As with so many of life's other great experiences, I have never savored the joy of dating a model. Very few of us have (that's why it holds much of its allure), but in that sect of the privileged few there is an even smaller minority which will then "improve" that model with plastic surgery.
The same is true of cars, and owning a Ferrari ranks alongside model dating in the grand scheme of things. So why was it an image of a silicone-enhanced, platinum-blonde porn starlet, rather than a classy silver screen siren, that came to mind when I laid eyes on Hamann Motorsport's modified Ferrari 360 Spider?
It's not that the German take on Maranello's finest is ugly, it isn't. On first sight I was just left wondering whether the wings, created in purest carbon-fiber, add anything positive to the flowing lines of the Ferrari.
Admittedly, if they had been color coded, only the most clued-up Ferrari fan would spot the additions, and this would be the way most owners should go. The carbon-fiber wings were in place on the show car for maximum visual impact, but the 360 is a work of art and should be treated more sympathetically on the aesthetic front.
Ferraris can be a little skittish on the limit, though, and have a reputation for snapping out of line in a hurry. The 42/58 front/back weight distribution plays a major part in this and means the pendulum effect is never far away at speed. If the new elements front and rear improve the 360s composure on the ragged edge, as I am assured they do, they're worth their negligent weight in gold.
Hamann identified his two main goals as reducing lift at the front end and increasing the downforce on the rear axle. Simple really, but not so easy to achieve....
Tweaking the furthest reach of the performance envelope, with seat of the pants-style track development work, he came up with a new front lip spoiler, a restructured rear wing, a new multi-part diffuser, side skirts and a suspension lowering kit.
Hamann's stock in trade is a more muscular nose, whether it be on the Spider or a MINI, and the additional spoiler does add an additional menace and striation to what was a perfectly smooth and balanced front end.
The side skirts seal out the air, helping the diffuser provide a more effective service when it comes to sucking the car to the ground. A broad rear wing, honed like a knife-edge and hugging the contour at the rump, also siphons air to press down on the rear of this fairly hefty slab of supercar; it weighs in at just over 3,000 lb.
It's only in the flesh that one appreciates the true girth of the Ferrari, and the fact that the engine bay and rear go on a long way. Giving the rear extra downforce to cope sounds as sensible a method as any of taming the Prancing Horse when it pulls at the reins.
Of course, the aerodynamic changes only come into their own on a racetrack. Even with a stretch of Autobahn at our disposal, it was difficult to assess such fine adjustments. As for the lowered suspension, which is reduced by 40mm at the front and 20mm at the back, it certainly didn't feel overdone, on the bump stops, or any more difficult than a standard 360 Spider.
In fact, the car felt planted through the bends, never threatening to lift a wheel. We didn't push the Ferrari out of its comfort zone in our short test, admittedly, but all the signs were good, and the car obediently followed the steering wheel without excess effort or tramlining. For those wishing to work on-track, fully adjustable suspension is also an option.
The downside of an undertray lower than a politician's morals is that it would be near impossible to use this car on a regular basis. Routes would have to be planned down to the number of potholes in the road, as any major surface change could soon make a mess of those additional aero parts, and just forget about speed humps--even with the 19-in. five-spoke wheels.
Once we crawled painstakingly onto the open road, up a small ramp and over the sidewalk, the 360 rewarded the effort with an unmistakable Ferrari barking rumble that grew to a burbling, nervous crescendo in moments.
The V12 engines were better, but the 360's V8 still sounds memorable--especially after the German company liberated almost 30 more horses and a slightly stronger baritone note with a trick exhaust and metal-bed catalyst.
Again, this is only slight tinkering, though. Messing with a Ferrari's exhaust note too much is still a hangable offense in its homeland.
Instead, Hamann has wrung a little bit more emotion from the 400-bhp, 3.6-liter V8 engine. But don't expect any major improvement on the 4.5-sec. 0 to 60 mph and the 180-mph top end. He has left the gearing alone as well, deciding to leave well alone the paddle-shift-operated system that has captivated so many drivers for so long.
Blipping through the box courtesy of the two large black sheets behind the wheel is still a joy, even in an age where city runabouts are starting to sprout semi-automatics. As with all Ferraris, this provided a special driving experience, but seeing how Hamann had gone to work on the rest of the car, I wished they'd done something better with the interior.
For the $271,700 (EUR212,000) price tag on the complete car, we're entitled to ask for more than exposed screwheads, cheap plastic vents and switchgear that could have come out of an entry-level Ford. This is the one area where Maranello has failed to get things right, with a number of its cars looking a little tacky from behind the wheel.
The romantic nuances behind the Prancing Horse badge has always brushed aside such petty complaints, but as Hamann was rebuilding the Taj Mahal anyway, including replacing the legendary yellow-backed badges with its own, the interior would have been a great starting point.
Covering the Ferrari logo on the brake caliper with red tape was a corner cut, as well, and one that Hamann could easily have avoided with some paint.
It's bizarre to come face to face with an automotive legend and come away with complaints about the finish. But then, if I was the kind of man who could afford one, this is the kind of thing that would bother me.
Over the course of time, Hamann will surely iron out the flaws and extend the engine, interior and aesthetic modifications to ensure that every dream is catered for and that a truly fabulous Ferrari leaves the company's Laupheim gates. He's done it with every other marque, after all.
And this 360 conversion remains an interesting concept for those intending to take their car on track, but if the car's only purpose is road use, then it's all really only cosmetic.
There'll always be someone willing to pay for this, and so you cannot blame Hamann for supplying it, but it's hard to see the real-world benefit apart from the inevitable attention the owner would get from parading his surgically enhanced creation in front of their friends, and their new Ferrari, too.