I’m sitting in a casino in Boulder City, Nevada. It’s nine in the morning and I have a drink in my hand. The dregs of society surround me. So does the tintinnabulation of 300 slot machines. No, I’m not on some two-day gambling jag. Although from the looks of it, some of the other patrons have been here longer than that.
No, I’m having a beer this early in the morning because I’m still a little shaken over the morning’s events. While traveling at incarceration-worthy speeds in a modified version of Ferrari’s new 458 is an exhilarating experience, it can be a little harrowing, especially when the state patrol shows up and you have evidence inside your camera.
The bartender’s raspy voice breaks my daydream: Hey, you’re that guy who takes pictures of cars, aren’t you?
Just outside Boulder City lies an expansive dry lakebed with mountains surrounding it. Every year in early November, dozens of photographers descend at dawn the morning after the SEMA convention ends in search of the perfect light and backdrop.
Jon Oakley of Oakley Design said that he thought I was sauced when I said I needed to meet him there at four in the morning.
John Oakley is a professional race car driver and a test driver. He started his tuning company five years ago and cut his teeth on Porsches. We don’t know much else about him except that he likes to drive fast and that his taste in sunglasses seems a little dubious.
John Oakley is a professional race car driver and a test driver. He started his tuning com
Nonetheless, he met me at the MGM resort at that ungodly hour and we got out to the lake on time.
I really thought you had been drinking when you asked me to start cleaning the car in the pitch black. I thought about looking for some trick camera, Oakley said. I felt like I was in Norway, not Las Vegas, cleaning the car in near-freezing weather.
Things went as planned for the statics, and then it came time for the action shots. We did a couple passes at 80 mph or so. Then I decided to get into the Ferrari for a couple of driver close-ups. And this is when the shenanigans and skullduggery started.
Actually, it started a week earlier when we took notice of the car at HRE’s booth at SEMA. For those of you born under a rock, SEMA stands for Specialty Equipment Manufacturers Association and is the organization that puts on one of the biggest modified car shows on earth. If you’re a tuner, you’re there, as is everyone else in the industry. HRE was there. ec was there, as was Jon Oakley. His limited version 458 (there’s eight made now) comes equipped with a set of 20-inch rims that weigh a scant 22 pounds per. That’s a savings of over 11 pounds per wheel on the important kind of weight to save, rotating mass. The rims are also slightly offset, thus filling out their arches a little more. This, along with an inch drop in the suspension, provides a positively menacing stance.
HRE gave Oakley only about three weeks to get a car together for the show. As shipping would have been outrageous from the UK at that short of notice, Oakley bought a car in the States and then had parts sent to Arizona. They assembled the car in four days and Oakley flew in to drive it from Phoenix to Las Vegas in the nick of time. I have a feeling he broke the speed limit on that trip as well.
The new 458 is so stable that I didn’t even think we had been going that fast when Oakley asked if I knew how fast we were going.
90? I guessed.
That was 180, Oakley said mischievously. This is a pretty good road for this. I think we could max it out here. Shall we give it a try?
Now, I like top-speed runs as much as the next guy. Before this I had routinely hit 165 on various superbikes but I have to admit I was a little nervous about the prospect on a public highway. I thought of my little blond-haired, blue-eyed daughter singing a requiem at my service. Screw it. I have life insurance. She’ll be fine. Besides, I’m with a professional racecar driver.
I’m game if you are, I said as I framed up and got an exposure on the speedometer. If I was going to join the 200-mph club I wasn’t going to come back without proof.
Oakley looked for a gap in the traffic and we got underway. It was hard to tell, but figuratively speaking the car would have at first accelerated slightly slower than stock as some low-end torque was sacrificed due to the exhaust modifications. But peak power is increased to 644 hp at the wheels thanks to the various upgrades including, but not limited to, a carbon-fiber airbox that has two liters more intake capacity. The intake pipes that feed it have also increased in size to keep the ram-air effect at high speeds. And we were about to hit a few of those.
By now a number of people, photographers and subjects alike, had gathered at the side of the highway. Not only to see what was happening but to hear it. At 6.6 pounds, the cat-back titanium exhaust not only saves a whopping 77 pounds, it wails like a wounded banshee thanks to titanium’s deeper sonic signature.
If the exhaust configuration hampered acceleration under 3000 rpm it certainly was hard to tell. Oakley snicked up through the lightning-fast gearbox, bringing us up to 150 in about the time it took you to read this paragraph. Assuming you are even reading this and not drooling over the 458’s slightly enhanced stance and shape. It is at around 150 mph that Oakley’s fully functional, wind-tested, carbon-fiber aerodynamic additions come into play. The front spoiler adds about 55 pounds of downforce while the rear spoiler/gurney adds 50.7 pounds. Combine this with the enhanced side skirts and the slightly longer rear diffuser and there is a combined 116.8-pound increase of downforce. Take into account the 116.8-pound weight savings and the power increase and it seems John Oakley has indeed improved upon Ferrari’s perfection.
The red sled barreled across the desert to 180, 190, then 200, then past 200. At that speed, no amount of aerodynamic manipulation could have kept us completely stable. Thus, pictures of our final top speed of 214 came out too blurry to publish. Although, come to think of it, it could have been my nerves. After the ceramic brakes brought us to a halt I asked Oakley, You know that’s straight-to-jail speed here, right?
I know, he replied, grinning.
Oakley said he found it funny how nervous I looked as we got up past 190--this coming from a guy who has done 235 mph on the autobahn. But that’s another story altogether. This one isn’t over. We got back to the starting point to collect our thoughts, and sure enough, a state patrol pulled up hollering about how he had heard that someone was out racing around at 130 mph. The Camaro we were shooting with had a cold engine, so they had him put his hand on the hood to prove we weren’t racing. Just then, another more aggressive member of Nevada law enforcement showed up and proceeded to give everyone a lecture. In other words, Oakley ended up with what they call, where he’s from, a good bollocking for snapping the speed limit in half and crapping all over it.
And I ended up in a slummy casino staring out across the dry lakebed, a location that has always been majestic, even spiritual with its awe inspiring setting and iridescent purple light. Now this place and the adjacent road took on a new meaning. I would probably never travel at that rate on land again. Maybe I should have a t-shirt made, my mind raced. I could have gone to jail today. Maybe I should have another beer and hole up in this dive. See how my luck turns out.
Naaah. If I can go 214 mph before 9 a.m. and get away with it, just imagine how good the rest of the day is going to be.
Oakley Design Ferrari 458 Italia
Longitudinal mid engine, rear-wheel drive
4.5-liter V8, dohc, 32-valve. Titanium cat-back exhaust, carbon-fiber airbox, enlarged air intakes, carbon-fiber engine covers, remapped ECU
Seven-speed automated manual
Wheels and Tires
HRE alloys, 9x20 (f), 11x20 (r) Michelin Pilot Sport, 235/35 (f), 295/35 (r)
Carbon-fiber front lip, side sills, rear spoiler/gurney, rear diffuser, roof, front bumper vents, mirror covers, lower engine cover, side sill kick plates
Peak Power: 644 hp
Peak Torque: 462 lb-ft
Top Speed: 214 mph