Like Eastwood's Dirty Harry said: "I know what you're thinking." Cars like Ferrari's new F430 Spider conjure visions of you and your favorite supermodel blasting along the Cote d'Azur on the way to your weekend place, the one with the high ceilings and all those pillows. Sits right on the sand. With a killer view.
You look great, by the way. At least 20 pounds lighter than your real weight, and about 10 years younger than your real age. More hair, whiter teeth, bigger-uh, never mind. You glance to your right, and Miss Hottie d'Jour looks at you with those eyes and smiles back, knowing that neither of you can wait to get to that bottle of Dom '95 Reserve chilling in the ice bucket on your deck. The sky is clear, the breeze gentle, and you don't need to be back to work for four days. Neither does she.
Fantasy or no, Ferrari's latest 483-bhp blow-dryer is very real. And very good. The outgoing, Modena-based 360 Spider has become one of the most successful models in the company's history. While most world markets tend to buy about 50% coupes and 50% convertibles, Spider sales in the United States are more like 70%; there were still waiting lists for it when production wound down. Most of those folks will now opt for F430 Spiders. And lucky they are, as it's a clear advance on the previous car in nearly every way.
In case you're not up to speed on the difference: The F430's aluminum-intensive chassis structure, passenger compartment architecture, layout, and dimensions are roughly the same as the 360 Modena's. The previous 3.6-liter, five-valve V8 gives way to a 4.3-liter four-valver that makes more horsepower (483 vs. 395 in U.S. trim) and more torque (up 68 lb-ft, to 343) over a wider powerband. The bodywork pays obvious homage to the Enzo, and is more aerodynamically efficient. The cabin has received a full redo, and is both more elegant and driver-centric. Rolling stock is 19 inch standard. Tech toys, inspired by the open wheelers that Schumacher and Barrichello drive on Sundays, include an electronically-managed differential-called E-Diff- optional carbon-ceramic brake rotors, and a cute little switch on the steering wheel (called the manettino) allowing integrated control of shock damping, the E-Diff, traction and stability control programming, and the F1 transmission's shift speed. Ferrari still offers a choice of six-speed manual or F1 SMG transmissions, but about 80% of the cars will be F1-equipped. Firing the motor with a starter button, instead of a key, is almost reason enough to hawk your 360.
The 360 Spider, cool though it was, came off as a bit less of a driver's car than the coupe. There was a noticeable reduction in the Spider's chassis' structural rigidity level, and its 150-or-so extra pounds knocked a little edge off the 360's forward thrust. That gap has closed to just about zip, as the F430's chassis was designed with both coupe and convertible versions in mind from the beginning. A few structural members are added, and the top's one-touch, fully automatic mechanism is virtually the same as the previous car's. The wind blocker has been changed from the previous mesh fabric to a clear polycarbonate material.
Besides babes, you'll also be on the lookout for tunnels. That's because the F430 makes among the most blood-boiling sounds you'll ever hear from a street-legal car. And the Spider version lets you enjoy it in Surround. I dare you to drive it without pretending you're a Ferrari F1 piloto, blitzing the tunnel during the Monaco Grand Prix, ripping off full-throttle upshifts at 8500 rpm. Or, pull back on the left-side paddle, and the electrohydraulic tranny robots will blip the gas and execute perfect, rev-matched downshifts every damn time. If you're stuck in traffic, you'll put the gearbox in neutral, and zing the engine like a throttle-happy teenager at a burnout contest. And unless it's hailing, leave the top down.
If you do feel a need to converse with that 12-on-a-scale-of-10 female in the passenger seat, you'll find it easy in the Spider. You can chit-chat in normal tones up to about 75 mph, and you need only raise your voice a little up to about 100-after that, who cares? Wind buffeting about the interior is minimal, although taller passengers will feel some hair ruffling. The only drag is the top's plastic rear window, necessary because it has to fold so many ways to fit into its smallish binnacle behind the seat. There are a lot of cut and shut lines necessary in order for the hard tonneau to be able to open, close, and cover the top fully, but the car is still sexy as hell, and having the engine visible through a glass peek-a-boo in the rear deck makes up for any other design sins.
F430 Spiders will be available about the time you read this, but unfortunately, the lines will be long, and the price is high. If you can afford a weekend toy that costs something over two-hundred grand, the rest of the beach house/champagne/supermodel scenario shouldn't be much of a stretch.
2006 Ferrari F430 SpiderBase price: $200,000 (est.)
DrivetrainLongitudinal mid engine, rear-wheel drive
Engine4.3-liter V8, dual overhead cams, four valves per cylinder, variable valve timing
TransmissionSix-speed manual or six-speed sequential manual
SuspensionDouble wishbones front and rear, multi-mode adjustable dampers, anti-roll bars, computer control differential, stability control
BrakesFour-wheel disc brakes standard; carbon-ceramic brake rotors optional
DimensionsLength x Width x Height (in.): 178 x 76 x 49Wheelbase: 102 in.Curb Weight: 3,360 lb
PerformancePeak Power: 483 bhp @ 8500 rpmPeak Torque: 343 lb-ft @ 5250 rpm0-60 mph: 3.9 sec. (ec est.)Top Speed: 193 mph (est.)