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Into The Red - Ferrari Enzo

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On track with Mark Hales, in Nick Mason's Enzo. Will the electronics spoil the 651bhp, 217mph fun on the twisty Anglesey circuit?

The Enzo is a whole host of contradictions. The way it looks is a combination of eagle’s beak and chipmunk cheeks for its nose, the half-length cockpit like a space-age pick-up truck’s, and the huge haunches apparently made for a bigger car and tacked on as a giant afterthought, like a crimson peacock’s tail made of epoxy resin. And the red paint that saturates the schnozzle-heavy shape has a kind of chromed allure that richens the hue and only adds to the controversy over the styling. It seems that those who like the blend of alien insect front and chunky kit-car back, and those who don’t, already inhabit equal-sized camps.

And the way the Enzo goes… When the car  was new, it hardly seemed ten years since I’d been at Silverstone with a Ferrari F40 that always struggled to contain the savage energy of its turbocharged engine but was all the more exciting for it. But a decade had indeed passed, and the Enzo was Ferrari’s attempt to create something just as special using the technology of the time. Now, another seven years on, that too is out of date. Meanwhile, the wide open spaces of a former Northamptonshire airfield have given way to the picturesque sweeps of Anglesey’s cliff-top racetrack and, if the F40 had only two-thirds the power, it was terrifying in its brutal intimacy. The more up-to-date Enzo could hardly be the same – could it?

There may be a decade-and-a-half between their birthdays, but both Enzo and F40 are composed of angular lines, each a composite carapace apparently carved from blocks of ice rather than a skin pulled tight over sinew. For the F40, the folded paper look was simply the style of the mid-1980s. The Enzo, you get the impression, is this way for a more specific purpose: the squared edges defining the channels that direct the passage of air over and through its body, the invisible aerodynamic hand that will press down and secure the car to the road beneath. It also features an engine twice the size of the F40’s and with half as many cylinders again. No turbos this time but a claimed output of 651bhp at 7800rpm from a massive six-litre V12 that, together with the computer-controlled semi-automatic six-speed gearbox, fills half the Enzo’s length.

The cockpit space is pushed so far forwards because there’s no choice. Hook your fingers under the sunken door catch and click it open. The massive structure swings up, propelled by hissing gas struts, the weight supported on a huge, forged central crank. It’s a completely logical answer to the problem of wide supercars and standard-sized garages. Notice the lack of trim in the cabin, the weave of carbonfibre as style rather than omission, the rubber mats fixed to the floor. Spot the seats that look more substantial than the older car’s and tilt forward to reveal a small hammock where you can stow your toothbrush and wallet. Search in vain for the chrome gearlever and round black knob that have been a Ferrari signature for years, then look down to see just two pedals. Brake and accelerator.

Gear-shifting is by two paddles – right-up or left-down – each a fingertip’s distance from the garish computer-game steering wheel. If the car’s mechanical layout has dictated the exterior styling, electronics have to a great extent defined the cockpit. Sliding in is easy with the sill hoisted as part of the rotating door, then haul it all down and feel the solid clunk as it closes. The simple circular crank handle at the front turns out to be a window winder and you see why the glass is smaller than you might like – there’s room for a map pocket below it, which in turn creates space for the left elbow.

The driving position is perfect. A deep seat clamps you in place and frees your arms and legs to work the controls. The wheel is straight ahead and well clear of your thighs, feet in line with legs, big footrest left of the brake, padded shin rest up to the right. There’s a good view through the bowl of a screen too and, almost as important, sensibly sized wing mirrors. These are details that make you relax in surroundings that might otherwise feel intimidating. The car’s designers were clearly drivers too. Now survey the rows of buttons and strings of lights up ahead, already blinking need-to-know information from the rim of the steering wheel. They are all rather less familiar, but the only ones we might need today are those marked ‘R’ for reverse; ‘RACE’, which hands back most of the gear-shifting decisions that the normal mode assumes for you; and possibly ‘ASR’ to turn off the traction control.

Pull back on both paddles to bring up ‘N’ for Neutral on the screen next to the red-and-white speedometer and rev counter, and press the starter. A 12-cylinder whirr, then a proper V12 rasp come swiftly from behind. Noisy but not intense, it’s so smooth that it might derive from somewhere outside the car. Hook the right paddle for first, release the fly-off handbrake and press the right pedal. The car eases forwards without any more effort than it takes to tell and I am soon trundling towards the track, wondering how much louder the road roar drumming at the resin body, and the rhythmic thump and bang as the huge 35-section tyres slap the gaps in the concrete access road, can possibly be.

