Sharper Stallion

The Handling Speciale package brings more sports-car focus to Ferrari’s drop-top GT.

October 27, 2016
Sharper Stallion 1
Sharper Stallion 2
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Sharper Stallion 7

CONFESSION: I love the California T. Actually, so does everyone I know who’s driven one. Forget the griping that’s followed the model since the original California was launched in 2008; as in, it’s too slow, too soft, too ugly, not a real Ferrari. The T is awesome.

It’s not perfect, of course. I think the torque-rich, turbocharged 3.9-liter V8 is too quiet, and wish the car’s handling was a little sharper when the going gets fast and twisty. Apparently I’m not alone, because earlier this year Ferrari introduced the Cal T-specific Handling Speciale package.

If that moniker sounds familiar, it’s because Maranello also offered an HS option on the normally aspirated California 30. In that case, the upgrade consisted of stiffer springs, reprogrammed shock absorbers, and a quicker steering rack. The result was a car that turned in more crisply, leaned less, and generally felt more controlled and cohesive. While there was a slight penalty in ride quality, the improvement in handling made HS a no-brainer.

The Cal T Handling Speciale retains the suspension changes, forgoes the revised steering rack, and adds quicker shift speeds, revised traction-control logic, and a louder exhaust. It costs around $8,000, on top of a base price of roughly $200,000, and I think it’s worth every penny. This time, though, checking the HS box on the order form requires a little more thought.

THERE ARE FEW visual changes that differentiate HS-equipped Cal T’s. The most noticeable is the newly gray diffuser with black vanes and black exhaust tips—although apparently not all HS cars have them, nor the similarly gray grille up front. There’s a Handling Speciale badge on the center console between the seats, but the real clue comes when the engine fires up.

Even at idle, the Cal T HS’s exhaust note is noticeably deeper and richer than the regular car’s. Things get even better on the move, as the HS howls harder under acceleration and merrily snaps, crackles, and pops its way down through the gears. (The 560-hp V8 itself is unchanged, which means effortless grunt in top gear on the highway and ferocious acceleration in any gear on your favorite back road so long as the engine’s spinning above 4,000 rpm or so.) The newfound sound is brash, exuberant, and maybe a touch over the top, but it’s fantastic fun and never too intrusive (aside from a slight boominess at just-above-idle revs). All in all, the reworked exhaust adds so much to the driving experience that it alone might be worth the HS package’s price of entry.

The revised suspension setup contributes another significant layer of enjoyment. On paper, the changes appear minor—for example, spring rates are up just 16 percent front, 19 percent rear—and on the road, if you haven’t driven a non-HS Cal T, nothing about the ride quality will make you think “sport package.” Yet on the winding canyon roads above Malibu, the Cal T HS devours the corners in a way the regular T can only imagine. Turn-in is sharper, the driver feels more connected to the road, and in high-speed curves the front end hangs in there much longer and more confidently.

Also from Issue 154

  • 250 GT Tour de France
  • Scuderia Ferrari Bimotores
  • 2016 Monterey Car Week concours
  • 70th-anniversary unique liveries
  • F1: Red Bullied
  • FORZA Tifosi Challenge: F430 championship
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