The Long Game

They may be Ferrari’s two largest cars, but the 365 GT 2+2 and FF drive like much smaller machines.

The Long Game 0
March 1, 2013

Forty-five years separate the Ferrari FF and 1967 365 GT 2+2 shown here, and their respective specifications tell the story. For example, the 365 GT 2+2’s chassis, suspension members and bodywork (aside from hood and truck lid) are made of steel; the FF is constructed entirely of aluminum. The modern car’s 6.3-liter engine produces 660 horsepower, versus just 320 ponies from the older one’s 4.4-liter unit. The 365 GT 2+2’s 12.4-inch front steel brake rotors are 38-percent smaller than the carbon-ceramic items found on the FF. The list goes on and on.

But I wouldn’t have arranged this family reunion if there weren’t a number of similarities between the two Ferraris, as well. First, both are powered by front-mounted V12 engines. Second, these are big cars by Ferrari standards. At 195.8 inches long, the 365 GT 2+2 is the largest Ferrari ever built—back in 1969, Road & Track dubbed it “The Queen Mother of Ferraris,” a moniker which has stuck to this day—and is more than two inches longer than the FF. They’re heavy, too: Ferrari claims a curb weight of 4,145 pounds for the FF, while R&T’s Queen Mother test car weighed in at 4,020 pounds.

The most important similarity, of course, is that the 365 GT 2+2 and FF each have four seats. To some enthusiasts, Ferrari’s 2+2s are something less than “real” Ferraris, since they’re slower and less sporting than their two-seat counterparts, and usually aren’t as aesthetically pleasing. But those people who buy these cars (and a lot do; in its day, Ferrari’s first four-seater, the 250 GT 2+2, was the company’s best-selling model ever) usually have a very different take. In abandoning the quest for ultimate performance, Ferrari has created a line of cars that offers a more comfortable and relaxed driving experience, one that’s better suited for regular use and longer miles.

The Long Game 1

“The 365 GT 2+2 is to automobiles what Abe Lincoln was to men—that is to say, great,” concluded R&T in its review. “It will do almost anything an automobile would be asked to do: cruise at 150 mph, creep along in traffic, carry the wife and kids shopping or on a cross-country trip—all in air-conditioned comfort.”

That’s high praise, and it made me wonder if the Queen Mother would still drive as sweetly today—and, of course, if there were any on-road similarities between the vintage Ferrari and its modern-day descendant. There was only one way to find out.

COMPARED TO ITS PREDECESSOR, the upright and understated 330 GT 2+2, the 365 GT 2+2 that debuted at the 1967 Paris Auto Show was low, long and unapologetically swoopy. Its flowing lines weren’t entirely new; the design was inspired by the one-off 330 Speciale built for Belgium’s Princess Lilian de Rethy [“Royal Treatment,” FORZA #58] and the limited-production 500 Superfast. The 365 GT 2+2’s profile is smooth and handsome, challenged only by the sharp angles of the C-pillars. But that shape mimics the buttresses found on the 330 Speciale, which was also the source of the 365 GT 2+2’s distinctive taillight treatment.

The Long Game 2

The FF’s shooting-brake silhouette wasn’t inspired by an earlier car. Instead, its long roof was judged the best way to increase rear-seat headroom and luggage space without increasing the overall size of the car compared to its own predecessor, the 612 Scaglietti. The FF was a polarizing design when first seen at the 2011 Geneva Auto Show, as well as a significant visual departure from the 612, but it seems to have become more accepted over the last couple of years. I’ve always liked the overall shape, particularly since the FF appears smaller in person than photos suggest. However, the model definitely looks better in more subdued colors.

When considering the FF and the Queen Mother as a pair, it’s immediately obvious that, despite their common raison d’etre and four-seat configuration, these two Ferraris bear little resemblance to one another beyond their generally fluid lines, mostly simple surface treatments and a smattering of badges. The 365’s shape is made up of three distinct components—front hood, tall greenhouse, rear deck—while the FF looks much more holistic. The FF’s belt line is high and its roof is low; the reverse is true of the 365. The 365’s wheel arches are gently flared in the fashion of the day, while the FF’s are cut off in accordance with modern-day automotive couture.

