I came to Italy to say hello. Also, maybe, arrivederci.
The 812 Superfast—yes, that is its real name—is, as the company claims, the most powerful production Ferrari ever. Words worth crossing the Atlantic for. But the car gets its oomph from one of the rarest of engines: a naturally aspirated V-12. No whining turbochargers. Just pure, unadulterated power as the gods of displacement intended. (The engine puts out 789 horsepower.) But with new, stricter environmental restrictions and the advent of hybridizing all things with four wheels—even the top-of-the-line LaFerrari is a hybrid—it was rumored that this endangered beast could be one of the last of its kind.
The V-12 engine of any variety has always been an uncommon breed, synonymous with luxury and easy automotive one-upmanship since the automobile’s pre-war days. Twelve is bigger than eight or six, after all. The hallmark of the brand’s greatest hits—even more so than the red paint—was the thunderous V-12 that powered some of the best cars in its 70-year history, from the very first Ferrari, the 125 S, to the modern-day Ferrari Enzo. Italian automaker Lamborghini is also synonymous with sonorous, naturally aspirated V-12’s—it was in the company’s very first model in 1963 and powers its newest brutal track hammer, the Aventador S. BMW started offering V-12’s in the mid-’80s, again, one would assume, to satisfy the era’s need for excess. (You’ll still find it in the prestigious land yacht of the 7 Series.) Mercedes offers the most variety for those who want a V-12 in anything from a two-seater convertible to a pseudo-military SUV—they are found in six models in their range. And all Rolls-Royces have V-12’s, because why not?
In our eco-conscious, technologically advanced automotive climate, are V-12’s necessary, though? The V-6’s in the Acura NSX and Nissan GT-R make them among the fastest cars in the world. The Porsche 911 has always had a flat six, and no one thinks of that car as slow. And who needs engines or even gasoline, for that matter? The Ludicrous versions of the all-electric Tesla Model X and Model S can hit 60 mph in under three seconds on batteries and electric motors alone.
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Press the red start button on the steering wheel of the 812 Superfast, hear the engine and exhaust note that will cause birds to scatter in fear, and that is the beginning of your journey into resetting the parameters of what is necessary in this world. And all of this is before you’ve even stepped on the gas.
“Sound is more important than performance with a V-12,” Ferrari’s chief technology officer, Michael Leiters, tells me. What’s the most important metric? “Emotion,” he says.
Marketing-speak, perhaps, but the German CTO (who formerly worked at Porsche) says this rather earnestly. Take it on the road and one can imagine that if there is a tool to measure excitement somewhere in the Ferrari plant, the Superfast may have broken it. The first straightaway I hit on the way to the curvy, elevation-filled country roads where Ferraris are tested is intoxicating. It feels like dipping into a limitless well of heady horsepower and torque, every thousand rpm delivering a new high. Your head gets pinned to the headrest; you laugh hysterically. Eighty percent of the torque can be tapped at a mere 3,500 rpm and peaks at 7,000 rpm. Translation: It is fast off the line and fast when you’re already going fast. It earns its name. Zero to 62 in 2.9 seconds. You chase after that visceral speed, the incomparable roar, and the car delivers it with high drama.
But a V-12 is just part of the equation that makes the Superfast one of the most enjoyable cars on the planet. It handles winding, narrow roads, more naturally suited for a tiny Fiat, with aplomb thanks to rear wheels that turn and serious stopping power from carbon-ceramic brakes the size of manhole covers. You can hold down the downshift paddle and press the brake and the car will drop gears automatically for optimal power as you enter a curve. A suite of control systems like E-Diff (electronic torque vectoring) and F1-Trac (electronic stability control) help keep this supercar manageable even if you’re more accustomed to driving a minivan.
All of this is fairly futuristic stuff for a Ferrari, especially in contrast to the primordial V-12 at the heart of it all. Still, it’s hard to envision a world without an engine like this, one that produces such a brash, singular symphony of displacement that Italian nonni come out of their homes with a cadre of children in tow just to get a glimpse, and other drivers (at least in the part of Italy where Ferraris are born) graciously pull over so you can pass them. This can’t be the end of that world. This can’t be the last of the naturally aspirated Ferrari V-12’s, can it?
“Absolutely not,” head of product marketing Nicola Boari tells me. He follows up matter-of-factly: “Our clients demand it.” In other words, where there’s a thrill, there’s a way.
2018 Ferrari 812 Superfast
Engine: 789-hp 6.5-liter V-12
Performance: 0 to 62 mph in 2.9 seconds
Price: From $339,025
This article appears in the F/W ’17 Big Black Book from Esquire. BUY IT!