May 17, early morning. I thumb the power-up button on my PDA and tap the ‘to do’ icon – the moment it’s been moving towards all its short life. ‘Breakfast: Monaco. Dinner: Maranello. Lunch: stuff lunch.’Lunchtime, approximately 1.30pm, somewhere between Monaco’s Hotel de Paris and Maranello’s Montana restaurant, doing 120mph. I’m driving a 2005 Ferrari Superamerica. The roof’s down, we’re in the outside lane and a 360’s nose has just zoomed to close-up in the rear-view mirror. I pull over and let it rip past. That’s how good I feel – only slightly peckish but benignly omnipotent. What with the Superamerica being hailed by Ferrari as the fastest production convertible in the world (top speed 199mph) and me having 540bhp under my right foot (25bhp more than in the 575 Maranello on which it’s based), I simply wouldn’t dream of spoiling the 360 driver’s day. Well, maybe.
Sitting next to me, photographer Stan Papior has just phoned the office to find out exactly what kind of photography the day ahead holds. ‘Plenty of lavish driving shots’ is the answer. The phrase strikes me as apt. Lavish driving: that’s precisely how it feels. The effortless speed, the sensual richness, the races you don’t have to have, the sheer transcendent dimension of the experience. It has the ring of the halcyon ’60s about it. And that’s apt, too.
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.