In the seminal 1980s film “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off,” one of the most memorable plot lines revolved around the vintage Ferrari 250 GT California that Ferris absconds from the garage of his friend’s father. He and the gang, as well as a pair of garage attendants, flog the nearly-priceless car within an inch of its life, until it meets its demise at the end of the movie.
Thankfully, the car abused and destroyed in that John Hughes classic wasn’t a real Ferrari California, but a fiberglass replica. An actual one would have set the studio back a huge sum, and damaging it would have been automotive blasphemy. Yes, the California of the early 1960s is that kind of car.
The storied Italian company has borrowed from its own heritage by assigning the name California to its latest creation: a modern interpretation of the open sports car. After wowing onlookers at last year’s L.A. auto show, the new Ferrari California is now in production and headed to a sunny climate near you.
Like any modern high-end convertible, the new California offers leading edge technology along with its unbelievable performance. Bucking Ferrari tradition, the California has its V8 engine up front, driving the rear wheels. Until now, only mid-engine Ferraris had eight cylinders, and all front engine cars had twelve. Tradition changes slowly at an exotic car company.
And traditionally, if you wanted a Ferrari that would let the sun shine in, you got a fabric top. But since buyers with the disposable income to afford a sports car in the six-figure price range would prefer a quiet, weatherproof car when the top is closed, the new California joins the folding hardtop club pioneered by Mercedes-Benz and copied by just about everyone else.
One push of a console-mounted switch sets the operation into motion, and in about the time it takes an automatic garage door to open and then close, the roof is stowed neatly beneath the California’s cantilevered decklid. It’s all very slick to watch, and happens pretty quietly, especially if the car’s hand-built engine is first settling into its rhythmic idle and drowning out the mechanism.
Ah, that engine. It may not have twelve cylinders, but try as they may, no other auto maker has yet to duplicate the magical sound that only a Ferrari engine can make. The California’s V8 makes 460 horsepower, and sends that power through an advanced 7-speed semi-automatic gearbox. For purists who might scoff at anything beside a true manual transmission, keep in mind that Ferrari’s Formula 1 drivers have been using transmissions like this for years.
The California driver can select an automatic mode and let the car do all the work, or tap one of the steering column-mounted paddle controls to engage manual mode. Once underway in first gear (or the car can start off in second for more leisurely travel), the other gears are just a pull of the paddle away, ripping off quick up shifts as the aluminum engine barks out its sonorous note, climbing through the revs. For anyone with the fantasy of being Michael Schumacher, this is Italian car heaven. (And if you don’t know who that is, well, I’m afraid you’re not a Ferrari person. Perhaps you’d like to see something in a Volvo sedan…)
Of course it’s not all about the engine with a car like this. The suspension is perfectly balanced to walk the fine line between a comfortable ride and track-ready handling. After all, the late Enzo Ferrari built race cars before he offered road cars for the public. More than twenty years after his passing, the cars that bear his name still have the credentials to take to the track. Every one of them.
While owning the classic namesake would be fun, the modern California is a much better car for comfortable travel. It’s certainly an exotic sports car through and through, but it’s also crammed with amenities. Standard equipment includes an in-dash navigation system, and options like power seats, front parking sensors and an iPod connector mean that this Ferrari can coddle its occupants in everyday driving.
Like any thoroughbred exotic brand, Ferrari allows its customers to select the way they want their cars crafted, from things like color schemes to options. It’s conceivable that no two Ferrari Californias will be built in exactly the same way. While traditional Italian racing red is sure to be the most popular choice, Ferrari offers an extensive palate from which to create a very special car (among cars that are already special to begin with).
So what does all this exotic goodness cost? Well, as the saying goes, “If you have to ask…” Okay, I’ll give a hint. The official base price for a Ferrari California is $192,000, but then the options guide the final sticker price, and many of the ones we’ll see on the road will be worth up to a cool quarter million.
Then again, I’d like to borrow from a catchy ad slogan. “Pushing the button to stow the top, then stomping on the gas pedal to roar off to the California coast in a blaze of Italian horsepower: Priceless.”
I’ll see you down the road.
Many thanks to my friend Bruce Bennett for his invaluable assistance in putting this story together. “Grazie molto, Bruce!”
Dave Kunz is the automotive reporter at KABC-TV Channel 7. He’s also a car enthusiast and owns several classics. Dave can be reached at TVCarz @ pacbell.net.