When God was handing out beauty, the Italians received more than their fair share. Beauty is everywhere in Italy. But it�s strangely lacking in Ferrari�s flagship.
2010 Ferrari 612 Scaglietti, 5.7-litre V12, petrol, six-speed F1 automated manual transmission, rear-wheel drive
Just how important is a car’s looks to you? For me they’re vital because, if I was spending an obscene amount of money on a car, house, yacht or woman, I’d want to be able to look at it with a longing, a burning desire and drift off to sleep every night thinking about it (or her). There are certain cars that absolutely tick that box for me and most of them hail from Italy. One of BMW’s top brass once said to me, as we were admiring the view from the coast of Portofino one summer evening, that when God was handing out beauty, the Italians received more than their fair share. Beauty is everywhere in Italy. But it’s strangely lacking in Ferrari’s flagship.
In fact the 612 Scaglietti could have been penned by Chris Bangle rather than the legendary studios of Pininfarina. Because when Pininfarina is firing on all cylinders, nobody on the planet does car design better and the 612 is, if I’m being kind, awkward looking. If I’m brutally honest I’d say it’s butt ugly. But then, you could argue that a car’s looks are subjective; that beauty is in the eye of the beholder. And you’d be wrong because there are certain parameters that we all use for measuring beauty.
Don’t believe me? In order to help my case, consider the following: George Clooney is a good-looking man; Philip Seymour-Hoffman is not. The crumbling buildings in Rome and Venice are beautiful; the vast, endless grey tenements of East Berlin are not. The Ferrari 246GT is possibly the most gorgeous car ever produced; the 1980s Testarossa is not. See – it’s pretty simple to establish what is and what is not aesthetically pleasing. And when it comes to a Ferrari, the ones that are revered as the all-time greats are the ones that look the nicest – it’s a fact.
Think of the unloved Ferraris – the ones that languish in the classifieds with the used Fords and Toyotas. Mondial, 348, 308GT4, 412i, even the mighty Testarossa: all of them challenged in the looks department. And the 612, despite being Ferrari’s most expensive car, is destined to join them. From the rear three-quarters it looks nice enough, if a little bland, but the front end is a mess and the wheels like tiny, lending the profile a lack of balance and finesse.
It’s a huge car, this: 4.9 metres long and almost two metres wide. Yet it weighs a relatively low 1840kg thanks to its aluminium spaceframe chassis and body panels. Which, combined with 402kW from its quad-cam V12, should make for rapid progress, especially as the 612’s engine is mounted well behind the front wheels. In fact 85 percent of the car’s mass is within its 2950mm wheelbase and 55 percent of its weight is over the rear wheels. Obviously a lot of thought went into the design, at least under the skin.
Apart from the ideal weight distribution and low centre of gravity, the design has also meant there’s plenty of room inside this Ferrari. Which is of paramount importance because it’s aimed at the well-heeled businessman as much as the driving enthusiast. The interior is an exercise in classic Italian style – rich leather upholstery is there in abundance, as you’d expect – and the layout of dials and gauges is pleasingly simple.
The steering wheel is near vertical, adding to the sporting vibe but even with the driver’s seat in position for someone over two metres tall, there’s enough room in the back seats for a couple of passengers of similar height. It’s a true four-seater, this and on paper, at least, one of the great GT cars.
Ferrari’s four-seat GT models have always been much maligned and suffered massive depreciation. You can trace the 612’s lineage right back to the 1950s and 60s, with its 166, 250GT, 330GT, 400, 412 and 456GT ancestors all offering formidable V12 pace with suitably luxurious accommodation. But they’ve remained largely unloved by the world at large because the name Ferrari always conjures up images of pure, unadulterated sports cars. Being able to take the kids on holiday in the car is never a consideration with this particular brand and collectors shun these cars.
But the 612 Scaglietti (named after Sergio Scaglietti, the man responsible for sculpting some of Ferrari’s most famous aluminium models) is easily the most technically advanced GT ever built in Maranello. And even though it’s been with us since 2004, it still impresses with its technical and engineering prowess.
The front mid-mounted V12 is basically a slightly modified version of that fitted to the 575M, which has since given way to the awesome 599 GTB Fiorano and it’s a masterpiece that’s equally happy trundling through town as it is screaming around the tightest hairpins Italy has to offer, all the while singing like Pavarotti in full swing. For all the manic energy an AMG Merc provides, there’s really no substitute for a normally-aspirated V12.
My test is carried out in the hillsides surrounding Modena and here are some of Italy’s most challenging roads with everything from fast sweepers to surfaces that would trouble a Land Rover, where the fierce heat has destroyed what little Tarmac was there in the first place. My travelling companion is in a Lamborghini Gallardo Spyder and we have an agreement between us that we’ll drive both cars as if we’ve stolen them to see if the 612 can cut it as a sports car. In theory this should be like pitching a Caterham against a Maybach but let’s see if Ferrari has succeeded in giving the 612 that indescribable magic.
At low speeds this is like piloting a limousine. Quiet, comfortable and supremely refined, it cossets and cushions like few cars can, which is exactly what I was expecting. What comes as a complete surprise, however, is how the Scaglietti goes when pressing on a bit. The power comes in like a tidal wave as the revs rise but it’s delivered in complete control, never really catching the driver unaware. There’s no need to keep an eye on the rev counter because the interior is filled with the orchestral soundtrack of that thoroughbred V12 and it’s nothing short of intoxicating – something that does the fuel consumption no good whatsoever.
As I get more brave the road becomes epically challenging but the 612 brilliantly hides its daunting physical dimensions. It seems to shrink around me, becoming a focussed supercar that is more than capable of getting the pesky Lambo to eat dirt. Granted, my mirrors are constantly filled with the Gallardo’s angry snout but at no point does the Ferrari feel like it could be taken by it. My friend later remarks that he was terrified by the pace we were making and felt the Gallardo didn’t have much more to give, which is praise indeed for a four-seat Ferrari.
It’s the agility of the thing that impresses me the most. It feels as light and nimble as a speedboat when you expect it to be a lumbering, wallowing cruise liner. The steering is perfectly weighted and the levels of communication in every part of the driving experience are beyond compare for cars of its ilk. A Bentley Continental GT never felt like this, not even the Speed or Supersport variants.
The 612’s electronic damping makes a fine fist of keeping the big car planted at all times but it’s still easy to get it out of shape with an injudicious stab of the throttle and you need to take things easy in the wet. But this simply adds to the character of the thing because a V12 Ferrari should provide a certain frisson of danger, shouldn’t it? The F1 robotised manual transmission, while not as quick as in the Ferrari California, 599 or new Ferrari 458 Italia, is extremely usable and, if I’m honest, enables a quicker, more electrifying drive on roads like these.
All things considered, the 612 Scaglietti is an astonishing motor car. Yes, it’s one of the finest GTs ever produced but it’s also an out-an-out sports car when you want it to be – the very best of both worlds. It’s just a pity that its looks will forever tarnish the experience because, while you’re drifting off to sleep dreaming of what it’s like to drive on your favourite roads, you won’t be dreaming about how gorgeous it is. If the 612’s replacement, which isn’t that far off, sees Pininfarina back at the top of its game then a bona fide classic Ferrari could well have four seats and rock solid residuals.
For us mere mortals, the Scaglietti’s terrifying depreciation could, however, mean the magic of a V12 Ferrari is within reach. As a used purchase it makes a huge amount of sense if you can stomach the fuel bills and, while you might not stare back at yourself when driving past shop windows, get one of these on the right road and you’ll feel like a driving god. It’s a wonderful machine and comes highly recommended.