Posts Tagged Ferrari

The future of nostalgia

Lexus LS600hL engine compartmentThe chrome gleamed in the sun as golden oldies blared on speakers. It was a car show where, like so many across the United States, the most desirable rides of yesterday lined up for their adoring fans. It makes one wonder: does this kind of thing have a future?

The foundation of the classic car hobby is the lone tinkerer who takes on a restoration as a weekend project; open a magazine like Hemmings Classic Car and you’ll find dozens of these stories.

The problem is that new cars, the antiques of tomorrow, are getting harder to work on. With yards and yards of wiring controlling everything, today’s cars are very complicated. Engines won’t start unless dozens of sensors for everything from the fuel pump to the gauges are connected.

Some companies, like Volkswagen, use specialized screws and bolts that make simple tasks nearly impossible if one doesn’t have the correct tools.

Patching a rusted steel panel is a relatively simple matter, but new cars include many materials, such as plastic, aluminum, and composites, that are difficult to work on at home. That also means replacement parts will be more expensive: the catalytic converters on a 2005 Subaru Outback are full of precious metals, and cost thousands of dollars each.

The problems aren’t just technical. There are some great cars on the road today, but people don’t seem to have the emotional attachment that collectors share with their chromed and finned 1950s cruisers or ‘60s muscle cars.

A new Corvette would destroy its vintage counterpart, or any vintage Ferrari or Porsche for that matter, in any race. Yet it doesn’t turn heads the way the 1960s Stingrays do.

Back in the day, cars loomed large in popular culture, but now they have to share the spotlight with other consumer items like smart phones and tablets (who knows, maybe those will become collectible).

Car show denizens shouldn’t despair, though. There are still plenty of dedicated gearheads (just look at the plethora of car magazines and automotive reality shows) who care about nothing else. As the saying goes, “Where there’s a will, there’s a way,” even if future car restorers have to learn a little more about software.

There is also a significant aftermarket industry that makes everything from trim pieces to tires for the current crop of classics. If enough people want to restore a 2012 Volkswagen GTI or Dodge Charger in 25 years, there will certainly be a business case for said companies to produce parts for those cars that can’t be fabricated in a garage.

The classic car hobby probably won’t go away, but it will face a few challenges. This hobby may be all about nostalgia, but even people who love the past (definitely not a crime) need to think about the future.

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Other People’s Cars: Ferrari 430 Scuderia

In the playground of the rich that is Kent, Connecticut, we find one of Ferrari’s most hardcore models, the 430 Scuderia. The number refers to the engine’s displacement, and the name (Italian for team) refers to Ferrari’s exploits in Formula 1. This was a lightened, fortified, limited edition of the F430, designed for driving purists.

Conventional wisdom states that all Ferraris are designed for driving purists, but these days the engineers at Maranello hold a lot back. The regular F430 (replaced by the 458 Italia in 2010) was, by all accounts, a terrific car, but it was not all that it could have been.

To make it more luxurious, the F430 came with lots of equipment that added lots of weight, the ultimate enemy of automotive performance. Most Ferrari customers are not weekend racers, just rich people with a penchant for showing off, and they demand luxury despite its negative effect on performance.

To show that they still knew how to build an uncompromising sports car, Ferrari took a hacksaw to the F430. Various body parts were replaced with carbon fiber. The leather interior was completely stripped out; even the carpets were removed. The seats were replaced with carbon fiber racing buckets. The stereo was removed.

With all of the luxuries gone, the price actually went up, from $186,925 to $272,306. Admittedly, Ferrari did add a few features. The 4.3 liter V-8 got a power boost, from 483 horsepower and 343 lb-ft of torque to 503hp and 347 lb-ft. Ferrari’s engineers also brought the car back to the wind tunnel, adding aerodynamic features normally seen on race cars. Unlike your homeboy’s modified Civic, the slats on the front and rear of the Scuderia are functional: they draw air over the car instead of underneath, which makes it more stable at high speeds. As the wheels turn, air pressure can build up in the wheel wells; those gaping holes take care of that too. It even has racing stripes.

The idea of a tuned Ferrari is a little ridiculous; after paying that much money for a car, you would think it would be perfect right out of the box. The racing stripes and the Formula 1-alluding name are a bit pretentious. However, in the flesh, this car works. It looks more serious, and more dynamic, than a regular F430. Objectively, it’s a marketing ploy, but subjectively, it’s a work of art. And, with gearheads, the latter usually trumps the former.

High-performance cars compromise practical qualities like comfort, convenience, and economy in the name of speed. Most of Ferrari’s customers are stock brokers, not weekend racers. They like performance, as long as it doesn’t inconvenience them. Ferrari’s biggest limitation may not be technology; it might be its customers.

Ferrari recently replaced both 430 models with the 458 Italia. Will that model turn out to be cushy enough for the Starbucks crowd, while still living up to the Ferrari name? Or will Maranello turn out a hardcore 458 as well?

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