You may not know it but, at Ferrari HQ, inside its ‘Nuovo Meccanica’ (its 18 month old engine plant to you and me), a tribute to Shakespeare’s finest love story takes place every couple of minutes. It’s a fascinating, intimate, computer-controlled ballet of elemental chemistry and perfect physics, and it’s flawlessly repeated once for every eight- or 12-cylinder motor that’s made at Maranello. I caught a one-minute matinee earlier this week; here’s how the miniature romance went.
The main protagonists are two robotic arms – a big one, ‘Romeo’, and a smaller one, ‘Juliet’. Together they carry out quite a dangerous and complicated process on the Prancing Horse’s engine production line; they fuse valve seats into those motors’ aluminium cylinder heads.
‘Romeo’ does all the heavy lifting; he picks up two machined cylinder heads and, using compressed air, warms them up to 160 degrees centigrade. While he’s doing that, little more than an arm’s length away, ‘Juliet’ picks up what look like small aluminium rings and, one by one, dips them into liquid nitrogen to cool them to minus 100 degrees centigrade. She then stacks the supercooled rings on small poles, ready for insertion.
The ports in the cylinder heads, which are milled from solid aluminium only a few feet away, are made to measure slightly too small to accept the rings at room temperature; the valve seats, in turn, made slightly too large to go in. Once the metal that those components are made from is respectively warmed up or cooled down, of course, those measurements change.
So when ‘Romeo’ and ‘Juliet’ finally come together, head and valve seat do likewise. When contact is made, the holes in the cylinder head contract and the valve seats expand. And forthwith the two are together forever, the aluminium forming a stronger, more accurate bond than you could ever hope to achieve by welding aluminium (which is notoriously difficult to do) or bonding it (which tends not to work too well with components that get so hot).
Would the bard have approved of such a happy ending? Probably not – but I did. It’s an example of the incredible precision and artistry that goes into these marvellous cars, and it’s proof that, although Ferraris are not made entirely by hand any more, they’re the better for it.