Leave it to two disparate gentlemen residing nine time zones apart to turn my Ferrari world upside down. The first, whose name is recognizable to anyone reading this magazine, is Piero Ferrari, vice president of the company his father founded. The other is George Deabill, a friend of my mother’s and a complete Ferrari neophyte.
So what do these two men have in common? They served as the fulcrum points in an odyssey that had me questioning everything I know about Ferraris and what makes them tick.
The story starts in May 2009, as I was blasting through the hills surrounding Maranello, Italy in a new California. Riding shotgun was Simone Schedoni, Ferrari’s luggage supplier, filming the episode on his phone and grinning like a little kid. No question, this Ferrari had great speed and poise.
After returning the car to the factory, I stopped in to visit with Piero Ferrari. “Well, ” he asked, “what do you think of it?” When I hesitated in answering, Stefano Lai, head of Ferrari’s PR department, recalled a conversation we had earlier that morning and came to my rescue by saying, “It is not his favorite,” or something to that effect.
What caused me to pause? My discomfort with Ferrari’s linking of the new car to a legend. “While the Ferrari California is an extremely innovative car,” the company wrote in press materials when the California was launched in 2008, “its philosophy echoes the spirit and emotions of a great Ferrari of the past: the 250 California of 1957.”
Thanks to the 1950s Cal Spyder, of which just 104 were made, “California” is one of the truly iconic names in Maranello’s storied history, bandied about with immortal monikers such as GTO, Testa Rossa and Barchetta. Beyond a shared hood scoop, however, I didn’t think the new car fit the bill in terms of design, purpose (one is a minimalist V12-powered two-seater, the other a luxurious V8-powered GT) or exclusivity.
I finally said something along those lines to the good Mr. Ferrari, who took it with graceful reservation, but the conversation haunted me for months. It had been a long time since I had driven a Cal Spyder, so was my assessment really accurate? Or had I inserted my size-12 piede in my mouth to the man whose name appears above the factory gates?
To find out, I knew I had to drive a new California and a Cal Spyder back to back. But before we get to the driving, a bit of history is in order.