Ghost in the Machine

The Ferrari Enzo redefined supercar performance in 2002. Does it still feel as spirited today?

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August 2, 2011

For any car buff, the name Enzo Ferrari conjures up images of a fascinating man who founded a small factory in Maranello, Italy to build racing and road cars. Those cars have become some of the fastest, most expensive and most revered automobiles ever manufactured, so it’s only fitting that Ferrari’s most recent supercar bears that man’s name.

Lots has been written about the Enzo Ferrari, better known simply as the Enzo, but not much has been said about it recently. I’ve driven Enzos in the past, but since I have become much more involved with the marque over the past couple of years, racing a Ferrari 458 GT with Extreme Speed Motorsport in the American Le Mans Series, I wanted to find out if the car is still as magical today as it was when it debuted in 2002. With the help of Hooked on Driving and Ferrari of Silicon Valley, I connected with an Enzo and its owners at Laguna Seca raceway.

WALKING UP TO GARAGE 11, I easily spot the red Enzo. A few days later, when I show my young son a picture of the car, he asks, “Dad, is that the Batmobile?” For me, that question pretty well sums up this Ferrari’s mystique, even after so many years.

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The Enzo is immediately recognizable by its distinctive, Formula 1-inspired nose, scissor-style doors that open up and outward, low-slung, prototype-esque bodywork and large rear diffuser. Love it or hate it, the car makes a statement that’s even bigger than its footprint. It might not come across as such in photographs, but in person the Enzo’s size is imposing. It’s long, low and wide (seven inches longer, two inches lower and four inches wider than a 458 Italia), and looks like it’s planted to the ground even when sitting still, as if there’s a giant suction cup underneath gripping the asphalt. The car simply reeks of speed, power and grace.

I might have this feeling because of how much it costs (about $650,000 new, over $1 million today) or because only 400 were built (although many Ferrari watchers say the real number is north of 500) or because I’ve already driven two examples on track. Or it might be because there are 20 people surrounding the car, gawking. Whatever the case, there’s no mistaking that the Enzo has specialness oozing out of its carbon-fiber bodywork and four titanium exhaust tips.

Also special is the engine, which is proudly displayed underneath a glass cover behind the passenger compartment. This 6-liter V12, with its classic red crinkle finish on the valve covers, aluminum intake stacks and carbon-fiber airbox, is as beautiful to look at as it is powerful. Its 660 horsepower were the most of any production car in its day, and enough to launch the Enzo to 60 mph in 3 seconds and on to a top speed of 218 mph—if you had the nerve and the road to reach terminal velocity.

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This particular Enzo looks like it just left the showroom. The specially developed Bridgestone “Scuderia” tires on the centerlock wheels appear new, the cross-drilled carbon-ceramic brakes seem perfect and the bright red paint shows no sign of rock chips or any other wear and tear.

Swinging up the door and sliding into the leather-covered, form-fitting seat reveals that the Enzo’s extravagant styling didn’t stop with the exterior. The sparse but elegant interior feels like a carbon-fiber museum—the stuff is everywhere, and it’s all real, of course, unlike the applique found in many modern cars. The dash is simple and purposeful, the floors are covered with rubber mats and the steering wheel borrows the look and some of the functionality from an F1 car. It all adds up to a sensation of purposeful speed.

CLOSING THE DOOR FROM INSIDE requires some effort, but once it is securely latched I hit the Start button in the center console. This yields a roar that only a big, normally aspirated, 12-cylinder engine can produce. The Enzo’s V12 is truly a throwback to Ferrari’s past. I’m not talking about the past that included questionable reliability and suspect build quality, but the past when a V12’s shriek would make the small hairs on your neck stand on end. It’s already an impressive experience, and I haven’t yet put the thing in gear.

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From the driver’s seat, I have a terrific view ahead and to the sides, but not behind. The Enzo’s rear end seems enormous, and, unfortunately, I have to back out of the narrow, pit-lane garage. Every-thing goes fine, as I shuffle between the interior and exterior rearview mirrors, but I feel as though I’m backing up a cement truck. Parallel parking is something I’d want to avoid at all costs.

I chug out into pit lane, and am waved toward the track. At 35 mph, the Enzo feels very stiff torsionally, as if it was constructed from a single piece of material; a testament to its carbon-fiber construction and race-derived push-rod suspension. The steering is nice and light, the drilled aluminum pedals are well-placed and the gauges are easy to read. Between the grumbling engine note, the tire noise and the ride stiffness, the Enzo already feels fast.

Exiting pit lane in second gear, I put my foot to the floor. The Enzo shoots forward, but the traction control is already going crazy. One of the few owner-imposed conditions for this drive was leaving the traction control on—no problem. It’s fun to drive an Enzo with it off, but 660 hp and street tires require a lot of concentration whenever you get on the gas.

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With the engine about to hit redline, I pull back the right-hand shift paddle to select third—and am surprised by how slow the gearchange is. While a 150-millisecond automated shift was revolutionary back in the early 2000s, today’s Ferraris can do it in 60 ms, more than twice as fast. The newer F1 transmissions are smoother, too.

