First impressions are telling and lasting. Turn the key on the F430, press the red button on the handlebar mounted with your left hand and the engine doesn’t just start, it comes to life, similar to Vesuvius. Staccato bursts of acoustic energy hammer on pastel-colored stucco buildings, breaking the silence, until the 483-hp 4.3-liter V-8 comes to a quick stop at a fat, hollow idle. Little animals rush for cover and you now have the attention of everyone within two Modenese city blocks, without even engaging 1st gear with a flick of the F430’s paddle shifters. Of course, it only gets better as you climb the rev scale.
The sheer sonic promise of this engine is not empty, as we are about to discover with this successor to the 360 Modena, itself the most serially produced and profitable car Ferrari has ever made… since 1999, more than 17,000 berlinettas, spiders and Challenge Stradales have rolled off the assembly line at Maranello. So the F430, whose first year of global production of 2000 cars has already been talked about, has some big Italian loafers to fill. What it does brilliantly.
This story originally appeared in the January 2005 issue of Road & Track.
The F430 is indeed based on the 360, yet 70 percent of the parts are new. That’s obvious from the outside, where the profile is familiar, but almost everything else is different, the result of a collaboration between Pininfarina and Ferrari’s Head of Design, Frank Stephenson. With more power comes the need to dissipate more heat, and every duct, vent and scoop has been enlarged and reshaped to do so. Particularly striking are the front air intakes, whose twin-nostril outline pays tribute to Ferrari’s 156 shark-nosed grand prix cars of the early 1960s. There’s more history here, as high atop the rear hips are scoops reminiscent of the legendary 250 LM that directs air into the engine compartment. At the rear, a tasteful tweak to the Enzo taillight treatment is evident, where the round lamps protrude from the body as prominently as the four anodised tailpipes. Its appearance is meaner and more powerful, and not as elegant as the car it replaces.
A look below reveals the evolution in underbody aerodynamics that has continued from the 360, a real case of technology transfer from Ferrari’s Formula 1 effort. The rear diffuser is huge, with strips in the venturis that straighten the airflow for greater effectiveness. At the front, a central spoiler slot cleaves the “clean” air and directs it over an aerodynamic element and then under the car; coupled with venturis for each front wheel, the F430 can carry a whopping 287 lb. producing downward force, and a whopping 617 lb. in all at 286 mph – a 50 percent increase over the 360 - all without resorting to external Wings.
As before, the F430’s chassis is an aluminum spaceframe, with extrusions welded to intricate castings that serve as lift points for the forged aluminum double wishbone suspension. The weight of the chassis itself has increased by 10 percent, thanks to reinforcement elements to cope with the increased torque of the engine, and additional structure to handle the stricter crash standards.
And what an engine it is, both as a static artifact (look at those red crackled intake plenums and cam covers) and as a dynamic force: its 112.1 hp/litre tops even the mighty Enzo for specific horsepower. It starts with the raw casting of the Maserati Quattroporte block, though the similarities (and shared parts) end there. The F430 has a flat crankshaft with its clear firing order, along with patented 4-valve heads, induction and exhaust systems. Quite compact for its size and only 9 lb. heavier than the 360’s engine, the F430’s 90-degree V-8 sits 0.6 inches lower in the car, thanks to a slimmer dry-sump casting that incorporates the main bearing saddles and a new small-diameter, double-disc clutch. The inlet plenums sit on top of long vertical guides; a rotary cylinder valve in between provides variable intake volume that, combined with variable cam timing on both intake and exhaust, ensures that 80 percent of peak torque (343 lb.-ft. at 5250 rpm) is available at just 3500 rpm. Remember, there are still 5000 rpm to the red line, which is also where the full 483 horsepower of the engine is made.
Our test car was equipped with the F1 paddle-shift gearbox (a traditional 6-speed manual transmission is also offered), with shifts now taking place in just 150 milliseconds. Ferrari stresses that this is the time for the full shift, including the time for engaging and disengaging the clutch, and we’ve found its operation to be significantly improved, from the smoothness of the clutch pick-up to the nearly clutch-free current in effect in automatic mode. Incidentally, “auto” is now activated via a push button on the center console that faces the driver, replacing the 360’s small and clunky T-handle.
Smooth is good, but we had Fiorano’s main straight ready for acceleration testing, and our radar gun was dazzled with acceleration levels close to Enzo. How is 3.5 seconds to 60? And a blistering 11.7 sec. quarter mile at 120.1 mph? Fantastic! The F430 is one of those rare cars that digs hard enough to squeeze the breath out of your lungs and pretty much ignores air resistance because every higher gear seems to pull just as hard. Bellissimo! And the sounds… as the tachometer needle fades to its 8500-rpm peak, the V-8’s mechanical scream gets more metallic and higher. Angry, in the best sense of the word.
Brakes are an easy match, our test car fitted with the ridiculously expensive ($14,300) carbon-ceramic discs that float on aluminum centers and are pressed by Brembo calipers (6-piston front, 4-piston rear). Ferrari claims its test drivers were able to get 350 laps of Fiorano at race speeds with no loss of performance, and these brakes took our own abuse without a hint of fade or increased pedal travel. Our braking distances of both 60 and 80 mph were within 5 ft. of the Enzo’s at 113 and 192 ft, respectively.
We haven’t even mentioned yet another link to F1 technology, a small rotary switch on the handlebar called the manettino, which aces Schumacher and Barrichello would find familiar. Select one of five locks based on available traction and/or courage (Snow, Low Traction, Sport, Race or CST – the latter which disables both yaw and traction control) and different systems adapt. The manettino controls the shifting speed of the F1 gearbox, shock valves, degree of traction and yaw control intervention, the speed at which the dual exhaust bypass valves open (for more power and yet another rich tonal layer of exhaust pulsations) and the degree to which the E -Diff comes into play. Developed in the melting pot of Formula 1, but now banned from racing, this latest piece is a limited-slip differential whose clutch pack is hydraulically modulated and electronically controlled. Cleverly, it uses the same engine-driven hydraulic pump and battery as the F1 gearbox.
The proof is in the driving, and the F430 was once again breathtaking through the foothills south of the factory, culminating in a couple of glorious laps around the Fiorano circuit. The race mode on the manettino seemed ideal, with the fastest shifts engaged, electronic helpers kept to a minimum and the E-Diff set to a bit of throttle-induced oversteer. Here the F430 offers a driving experience that is essentially pure and direct, as much an extension of your will as any production car fitted with street tires. The steering feels ideally weighted and rich in road feedback, and the downforce built up by fast sweepers makes the most of tires that seem slightly narrow for a car of such Herculean performance – 225/35ZR-19s up front, 285/ 35ZR-19 rear. Brakes take the speed away effortlessly, with just a few millimeters of free play on the pedal and a rock hard feel outside of it. And the F1 gearbox delivers perfectly matched downshifts – thanks to the V-8’s twin motorized throttles – even in automatic mode. In short, it’s easy and rewarding to drive fast, the power is reduced extremely well and it’s not nearly as intimidating as the track numbers would suggest.
Our afternoon drive is all too short, and Ferrari personnel practically have to pry our fingers from the F430’s immaculately stitched, leather-wrapped steering wheel. It’s quite a car, one that takes on the challenge of adversaries like the Ford GT and Lamborghini Gallardo, and then some. And with a starting price of around $171,000 (actual numbers yet to be determined), the F430 seems like a relative bargain compared to the three times more expensive Enzo. Yes, it seems certain that the F430 production line will be humming for quite some time to come.