No ferries, said Ferrari, or racetracks, and no more than 356 miles / 500km. And 24 hours maximum. So, what to do with a 770hp / 574kW F12tdf for the day? 24 Heaven. / #Ferrari-F12tdf
V12 FERRARI LEGENDS 770hp / 574kW TDF MEETS $50 MILLION 250 GTO by COLIN GOODWIN PHOTOGRAPHY by ASTON PARROTT
Twenty-four hours, 500km. That' s how long we can keep, and how far we are allowed to drive, this Ferrari F12tdf. What to do with it? Track use is off limits and the small print says that we must not cross the channel. There’s a brief thought of putting it on a trailer and taking it to the Scottish Highlands, but that would be a right faff and would leave us with about ten minutes at the wheel. So we’ll simply go for a nice drive in the country and pop in to see some friends for tea. Car-minded sort of friends.
There’s some good history in Slough, apart from being the location for Ricky Gervais’s The Office. Ford Advanced Vehicles’ workshop was on the Slough Trading Estate (in a building that was later the home of JW Automotive, of Gulf GT40 and 917 fame) and so was Team Surtees before it moved to Kent. In the mid-’60s Lola was in premises on Yeovil Road, which is just around the corner from Ferrari’s main office. You go to the showroom at the old Maranello Concessionaires in Egham to buy your Ferrari but test cars are collected from a nondescript building in Slough.
If I was Ferrari I’d get the council to re-lay the road outside its office. It’s bumpy as hell and even with the tdf’s suspension in the softest, Bumpy Road setting, it’s not doing my back much good. I might not be able to walk by the end of today. Thankfully, when we reach a better bit of blacktop the ride becomes acceptable. Stiff, but no need for the osteopath yet.
What an engine. The tdf’s 6.3-litre #Ferrari-V12
produces 770hp / 574kW at 8500rpm (DIN power). It is the most powerful naturally aspirated engine I’ve ever experienced, and that includes the 8.2-litre Chevy in a McLaren M8F Can-Am car. But it’s not just the power output that’s staggering, it’s how refined those 12 cylinders are. Barely above tickover with the seven-speed dual-clutch ’box already in fifth along Slough’s Bath Road and today’s electronics act like an IV drip of Strepsils to prevent any coughing or hesitation. Twenty years ago an engine producing this amount of power per litre would have been cammy and agitated in traffic. Forty years ago it wouldn’t have ticked over under 2000rpm and would have oiled its plugs at the first set of traffic lights unless you sat there with the throttles wide open.
The roads are rather damp this morning. This worries me. I have briefed myself by reading Jethro Bovingdon’s pilot’s notes from the F12tdf’s launch in Italy. He was only allowed a few laps around Fiorano and a few hours on local roads but gathered enough thoughts to give me the impression that this is a car that needs to be treated with utmost caution. No understeer, very direct steering and a rather unusual sensation provided by its rear-wheel- steering system. I think it unlikely that I will twiddle the manettino to the ESC Off position today, but to keep it in the Wet setting would show a lack of self-confidence that might worry photographer Aston Parrott, so Race will do, with the suspension still set to Bumpy Road. At least the interior ergonomics are superb – what you don’t need in a car that can do 0-100km/h in 2.9 seconds are distractions.
We have a plan: we’re going to visit the Prescott Hill Climb course, near Cheltenham. I love the place and Parrott will be able to do some photography undisturbed. Stuart Webster, who runs Prescott, has said that when the hill isn’t used for competition it’s the driveway to several houses, so there’ll be no blasting up it in the tdf at full bore. This should keep us within Ferrari’s ‘no tracks’ rule.
Prescott House and its hill were bought in 1937 by the Bugatti Owners’ Club, which was looking for its own hillclimb course having been kicked out of most venues because of noise complaints. Nothing new under the sun or in motorsport. The first meeting at Prescott was in 1938 and apart from the war getting in the way it has been used ever since. The original course was 880 yards long but in 1960 a loop was added, called Ettore’s, extending it to 1127 yards, or just over a kilometre. Today all meetings run on the longer course except for the annual Vintage Sports Car Club event.
Unlike Shelsley Walsh, which has one significant corner to get wrong, Prescott is seriously technical with many sections and details to catch you out and ruin a time, and quite a few places to have a substantial shunt. I’ve driven it a few times in anger and it’s very challenging. Traversing it at a more sensible pace today, I’m glad I’m not against the clock. It would be a very serious challenge in the tdf, as apart from traction being an issue for virtually the whole length of the course, the Ferrari is not a narrow car. Accuracy would be key.
For lunch I’m going to have to eat my own words. For the last few years I’ve been on a campaign against ridiculous power outputs in road cars. Hot hatches with 250kW and SUVs with 350kW are missing the point and in 2017 are totally out of step with reality. Of course, the F12 doesn’t need even the 545kW it has in standard form; with an extra 29kW the tdf is even more excessive, but I can’t help loving this engine, even though it only adds to the fear that one day all engines will have some form of forced induction. This V12 is up there with Lamborghini’s V12 and the 4.0-litre flat-six in the GT3 RS as one of the great engines of today. And it ranks above these because even the Aventador’s motor feels tame in comparison. The first proper trip I made in a Ferrari was in a 456 GT.
Ferrari gave us a mileage limit with that car, too, but I was more of a rebel in those days and gave it back with an extra 5000km on the clock. It was a road trip of flat-out blasts and disregard for French speed limits. I’ve never forgotten it, or the car, and it started a love affair with front-engined Ferraris. Now the tdf is proving to be the most dramatic of the lot.
