Currently reading: How to specify a £500k Ferrari SF90 Spider
Just how difficult can it be to spec a supercar to perfection? We find out by stepping into the loafers of a Ferrari buyer and bringing the ultimate SF90 Spider to life

It’s 9.10 on an otherwise very normal Thursday morning in November, except that I’m about to order a brand-new Ferrari. Well, I’ve recently turned 40, so you know how these things go.

As if. Sadly, the car is not for this undervalued motoring journalist (accessories by Argos and Specsavers; overdraft is model’s own). Even so, just getting a flavour of the showroom process through which customers are led when deciding exactly how their six-figure supercars should look, feel and operate should be a fascinating exercise.

This all stemmed from a short conversation with Ferrari’s UK PR man, among whose responsibilities it is to fully dress to impress as many as six press demonstrators per year and who was a little ambivalent at the prospect of doing it all again for the SF90 Spider he expects in May. “Perhaps you would like to do it?” he wondered. Sure, thought I – feeling somewhat obliged in light of the number of times I’ve made suggestions in print about how one of his cars ought to have been equipped.

Which is what has brought us to Graypaul Ferrari in Solihull, near Birmingham, and a meeting with sales executive Richard Thompson. I’m feeling confident, having spent a quality hour or so on Ferrari’s excellent online model configurator and already settled on a combination of exterior paint, interior hides, alloy wheels, brake calipers and other items that I like.

Then two things happen. First, the aforementioned PR man cruelly dashes my dreams by reminding me that it's a press demonstrator I’m ordering and therefore his money that I’m spending rather than my own (that much, believe me, I knew). There will be some ground rules. Pick a bright metallic colour that will make the car stand out on a magazine cover or newspaper page. Pack in plenty of optional technology, because demonstrators exist partly to demonstrate that stuff. You won’t have the Assetto Fiorano (Ferrari’s package of track-intended performance-enhancing options such as semi-slick tyres and special springs and dampers), because we already have an SF90 berlinetta with it. “If in doubt,” he says, “just tick the box and spend the money.”

99 Ferrari bespoke spec experience 2022 interior book

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Rats. For the record, it was a nicely restrained Spider in one of Ferrari’s non-metallic heritage colours, Verde British Racing, that I had my sights set on. One with Cuoio leather (close to saddle brown); with no exterior carbonfibre decoration at all; with no optional front-wing Scuderia shields (the little yellow Prancing Horse crests that ape those of Ferrari’s old racing machines); and without any advanced driver assistance or parking sensors (which, to me, aren’t worth the toll they place on the visual appeal of the bumpers).

Suddenly, a few more ‘suggestions’ are made. Did we know that the SF90 was named after the 90th anniversary of Enzo’s racing team? Wouldn’t it be a shame not to have Scuderia emblems to celebrate that? Are we sure we wouldn’t like at least some carbonfibre exterior trim, because what 987bhp supercar would look quite right without any? Are we certain we wouldn’t prefer a different heritage colour? Rosso Dino, for example? It’s very nice. Hmm.

It certainly is nice, and the reason I can appreciate this is thanks to the second thing that has happened: we’ve now entered Graypaul’s Atelier studio. Their showroom has been on this site since 2010, explains Thompson, but the Atelier has only been part of it for the past two weeks. It’s the size of a large dining room and has a table in the middle of it. On opposing walls are many-coloured samples of leather and Alcantara, swatches of carpet, rows of tiny painted aluminium mock body panels (they even have styling creases in them) and painted ‘frogs’ (the little car-shaped models they useto help you visualise a colour in 3D) – even particular examples of special steering wheel and armrest designs.

On the floor is a nest of squeaky-clean forged alloy and solid carbonfibre wheels. There are bucket seats arranged in a row, each conveniently perched about a foot higher than they would be in an actual car and fixed against the far wall. And on the remaining wall is a huge, 86in flat-screen TV, powered by a beast of a computer that uses the latest gaming technology to render your chosen Ferrari in gloriously high definition. It can show you the car in motion, under studio lighting, in natural light, at night time, from any conceivable angle or even plonked in Enzo’s own old backyard adjacent to the Fiorano test track.

