For a Sunday morning, I was up far earlier than usual. I’d managed to beat sunrise and found myself contemplating the day ahead and the car I would swapping into all in favor of a car rally planned for the American Lung Association. The course was relatively straight forward: meet in the center of town, cruise through low country marshes, along sand-laden coastlines and creep through the many roundabouts of Amelia Island before arriving under the palm trees covering the Ritz Carlton valet.
To get there, I would first need to get dressed and go change cars. The ride I had arranged for was similar to the BMW wagon I was dropping off: both vehicles had a windshield, some doors, four wheels wrapped in Michelin rubber, a handful of seats and at least six cylinders. Upon arriving to the top secret location for the pick up, further inspection highlighted a few key differences: a 6.0L V12 in lieu of my 3.0L straight six motor, six-speed semi-manual gearbox instead of a semi-crappy GM six speed automatic, Daytona-style black leather seats juxtaposed to my tan Dakota leather seats but most of all the color stood out. The burgundy color(alright, maybe it’s purple) of the wagon supplanted by Nuovo Rosso – better known as “Ferrari” Red.
My car for the day would be the Ferrari 599 HGTE.
Moving closer to the 599, I was struck by, of all things, the boot lid and its resemblance to that of the iconic 365 GTB “Daytona” of yesteryear which served as the grandfather of the 599. Walking the length of the GT, the shear size and length of the 599 is astounding. True to its GT heritage Pininfarina laid out the 599 with a long, curvy bonnet out in front punctuated by a short yet spacious cabin at the rear of the coupe. Slipping behind the wheel, aside from the carbon fiber trim, a handful of Ferrari badges and the Daytona seats, the interior is fairly unremarkable. True-to-form for Italian cars, the HVAC dials made almost no sense and the radio didn’t work due to reasons beyond me though I must admit, if the any part of the car is going to go all Fix-It-Again-Tony on me – at least it was the radio. Looking forward, my attention snapped to the massive, red tachometer with a redline of 8,400RPM and the front fenders spiking skyward along coupe’s unending nose.
Packed into the deep seat bolsters and with the twist of the key and jab of the bright red START button, the rear of the 599 emitted a short mechanical snarl before settling into a high pitched, sustained growl. With the flick of a paddle into 1st gear, I set off to pick up the wife and group up with the fellow rally participants before setting off for one of the best islands this side of the Georgia border.
Driving the 599 proved to be quite the experience though not for shy nor reclusive. Pulling even with fellow motors at a stoplight came standard with either gawking looks or the requisite cellphone picture undoubtedly destined for Facebook. Joggers and pedestrians greeted the red behemoth with either smile or thumbs up while others would simply stop in their tracks and stare as we streaked past, a ball of both glorious sound and sex appeal. With that in mind, you could liken driving the 599 to a nude Miranda Kerr riding a Ducati Monster.
On the road heading due North towards Amelia Island, our group included a brand new Corvette C7, Maserati Gran Turismo and the ubiquitous Lamborghini Gallardo – my buddy in the 4 door Cadillac droptop had a remarkably difficult time keeping pace. On the road, the 599 exuded performance acumen. But that would be expected from a highly regarded Italian sports car upgraded with a adaptable magnetic ride suspension?
While at center lock, the steering was a bit vague with slack in the wheel though a twitch of either way led to ample amounts of heft in the steering wheel never disguising the grip levels at the nose of the car. Sitting just a few inches aft of my ass, the Michelins felt as though they would tear a hole in the laws of physics before relinquishing their hold of the asphalt of the backroads leading up the coastline. Pouring the massive coupe into corners, the front end felt as if it was somehow dialed into my cerebral cortex via my finger tips knowing exactly where I wanted the car at any given second. Thanks to the overload of feedback in the HGTE package (Handling Gran Turismo Evoluzione) via the upgraded suspension and seat-of-your-pants feeling, the car felt both planted but never out of sorts no matter the speed or corner complexity thrown at it.
Overall feel was visceral never leaving much doubt what was going on at any of the four corners – sometimes to the determent of ride quality. On bridges and the occasional expansion joint on the highway I eventually found myself bracing and death-gripping the wheel to keep planted in my seat so I wouldn’t continue to jam my head into the roof. I eventually learned to make good use of the ceramic brakes to minimize my chances of contusions. This particular 599 reportedly had some modifications to the MagneRide suspension which perhaps made the ride stiffer than the stock HGTE package but with the massive V12 outstretched ahead of me I quickly forgot about any discomfort in the ride quality.
Carving north on A1A’s two lane road lined by a mix of ancient oak trees and sprawling dunes, a quick flick of the left paddle and a prodigious use of the right pedal led to some of the fastest overtakes I’ve ever executed. No matter the gear, no matter the speed the Italian V12 with its 612hp and 448 ft lb of torque pulled like a freight train from hell. When tapping into the the reserves, up to 4,000RPM the engine would emit a high pitch, angry growl. Digging deeper, the growl gave way to a full-on roar as the Ferrari rocketed forward. Despite stuttering around town in Automatic mode, the six-speed paddle shifter sharpened up when shifts were executed at my own discretion. With a bit of throttle modulation, shifts were smooth, exact and rewarding – a very satisfying experience to fire off upshifts whilst climbing thru the rev range with downshifts proving to be just as enjoyable.
Approaching the roundabouts of Amelia Island, we slowed to what felt like crawl. Cruising down green, darkened lanes under a canopy of spanish moss I was able to finally catch my breath with the 599, recalling that the lump ahead of me was, in fact, the same as a Ferrari Enzo – thereby putting its pedigree into perspective. The 599 is a healthy reminder of what has kept Ferrari and its products as the dream cars of each new generation: every moment behind the wheel feels like a special event. With the pomp and circumstance of the huge V12 to the sensory overload of the suspension to the unexpected attention received at even pedestrian speeds everything about the 599′s overall experience is something to behold.
My cruise to breakfast in a red Ferrari was not one I will soon forget and certainly not one to be supplanted by a purple, German station wagon.