On track and feeling my way, it’s still hard to resist the schoolboy delight of pulling the right paddle to see whether it produces the same result every time. And every time the engine holds its rpm while the note changes from a rasp to a metallic clatter before the electronics thump the clutch back in.

It’s not lightning fast and neither is it as smooth as a conventional auto, yet it’s impressive in the way it revises the process to suit the power you use and the speed you go. Hook the left one to go down and the system revs up the engine to match the road speed, which is even more fun, especially if you are coming down from an illegal rate, at which the gaps between the gears are wider.

All this control at your fingertips is very seductive in its modern computer-controlled kind of way, but it takes its time. Maybe it has to because the laws of physics are still immune to electronic intervention and the gaps between the ratios in a 200mph-plus gearbox are necessarily wide. You can’t zip through them like you can in a touring car. Within a mile, however, you realise that electronics have their benefit. Anyone could drive an Enzo, and do it with three digits and a foot. A finger and thumb to hold the power-assisted wheel, one more to hook the paddles and a foot to press the accelerator and brake. No-one need ever fluff a shift or stall the engine.

An Enzo, though, is made to do much more than merely move but, in tune with a theme common to when I drove the F40 and the McLaren F1 here, the road outside is now soaking wet. It brought back memories of the F40’s uncontrollable wheelspin when the turbos came in, or the sense that the road had turned to ice under all four of the McLaren F1’s wheels. And any hope that the Enzo’s raft of electronic technology would have an answer was soon dispelled. The brake pedal clicks and twitters while the car shuffles right, then left, the anti-lock trying to sort an expedient between ever more urgent pressure from my foot and Anglesey’s Tom Pryce hairpin, which is rushing towards me.

Once there, the nose resolutely refuses to point towards the apex, chattering and juddering across the road. I try to make amends with the one thing I know is certain and pour on the power, but the big V12 stutters, impotent in the grip of electronic interference. Despite massive modern tires, there is not enough grip to allow even a fraction of the available power to reach the road. The electronics already know what I can feel.

It was all too familiar. The McLaren F1 had felt much the same, and now I knew there was nothing to be done but wait for the road to dry. I had briefly tried turning off the traction control but the wheelspin flared so suddenly and in an instant could so easily kick the tail beyond the reserves of steering lock necessary to call it back.

There was, though, the realisation that as long as I left everything switched on I hadn’t had to do very much to navigate the water. I could just sit there and drive normally while the management sorted the brakes, the steering, and the power, trickling little streams of each according to the available resource most in need: the grip from the tires.

A wait for the sun to dry the road and light up the mountains that keep a stoic watching brief from the coast opposite, and try again. Tickle the right-hand pedal. The car surges forwards. Ease the rim and feel the nose dart towards the hairpin’s apex. Wait an instant, get the car pointing nearly straight and tread the right pedal hard. There’s no lag, no wait for turbos to spin up. Just a massive instant outpouring that seems to gather momentum rather than lose it.

Launch towards the next corner and tread the left pedal with the left foot. Brakes were a weak point of both F40 and McLaren but the bite from the Enzo’s four enormous 13.5-inch carbon-ceramic discs is massive and consummate without being sharp and jagged. The car just stops without dipping its nose or weaving, and the discs will do it time and time again.

But what follows is a confusing mixture. The front points immediately in response to a command from the wheel, then goes limp. I try to balance with the massive power, but calling it too soon pushes the nose wider still, while opening up the turn then treading harder on the gas simply calls in the traction control, which reins the power back. It’s as if all the same ingredients that defined the car on a wet road are still intact but have been rearranged within an envelope only slightly larger.

Turning off the traction control only makes those outer confines more uneven, the reactions more extreme and the rhythm more difficult to build. The knowledge that even Michael Schumacher’s freakish talent was unable to make the Enzo lap much faster with the traction control turned off makes the point about grip with more eloquence than I can write.

The frustration that we felt is more a sense of potential being denied by simple circumstance than any disappointment with the design, so we even used the test as an opportunity to try a different set of tires. We swapped to a set of Pirelli’s road-legal racers – very much a modern fashion in high-performance hardware – but, while the front end had definitely gained some welcome extra bite, the rears still could not cope with the engine’s massive urge.

