April 24, 2012

Ferrari California Handling Speciale

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Pistonheads have kindly allowed us to print this article highlighting the new handling pack for the California, a car we provide Ferrari California insurance for. The original piece can be found here.

“If there’s such a thing as a Ferrari with suspect PistonHeads credentials, it’s the California. The front-engined V8 with the folding hardtop seems more a rival for that king of cruisers, the Mercedes SL, than ‘proper’ sports cars.

In one way it is. 70 per cent of buyers are new to the marque, which must show that Ferrari has judged it right. There are a whole bunch of drivers out there who no longer need to be scared off by Ferrari ownership.

But a few demand more. The California’s mid-life makeover is far more radical than seems to make sense. The aluminium chassis gets a total reworking, 60 per cent of the parts new with 12 types of aluminium alloy in place of eight, all to get a weight reduction of a mere 30kg. That represents a saving of less than two per cent. It does, though, give Ferrari the opportunity to explain again, yet again, and once again, how much better aluminium is as a chassis material than a carbon fibre monocoque like the Woking boys use.

Although 8,000 Californias have been built so far, the unit cost of this redesign is high. But the constructional changes are also a step in the direction of the next generation California, something that will be lighter still with increased use of bonding in places of welds. The 2012 model also gets another 30hp, now reaching 490hp. Not so sissy, then, when 0-62mph is reached in 3.8 seconds. Two changes – a reed valve in the crankcase to reduce pumping losses, and a revised exhaust manifold – account for the most of the difference.

Of greater significance is the £4,320 Handling Speciale pack. It’s aimed at serial Ferrari buyers who want an extra dose of magic from their California driving experience. The steering is nine per cent quicker, stiffness front and rear is up 15 per cent and 11 per cent respectively, and new logic to the SCM suspension control reduces body roll.

Handling Speciale pack stiffens chassis. Teeming wet roads north of Maranello are not the ideal place to evaluate the handling characteristics of an uprated chassis, but we had a go. Initially it’s the faster steering that grabs your attention. Back-to-back with the ‘ordinary’ 2012 California, the Handling Speciale instantly feels more alive, with the need to cross arms reduced by far more than a mere nine per cent increase in rack gearing would seem possible.

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