Once in a Life­time Drive

Premier Magazine (South AFrica) - - Contents - Text: Sud­hir “Ban­zai” Matai Im­ages © Fer­rari

This street light must be old. The pool of light it is cast­ing into the dark­ness is dim and I strug­gle to lo­cate the in­side edge of the door-card. In my ex­cite­ment, I have also made a rookie er­ror: I lashed up the Sa­belt har­ness be­fore en­sur­ing the door was close enough to reach. I lean as far as I can and with out­stretched fin­gers, find a ledge with my left hand, remembering that there is no door han­dle, and with my fin­ger­tips pull the light­weight plas­tic to­wards me. It closes with an un­sat­is­fy­ing, pla­s­ticky clat­ter.

I wrig­gle a lit­tle to re­set my body in the fig­ure-hug­ging rac­ing seat and do a cur­sory check of the mir­rors. I also take a look around the cabin, which is best de­scribed as func­tional. The owner, a rel­a­tive stranger, sits pa­tiently along­side while I ac­cli­ma­tise my­self to the un­fa­mil­iar sur­rounds. In the mean­time the boosted V8 idles in­nocu­ously await­ing driver in­put. Mr Fer­rari F40-owner has driven the car un­til now, and thinks that the flu­ids are all up to temp, enough any­way to hand me the con­trols.

I blip the firm, me­chan­i­cal throt­tle and it elic­its a flare of revs from the small dis­place­ment bent eight. The large mid­dle pedal re­quires a firm shove as it is com­pletely unas­sisted, and the clutch is sur­pris­ingly light. I glance over my right shoul­der to check for traf­fic, then I set off …

For the last 30 years there has been one car that I have con­sis­tently lusted after: the Fer­rari F40. There have been flir­ta­tions with var­i­ous other spe­cial cars, in­clud­ing a few race cars, but the F40 has re­mained at, or near, the very top of my wish list. Scarcely be­liev­able, I was about to set off into the hills above the home­town of Fer­rari, Maranello, in the car I glanced at ev­ery night be­fore I closed my eyes since I was 10-years-old.

Eas­ing out of the lay-bye I am, un­der­stand­ably, cau­tious. I mod­u­late the clutch with just a few revs on the tacho, keen to paint my driv­ing in a favourable light for my co-pi­lot/bene­fac­tor. I short shift into sec­ond gear, first is, dog­leg-style, down and to the left, so I am ea­ger to dis­patch with that awk­ward cog swap early. There is no power steer­ing, though once on the move this is not an is­sue. The slightly odd place­ment and an­gle of the wheel seems to fit my frame well; per­haps I was Ital­ian in a past life?

I dip into the long-travel throt­tle, but noth­ing re­ally hap­pens. I have ex­plored about half the rev-counter and shifted up to third. What do they say about meet­ing your heroes? As I make the straight move­ment from sec­ond to third, I hear it, that fa­mous metal­lic clack-clack as the lever slices through the open H-gate. I crack a smile, the first of many. It is a noise I read about end­lessly in my youth, and one that mod­ern Fer­rari own­ers are def­i­nitely poorer for not ex­pe­ri­enc­ing.

In third gear I ex­plore the power de­liv­ery a bit more. With no trac­tion con­trol, or any elec­tronic safety net, I fig­ure that un­leash­ing 350+ kw of power on an un­fa­mil­iar road in the mil­lion dol­lar car of a stranger in a low gear is not a pru­dent move. Deep into the throt­tle and there is still very lit­tle hap­pen­ing. Then I hear it, the grad­ual build-up of pres­sure in the two IHI tur­bocharg­ers over my shoul­ders. Revs from the gut­tural-sound­ing V8 rise, slowly at first, and then faster, un­til full boost is reached, then WHHHOOOOSSSHHH the scenery around us starts to ac­cel­er­ate very quickly. I lift, as we are fast ap­proach­ing a cor­ner, which elic­its a vol­ley of crack­les and pops from the twin ex­haust pipes – this time, both oc­cu­pants are smil­ing. Our cu­mu­la­tive ages may be over 90, but in­side we are both 12-year-old boys.