But while the shifting feels a bit dated, the engine certainly does not. The Enzo absolutely leaps down the straights. The V12 loves to rev, and its output explodes as it bellows toward the 7,800-rpm power peak (redline is 8,200), slinging the car past the other Ferraris on track as if they were in reverse.

At the same time, the 6-liter engine has a very flat torque curve, which makes it easy to drive in almost any gear at almost any time. For example, when I tackle Turn 2 in third gear instead of second, the big 12 doesn’t stutter or protest. It simply pulls right off the rev counter without missing a beat. Second gear is faster, of course, but third works remarkably well.

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The Enzo delivers in the corners, as well. It has a bit of understeer at turn in, but the chassis feels supple and dead flat when heavily loaded. Rolling onto the power at corner exit results in a visit from the traction control, which remains active until the steering wheel is nearly straight.

The long, uphill, back straight at Laguna Seca leads to the famous Corkscrew corner. The Enzo is in its element pulling up this hill, accelerating harder and harder all the way to the top. I brake, downshift from fifth gear to second and turn in. I then give the car some encouragement with my right foot, and down the Corkscrew we go. I grab third gear, and get hard on the power as we approach Turn 9, a very fast left-hander. It is in this corner that the Enzo feels strikingly similar to the last car I drove at Laguna Seca, an F430 GT. The Enzo lacks the grip of that pure racing machine, but its steering weight, chassis balance and overall composure are much the same.

WITH EACH SUCCESSIVE LAP, I get more comfortable and push the Enzo harder. It is a fantastically quick and rewarding car to drive fast, but soon its overall grip slowly begins to degrade.

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The Enzo’s tires are filled with air, the pressures set to factory specs. That’s fine for the street, but on the track the pressure soon goes through the roof. The problem is the moisture in compressed air: When it gets heated by the tires’ flexing, it expands. (Racers fill their tires with nitrogen, which has better temperature stability, thus keeping the pressure constant.) As the tires become overinflated, grip diminishes, and it becomes difficult to drive the car smoothly. From behind the wheel, it feels like the track is covered in sand.

That’s to be expected when pushing a street car really hard on the track, but I am surprised by the Enzo’s brakes. If I brake at my usual spots, the Ferrari takes longer than I expect to slow down. In some cases, I have to assist the brakes by downshifting a couple of gears. (At least each computer-controlled blip of the engine sounds great!) At first, I think the carbon-ceramic brakes are still cold—it takes a few minutes to get them fully up to temperature—but it soon becomes clear that isn’t the case.

The likely problem is glazed brake pads, a condition most often caused by a poor bedding-in procedure or moisture being absorbed from the air when the car is stored. While the Enzo slows safely and predictably, it has less stopping power than it should. The owners later tell me that, as far as they know, these are the original pads, which certainly could explain the glazing. This isn’t a fault with the car itself, and it’s not something you’d necessarily notice during street driving, which the owners have been doing plenty of, but it’s something to watch out for.

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For the lucky few that own Enzos and want to take them to the track, there are a few things you can do to avoid problems. First, flush and replace all of the fluids: fuel, oil, brake and coolant. This is cheap insurance against everything from an overheating engine to a mushy brake pedal. (And, since so many Enzos spend most of their time sitting in the garage, such preventative maintenance may well be overdue.)

Second, if you’ll be pushing the car really hard, replace the brake pads and tires. Like pads, tires simply go bad with age; in this case, the rubber gets harder. Tires aren’t cheap, but they’re not something to skimp on—they are what keeps the car on the road. I can’t tell you how many cars I’ve seen crashed due to an age- or neglect-related tire problem.

WHILE MY TRACK TIME AT LAGUNA wasn’t problem-free, the experience was more than enough to confirm that the Enzo still has its foot firmly in the supercar door after all these years. It remains an absolute joy to drive—it sounds great, has great track manners and is very powerful—and it’s still a car to be reckoned with.

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If I had to compare the Enzo to a newer Ferrari, in terms of performance and feel, it would have to be the 430 Scuderia. It’s uncanny how similar the Enzo and Scuderia drive (and, as mentioned, that DNA carries over to Ferrari’s GT race cars). The Scuderia has quicker shifting speeds and slightly better braking and grip, thanks mostly to its higher-performance Pirelli tires. Ultimately, the Enzo pulls harder, but not much harder.

In any case, the Enzo remains a magical ride. It’s not the fastest car around a racetrack, but it has a unique quality that I can’t quite put my finger on. Yes, driving any Ferrari is an experience, but driving an Enzo, especially on the track, is like meeting the ghost of Enzo Ferrari himself: It’s something truly special that you won’t soon forget.

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Also from Issue 112

  • Driving the Dino 206 GT
  • Krohn Racing's F430 GT tackles the ILMC
  • Ferrari's F1 season continues to improve
  • Ferraris of the Copperstate 1,000 rally
  • Maserati, Ferrari, McLaren road trip
  • Market Update: The V8s, Part II
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