I told the blokes here at Jalopnik I was pissed at Ferrari and wanted to tell a few people. They said I could do it here. Stay with me, this might take a while.
I think it started in 2007 when I heard that Ferrari wanted to know which test track we were going to use for Autocar's 599 GTB road test, but in reality the rot had set in many years earlier. Why would it want to know that? "Because," said the man from the Autocar office, "The factory now has to send a test team to the circuit we chose so that they can optimize the car to get the best performance from it." They duly went to the track, tested for a day, crashed the car, went back to the factory to mend the car, returned, tested and then invited us to drive this "standard" 599. They must have been having a laugh.
Sad to say it, but the ecstasy of driving a new Ferrari is now almost always eradicated by the pain of dealing with the organization. Why am I bothering to tell you this? Because I'm pissed with the whole thing now. It's gotten out of control; to the point that it will soon be pointless believing anything you read about its cars through the usual channels, because the only way you get access is playing by its rules.
And this is the nub: how fucking paranoid do you have to be to put even stickier rubber on a Scuderia? It's like John Holmes having an extra two inches grafted onto his dick. I mean it's not as if, according to your own communication, you're not a clear market leader and maker of the best sports cars in the world now, is it?
Remember the awesome 430 Scuderia? What a car that was, and still is. One English magazine went along with all the cheating-bullshit because the cars did seem to be representative of what a customer might get to drive, but then during the dyno session, the "standard" tires stuck themselves to the rollers.
How bad has it been? I honestly don't know where to start. Perhaps the 360 Modena press car that was two seconds faster to 100mph than the customer car we also tested. You allow some leeway for "factory fresh" machines, but this thing was ludicrously quick and sounded more like Schumacher's weekend wheels than a street car. Ferrari will never admit that its press cars are tuned, but has the gall to turn up at any of the big European magazines' end-of-year-shindig-tests with two cars. One for straight line work, the other for handling exercises. Because that's what happens when you buy a 458: they deliver two for just those eventualities. The whole thing stinks. In any other industry it wouldn't be allowed to happen. It's dishonest, but all the mags take it between the cheeks because they're too scared of not being invited to drive the next new Ferrari.
Like anyone with half a brain, I've been willing to cut Ferrari some slack because it is, well, Ferrari –- the most famous fast car brand of all and the maker of cars that everyone wants to know about. Bang out a video of yourself drifting a new Jag XKR on YouTube and 17 people watch it; do the same in a 430 Scuderia and the audience is 500,000 strong. As a journalist, those numbers make you willing to accommodate truck-loads of bullshit, but I've had enough now. I couldn't care if I never drive a new Ferrari again, if it means I never have to deal with the insane communication machine and continue lying about the lengths to which Ferrari will bend any rule to get what it wants. Which is just as well, because I don't think I'm going to be invited back to Maranello any time soon. Shame, the food's bloody marvelous.
What Ferrari plainly cannot see is that its strategy to win every test at any cost is completely counter-productive. First, it completely undermines the amazing work of its own engineers. What does it say about a 458 if the only way its maker is willing to loan it to a magazine is if a laptop can be plugged in after every journey and a dedicated team needs to spend several days at the chosen test track to set-up the car? It says they're completely nuts –- behavior that looks even worse when rival brands just hand over their car with nothing more than a polite suggestion that you should avoid crashing it too heavily, and then return a week later.
Point two: the internet is good for three things: free porn, Jalopnik and spreading information. Fifteen years ago, if your 355 wasn't as fast as the maker claimed you could give the supplying dealer a headache, whine at the local owners club and not much besides. Nowadays you spray your message around the globe and every bugger knows about it in minutes. So, when we used an owner's 430 Scud because Ferrari wouldn't lend us the test car, it was obliterated in a straight line by a GT2 and a Lambo LP 560-4, despite all the "official" road test figures suggesting it was faster than Halley's Comet. The forums went nuts and some Scud owners rightly felt they hadn't been delivered the car they'd read about in all the buff books. Talk about karma slapping you in the face.
It's the level of control that's so profoundly irritating and I think damaging to the brand. Once you know that it takes a full support crew and two 458s to supply those amazing stats, it then takes the shine off the car. The simple message from Ferrari is that unless you play exactly by the laws they lay down, you're off the list.
What are those laws? Apart from the laughable track test stuff, as a journalist you are expressly forbidden from driving any current Ferrari road car without permission from the factory. So if I want to drive my mate's 458 tomorrow, I have to ask the factory. Will it allow me to drive the car? No: because it is of "unknown provenance," i.e. not tuned. I'm almost tempted to buy a 458, just for the joy of phoning Maranello every morning and asking if its OK if I take my kid to school.
Where I've personally run into trouble is by using owners' cars for comparison tests. Ferrari absolutely hates this; even if you say unremittingly nice things about its cars, it goes ape shit. But you want to see a 458 against a GT3 RS so I'm going to deliver that story and that video. Likewise the 599 GTO and the GT2 RS. Ferrari honestly believes it can control every aspect of the media — it has actively intervened several times when I've asked to borrow owners' cars.
The control freakery is getting worse: for the FF launch in March journalists have to say which outlets they are writing it for and those have to be approved by Maranello. Honestly, we're perilously close to having the words and verdicts vetted by the Ferrari press office before they're released, which of course has always been the way in some markets.
Jesus, this is now sounding like a properly depressing rant. I'll leave it there. Just remember all this stuff then next time you read a magazine group test with a prancing stallion in it.
None of this will make any difference to Ferrari. I'm just an irrelevant Limey who doesn't really matter. But I've had enough of concealing what goes on, to the point that I no longer want to be a Ferrari owner, a de-facto member of its bullshit-control-edifice. I sold my 575 before Christmas. As pathetic protests go, you have to agree it's high quality.
Should I give a shit about this stuff? Probably not. It's not like it's a life-and-death situation; supercars are pretty unserious tackle. But the best thing about car nuts is that they let you drive their cars, and Ferrari has absolutely no chance stopping people like me driving what they want to drive. Of course their attempts to stop me makes it an even better sport and merely hardens my resolve, but the sad thing is its cars are so good it doesn't need all this shite. I'll repeat that for the benefit of any vestige of a chance I might have of ever driving a Ferrari press car ever again (which is virtually none). "Its cars are so good it doesn't need this shite."
Chris Harris is a UK-based freelance car writer who once bought a 1995 512 TR but sold it when his mates called him Tubbs and put Jan Hammer on his iPod.
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