At the same time, there was no denying the excitement that surrounds every outing in this car. The sense of occasion that floods the cockpit every time you touch the starter button. The sense of expectation that, this time, I could somehow access even a part of the maximum half-ton of downforce and make the tires grip and the systems relax. Because, every so often, little portions of the car’s massive potential manage to sneak beyond the restraint that keeps it safe.

Little portions like the relentless, missile-like acceleration when the car is pointing straight, and the giant ceramic discs that rob the energy of speed even faster than the engine can add it; the gearshift that handles it all for you; and the steering that adds life to the front end, albeit in a perversely remote fashion. On the public road where the car is destined to live and work for most of its life, the regulation built into the Enzo will still leave you with a surplus big enough to risk imprisonment. It’s only the freedom of a track that tempts you to unleash the car and deploy its capabilities in different areas.

There was a time when cars could handle both road and track, cars such as the Jaguar D-type, the Ferrari 250GTO, and even perhaps the F40. The Enzo’s layout has less in common with these and more with the Porsche 962 Le Mans car of 1990; but, without the grip of slick racing tires or the downward pressure that comes from a ground clearance the depth of a matchbox, the Porsche too would have been neutered.

Complex technology needs its partners but, as long as the car needs to be road legal, legislation and cost impose different constraints. If the Enzo’s potential is too finely filtered to suit the road, a set of slick tires straight off the shelves at Dunlop, Pirelli or Michelin would so easily channel its resources for the track. Taking the Enzo to Anglesey was not so much a disappointment, more a lesson learnt.


NICK MASON AND THE ENZO: A PERSONAL EXPERIENCE

My dad met Enzo Ferrari in the 1950s. In fact, it was none other than the great Enzo who fixed it for my father to drive and film on-board in the Mille Miglia of 1953, orchestrating all the necessary paperwork and formalities at the last possible moment. The car was a 1953 166MM Spider Vignale – chassis 0272M, race number 514, which designated their start time at Brescia; they finished a creditable 56th. The competitor’s badge still adorns my father’s vintage Bentley, which is a cherished member of our family.

Eight years old at the time, I could not appreciate how important the race was, nor how special it was that Enzo Ferrari would take the trouble to organise the drive. Perhaps Il Commendatore had an uncanny premonition that this would be one of the great sales coups of all time, once that eight-year-old finally gained access to a royalty cheque.

So when Ferrari initially announced the Enzo project I was committed to getting my name down on the waiting list. The theory is that when Ferrari issues these supercars in genuinely limited editions, the company tries to assign the cars, almost by invitation only, to people who are going to treasure them rather than sell them on immediately for a quick profit.

Over the years I had worked to remind Ferrari that I was a trustworthy candidate, with a decent assembly of old red motors, a wardrobe of Ferrari shoes, jackets, shirts, hats; I even wore the watch. The ploy worked, but the thrill dissipated when I discovered that most of the English music business was down for early cars, and drummers were further down the food chain than guitarists and singers. I ended up telling Eric Clapton and Jay Kay that I had turned down an early car as I’d been told that there were some teething problems – a small distortion of the truth to retain my dignity.

On delivery, the Enzo was just as exotic as it had looked in the specifications; a huge step on from the F40. When I collected my car from West London, I received a detailed briefing from the engineer. The Enzo has a considerable array of race-style kit: switches to flick the car into race mode and launch control, and another for implementing a jacking system to avoid losing the front splitter on traffic-calming humps (a selection of my F40 splitters may be found at a number of roadsides around London).

Unfortunately I was so overwrought at getting my hands on the steering wheel that I failed to remember a single instruction he had given me once I sat in the driving seat. I immediately drove the Enzo out west, testing all of the buttons on offer and having far too much fun with the launch control – we had to fit
a new clutch within the first 1000 miles.

The Enzo is not the perfect car for modern British roads. Hindered by left-hand drive, any approach to a roundabout would benefit from a man with a red flag running ahead. It is driving on the track that gets the heart rate up. I am lucky enough to have a friend with both an Enzo and access to a grand prix circuit. These are the truly memorable drives.
 
It would be insane to give this car its head on the road, but to hit the brakes hard and shift down on the paddles into a modern circuit’s corner is as close as you need to get to being a proper 21st-century racer.

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