The last Superamerica Ferrari made was in 1960. It concluded an era that ran from the beginning of the ’50s when the factory embarked on a series of limited-edition V12 coupés and convertibles effectively dedicated to the American market. From ’51 to ’54, these were simply called ‘America’. The Superamericas – ‘Super’ to denote a more powerful engine than the preceding series’ – began in 1956 with the 410 coupé and ended four years later with the 400 cabriolet, of which just 10 were made. Forty-five years later, ‘limited edition’ means 549 of, but the sentiment remains the same – a souped-up special for what Ferrari calls its ‘largest group of clients’ and the endless, sun-baked roads of their playground: North America.
Rich folk with a limited grasp of Ferrari history have a rather different take on the name ‘Superamerica’ now, though. ‘That what George Bush drives?’ chuckled one youthful and far from feckless Yank on the aeroplane to Nice the day before, when he asked what my business in Monaco was. His was in Cannes, the film festival. I didn’t want to pry, but I could tell from the twangy cut of his impressively distended navy blue sports shirt, his diamond brooch, the two chromium-plated mobile phones he produced from his leather shoulder bag and a wrist watch so loose and so heavy it could have gone flying across the cabin like an Olympic hammer at any moment, that the £200,000 Ferrari asks for the Superamerica wouldn’t have been a problem. I use the past tense because all 549, although not yet produced, have been sold, 160 to my new friend’s more clued-up countrymen.
Nevertheless, the encounter with a young American for whom price, brand, exclusivity and weight were more important than the safety of his fellow passengers, had made me wonder if a Ferrari that specifically celebrates its association with the deepest pockets on the planet might have what it takes to join the purist ‘greats’. After all, the factory could have made a straightforward 575 Spider without the Superamerica spin and charged rather less for it. Wasn’t this just a cynical exercise to massage that famous Hollywood hubris? Hadn’t the world moved on?Funny how the doubts seem so distant now. Rather like the tail lights of the 360. Close the gap? What the hell. Apart from the breathtaking £42k premium, there are three elements that distinguish the Superamerica from the regular 575 Maranello. One is a rotating roof panel with a carbon frame and electrochromic glass technology, another rear-end styling expertly re-worked by Pininfarina to accommodate it. The third I’m about to exercise now.
In a moment, from our position behind the long, mono-nostrilled bonnet of the Superamerica, the pale-blue 360 will look as if it’s being dragged backwards by a giant winch, however hard its driver tries to make it seem otherwise. Thanks to the adoption of new intake tracts, better fluid dynamics for each cylinder head and a new exhaust system that reduces back-pressure, the Ferrari’s dry-sumped 5.7-litre V12 hurls 540bhp at 7250rpm and 434lb ft of torque at the business of moving forwards. The Superamerica hits 62mph from rest in a fraction over four seconds and 100mph in the low nines. Only then, however, does it hit its stride.
Performance isn’t as extreme as it would be in a Lamborghini Murciélago Roadster (at £190,000, the only real rival) but it is deliciously wild nonetheless, delivered in a succession of superheated surges. The noise is muted, yes – blame ever-tougher drive-by noise regulations – but also tinged with heavy-duty malevolence. As the 360 is spectacularly dispatched at full chat, the powerplant sounds special, efficiently mechanical with an underlying hint of a stereophonic howl. It’s hard to resist the urge to yell ‘yeehah’ when you’re closing in on dinner at such a devastating lick in a Superamerica, but the wind roar from the gaping aperture above our heads would drown it out and the exit is rushing towards us. Besides, greater challenges await in the hills above Maranello before we get to eat.