Our plan was to photograph the car at night. Parkside’s art director Mark Tate and chief shutter-man Adam Croy had a few tricks up their sleeves which they were keen to experiment with, resulting in some fairly spectacular shots, as you can see here.
After a few hours watching Adam and Mark apply their skills in virtual darkness, it was my turn to take the car for a drive, albeit at 11.30pm, but as it turned out, that wasn’t a bad thing. The less traffic the better — indeed, if nothing else that seemed to be a providentially plausible excuse.
However, I was not prepared for what I was about to experience. In fact trying to conjure up enough motor-noter purple prose and superlatives to convey my brief encounter with this incredible machine left me in somewhat of a quandary — and only one word was flashing clearly in my head after shutting down the 4.5-litre V8, precariously nestled just centimetres behind my spine, after finally parking it up in the owner’s garage. Brutal!
Having experienced several exceptional vehicles over the last few years, I reached the conclusion — after my nerves and internal organs had settled down — that it doesn’t, or indeed can’t, surely, get much better than this limited-production Ferrari 458 Speciale. I mean to say, where do manufacturers of exotic supercars such as Ferrari go from here?
I was left asking myself how much faster, how many more technological advancements — in terms of onboard electronic performance-enhancing wizardry combined with such things as tyre technology and engines with enough power to produce sufficient acceleration to reduce everyone but those of strong will into a blithering nervous wreck — are there left?
Fasterer and Furioser
For the moment though — as if the standard, much-acclaimed 458 Italia wasn’t sufficient — Ferrari, in its infinite wisdom, obviously came to the conclusion that adrenaline junkies and well-heeled supercar enthusiasts wanted more from their weekend track warrior. In fact, something ‘speciale.’
No problem, open up the prancing-horse recipe book and apply the same necessary dietary ingredients as the 430 Scuderia — but make it lighter.
In doing so — and carrying on where the 430 Scuderia left off — Ferrari trimmed the 458’s waistline by an impressive 90kg, rendering it down to a more slimline 1387kg thanks to the removal of such unnecessary creature comforts as an audio system, navigation, cruise control (although, just to add a degree of conclusion, our test Speciale had all these three features fitted as options), glovebox and armrests. Keeping everything as minimal as possible, the car’s seats are covered in mesh fabric, while the door panels are paper-thin carbon-fibre.
There is no carpet, instead there are bespoke, textured aluminium plates on the sills, kick panels and underfoot. As well, don’t expect a centre console — it’s been replaced with a rather unique-looking wing-shaped and featherweight carbon-fibre blade — this stylish construct houses three essential transmission buttons, and is a perfect enhancement in a cabin full of post-modern abstract shapes and flowing lines.
Beautifully crafted, forged 20-inch wheels, a lighter roof, carbon-fibre intake, thinner glass and a plastic rear window are also included as part of the Speciale’s exclusive diet.
Of course, once Ferrari trimmed off the fat, the next step was to increase the power of one of the greatest powerplants in the business by a further 26kW, lifting output to a rudely healthy 445kW.
This upgrade was achieved through some fairly serious engine modifications — including shorter intake runners, higher-lift cams, new intake ports and a modified piston geometry that boosts compression sky high from 12.5:1 to 14.0:1. Just for the record, pressure inside the cylinders rises by a whopping 145psi. While maximum torque remains the same, it’s now spread more widely across the engine’s operating range.
According to Ferrari, the result of all this tinkering means that the Speciale can demolish the benchmark 0–100kph dash in three seconds flat. The final proof was in the pudding, so to speak — testing the 458 Speciale at Ferrari’s Fiorano track resulted in a lap time of 83.5 seconds, 1.5 seconds up on the standard Italia, mission accomplished!
