history.  Enzo never wanted to produce road cars, but for the sake of the entire sports car and supercar industry today, it's a damn good thing he did.

Throughout the course of Ferrari's storied history, most of their road cars followed one of two platforms: a mid-engined car with a six or eight cylinder engine or a twelve-cylinder engine in front of the driver.  There were rare exceptions to these platforms under Enzo Ferrari's reign, but for the most part, that's how he wanted his cars to be designed.  And Enzo was a perfectionist, so everything had to be done his way.

Ferrari's mid-engine V8 458 Italia.

The new V12 F12 Berlinetta.
Since Enzo's death in 1988, the company he left behind continued to produce road cars with the traditional pair of layouts, the mid-engine V8 and the "front-engine" V12 (the engines on V12 cars are in front of the driver, but the layouts of the car are not necessarily traditional front-engine cars).  Just as the 308 and 328 were designed under Enzo's watch, the 348, 355, 360, 430 and 458 have all taken each other's places as the company's line of V8 cars, while Ferrari's other current production cars are all different layouts of V12 cars.  So everything is status quo at Ferrari...or is it?

Would Enzo be satisfied with his company if he were around today?  At first, the question seems ridiculous.  Ferrari is the most iconic name in the sports car industry.  While Lamborghini's might be the dream car of choice for people who like scissor doors and orange paint, Ferrari's are simply the best supercars in the world right now.  They look amazing, they're incredibly fast, they handle and sound like no other cars in the world.  Simply put: there is nothing like a Ferrari.  It's either a Ferrari or something that wishes it was a Ferrari.  So how could anyone possibly think that Enzo wouldn't be thrilled with his company today?  That would be like marrying a supermodel and then telling her she isn't pretty enough.

Actually, there are several things that Enzo probably wouldn't like about his road cars of today.  It starts with the number of cars that are being produced.  Most car-makers would be thrilled to sell more of their cars.  Most owners of these companies would get a lot of pride out of seeing more of their cars on the road.  Not Ferrari.  Enzo Ferrari wanted his road cars to be exclusive.  In fact, when Ferrari first start building mid-engine cars that had less than 12 cylinders, Enzo didn't want his name to be associated with these "cheaper," more widely-produced cars, so he put his son's name on them, and they were built as "Dino's."  So what would Enzo think having seen Ferrari sales spike past 6,000 cars per year over the last five years?

Still, things could be worse.  Instead of selling more of your products, you could, for instance not be selling any.  The company could have have to shut down or it could have been bought by foreigners.

The California is kind of like a modern day Dino,
since it seems to break so many Ferrari traditions.
There's more, though.  Enzo Ferrari eventually got over his hesitance to produce V8 cars, but he never could have imagined building a V8 car with the engine up front.  That's what Ferrari did for the first time in their history with the California.  In fact, the California is most anti-Ferrari Ferrari ever many ways.  The California also has a hardtop roof that's also a convertible.  That's a first for Ferrari.  The suspension and transmission are also brand-new for the company.  Then there's the FF, which is Ferrari's first four-wheel drive car.

That's not all.  Over the years, Ferrari's road cars have become some of the most scientifically and aerodynamically advanced cars in the world.  The cars are designed to make efficient use of all air that encountered the car.  The 458 Italia was a huge scientific statement by Ferrari as an aerodynamic benchmark for modern-day sports cars.  But you know what?  Enzo Ferrari would hate that his company has become obsessed with aerodynamics.  After all, aerodynamics are for people who can't build engines.

Has Ferrari gone insane or this just a company evolving to keep up with the modern-day automotive world?  Perhaps it's both.  After all, Lamborghini is less than ten years removed from producing an "entry-level" road car, and even though McLaren's MP4-12C looks like someone's license plate numbers, buying one is much more realistic than buying their (Gordon Murray's) previous cars: the Mercedes SLR McLaren and McLaren F1.  Oh, and as for Pagani, well they just released a car that actually cannot be pronounced in the English language.

Behind the steering wheel are Ferrari's F1-style paddle shifters.
On the flip side, however, there are many things that would make Enzo Ferrari extremely proud of his car company.  First of all, one of the greatest road cars in history was produced less than ten years ago, which is fittingly named after the founder himself, the Ferrari Enzo.  The company has also switched over from the traditional manual transmission with a standard gear box and clutch pedal to a revolutionary, Formula 1-style paddle shift gearbox, which is a semi-automatic dual-clutch transmission.  Enzo wanted his road cars to feel like race cars, and what feels more like a race car than an F1 gearbox?!  He would also be proud of the engines being built by his company, such as the new F12 and it's 730 horsepower V12 engine.  And of course, Ferrari still has that arrogant edge that it's always had.

So yes, Ferrari has broken some of its traditions with its newer cars, but overall, it's still the poster boy for supercars in the 21st century.  It's still exciting to look up in your rear view mirror and seeing a Ferrari racing up the left lane.  Enzo could probably swallow his pride a bit and accept the front-engine V8, the four-wheel drive, the convertible hardtop and the increase in production if it means having the world's most iconic sports car maker.  The bottom line is that if Enzo Ferrari were alive today, he would probably be very proud of the cars that are being produced, and he'd also be looking to something special that's just around the corner.

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