In the middle of the press conference at the driving launch of thedisarmingly appealing Pinifarina-styled 360 Spider, a senior Ferrarispokesman explained why the event was being held in Monaco, instead ofthe more customary location of Maranello, the home town of Ferrari.Firstly, he said, because of the connection the place has withFerrari's seven Monaco Grand Prix victories (in 1955, 1975, 1976, 1979,1981, 1997 and 1999, though not this year due to overheated and brokenexhausts leading to suspension failure). Fair enough.And secondly, because they feel that the hills and roads just south ofMaranello are now so well photo-graphed from previous Ferrari pressevents that magazine readers may be beginning to tire of thatparticular scenery. Well possibly, but I doubt it.As you may know, there are zillions of them drilled through the rock ofLes Alpes Maritimes just to the north and what they're good for isproviding the most amazing environment for hard core noiseappreciation. Now I know the words noise and appreciation don't oftenrest easily side by side, but by golly they do once you've gunned anopen-topped 360 through a tunnel with upwards of 4,000rpm on the clock.Now mere words, at least those I can think of, can't do this experiencejustice, so I'll put it another way. If a 360 Spider costs the bestpart of £120,000, which it will with the paddle-shift F1 transmission,then I would say that's one third spent on the prancing horse badge andluscious styling, another third on it's supreme chassis dynamics and180mph performance, and the remaining forty thou on induction roar andexhaust noise. Believe me, it is that good. First and foremost is Ferrari's claim that the Spider has'exactly the same performance (road holding, driveability, accelerationand top speed) as the 360 Berlinetta'. Having now driven both, Iwouldn't dispute any of that, but then I noted some small discrepanciesin the company's own figures. The Spider's 4.6secs to 60mph is a tenth slower than the Berlinetta's,while the Spider's top speed is quoted at 'over 180mph' and theBerlinetta's 'over 183'. Do we care? No, we don't. But I also note that the Spider's quoted kerb weight of 1,460kgs is70kgs up on the hard-top's and its aerodynamic Cd is marginally higherat 0.36 compared with the hard-top's 0.33. So it's not quite as lightor slippery, but do we care? No, we don't. The Spider's 3.6-litre 400 horse-power engine, six-speed transmissions(F1 or manual), suspension and other running gear are all identical tothe 360 Berlinetta's and, again according to Ferrari, its all-aluminiumchassis boasts the highest torsional and flexional rigidity figures ofany production convertible (850 and 450 DAN, should you care to know).Judging by the seat of my pants, that means it steers, handles andstops every bit as sublimely as its stable-mate, except that on a bumpyFrench D-road one can detect slight movement of the windscreen frame.
Again, this didn't disturb me in the slightest, but I'm well aware thatsome motoring hacks are particularly anal about this kind of thing, soexpect to encounter a smattering of haughty criticism in otherjournals...Speaking of which, I can't think of another production car with a glasspanel in its bonnet. Sure, there have been engines on display before(the Ford GT40 and the 360 Berlinetta to name but two), but I don'trecall quite such brazen mechanical exhibitionism in a road car.Peering through the glass at the engine reminded me of all those schooloutings to the Victoria and Albert Museum, only this quad cam V8powerplant, with its red wrinkle-finish airboxes and 'Ferrari' inmachined aluminium is a sight more interesting. Now to a 'characteristic' just unearthed - not one which would everaffect a 360 in normal or even extreme use on road or track, butinteresting all the same. With F1 transmission, a 360 only has twopedals, for throttle and brake. The clutch is conventional except it'scomputer controlled and electro-hydraulicyou the best in photography, we have to perform an inordinatenumber of three-point turns, often on Mickey Mouse roads (lesstraffic), often on uneven ground, and flanked by repeated accelerationand braking for cornering and panning shots. I hate doing it, and thenicer the car, the more I hate it. On this day it was very hot, I'dguess somewhere near 40 degrees, and the 360's clutch got hot, smellyand bothered, accompanied by much beeping in the cockpit. Ferrari doesn't have an engine bench test to replicate magazinephotographic work, nor, I would confidently wager, does any othermanufacturer, but this does perhaps serve to reiterate that abiolo-gical brain (even mine) isn't always bettered by a purely logicalcomputer. But do we care? No, we don't, because I'm hard pressed to think ofanother car I'd rather own (assuming I already had my diesel Multipla,of course). The purist in me says I should really prefer a hard-top360, or a 550 Maranello, or a Diablo. But the heart says 360 Spider. Sothere you have it, my new favourite car.