As I climbed into the passenger seat and pulled the featherweight door shut firmly on this ‘track’ version of the 458 Italia, my first thought, as we idled up the long driveway desperately trying not to wake up the entire neighbourhood in the process, was whether the owner was actually going to let me drive this incredible thing? That is, after he’s warmed everything up for me — something that he accomplished, well let’s just say, in fine style.
A colourful display highlighting temperatures for all the important stuff such as engine, brakes and tyres confirmed that the car was ready for action.
Once out on some fairly deserted country roads, following a few eye-watering demos of just what this car was capable of, the Speciale’s owner pulled over and said the fateful words — “OK, now it’s your turn!”
With a high degree of nervous anticipation, I slithered gently into the driver’s seat. With the motor still running, the raspy engine idle clearly audible inside the sparse cockpit, I was given a rundown on a few of the gizmos available in the car’s comprehensive electronic repertoire.
Now that I was in control of this mid-engined sprinter, all my senses had kicked into high gear, and accompanied by a frenzied exhaust note, there was little doubting the Speciale’s track-going intent. With a pull on the right-side carbon-fibre shift paddle, the car engaged first gear, awaiting for foot pressure on the accelerator before it automatically released the clutch and catapulted the Speciale forward.
I found the driving position unusually low and the form-fitting, optional carbon-fibre racing seats surprisingly comfy. Intent on keeping my eyes firmly glued to the black-top, it wasn’t hard to notice that virtually every operating control from engine start to turn signals and high beams was totally, and easily, accessible on the multi-functional F1-inspired steering wheel.
A slight stab on the accelerator and the V8, probably Ferrari’s final V8 built to breathe without forced-air induction, howled into action, piercing through the still late-night air like a knife through hot butter as the Ferrari’s massive, super-sticky Michelin Pilot Sport Cup 2 tyres (designed specifically for the the Speciale) spat up an audible barrage of grit and gravel onto the car’s underside — all the more audible due to a lack of insulation.
Whilst deep in concentration, with my right foot in control of a throttle response sharp enough to shave with, and enough lateral G-force to rearrange one’s internal organs, I was consciously aware of every sound and noise being fed directly into the cockpit, all of it seemingly unfiltered and somewhat disconcerting. As the rush continued, the F1-type seven-speed dual-clutch automated-manual gearbox required only the slightest touch on the paddle as the red sequential LEDs sitting atop the steering wheel warned of the impending redline in each gear. Even here the Speciale offers a further step up from the standard Italia, with 20-per-cent-quicker upshifts, and downshifts that are 40-per-cent more rapid.
Into the winding stuff and the Speciale really starts to show what it’s made of, showing off prodigious cornering prowess. Working behind the scenes is the car’s clever new Side Slip Control (SSC) system — pretty much a super-smart piece of traction control software specially designed to help everyday drivers do sensational things in their 458 in complete safety. The SSC system uses a new algorithm to precisely analyze sideslip, comparing it to the car’s projected trajectory and working with the electronic differential and F1-derived traction control system to instantly change torque distribution between the rear wheels.
Combined with stiffened spring ratings and standard adaptive Magnetorheological dampers the Speciale offers gut-wrenching levels of lateral grip — more than I’ve ever experienced in any other road car. Given the fact that it wasn’t my car (unfortunately), and with the owner sitting beside me, I wasn’t about to start testing the extent of my skills, or lack of same, by attempting to push the car to its limits. Anyway, looking for the Speciale’s limits on the public road would be hugely inappropriate. Having said that, the intuitive SSC and flash adaptive/damping system aren’t the only fancy bits of high-tech wizardry working away to keep all four wheels on firmly glued to terra firma. The Speciale also incorporates a series of flaps in the front grille that open at speed, directing air underneath to aerodynamically balance the car front and rear, while electrically controlled flaps in the rear diffuser provide low drag in a straight line while applying high down-force during hard cornering — and that’s all crucial if you’re planning a few quick laps on your local race track.
