Cruise control on this car would be as out of place as an autopilot on an unl

Ferrari F430

What's in a name? Would a Ferrari by any other name be as provocative? What if the Ferrari boy had been born into the Focaccia family and christened Sal?

Fortunately, Enzo was born to a family whose name sounds to the Anglo-Saxon ear like the uber-comparative of fiery, which is entirely suitable for the celebrated line of cars that marks its 60th birthday this year. To anyone with a detectable automotive pulse, "Ferrari" conjures visions of frantic engines, retina-searing red paint and winding roads navigated by a fortunate few.

Fortunate indeed. Getting your hands on a new Ferrari has become even harder than usual of late. The famed automaker from Maranello turned out just 5,600 last year. Buyers hate the wait, but they know it is part and parcel of the exclusivity. This year, the three production models are the F430 and 599 GTB Fiorano (mid-engine V8 and front-engine V12 two-seaters, respectively) and the four-seat 612 Scaglietti front-engine V12. We drove the F430 and 612 (see page 60) and life behind the wheel has not been the same since.

Capturing the intensity of the F430 is one of the harder nuts I have attempted to crack in 34 years of staring at a blank sheet of paper or screen. Apparently, I'm not alone. A 10.2-megapixel Nikon struggled to capture the full blaze of the car's rosso paint. Whether photos were taken at sunset or sunrise or high noon, with or without polarizing filter or in-camera enhancement, the red generally seemed slightly off-too orange, too purple, too pink or too flat.

The F430's soul is as intangible as its hue. As he handed me the key, the man from Ferrari nailed it when he said, "The car is alive."

People who have driven a lot more automobiles closer to the edge than I have say that the F430 is one of the best-driving production vehicles ever built, and quite possibly the best. I wrung out the car to the extent that prudence on public highways allowed, but never came close to its speed or cornering limits (more than 196 mph, says Ferrari, and about 1g of lateral adhesion, according to the car books). But I want this machine as fiercely as I wanted a Siai Marchetti SF.260 the first time I flew and wrote about one 30 years ago. Both of these Italian creations are the best of breed on the planet. (The F in SF.260 stands for Stelio Frati, the Enzo Ferrari of light airplanes.)

Ferrari earned its reputation by ceaselessly pushing the envelope on road and track, and the F430 continues that quest. It is the car that resulted when talented people focused on making a no-compromise driving machine to replace the 360 Modena, which some critics now deem to be a bit flabby when held against the F430.

The Formula 1-bred engine, steering, suspension and brakes are only part of why Ferrari is the ultimate driver's marque. Another reason can be found in the screens, cursor controls, cup holders and other distractions this test car lacked. If the audio system ever begins to usurp the F430's magnificent mechanical music, perhaps it's time to choose marble or granite and pick out some real estate six feet under.

Nothing earns a place on a Ferrari unless it enhances the driving experience; the traveling experience, as defined by a gadget-laden luxury car, is secondary. The F430 is a driver's domain and offers as visceral an experience as four street-legal wheels can provide. After her first ride in the car, our 16-year-old daughter affected her finest Valley Girl voice and said, "I want one. Like, get me one, Daddy!"

There are more relaxed ways of traveling well than in an F430-the 612 Scaglietti, for example-but none as exhilarating that I have ever encountered. The F430 is always straining at the leash, snorting, throbbing, belching, grunting, popping, crackling, roaring, screaming. Like a shark or an airplane, it has to move to survive. Cruise control on this car would be as out of place as an autopilot on an unlimited competition aerobatics aircraft.

This is not to say that the F430 is uncomfortable; the Daytona seats in the car I drove gave good support for the long haul. However, two hours of assault by g forces and that fantastic din will ensure sound shuteye for the driver and passenger when the beast is back in its stable for the night, ping-cooling itself to sleep, perchance to dream of hot oil and a full tank on the open road with an artful jockey. During the wait at a red light, the throb of powerful cooling fans inhaling deeply through each nostril in the front is as intrusive as in a multiengine airplane with the propeller rpms out of sync. (The aviation angle extends to Piero Ferrari's ownership of a significant stake in Piaggio, builder of the pusher twin-turboprop Avanti, and the prancing black horse was the fuselage art on Italian World War I ace Francesco Baracca's Spad fighter.)

The numbers describe the skeleton of the F430's tale, but the irresistible flesh is in the driving and the car's curves and pulse. Zero to 60 mph takes 3.9 seconds, according to Ferrari, but the car books have got there in as little as 3.5. The $17,000 carbon-ceramic brakes on the car tested were well up to the task of arresting progress, with no unsightly brake dust on the alloys, shod with Pirelli P Zero tires (225/35 ZR19s front, 285/35 ZR19s rear). The naturally aspirated 4.3-liter, 90-degree 479-hp V8 propels the car's 3,196 pounds through a paddle-shifting six-speed clutchless manual or a six-speed three-pedal manual (buyer's choice on every Ferrari built now).

The car I drove came with the paddle shifters, and they cracked off gear changes like rifle shots, up or down. Simultaneously blipping the throttle and left paddle punched the revs for downshifting with astonishing rapidity, each provoking an explosive bark from the back end. Shifts take about 150 milliseconds, quicker than any human left foot and right hand can manage with a conventional stick shift.

The driver's right foot controls both the volume and tone of the mechanical audio. Modest acceleration produces a gently rising note from the four pipes. Pushing harder on the pedal, though, opens a floodgate in the engine room (there is actually an audible valve-like on-off click noise) and unleashes what sounds like force-feeding of fuel for a far more aggressive exhaust note and a mighty push in the back. This engine turns heads because its sound is so unlike any other.

If the trooper-bait red paint, prancing horse and Pininfarina curves manage to escape the attention of law enforcement, the engine noise could still snag you. In the village where I live, a couple of cops sauntered over to admire the car. After we talked for a few minutes and I drove off, the noise of accelerating unseen on a parallel street to only the 25-mph limit probably sounded like 45 mph and was enough for one of the constables to pull up alongside and politely ask me to keep it down in residential areas. Any brush with blue (and many an owner will confirm that this car does invite them) should be this amiable.

Living with this machine for a few days produced many superlative car memories and a new benchmark for driving pleasure. Opening the garage and seeing a new red Ferrari inside is as good as it gets.

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