Ferrari 488 is just perfect
We British like to think of ourselves as well mannered and cultured, with a sense of humour and a steely resolve that manifests itself in the shape of a stiff upper lip. But when you drive a Ferrari through this green and pleasant land you realise quite quickly that, actually, we are mealy-mouthed, bitter and racked with envy and hate.
If I drive a normal car to work, I pull up to the junction at the end of my street and people let me into the slow-moving crawl on the main road. But when I’m in a Ferrari, they don’t. It’s the same story on a motorway. People pull over to let a normal car overtake. But when I’m in a Ferrari, they just sit in the outside lane.
In Britain, Mr Normal sees a Ferrari as a reminder that his life hasn’t worked out quite as well as he had hoped. And he sees its driver as a living embodiment of the good-looking kid at school who got the girls, and the Year 12 kid who nicked his packed lunch on a field trip. He believes that if he can inconvenience a Ferrari driver, just for a moment, it’s one in the eye for the rich and the privileged.
Then you have the cyclists. They see all car drivers as an unholy cross between Margaret Thatcher and Hitler, so they spit and yell and they put footage of you on their bicycling websites.
But if you are in a Ferrari they go berserk because now you are an ambassador for the devil. You used child labour to make your money. You were responsible for Bhopal. You may even be a Tory. It is their duty to bang on your roof and scream obscenities.
Even the moderately well-off can’t cope. It upsets their inner zebra. Last week, in one of those towns outside London that’s exactly the same as all the others, I encountered the owner of a hunkered-down, souped-up BMW M3. This was his patch. He was the alpha male in this manor. He probably owned a wine bar. And he really didn’t take kindly to someone turning up with what was very obviously a bigger member. So he came alongside and he roared his exhausts and he danced and skittered to make me go away. Which I did.
You do not get these responses in other countries. A Ferrari in America is a spur, a reminder that you need to get up earlier in the morning and try harder. In Italy it’s a thing of beauty to be admired. Elsewhere it’s a dream made real. But in Britain it causes everyone to say: “It’s all right for some.” Which is the most depressing phrase in the language.
And it means that for every minute of enjoyment you get from your Ferrari, you have to endure 10 minutes of abuse and hate. This means you need a thick skin to drive one. Unless you encounter me on your travels. Because when I see someone driving a Ferrari these days, I want to run over and embrace them and offer to have their babies.
The problem is capital gains tax, because there isn’t any on most cars. You buy something rare, put it in a garage, in cotton wool, then sell it and trouser 100 per cent of the increase in value.
It’s your nest egg. It’s your pension. And so, obviously, you’re not going to drive it anywhere. The risk is too great.
That saddens me because all of the world’s wonderful cars are now locked away in dehumidified cellars, which means they aren’t on the road where they belong. If I were chancellor of the exchequer, I’d introduce capital gains tax on cars tomorrow. And I’d make it retrospective. It would be a vote winner among the mealy-mouthed and the bitter. And because rare cars are now changing hands for millions, it would net enough to pay for a kiddie’s iron lung or something. And, best of all, it would get all of these wonderful cars back into public view where we can enjoy them.
If I owned the Ferrari I was driving last week, I’d use it to go everywhere. I would take it on unnecessary journeys. I would volunteer to run errands for friends. And I would be happy when one of the children rang at 3am to say they had no money and couldn’t get home. Because I could go and pick them up.
There are those who say a 488 is not a proper Ferrari because it’s turbocharged. And that turbocharging has no place on such a thoroughbred. They argue that it’s turbocharged only so that it can meet EU emission regulations and that sticking to the letter of the law flies in the face of the Ferrari ethos: freedom and adrenalin and speed and passion and beauty and soul, not carbon dioxide and bureaucracy.
Yes. I get that. But let’s not forget Gilles Villeneuve’s Ferrari race car was turbocharged or that the best Ferrari of them all — the F40 — used forced induction. And let’s not forget that thanks to modern engine management systems, you simply don’t know that witchcraft is being used to pump fuel and air into the V8. It doesn’t even sound turbocharged. It sounds like a Ferrari. It sounds baleful. It sounds wonderful.
And, oh my god, it’s lovely to drive. You can potter about with the gearbox in automatic and it’s not uncomfortable or difficult in any way. That is probably Ferrari’s greatest achievement with the 488. To take something so highly tuned and highly strung and powerful and make it feel like a pussy cat.
It’s so docile that you get the impression it can’t possibly work when you put your foot down.
But it just does. I know of no midengined car that feels so friendly. There’s no understeer and no suddenness from the back end either. The old 458 was not as good as a McLaren 12C. But this new car puts the prancing horse back on top. As a driving machine, it’s — there’s no other word — perfect.
I still hate the dashboard. Putting all the controls for the lights and indicators and wipers on the steering wheel is silly. And so is the sat nav and radio, which can be operated only by the driver.
I suppose you’d get used to it if you used the car a lot. And that’s the best thing about the 488. The 488, because it’s not a limited-edition special, will not make you any money. So you can, and you may as well, use it as a car.
Yes, it’ll cause everyone else on the road to become Arthur Scargill. But look at it this way. When you’re filling it with fuel and you’re being sneered at by the man at the next pump, give him a real reason to dislike you. Saunter over and point out that if you didn’t have a Ferrari, it would make no difference to his life.
He’d still be on his way to a useless garden centre, in his crummy Citroen with his ugly wife and his two gormless children. Jeremy Clarkson’s comments are expressed in the context of the British vehicle market.