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97 Ferrari bespoke spec experience 2022 guide

This room is a faithful recreation of the matching Atelier in Ferrari’s own Centro Stile at Maranello, where higher-rolling customers might have been taken previously to experiment with colour and trim and to tie down the exact specification of their F12tdf, 458 Speciale or LaFerrari. Ferrari itself dictates exactly how it’s kitted out, right down to the particular furniture. Apparently, this one is likely to have cost the dealer principal something close to £200,000 to put in. There are clever rotating wall panels and there’s a neighbouring ‘studio’ handover area with special electrochromic glazing where cars can be revealed dramatically to customers.

Down to business. First, we consider exterior paintwork, because there’s hardly another colour on the car you can pick without first knowing if you prefer Grigio Ingrid (an appealing dusky white named after the actress Ingrid Bergman’s 1954 375 MM), Blu Tour de France or Canna di Fucile (gun-barrel grey). Ferrari wanted bright, I’m reminded. Let them have Giallo Triplo Strato, then: a shade of yellow so vibrant that it’s radiating from that TV screen I mentioned like decaying uranium.

Yellow is one of those colours when it comes to a car: like Marmite in a sandwich or truffle oil on a pizza, it always dominates. Tan leather certainly doesn’t work with it, so we go with a gently contrasting mix of black hide with charcoal Alcantara seats and zesty yellow stitching.

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I wonder for a while about green or blue leather; I like both, but they would work better on a grand tourer like the Roma, probably.

Back on the outside of the car, I cave on the Scuderia shields but hold firm when asked if I want Italian Tricolore flaglets on the body panels or steering wheel (you’ve gotta have standards). I also do all right on the subject of carbonfibre. There will be a light smattering of it around the engine bay, on the flank-mounted air intakes and around the interior transmission tunnel trim but none on either bumper, on the exterior sills or around the steering wheel. I’m disappointed with myself for not managing to successfully argue against all those ugly sensors of the ADAS package and of Ferrari’s parking assistance system, which look to me like pimples on the chin of an otherwise handsome model.

98 Ferrari bespoke spec experience 2022 choose seat

As we wrap up, Thompson explains that he expects most customers to need three or even four lengthy sessions in the Atelier room before their supercar order forms will be complete. In a world in which fewer and fewer car buyers are choosing to go to a dealership at all during the buying process, that’s quite the badge of honour. Nine out of 10 customers are likely to leave that room having changed their minds wholesale on colour schemes, equipment fittings and wheel-and-brake-caliper combinations, he says, having sat in those seats and really settled in – or having laid one colour of hide over another and then another. Honestly, it’s a fun thing to do even if you’re only pretending.

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We’ve had a little over two hours. At no point during either of them has the price of anything been mentioned. This, says Thompson, isn’t uncommon either. If an owner has hit on a specification that’s pricier than they intended, usually one or two optional items are removed rather than both parties starting from scratch. Once you’ve invested all that time and effort first hand and felt the materials for yourself, it’s hard to back out, I guess. That’s the really clever bit.

For my lot, I’m satisfied with some of the little victories I’ve scored on behalf of my road testing brethren. Yes, this year’s SF90 Spider press demonstrator will be upper-cut yellow, but it won’t have a carbonfibre splitter and diffuser that might otherwise give you waking nightmares while parkingor crawling over speed bumps. It won’t have one of those funny-feeling part-carbonfibre steering wheels that go from smooth to tacky to blocky to smooth again as you pass them through your hands. It won’t have void-like black alloy wheels or nasty red brake calipers. It won’t have four-point harnesses that prevent you from reaching the button for the toll barrier or bright-red ‘racing carbon’ seats that your better half flatly refuses to ride in. There will be at least some restraint and moderation about it, as well as Day-Glo savagery.

The motoring journalism fraternity can – and no doubt will – thank me later. As for the Verde British Racing SF90 Spider of my waking dreams, that will have to stay right where it is – just like everyone else’s.

95 Ferrari bespoke spec experience 2022 interview

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'Our' car in detail

Paintwork Giallo Triplo Strato is a £15,600 option and the brightest paint shade in the SF90 palette, so if you see the Spider UK press car, you should certainly notice it. It also disguises the apparently de-rigueur ‘Scuderia shields’ on the front wings (which we only had at the twist of an arm).

Wheels Matt Grigio Corsa 20in alloys don’t look as fussily formal as the two-tone black-and-chrome ones. They’re fashionable enough, being darker-toned, but not glossy – and I’m hoping they will hide dirt. a bit.

Seats Charcoal-coloured leather-Alcantara upholstery should be nicely matched to the car’s wheel colour, while yellow stitching should pick up on the body colour when the roof is down.