I turn into a medium-speed cor­ner and feel the grip build across the front axle through my palms; this re­ally is a tac­tile car, tele­graph­ing ev­ery nu­ance to the driver, even though I am very far from ex­ceed­ing the fric­tion limit. As the ra­dius opens up I see a straight and in­stinc­tively heel-toe back into sec­ond, clack-clack, the ped­als placed per­fectly for my feet to do the three­pedal tap-dance. The mo­tor re­sponds with alacrity and is al­ready build­ing boost be­fore I open the throt­tle wide.

The sounds from the en­gine room are raw, un-syn­the­sised, and barely si­lenced. Waaaaaar­rrggghhh, WHHHOOOOSSSHHH. We are both pinned to our seats by the hit of torque. I thought it felt quick in third, in sec­ond gear it is eye-widen­ing. Re­mem­ber, this car is good for over 325 km/h and has “just” five gears, so the ra­tios are not par­tic­u­larly short. I know it is a cliché, but the power de­liv­ery is like a sling­shot. You pull it far back as the revs build and when the tur­bos are on full song it fires you down the road as pent up en­ergy is re­leased. This time I wring out sec­ond to just shy of the lim­iter and make a snap shift to third, clack-clack. The tail squirms as drive is tem­po­rar­ily dis­con­nected then re­con­nected to the rear wheels. Those fat rear Pirellis are warm and pro­vide plenty of grip.

Waaaaaar­rrggghhh, WHHHOOOOSSSHHH.

Third gear is dealt with al­most as quickly as sec­ond and I slam an­other up­shift. My heart is thump­ing, my brow is fur­rowed in con­cen­tra­tion, but still I am wear­ing an ear-toear grin. I can­not re­call an­other road car that has lit me up the way this F40 is do­ing right now. I shut the gas and glance into the rear-view mir­ror; the Ital­ian coun­try­side is mo­men­tar­ily il­lu­mi­nated by a warm hue as un­spent fuel from the tailpipes meets cold, crisp night air. My synapses are tin­gling as the cur­rent wave of adren­a­line abates … I have to have more.

We run up­hill for sev­eral kilo­me­tres and my con­fi­dence builds with each one,

Waaaaaar­rrggghhh, WHHHOOOOSSSHHH

– it is ad­dic­tive. I delve deeper into the per­for­mance reper­toire of this car, lean­ing harder on the tyres and call­ing on my re­serves as a driver. Be­fore I get too fa­mil­iar, the owner calls for us to turn around. If a stranger was get­ting too fa­mil­iar with my F40, I would have made us turn around much ear­lier.

The des­cent is as smile-in­duc­ing as the up run. I wind up the mo­tor and un­leash it down ev­ery short straight, made to feel even shorter thanks to the prodi­gious power and dark am­bi­ence of the car, the tur­bocharg­ers howl­ing their sig­na­ture tune into the inky sur­rounds. As we ap­proach sub­ur­bia I back off mo­men­tar­ily. But, since it is, prob­a­bly, the only time I will pi­lot an F40, Waaaaaar­rrggghhh, WHHHOOOOSSSHHH.

Houses give way to shops and we are back in the pi­azza of Maranello. The F40, now at idle speed, is pro­duc­ing noises of a car in the af­ter­math of a hard drive: tink, tink, tink as metal cools. At the same time my synapses are tin­gling as my adrenal glands re­turn to a re­laxed state. Even in the place of its cre­ation, the F40 elic­its cell phone pho­tog­ra­phy from all and sundry. The lo­cals, prob­a­bly more than most, ap­pre­ci­ate the last car that was signed off by com­pany founder, Enzo, him­self. We trun­dle between the old fac­tory gate and the fa­mous Ristorante Cavallino; with no cars in sight I give the loud pedal a fi­nal boot-full Waaaaaar­rrggghhh, WHHHOOOOSSSHHH. I think old man Fer­rari would have ap­proved.

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