Inside, the two Ferraris are even more dissimilar. The Queen Mother’s trunk is impressively large—it extends all the way to the rear seats, displacing the car’s fuel to separate tanks located near the wheels—but squeezing into the back seats reveals accommodations sized more for children than adults.

The Long Game 3

There’s plenty of room in the front of the 365 GT 2+2, although, as with all the Ferraris of the era that I’ve driven, I have to splay my legs wide in order to sit comfortably close to the wood-rimmed steering wheel. While it’s enormous, the pizza-sized wheel is very comfortable to hold, with a recess cut into its face and subtle finger indentations on the rear. Similar indents line the front of the black plastic knob that tops the perfectly placed shifter. Beyond those ergonomic gestures, however, it seems that more attention was given to dashboard symmetry than ease of use.

Regardless, the Queen Mother’s cabin feels wonderfully stately. The walnut veneer on the dash is nicely offset by the surrounding black leather and metallic “jewelry,” such as the steering wheel’s dull spokes and the doors’ shiny handles and trim plates. The beige leather on the seats, door panels and rear quarters looks absolutely gorgeous against the black carpets. The white pleated vinyl headliner isn’t so successful to my eyes, but that’s how the car left the factory all those years ago.

If the Queen Mother’s cockpit is timeless and, well, royal, the FF’s cabin is probably best described as modern and elegant. The lines of the door panels sweep seamlessly into the dashboard. The infotainment setup appears simple and straightforward, as do the climate controls underneath. Aside from the black leather that tops the dash, delicious dark brown hides (with contrasting white stitching and light-brown Alcantara piping) cover just about everything, from the seats, door panels and rear quarter panels to the sun visors, rear hatch cover and even the sides of the trunk.

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This sea of brown is mitigated by the bare aluminum that appears on the steering wheel, center-console bridge and doors. The aluminum trim that sweeps across the dash is actually painted in the car’s exterior hue; the effect is quite subtle. The optional read-out in front of the passenger seat, which can be set to display the car’s speed and engine rpm, is equally understated.

The FF’s ergonomics are first-rate. The steering wheel is covered with buttons, dials and switches in the manner of the 458 and F12, and all of the major controls fall instantly to hand. The only times I need to take a hand off the wheel are to turn on the headlights, set the cruise control, adjust the climate controls or put the transmission in automatic mode or reverse. Never mind the cabin’s few oddities, such as the cruise-control knob being imaginatively labeled “Pit Speed” and the button that activates the front-suspension lift system, which is used to clear speed bumps and enter steep driveways, being hidden almost completely out of sight under the dash.

Lifting the rear hatch (well, pressing the button that activates the hydraulic strut that raises the hatch) reveals a trunk that’s perhaps 60 percent the size of the Queen Mother’s. On the other hand, the FF’s rear-seat accommodations are much better; there are several more inches available in all directions, and the actual seating position is superb. Of course, the front left seat is the best place to be. It’s time to drive.

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QUEEN MOTHER OWNER MARV LANDON explains a few basics of operation, then heads for the FF while I struggle into the vintage car’s seatbelt. The shoulder belt is separate, and its metal hoop must be inserted into the lap belt’s hardware before everything is latched.

The engine is already warmed up, so I don’t have to worry about priming the fuel system with the secondary, electric fuel pump (which is controlled by one of the toggle switches on the dash); instead, I just turn the ignition key. The V12 turns over three times before catching with a deep whoooom. I slot the stiff, crisp shifter into first, let out the stiff clutch, and we’re off.

It quickly becomes clear that this Ferrari’s generous dimensions don’t define the driving experience. I’m immediately impressed by how quickly the 365 turns into corners, and how nimble it feels despite its size. It’s no 275 GTB, but neither is it a late 1960s American car of similar stature. Despite noticeable body roll and tall, 70-series tires, the Queen Mother produces plenty of grip, as well as a certain sense of lightness at the rear that makes me think it would be perfectly amenable to power oversteer. I don’t dare try, but R&T recommended breaking the rear end loose as the fastest way through the turns.