We spot a plaque that celebrates the life of FitzRoy Somerset, 5th Baron Raglan. A Bugatti fanatic and chairman of the Bugatti Owners’ Club from the late ’80s and into the ’90s, he kept his Type 51 in the kitchen of his house. Yonks ago I was having a curry in Abergavenny when there was the scream of supercharged engine as a car pulled up outside. It was Baron Raglan in his 51 come to collect his takeaway. Class.
Under Webster’s guidance Prescott has developed hill climbing at the venue to be more of a family day out, with a lot more entertainment than watching a weird and wonderful selection of cars blasting by. Not that I need much else apart from a loo and a picnic.
We depart and set off to see my mate Vic Norman. He runs the Breitling wing-walking team that flies Boeing-Stearman biplanes with Lycra-clad girls up on their wings. The team is based near Cirencester – suitably close to Prescott for us to not commit an odometric crime and upset Ferrari.
Four Stearman biplanes are sufficient to draw me regularly to the airfield. But like many of us, Vic’s into anything with an engine and as well as owning a 550 Maranello, a Porsche 356, an AC Ace and an ex-Stirling Moss XK120, he has a collection of motorbikes that includes a 1912 Flying Merkel. It was once used to power a generator in a gold mine previously owned by Bud Ekins, the stuntman and friend of Steve McQueen who performed the jump in The Great Escape.
It’s not so much what he owns now that makes Norman interesting, it’s what he’s owned in the past. Particularly V12 Ferraris. For example, the 250 GTO that’s now owned by Nick Mason. “I bought it in the early ’70s,” explains Norman. “I’d heard on the grapevine that Peter Newens, whose family owned the Maids of Honour tearoom in Kew, was thinking of selling his GTO. I wasted no time and went around to Pete’s house and started negotiations. He wanted about 13 grand for the car [circa $22,000]. Anyway, while I was talking to him I saw Brian Classic, the racer and classic car dealer, coming up the front path. Guessing that Brian had also heard about the GTO, I immediately offered the asking price and shook on it. Brian was a bit peeved.”
After keeping it for a few years, during which time it delivered young Normans to school and completed other domestic tasks, the GTO was moved on. “I got £16,000 [circa $27K] for it,” says Norman, “which I thought was amazing.” As well as the GTO, Norman has owned a couple of 275 GTBs, a 250 GT SWB and a Daytona. “Ironically my favourite Ferrari is the original 250 GT TdF. I never owned one but I’ve driven a few.”
I’ve never taken the kids to school in a GTO but I’ve been shopping in Vic’s, now Mason’s, GTO. Cammy, as to be expected, but easy to drive and with as much soul as a car could have. Mason’s Ten Tenths, the company that runs and prepares his collection, is based at the same airfield. And since any excuse to fire up and listen to a classic Ferrari V12 mustn’t be missed, engineers Charles Knill-Jones and Ben de Chair (double-overhead surnames aren’t compulsory: the outfit is managed by Mike Hallowes) are persuaded to start the GTO and bring it outside for Parrott’s and my pleasure.
Mason has just taken delivery of his own F12tdf. Unlike ours, it has lightweight carpets covering the industriallooking anti-slip material that’s standard and rather more comfortable seats. “That,” says Knill-Jones, pointing at the tdf, “is the best road car in the world. I drove Nick’s at Goodwood and it was doing 270km/h at the end of the Lavant Straight.” I didn’t need to hear that. I’d dearly love to drive this car on a track, particularly at Goodwood. I wish I’d risked being put on the naughty step by Ferrari.
It is true that a 574kW Ferrari capable of over 340km/h is of limited practical use, but it is a very good thing that it exists. The tdf is one of the most dramatic Ferraris that I’ve ever driven (in fact it’s up there with a McLaren F1) yet it’s perfectly useable on the road and, if you’re damned careful, in any conditions, too. I’d like to hope that among the lucky 799 who have ordered one, there will be people like Baron Raglan and Vic Norman who use their cars. I suspect most will go into collections or heated garages.
At least this one is getting some proper use. Back at Slough, with the Tour de Force in one piece, the trip meter reads 508km. Today was not the day to start obeying rules.
It’s one of the most dramatic Ferraris I’ve driven, yet it’s perfectly useable on the road
TECHNICAL DATA FILE #2017
Engine 6262cc #V12
, dohc, 48v
Power 770hp / 574kW @ 8500rpm DIN
Torque 520lb ft / 705Nm @ 6250rpm DIN
, rear-wheel drive, #E-diff-3
Front suspension Double wishbones, coil springs, adaptive dampers, anti-roll bar
Rear suspension Multi-link, coil springs, adaptive dampers, anti-roll bar, rear-wheel steer
Brakes Ventilated carbon-ceramic discs, 398mm front, 360mm rear, #ABS
Wheels 20 x 10.0-inch front, 20 x 11.5-inch rear
Tyres 275/35 ZR20 front, 315/35 ZR20 rear
Power-to-weight 507 hp / 378kW/tonne
0-62MPH / 0-100km/h 2.9sec (claimed)
Top speed 212 MPH / 340km/h+ (claimed)
Basic price $808,888 (sold out)
Above: Goodwin guides the F12 up the technical Prescott course, being careful not to prang any carbonfibre bodywork. Below: tdf with Nick Mason’s #1962
Above and right: 110kg weight saving over the standard F12 plus an extra 29kW give the tdf a truly explosive power-toweight ratio of 378kW per tonne – more than enough for the Prescott hill climb.
What you don’t need in a car that can do 0-100km/h in 2.9 seconds are distractions