The cars we loved.
The arrival of a new Ferrari is always big news, usually framed by auto show rollouts. For the return of the California name at Ferrari, a carefully orchestrated campaign of internet leaks and factory sponsored events in Italy and California would precede the traditional rollout. The protracted exposure process created much chatter on the internet where fans and the press openly speculated about the new Ferrari’s specs.
By the time the Ferrari California was officially revealed to the general public at the 2008 Paris Motor Show, the fog of rumor and speculation had cleared up, revealing another striking new design. For some who have seen it in person, it looks were a difficult proposition. Appearing tail heavy from behind, its shape was as heavily influenced by the wind tunnel as Ferrari’s desire to make a more functional “daily exotic”. As a replacement for the 599, it borrowed some of that car’s side profile and compressed it and added functional vents and ducts. The many angles, curves and complex volumes make the California visually complex and perhaps not instantly likeable in the way the 599 was, but it grew on you fast.
The California name traces back to the late 50’s when Ferrari sold a version of the 250 GT that was designed with Americans in mind. It was a spyder (open top convertible) that was at home on the track or street. The 250 would spawn 2+2’s that were as comfortable as they were fast. These cars could be practical and easy to maintain to the point that people other than movie stars and race car drivers might aspire to own one. Although many celebrities became the famous owners of the 250 GT California, it opened the door to more American inspired Ferraris in the future. Now, American automotive values more closely align with world at large, forcing exotic makers like Ferrari to create less fussy cars while making them more functional than just occasional Sunday drive machines. The new California is a step in that direction.
The California is a grand tourer, but unlike any Ferraris before it, it would be a front engine (actually a mid-front engine) design 2+2 powered by a direct injection V8. At introduction in 2009, as the first front engine Ferrari with a V8 it produced 454 hp from its 4.3 litre engine. Like the late 50’s Ferrari California from which it gets much inspiration (functionally), the new California would have a very powerful engine with less displacement than a new V6 Ford Mustang. At 106 hp per litre of engine displacement, the California had the highest power to displacement ratio of any naturally aspirated engine when introduced. Power would be channeled to the rear wheels but through a 7-speed dual-clutch transmission. Another first for Ferrari would be the California’s use of a multi-link rear suspension.
Exotic Performance in a GT
With all the firsts for the new California, many of its performance traits would remain true to what’s expected of a Ferrari performance wise. Although labeled a GT car, the California can rum with more expensive exotics in the Ferrari lineup with its 0 to 60 time of 3.9 seconds and top speed of 193 mph. In an example of how technology aids performance, the California is heavier than the F430, yet it achieves the same 0 to 60 time thanks to its dual-clutch transmission. The GT label implies comfort, as the California delivers here also. Its new suspension has three settings to adjust the level of comfort or handling. A magnetic shock absorbing and dampening system reduced body roll while increasing responses to driver input.
As a 2+2, it was designed to be comfortable and somewhat accommodating. The interior designed by Bertone is refreshingly simple and straight forward. In an age where steering wheels are cluttered with buttons, the California has only its horn and a switch for the ride control. Although the convertible top stows away nicely, it still leaves room for the all-important golf clubs or light luggage.
The hard top convertible concept is not new, but with the top up, the California takes on a new identity. The sleek lines evoked from the roofline make it look as if it were designed as a hardtop coupe from the beginning. Its designer and builder Scaglietti paid great attention to aerodynamics resulting in the most slippery Ferrari ever with a Cd of just 0.32. Only the F12 Berlinetta which came months later was lower.
Ferrari as Daily Driver?
The California is deceptively large. Its curvatious nature hides its heft effectively. The California might be considered a step down to the F12 Berletta, but it fills a gap left by the 612 Scaglietti in the GT category. Though not an entry level car, the California was designed to be a entry for most people into the Ferrari fold. Great attention to detail was paid to make it less fussy and more everyday friendly, as the market for exotics is moving towards that direction. Gone are the days when exotics were accompanied by a small mechanical staff to help maintain it. Ferrari had been making great strides in increasing drivability in everyday conditions and the California raises the bar in exotic car functionality. Oddly enough Lamborghini started out as response to Ferrari unreliability, but now its Lamborghini who’s cars catch fire during test drives. The reliability expected in cars from Honda or Toyota seems to have caught up with Ferrari who’s customers are more careful about their toy investments nowadays.
The concept of reliability seems to be working. Although less than 30 cars are built a day, orders were sold out through the first year or so of the cars availability. Sales continue to be brisk as 60% of California buyers are new to Ferrari. That’s a new sales conquest number Honda or BMW would be envious of. The popularity of the California continued despite few major changes occurring 2009. Unfortunately in 2012 a recall prompted Ferrari to replace engines due to a faulty crankshaft design. Sales however did not seem to be effected. That same year a update produced weight reductions and engine tweaks that brought power up to 480, cutting 0 to 60 time to 3.8 seconds. In 2013 a Handling Special (HS) was introduced. In addition to having a silver grille and ventilation behind the front wheels, it weighed even less than the standard model and had 490 hp.
The California, like the new FF shows that Ferrari is willing to explore new ideals to expand its reach in the increasingly competitive exotic car market. Now it seems there are many options when it comes to who will capture the hearts and wallets of rich people. Ferrari is doing its best to maintain its considerable technology and design, although its lead is not always so clear cut anymore.