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Credit for this sporting composure likely goes to some combination of the 365 GT 2+2’s twin technical innovations. First, this model was the first Ferrari 2+2 to feature independent rear suspension. Second, that suspension saw the introduction of Koni self-leveling components that were intended to keep the rear ride height constant regardless of load.

Aiding the car’s handling prowess is its excellent steering. At speed, the power-assisted rack (the first time Ferrari delivered one as standard equipment) is modestly weighted, feels natural and delivers decent feedback through the wheel. It’s also impressively precise for the era, and makes low-speed maneuvering painless—aside from the car’s enormous turning circle.

The Queen Mother’s ride quality is also top-notch. Small irregularities in the road surface are barely felt; the car just glides along. Despite this, the Ferrari still feels solidly connected to the road. There’s a kind of majesty in driving the Queen Mother, a sensation increased by the high seating position and large windows.

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And then there’s the engine, a 423cc-larger version of the SOHC powerplant found in the 330 GT 2+2. The Queen Mother’s 4.4-liter V12 wakes up around 2,000 rpm and comes on cam around 4,000, delivering quick if not fast acceleration. What’s really striking are the sound—a deep, slightly muted howl that’s unpinned by a distant mechanical symphony of whirring metallic components—and the vibration, which combine to make the engine feel, well, alive.

Those magic 12 cylinders are the heart and soul of the 365 GT 2+2. They’re also a constant companion (whether the car is idling, cruising down the highway or tackling a back road), one that never lets you forget that you’re driving a Ferrari—something that is not always the case with the FF.

Despite the modern car’s 660 horses, seven-speed gearbox, massive carbon-ceramic brakes and so on, I sometimes forget that I’m piloting a proper exotic. But, as I had discovered over the course of a few days in the Ferrari before my meeting with Landon, that’s a good thing.

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I’d spent my first day in the FF tearing around Los Angeles, mostly on a mix of poorly paved, traffic-clogged surface streets and freeways. If this sounds like a miserable place to drive a Ferrari, it is—but only in the sense that speeds are low. The FF handled this challenging environment with real nonchalance.

The dual-clutch transmission is one reason the FF makes a sublime city dweller. The automated clutch take-up is smooth, allowing the car to move off the line seamlessly. Throttle response is equally seamless, allowing me to drive around smoothly at part throttle without the lurchiness caused by the 458 Italia’s hyper-sensitive right pedal. The transmission’s automatic mode works brilliantly, and its shifts are almost torque-converter smooth.

The second reason for the FF’s city friendliness is its light and fast steering, which is paired with a very tight turning radius. The practical effect of these attributes, when combined with the FF’s instant response to inputs, is that it doesn’t take long to get comfortable with the close-quarters cut and thrust of urban driving.

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All of this, along with the FF’s real world-friendly ride height and excellent outward visibility, means that I can drive this Ferrari like, well, a car. Let me say again that this isn’t a bad thing: Instead, it makes the FF easier to drive and enjoy in more situations.

There is one minor short-coming in the FF’s accommodating nature, however: ride quality. Those expecting the plush ride of a big Lexus, Mercedes or Bentley—or a Queen Mother—will be disappointed by the FF’s relative tautness, as well as the way road imperfections are transmitted through its steering wheel and seat. But the FF’s ride quality is absolutely fine by modern Ferrari standards, and the road feel pays real dividends when it’s time to go fast.

Where the 612 Scaglietti nicely blended long-range comfort with reasonable back-road abilities, the FF removes “reasonable” from the job description. Instead, thanks to advancements like the dual-clutch gearbox and magnetorheological shock absorbers, Ferrari’s newest 2+2 can conquer challenging back roads with all the speed of a pukka sports car. Despite its size, the FF is astonishingly nimble and responsive—a bit like a Queen Mother turned up to 11.

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Despite all the computers that play a role in making forward progress, the FF delivers a wonderfully natural and involving driving experience. The car leans in fast turns, but this doesn’t adversely affect its balance. The brakes both feel good and provide excellent, easily modulated stopping power. And this particular FF’s seats, with their electrically adjustable side bolsters, keep me secure in the twisty bits.

