Damn Puntos, Cinquecentos, Unos and all those other funny little Fiats. I'm at the wheel of Ferrari's updated front-engined flagship, the 575M Maranello, trying to make some tracks on the serpentine roads that wind and unwind through the hills not far from the Ferrari factory-in Maranello, Italy, of course. These wretched Boxus economus clog these narrow roads like so many ants in an ant farm. "Hey! Don't you know I've got 515 bhp under my right foot, and you-even though you live here and I don't-are keeping me from enjoying it!"

Finally a break: Snap the new F1 transmission down into second gear, and floor it-smoothly, as the road is still gray from the morning dew-and knock off three of the wheezing Fiats in a whack. Now, through a corner, then another, then another...only to run up on two Fiat Unos and a bus, going about 30 mph....

The original 550 Maranello, which replaced the mid-engined Testarossa and its derivatives in 1996, certainly wasn't hurting for more performance, or much of anything. Yet Ferrari felt it could up the Maranello's game: "575" stands for a displacement increase, from 5.5 to 5.75 liters. The "M" stands for modificata, loosely translated to mean "modified," a term Ferrari often gives to cars that have received a mid-life spa treatment. Ferrari's goal in morphing 550 to 575M was to make it faster and sportier without totally killing its rep as a quiet, smooth, long-distance runner.

The 575M's 65-degree V12 retains the dohc architecture and all-alloy construction of the 550 powerplant. Bore and stroke have been increased slightly, so the crankshaft and cylinder liners are new; the latter are also now steel instead of aluminum. The compression ratio has increased from 10.8:1 to 11.0:1, and the new Mahle forged pistons are said to improve combustion efficiency. Intake and exhaust cam timing has been modified, and the entire air intake and fuel-injection air-metering tract has been smoothed and enlarged.

A new Bosch Motronic engine management system incorporates drive-by-wire, allowing the 575M to meet both European Stage 3 and U.S. OBD-II regulations; it even earns an LEV rating. The new computer packs better knock-sensing capability, supporting the increase in compression. The exhaust system has been revised, incorporating an adjustable backpressure management feature, which allows it to operate at peak efficiency, no matter the rpm or load.

Whatever the hardware, the numbers are impressive: 515 DIN horsepower (which translates to about 508 SAE net ponies) at 7250 rpm, an increase of 30 DIN horses as compared to the 550. Torque goes up as well; there's more of it, and it's available over a wider rev range. The peak is now 434 lb-ft at 5250 rpm. Redline remains at 7750 rpm-expected of tiny Honda fours, but impressive for a large bore, nearly 6-liter V12.

Among the new technology Ferrari's management and product development team felt appropriate for the Maranello is the adaptation of its electrohydraulic F1 transmission management system-the paddle shifters that have proven popular on the mid-engined 360 Modena models. The 575M represents the first time Ferrari has employed this hardware in either a front-engined car or one with 12 cylinders.

It's much the same Magnetti-Marelli package used on the 360s, the new Maserati Coupe and Spyder, and the Aston Martin Vanquish. This is one factor that necessitated the use of a drive-by-wire throttle. As in the other cars, F1 features six forward ratios, plus Winter, Sport, and fully automatic modes. For those who relish that traditional, machined aluminum shifter and shift gate, a gen-ooo-ine six-speed manual transmission can still be ordered. Ferrari estimates that about 80% of the 575Ms to be sold here will be F1-equipped. The actual transaxle is the same in either application and has been beefed up so it can stand the pain served up by the more powerful V12.

By Giancarlo Rosetti
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