“I don’t know if I should tell you this,” Dr. Frank Setter, anesthesiologist and 2006 Ferrari F430 owner, is about to clue us in, “but I just learned how to drive stick.”
The F430 is so potent that the mid-engined Ferrari could, in theory, exhaust the average driver’s modest skill set within the first throttle blip. Or kill us dead faster than you can shout – malignant hyperpyrexia.
Gear lever snaps into second.
Shouldn’t we practice on something slower? Perhaps a BMW M Thr- oh, Jesus…
Four hundred ninety horses break free. Michelin coated hooves spark Dante’s inferno as quad exhausts set off a sonic boom. We hit eighty five hundred rotations.
Clocks and landscape starting to melt into goo. Outside, the F430 broadcasts Formula One. Inside, imploding with g-force, I am Munch’s screamer.
It’s a blazing hot day in Litchfield, Connecticut. The sun beats down on the countryside without mercy. Dr. Setter, perhaps ignoring his better angels, has agreed to drive out to this lovely land of hills, valleys, leafy forests, narrow ravines, and broad meadows with serpentine b-roads that snake through it all so that I can pester him with questions and drive his F430 – one of Maranello’s sharpest asphalt scalpels.
Our date falls a day before Hurricane Earl’s light brush with the Eastern seaboard and on the same Thursday that Ferrari recalls the 458 Italia, the F430’s cutting edge successor. From a TV hung above the bar at Da Capo restaurant, CNN’s saying that as many as 10 customers lost theirs to catastrophic fire.
The anchor crosses to the weatherman who dutifully fear mongers.
Dr. Setter, a chill Staten Island-native in his lower 40s sits across a table dressed in full Ferrari regalia. We sip cappuccinos and he remarks on how his time inside hospitals has turned him off of AC.
The restaurant’s central air washes us in cool.
So, why the F430? Why the traditional manual gearbox? Is this his first Ferrari? What’s the meaning of life?
Answers given in parables: He traded in a 911 Turbo and bought the $200K F430 with 4.3 L V8 for a relative song after browsing the lot at Miller Motorcars. It’s been a beautiful friendship ever since. The traditional gearbox represents sporting tradition and a cue to stay in the game of driving to say nothing of owning one of only 216 M.Y. 2006 F430s fitted with the gated shifter.
He’s taken a class or two at Skip Barber. Lapped the track at Lime Rock. And yes, this is his first Ferrari and likely not his last.
“Growing up, my family wasn’t affluent,” he confides. “But I read car magazines and used to go to the NY auto show.” He remembers getting hold of his first BMW 3-series somewhere at the corner of the new millennium following his residency.
“I enjoyed that car every day I drove it,” he recalls. The Bimmer was one of his favorites, though plenty of German machinery followed.
Now flush with the success of putting patients into and out of sleep, Dr. Setter’s finding a balance between his automotive passion and life’s fundamentals. He beams brightest when, as proud father, he retells the exploits of his precocious 4 and 10 year olds. Apparently, they tease their dad that he enjoys his car too much.
He gleefully agrees.
The F430 provides what we might call adrenaline induction therapy. Slipping behind the wheel, I insert the red fobbed key into the ignition and press the red start button on the helm. The fiery V8 comes alive and then settles into a low rumble. Then, like a complete ass, I stall out rolling forward in first.
Let’s try again, shall we? Tweee- varrrooooumm!
“You know, there are times I forget what I’m driving,” he says as a yellow bus load of stunned school kids passes by.
In rosso corsa, there’s no missing the F430 Berlinetta. The coupe’s color is so vibrantly Italian and quintessentially Ferrari that applying the same shine to a minivan would turn the mundane into the exotic.
Good thing, then, as the F430’s Pininfarina-penned body is the subject of some controversy among certain sects of the Ferraristi. As Clarkson once opined, it’s not the prettiest Ferrari. And he’s right.
But Dr. Setter, unfazed, tells it like it is. “They don’t have to buy it.”
Truth is, if they heeded his prescription, those well-to-do abstainers would really miss out.
Two big airscoops in the front swallow cooling air while voluptuous fenders arc, 1970s Dino style, into the windshield’s sharp angle. The shoulder-lines cut straight back into high-raised intakes that balloon out from the rear quarter panels as if bubbling from the V8’s heat.
A righteous glass canopy acts as display case to red-headed motor – a true work of art – and there’s a window to the mechanical wonder from inside the cabin, too. The quad tail lamps are stationed like rockets above the twin sets of dual exhausts pipes provide pleasing symmetry.
From inside the hide bound cockpit and behind the steering wheel, you’re treated to the potent taste of F1 technology. A clever little dial on the lower, right spoke allows for five settings from snow to psycho mode that tailors the E-Diff, traction control systems, ECU, and Skyhook suspension to your mood. Sport mode strikes the best balance and the technology stands as a beautiful affirmation of Ferrari’s purest ethos – let the driver decide (and make him look heroic)!
Your turn to drive.
Signature metallic ball-on-stick lever in hand, click it into first. Clutch pedal is light and is tightly tucked in with the stop and go pedals. Legroom is an improvement for Ferrari, though the front wheel well still cuts in.
Drop the hammer.
Eight cylinders ignite into a raging frenzy. Exhausts bellow and bray, drastically altering their tone and tenor each stage of the tach’s range.
Second gear. Speedometer needle spins upward as…
Shift now! You’re in third. With full throttle there’s just no time and…
You’re flying down a long descent that starts to ascend into a right hander into a forest so it’s time to…
Pads clamp discs forcing the F430 to decelerate fast from three digits speeds. You detect a left-right-back-front tug as ABS and yaw control sensors fight a stoic battle against physics. You arrive at the uphill bend smoothly and notice that signature Ferrari poise as the rear hunkers down and tracks neatly with the front.
The F430’s handling is nothing short of a modern marvel and the power assisted steering betrays none of the road feel elicited from earlier unassisted setups. Perfectly weighted, the helm provides great assurance that the F430, locked on target, will go precisely where you point it.
Secreting a glance in the mirror, you’ll notice you’re spanning both ears with a Cheshire cat’s grin.
Dr. Setter and I find our way to Cornwall Bridge and then up along Route Seven, a scenic yarn of tarmac that shadows the Housatonic River’s back and forth trail through a slice of Connecticut’s Appalachia. We circle back once we reach Falls Village and make a loop back to Litchfield.
A perfect slice of bucolic New England.
Pulling to a stop, I press the horn in appreciation – triggering Ferrari’s unmistakably strident siren. Dr. Setter nods, “That’s the sound of a traditional Ferrari horn! I installed it with help from another Ferrari owner . The factory horn sounded like something out of Detroit.”
Fortunately, the F430 observes most every other Ferrari tradition. And in a package so complete, for the bulk of the last decade, it pushed the boundaries of Italian performance well past the competition. It is fiercely capable and nearly peerless in the realm of road-legal performance cars.
That the F430 accomplishes all this while maintaining the Ferrari magic stands as a testament to Maranello’s enduring role as the world’s greatest purveyor of super cars.