Ferrari is one of the few automakers on planet earth to have any news worth celebrating, these days but indeed the prancing horse posted a 54 million euro profit for the first quarter of 2009, its new entry-level California has a two-year waiting list, and the scuderia won its 16th Formula 1 constructor's championship in 2008. To celebrate, Ferrari's flashing the world with a topless version of the 430 Scuderia dubbed 16M and festooned with badges to remind the generations to come of Scuderia Ferrari's auspicious racing record. Of course, in Italy, the number after 16 is unlucky, and so far the 2009 F1 season has been less auspicious, but for now let's bust out the prosecco and toast better days.
Functionally, the 16M is a Scuderiafied Ferrari F430 Spider. It gets the same low-back-pressure, higher-compression (11.9:1 versus 11.3:1) V-8 good for 503-horses and 347 pound-feet (versus the F430's 483/343) bolted to the same F1-Superfast2 transmission capable of shifting in 60 milliseconds with torque interruption of about 40 milliseconds. The chassis setup is also nearly identical from the standard carbon-ceramic brakes (15.6 inch front, squeezed by six-piston calipers, 13.7-inch rear with 4-piston calipers), wider 19-inch tires on unique rims (including an optional new design for the Spider), harder and lower springs, and the race-tuned adjustable damping, F1 Trac, and E-Diff systems. The ability to engage the most aggressive driving modes on the Manettino switch while setting the suspension to its softer setting to help keep the tires pressed to the pavement on bumpy stretches is probably even more useful in the Spider.
The biggest tuning difference between the Scuderia coupe and Spider involved the engine note, which was revised to eliminate some uncomfortable frequencies by fitting unique intake manifold resonators (the torque curve is unchanged). Mass increases by about 60 pounds, raising its weight-to-power ratio from 5.9 to 6.0 pounds per horsepower but it's still about 175 pounds lighter than the F430 Spider. Torsional rigidity drops about 30 percent relative to the roofed version, though the Scuderia mods improve the F430 Spider's torsional strength marginally. While we're speaking in relative terms, we may as well disclose that at $313,350, the 16M costs $25,382 more than the Scuderia coupe, and $78,553 more than an F430 Spider. That sounds pretty darned steep for a V-8 Ferrari, but then this promises to be history's quickest flip-top Ferrari road car.We set out to prove that claim, but on the day of our drive, the famous Fiorano circuit was occupied, and the airstrip we used to test the coupe was not available. So we located a nice long, flat, slightly narrow public road on the agricultural river plane just east of Maranello that seemed lightly traveled and sparsely populated enough to allow the 16M to stretch its legs for a few quick quarter-mile accels. After a peaceful reconnaissance run to establish that there were no farmers in the nearby fields, nor animals or children in the area at lunchtime on a Wednesday, we lined up for our first launch-controlled blast off. Foot on brake, CST off, LC button pressed, "L" flashing in the gear-number display, we revved to 4000 rpm, released the brake and modulated the throttle for what felt like a too-low-speed, near bogging launch, followed by blistering acceleration through four gears' worth of shrieking g-sled acceleration that may have been audible at the Lambo factory 20 miles away in Sant'Agata Bolognese.
After considerable cooling down and a few nice quiet braking tests, it was time for another try, this time with a few more revs on the dial. Too much wheelspin, too abrupt a corrective lift. After two more attempts, each from different starting points and neither feeling quite ideal, a matron appeared trotting briskly toward the road from a seemingly abandoned house well off the road. Game over. Time to disappear, as best one can in a screaming yellow Ferrari.
Our best results: 3.8 seconds to 60 mph, 11.8 at 122.7 mph in the quarter. That's just ahead of the F430 Spyder, but six or seven tenths and almost four mph off the coupe's time. Overlaying the acceleration curves proves the difference is almost entirely before 20 mph. The 45-65-mph passing times are within two tenths. Braking was off just a bit too, at 96 feet from 60 mph versus 93 and 282 from 100, versus 255. Some of that difference will be accountable to the extra weight and some possibly to green (900-mile) hardware, but not much. The factory quotes a Fiorano lap time within a whisker of the coupe's. Given that, it seems safe to assume this is indeed the quickest open Ferrari this side of the company's perennially triumphant single-seaters.
If it doesn't actually run quite as quick as the Scud coupe, it feels way quicker with the top down, the same way sledding down a hill felt faster and more exhilarating than riding down it cooped up in your mom's car. Attack a set of switchbacks alfresco and while your fingers are receiving abundant information from the well-weighted helm, your ears receive corroborating evidence about exactly which tires are scuffing or squealing as a result of cornering forces or intervention from the antilock, E-Diff, or CST systems.
Depending on how much runoff is available in the corners, a flick of the Manettino switch can dial the amount of allowable oversteer up or down quite reliably from zero slip angle in Normal mode, to Formula-Drift in Race mode. Sport seems ideal for narrow Italian back roads. In between the turns there's that inimitable flat-plane-crank V-8 wail bouncing off the retaining walls and goading you to charge deeper into each corner, testing the seemingly infinite depth of the carbon-ceramic disks' braking power. They're incapable of vibration-inducing warpage and incredibly resistant to fade. In 120 miles of driving over roads of varying quality, no bump or dip ever elicited a shake or shimmy of chassis flex, but the violence of a full-throttle Race-mode upshift sends a shudder through the structure that I don't recall feeling on the same roads in the coupe.
With a bit of brainstorming one can imagine more exciting ways of getting from point A to point B while enjoying the sun and wind-a flying-squirrel suit, a jet pack, a rocket luge-but it's hard to think of an open four-wheeler that's this exciting to drive and still offers full weather protection, A/C and a decent sound system (put your pencils down, Ariel Atom buffs). That's ample cause for celebration even in a down year.