Exhaust Titanium tips for the pipework are extra (£1440), but we went for grey rather than black to match the colour theme elsewhere.

Ferrari's bespoke design programme

"The Atelier [studio] is for all of our customers,” explains Graypaul Ferrari’s Richard Thompson, “but the really exciting, personalised stuff is offered within our Tailor Made programme.” This is the service through which Ferrari can mix special paint colours and commission unique trim materials for ultra-demanding clients. There are limits to what it can do (golfer Ian Poulter had his car’s interior fitted out with his own special golf tartan check, although apparently not quite in every area he would have liked), but most requests are accommodated where possible.

“People can literally just ask for whatever they want,” says Thompson. “We’ve had customers ask for denim upholstery, instead of leather or Alcantara, to match an item of clothing they loved. We’ve had leathers dyed in particularly bright colours that aren’t normally available. I did hear a rumour that someone had snakeskin on the lower dash of his car. Stuff like that tends to need to be in areas where it won’t fade in direct sunlight – but if it’s possible, we will look into it.

“Names and monograms are popular. There was one customer who wanted Enzo Ferrari’s autograph on his car, which I think the factory had to turn down. They will also say no to anything obscene on a plaque or stitched into a seat. But initials on seats and sills are quite commonly done. I’ve known someone have the team’s F1 drivers sign the carbonfibre of his car and then have those autographs lacquered over.

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“The coolest thing about it is probably commissioning your own colour, because it’s yours forever. If another customer sees it and wants it on his car, the factory has to come to you for sign-off first.”

88 Ferrari bespoke spec experience 2022 our spec seats

The final price list

Ferrari SF90 Spider £417,955

Giallo Triplo Strato paint £15,600

Scuderia shields £1056

20in matt Grigio Corsa alloy wheels £3480

Black brake calipers £1296

Titanium sports exhaust finishers £1440

Titanium wheel nuts £960

Carbonfibre side air splitter (intake) £2112

Carbonfibre rear boot trim £4320

Carbonfibre engine compartment £4512

Specific seat design £5568

Giallo leather interior accents £400

Coloured inner details (charcoal) £672

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Fully electric seats £4032

Carbonfibre upper tunnel and sill plates £3456

Embroidered floor mats £768

Leather/Alcantara carpets £3360

ADAS full package (including driver assist) £5184

Front parking sensors £864

Surround-view parking cameras £3456

Front suspension lifter £3264

AFS adaptive headlights £2400

Apple CarPlay £2400 

Premium hi-fi £3552

On-the-road charges £265

Total £492,372

86 Ferrari bespoke spec experience 2022 our spec rear

Matt Saunders

Matt Saunders Autocar
Title: Road test editor

As Autocar’s chief car tester and reviewer, it’s Matt’s job to ensure the quality, objectivity, relevance and rigour of the entirety of Autocar’s reviews output, as well contributing a great many detailed road tests, group tests and drive reviews himself.

Matt has been an Autocar staffer since the autumn of 2003, and has been lucky enough to work alongside some of the magazine’s best-known writers and contributors over that time. He served as staff writer, features editor, assistant editor and digital editor, before joining the road test desk in 2011.

Since then he’s driven, measured, lap-timed, figured, and reported on cars as varied as the Bugatti Veyron, Rolls-Royce PhantomTesla RoadsterAriel Hipercar, Tata Nano, McLaren SennaRenault Twizy and Toyota Mirai. Among his wider personal highlights of the job have been covering Sebastien Loeb’s record-breaking run at Pikes Peak in 2013; doing 190mph on derestricted German autobahn in a Brabus Rocket; and driving McLaren’s legendary ‘XP5’ F1 prototype. His own car is a trusty Mazda CX-5.

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405line 31 January 2022

What has increasingly apparent to me recently is that "the western world" no longer has to adapt to people with little to no spare cash and now seems very much biased towards the better off judging by the general prices of "affordable" cars and the basal new prices for exotica. Somewhere in this magazine someone was talking about "how hot SUVs became the most popular sports cars" yep, leaving me behind at a increasing rate of knots.

Mark_N 31 January 2022

The danger of demonstrators is they are over the top and can actually detract from the car. In my view, the secret of configuring a Ferrari is knowing when to stop. 

I've recently specified an 812 GTS which included an even more expensive paint finish - Rosso Maranello - but I kept the total option spend to £60k on a £297k base price. 

Bill Lyons 31 January 2022

Me: Half a million for a car!


Gordon Murray: Hold my beer.