It’s in these situations that I can sometimes feel the FF’s own technological innovation: four-wheel drive. It’s a first for Ferrari, and rather than utilize a traditional center differential or some other way of sending drive forward from the rear-mounted transaxle, the Maranello engineers designed the unique 4RM system around a so-called Power Transfer Unit mounted on the front of the engine. The PTU contains a pair of independent, carbon-fiber clutch packs that vector torque to the front wheels via halfshafts, although only when, as GT Technical Director Roberto Fideli once told me, “the car needs torque in the front axle to go faster.” This balancing act is managed electronically, in concert with the FF’s electronic differential and F1-Trac predictive traction control, and there’s no mechanical drive connection between the front and rear wheels.

The practical benefit (in the dry, anyway) comes when I get on the gas exiting a tight corner. The Ferrari hunkers down, tightens its line and shoots out of the turn with far more alacrity and far less drama than a typical rear-drive car. I can feel a hint of disturbance through the steering wheel at these moments, but it’s minor.

Pinning the throttle to the carpet sends the FF surging toward the horizon on a seemingly endless swell of horsepower. Although the engine’s redline stops the fun at 8,250 rpm, there’s no decrease in output nor any sense that the V12 wouldn’t be happy to keep spinning for another 8,250. A quick pull on the right-hand shift paddle selects the next gear with no discernable interruption, and the intense pull continues unabetted as the 6.3-liter V12 howls a crisp, full-throated baritone song.

While the engine’s music is invigorating, it’s a bit too quiet for my tastes. On a related note, unless I’m driving fairly hard, the FF’s engine is usually completely inaudible. The restrained noise is clearly part of Ferrari’s vision for the car, but it’s the one area where I think the company was a little too conservative.

While the FF does everything well, its greatest trick is that it makes ordinary driving fun. As I wrote after my first drive in an FF in mid-2011 [“Fantastic Four,” FORZA #113], the FF feels sporty at real-world speeds. This is likely a by-product of the car’s relatively soft state of tune—in contrast, the hardcore 458 usually doesn’t feel alive until you reach go-directly-to-jail speeds—but the upside to those lower ultimate limits is the opportunity to spend far more time enjoying the driving experience.

AFTER LANDON AND I RENDEZVOUS and climb out of each other’s cars, we spend a few minutes talking about the two Ferraris. His take on the FF?

“It really flies!” he exclaims with a grin. “It feels a little bit like my 550; not as loud, a little subdued, but whatever you ask of it, it can do. I mean, it corners phenomenally well. I really liked the transmission, it’s remarkable, the brakes, all that stuff is really great. It has all the amenities and the seats are really comfortable, not the benches in my car.

“My local dealer tells me that the FF is their best-selling car,” Landon notes. “The trick, they tell me, is that they get people to drive it; after that, they’re hooked. And I can now understand that’s how you would sell them. This would really be a great car to drive every day, and it can do anything you want—it can run away from anybody, it can go through turns, it stops…. It’s a wonderful car.”

The Queen Mother is fantastic, as well, but while it must have been mind-blowing in its day, it’s definitely outclassed in this company. Ferrari’s current four-seater does everything the older car can and offers two additional benefits that were never part of the 365 GT 2+2 mix: ferocious power and eye-popping speed.

No, the FF isn’t as fast as an F12 Berlinetta. It can’t tackle a back road or racetrack like a 458. And, of course, it can’t drop its top like a California. But none of those cars come close to offering the FF’s combination of speed, poise, comfort, space and every-day usability. The FF just does everything effortlessly, from back-road hooliganism to pottering around town to cruising down the highway—and that’s why I think it’s the best car Ferrari makes.

Also from Issue 125

  • 40 years with a 250 GT 2+2
  • Paul Newman and Budweiser race a 308 GTB
  • Rediscovering a Monza’s lost racing years
  • Ferrari-racing playboy Porfirio Rubirosa
  • Ferrari’s Grand-Am title defense for 2013
  • F1: Ferrari unveils the F138
  • Market Update: Vintage up, modern down
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