Few are the people who have not heard of the name Ferrari. Little boys and grown men alike covet the Ferrari but what is it? A legend, a myth, or a promise? It may mean different things to different people but in the automobile kingdom, there is no other manufacturer with such a singular purpose of being yet able to enjoy the fame and good fortune.

Believe it or not, Ferrari is mainly about racing right from the very first car they made. It began with a man, Enzo Ferrari and his penchant for racing. The prancing cavallino according to legend was acquired when Enzo was asked to carry the emblem of a family friend whose pilot son had just died in a plane crash in 1929. Out of respect he did and has enjoyed success since. Ferrari only shed its Alfa Romeo umbilical cord after the WWII and came into its own. Mind you, fifty years is not a long history for a car manufacturer, indeed it may well be among the youngest car companies but it has not stopped it from being numero uno, right at the top of the pecking order.

How do they do this you ask? Ferrari firmly believes racing improves the breed and through this, promotes the name. Ferrari is no industrial giant like General Motors and though it is owned by Fiat SpA, it charts it own course. It has a production capacity of just 3500 cars each year and all these are sold by the time they leave the factory. Ferrari spends little or nothing on advertising, instead it spends half its annual profits, running its Formula One Ferrari team. All the interest it generates during racing rubs off on its products.

The singularity of its interest is its strongest selling point. Its cars are uncompromising sports cars, what Ferrari’s President Luca Montezemolo likes to call, extreme performance cars. The current Ferraris may not be the very fastest available but they are pretty much in the top echelon. Their flagship the 550 Maranello will need a housing loan because it costs a cool $1,132,000. However it will whisk you to 100 km/h in just 4.4 seconds and only stops accelerating when the speedometer reads 320 km/h if you have the courage to ever find out. In terms of hardware, what can you expect for a million bucks? How about a 5.5-litre V12 engine that cranks out 485 bhp and has a sonorous engine note that is pure music to an enthusiast’s ears? The chassis is a sophisticated steel-aluminum composite that employs a unique spaceframe-monocoque configuration and it runs on a suspension that is right out of Formula One, double wishbones at each wheel.

Perhaps a million bucks is just over the top. Ferrari offers an entry-level Ferrari for $770,000, still a lofty sum for mere mortals. What you’ll get is the Ferrari 355. Though at this very moment, Ferrari is readying a replacement for the Ferrari 355, it still has the sexiest proportions of all cars on this planet. Unlike the Ferrari 550M, the Ferrari 355 is a mid-engined car which means cargo carrying capacity is sacrificed for what is deemed by many as the ideal chassis layout. However, not being able to carry a passenger and a set of golf bags might be objectionable to some even if it has 375 horses from a V8 engine that screams all the way to 8000 revs and does a 0-100 km/h sprint in just 4.7 seconds. The Ferrari 550M with its front engine layout will accommodate golf clubs in its trunk, perhaps some luggage and hopefully for a pretty companion as well.

Then there are those who have to ferry children as well. Where does that leave them? Ferrari has one more model, the Ferrari 456M GT which comes with a traditional automatic transmission. This extra seating will push the price over that of the Ferrari 550M. For that price you will get a V12 engine not unlike that of the Ferrari 550M but detuned to 436 bhp for extra smoothness. Coupled to an automatic transmission it will still burn rubber to clock a 5.1 second 0-100 km/h run.

However these are not the ultimate Ferrari. Ferrari has always maintained a small, extremely exclusive production capacity for a super special model that has a limited production run. The latest which was just delivered at the end of 1998 was the Ferrari F50. If it could ever be registered in Singapore, it would cost something like three million dollars after taxes and COE. This collector’s item is made of very exotic materials indeed. How about a carbon-fibre chassis with kevlar panels and a Formula One inspired V12 engine producing 513 bhp and a Formula One suspension? If that is not enough, consider that only 349 of these beauties have been made. It is now too late to get one, they are all sold and delivered but the news from the grapevine is that there will be something special to look out for in the near future.

Those in the fashion circles will understand the need for clothing and it is no different for Ferrari. The designer for the current Ferraris is Pininfarina. His styling efforts accentuates the highly subjective, emotional and slightly irrational aspects of any Ferrari. The curves, proportions and colors are designed to evoke interest, less to do with logic and everything to do with emotion, less temporal, more visceral. Those who have had the pleasant experience of driving one of these beauties will no doubt have left their hearts behind and indeed some their very souls.

Admittedly, the Ferrari has been more like a mistress, a flighty temptress, passionate and sexy. Also temperamental and unpredictable. That was then but now Ferrari has tempered this highly charged redhead. Reliability and refinement are now very much a part of the new Ferraris but the passion and emotion remain as wild as ever. The most desirable, the most exclusive, the most powerful and the most expensive. Well, almost but what a combination. Yet every Ferrari that leaves the factory is already spoken for. Few are the marques that can lay claim to this sort of success but it is not that Ferrari does not try. They are where they are because they expend every effort to be at the very cutting edge of technology, inspiring both competitors and fans alike. Ferrari puts it this way, the best Ferrari is the one they still haven’t made, the next one.

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