As you’d expect, acceleration from any speed is neck-snappingly rapid and, allied to all that go, stopping this beast requires the best set of picks in the business. Tucked in behind the 20-inch forged alloys are massive carbon-ceramic drilled brake rotors flanked by equally impressive multi-piston Brembo brake calipers. When setting out from cold, the huge brake pads need warming up to optimal temperature, but once heated they are very easy to modulate, and there’s no hint of fade. In fact, like many exotics of this calibre, the Speciale is not exempt from being able to produce more braking capability than grip, and relies on the anti-lock braking system to keep the rigid, lightweight aluminium chassis tracking straight.
After my brief and exhilarating experience of open-road driving, we headed into the ‘burbs’ to see what the Speciale felt like at more mundane town speeds. Unlike classic Ferraris of the past, this one felt totally at ease around town although, to be fair, there was very little traffic to contend with at that time of night. As well, with all settings back to ‘nana’ mode, the car also felt smooth and relatively quiet inside.
Alas, my fun behind the wheel of this remarkable car came to an end too quickly as we tootled back up the long driveway and nosed into the owner’s garage — sadly, it was time to switch this thrillingly savage machine off.
What an experience — it felt quite surreal, had I really just driven one of the greatest supercars money can buy?
2014 Ferrari 458 Speciale
- Engine: Ferrari 90-degree V8, dry sump lubrication
- Capacity: 4497cc
- Bore/stroke: 94 x 81mm
- Valves: DOHC, four valves per cylinder
- Comp ratio: 14.0:1
- Max power: 445kW at 9000rpm
- Max. torque: 539Nm at 6000rpm
- Fuel system: Naturally aspirated, direct fuel injection
- Transmission: Seven-speed F1 dual-clutch
- Suspension F/R: Double wishbones, coil springs, Delphi Magnetorheological dampers, anti-roll bar / double wishbones, coil springs, Delphi Magnetorheological Dampers, anti-roll bar
- Steering: Rack and pinion with variable assist
- Brakes F/R: Ventilated and drilled carbon-ceramic discs, ABS
- Overall length: 4571mm
- Width: 1951mm
- Height: 1203mm
- Wheelbase: 2650mm
- Track F/R: 1679/1632mm
- Kerb weight: 1387kg
- Max speed: 325kph
- 0–100kph: Three seconds
- 0–200kph: 9.1 seconds
Options (as tested)
- Alcantara upholstery headliner
- Giallo brake calipers
- Carbon-fibre engine compartment
- Carbon-fibre rear diffuser wings
- Carbon-fibre air vents
- Coloured safety belts
- Alcantara lower-zone upholstery
- Carbon-fibre wheel caps
- Embroidered prancing-horse logo on headrests
- Titanium sports exhaust pipes
- Handy fire extinguisher
- Scuderia Ferrari shields on fenders
- Satellite navigation system
- Rear parking sensors
- Racing livery (stripe)
- 20-inch Matte Nero-painted forged alloy wheels
- Legal roll bar
- Yellow tachometer
- Carbon-fibre racing seats
- Driver seat adjustment device
- Integrated audio system
- Colour upon request for standard stitching
- Interior 3D fabric colour — Nero
Recommended retail price, as tested — $628, 843.00
Benefits of owning a new Ferrari include a Ferrari Concierge Card.
Ferrari factory visits are exclusive to Ferrari owners, as are Corsica pilot’s programs. Invitations to world premiere events are also offered to owners, with loyal customers also being rewarded with invitations to buy limited edition/collectors edition cars such as la Ferrari, VS, Scuderia versions.
Customers are invited to F1 club first, and only Ferrari customers may participate in Challenge Racing Series
Customers also get exclusive access to the myferrari website, and receive an exclusive Ferrari magazine.
Being part of Ferrari’s world is a lot like being part of a family — and those with the wherewithal certainly like that aspect.
This article was originally published in New Zealand Classic Car Issue No. 295. You can pick up a print copy or a digital copy of the magazine below: