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Ferrari F512M Review

ferrari 512m cover gunnar heinrich

“YOU break it, you buy it.” Famous last words?

Nothing instills instant dread quite like the specter of cracking up another man’s Ferrari. I mean, I’d always wanted to buy a Ferrari – just on happier terms.

The owner, Paul McCollam, a level headed car collector who graciously (some might say bravely) agreed to drive down to the Connecticut shoreline so that you, dear reader, could have a vicarious spin in his rosso corsa on beige F512 M was, up until the moment I sat behind the wheel, rather jovial. He’s now a little tense.

And rightfully so. This is a gorgeous machine. Irreplaceable, really. The old saying – they don’t make ’em like they used to? Very true.

Earlier, when Paul pulled up in his red prancing horse with flat V12 thundering through quad exhausts, he seemed as electrified as a rock star running onstage. I’m quite certain that I would have done my best Beetles’ fan imitation – tugging at my own hair and screaming loudly – were it not for some preserving shred of self respect.

Paul + Ferrari

A Ferrari gives you both instant celebrity and a carpe diem outlook.

Lucky then for Paul, he has two. The 1995 F512 M (née Nov., 1994) is his more recent Italian acquisition. Previously, he purchased a gray ’76 308 GTB that’s certified as being one of the most authentically preserved 308s extant. In point of fact, Paul’s 308’s run only 1,200 miles. This mint 512 has more than 17K.

It’s clear which Ferrari Paul actually drives.

FERRARI V12

Aside from the disparity of age and rarity of condition, the F512 M – “M” for “Modificata” – has an advantage or two over its older stablemate that make it the more attractive driver. For one, that Ferrari V12 whose sound alone is said to make some gear heads weep tears of joy, is incredibly potent.

ferrari f512m engine automobilesdeluxe

Four hundred forty horsepower @ 6750 rpm and 369 lb-ft of torque @ 5500 rpm. Zero to 60? Four point five seconds.

That bar’s been past, you sniff. And you’d be correct.

I’ve driven the 2011 Rolls-Royce Ghost which boasts an “adequate” 563 hp and 575 lb-ft between 1500-5000 rpm! But here’s the catch – the Rolls weighs 5,445 lbs and is the length of a small yacht.

The 512? A relatively scant 3,200 lbs. That’s 7.2 lbs per horsepower versus the Ghost’s 9.6 lbs. Needless to say, the weight-to-power ratio makes the 512 feel so much fleeter on its feet than the Rolls and certainly more capable than the vintage, V8 powered 308.

Tut, tut, say you. Apples, pears, and oranges. Quite right.

Which brings us nicely to where the F512 M actually fits, you know, in the cosmic scheme of automotordom. Fact is the 512 was just a blip on the radar.

FIVE HUNDRED AND ONE

f512m ct

Maranello made 501 in less than two years; 75 of which were sold Stateside (at roughly $220K each) and none were sold in Canada. Sorry Canadians. The F512 M was the last iteration of the fabled Testarossa line; following the 512 TR. The Testarossa’s an exotic whose power coupled with iconic cheese grater side air intakes and low/wide proportions made it the pin-up car of the 1980s. It’s one of those sports cars that hardly needs introduction.

Sour-grapes critics slight the F512 M with its NACA hood ducts and integrated lexan covered headlamps (instead of the gator pop-ups) as way too much of a good thing. Personally, I tend to take Mae West’s view that too much of a good thing is always wonderful. And in the 512’s case, her maxim couldn’t be more true.

ferrari 512m rear adlx

To wit: the F512 M has the nicest ass of any car anywhere.

The 512’s bow starts low and narrow and ends wide and slightly higher; culminating with a ridged rump that’s punctuated by four sweetly circular tail lamps (as opposed to the Testarossa’s 80s rectangles). The vertical and horizontal wedge effect trumpets the message that power heralds from the back, not the front. Both proportions and “the look” have become the signature blueprint for super cars ever since.

Despite the overall design’s palpable air of age back in 1995, we can with hindsight now see how the F512 M beautifully bridges Ferrari design between the 80s and 90s; between the Testarossa and the 550 Maranello (bear in mind that the 550 was powered by a front engine V12).

ferrari f512m interior automobilesdeluxe

What makes the F512 M more of a purist’s machine and sexier than some of its successors is that the design is so brilliantly lean. Further, there’s just enough amenities but not enough to larden the Ferrari into a big, fat, cushy GT.

We have power windows, door locks, a leather lined cockpit, AC, and a radio and that’s it, mi amici. Oh, and a nice touch: the manually adjustable seats have leather covered pull-handles.

For the driver, there’s no electronic launch modes. No wiz-bang safety nannies. No flappy paddles. No power steering. No dead pedal either. There’s just three small pedals in a tight row, a meaty helm, a chrome-gated standard shifter that is as God intended, your wits, and all the power you can handle mounted right behind your head.

BEHIND THE WHEEL

f512m ferrari

And now, back to Paul’s offer/warning.

Nod. Breathe in. Insert thin metal key into the right side of the steering column. It has an oddly flexible plastic fob which momentarily distracts. Twist ‘n pray.

Tweeee, barroum! Bubububububub…

You stare out of a sharply raked windshield. The wipers seem strangely poised as if to swat at a moment’s notice. The edgy slant of the red hood appears briefly than disappears into the tarmac. There’s precious little front ground clearance, so mind the bumps.

1995 f512 ferrari

Orient yourself – it’s crucial in this car as the Italians did not design this space for drivers over six feet and the confines do impose a bit on vehicle operation. Size 11 Docksiders seem to want to cover two pedals at once and you have to keep your left knee bent, such is the prevalence of the wheel well into the footwell.

That said, once you’ve found your position, the leather seat provides the right amount of comforting support and with that you can forgive the F512 M its limited ergonomics.

Find first by moving the ball shifter all the way to the left and backwards. Unlike an old Porsche, there’s zero play with the lever and the engagement is a precise and beautifully sprung action.

FERRARI SWITCH GEARS

Feed a little gas and the car wants to move forward but seems well tempered. Still, in no time at all you need second. That’s a forward push of the lever, then a brief right turn and then straight home. Man, that feels good!

ferrari 512m details automobilesdeluxe

And with that you’ve experienced the infamous dog-leg 1st-2nd shift of which R&T and C&D staff used to grouse. Loudly. It’s a design that lends itself to racing but not to the blistering one-two swaps needed for traffic light showdowns. You can master the action with practice and it does feel natural with time.

Funny thing – in the twists, second’s all you really need – that sonorous V12 wants to rev high and loud all the way past 7000rpm which means you can travel way faster than road conditions and sanity permit.

Approach the inside of a corner. It’s a right hander that begins with a subtle trajectory only to wind into a tight bend. Here’s where you once again adjust – and quickly – to the F512 M’s unique dynamics.

TURNING THE CORNER

f512m corner automobilesdeluxe

Turn-in seems strangely non-linear. That’s not to say the steering’s sloppy. Far from it – it’s one of the most directly engaging helms you’ll steer.

But odd as this may seem, you find yourself correcting your angle of entry as the car seems to run wide of the apex.  It’s almost as though you need to use big, elbowy motions to get round tighter bends; twisting the wheel further than you originally had anticipated.

Porsche’s original 911 provides a similar sensation. It’s much to do with the fact that there’s so much at work behind you, driver. Push harder into corners and both Ferrari and Porsche feel like the front end will eventually run wide and understeer. But in truth unlike the 911, the F512 M’s is much more forgiving.

This is thanks largely to the engine being mounted midship before the rear axle which in turn allows for much more balanced handling.

The traditional RWD 911 gives the driver a more hair raising (read: alarming) cornering experience.

Hit the brakes and swift progress is taken by the scruff and yanked back hard. Remember – there’s no ABS to help keep them from locking. It’s you and Physics mono e mono.

Take it into second (or third, doesn’t much matter) hit go and the V12 explodes each time, every time into an F1 car. The engine note soars high and shrill as tach and speedometer both race upward in relation to your liquefying horizon.

FERRARI ADDICTION

ferrari 512 m automobilesdeluxe

It’s addictive. It’s thrilling. Paul, who’s now enjoying himself, wants you to push harder into that next bend. Felt that? Yeah! Seat-of-your-pants fun. You and Ferrari are one, melding with Connecticut asphalt. You want more and more of it. You’re thinking this is automotive heroin.

And it is.

And then, just as soon as the day with the 512 had begun, it’s done. You watch as that fabulous tail burbling that brilliant V12 music drives off into the distance.

So this is what the fuss was all about. Ferrari V12s, Testarossas, Italian performance. Paul about buying your magnificent car, can I have the right of first refusal?

Paul & F512M

Ed. Note: Many, many thanks to Paul McCollam who proved himself to be fun, friendly, and game.

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