Every eight-year-old boy knows there is something different, special, awesome about a Ferrari. For many grown men, even the word "Ferrari" evokes the smell and frisson of boyhood. When one glides by on the street, there is a quick stab of youthful awed reverence—"Cooool!"—which resonates from a place not often plumbed by your well-mannered adulthood. And I'm no different. When I punch the start button on the steering wheel of the F430, the sound of fight-or-flight primality cracks through the still air. As I sit in its leather throne, governing over the rumble of the V-8 and its 490 frothing horses, it occurs to me that driving a Ferrari is every bit as spectacular as my eight-year-old self told me it would be.
The elite company out of Maranello, Italy, keeps its steadfast buyers in a constant state of anticipation: never producing enough models and always discontinuing one as it releases another. This year there are four—coupe and Spider versions of the supreme F430, the 612 Scaglietti and a special version of the 575M Maranello, called the Superamerica.
On a recent Tuesday at a Connecticut racetrack, I tested the 2006 F430, which, as only 800 are to be produced, is as rare as an ivory-billed woodpecker. The car was red (as it should be), super low and ultra wide, with two enormous air intakes on the nose and steep rakes in its sides. The engine crouches behind the cockpit, encased in a glass shell for Louvre-like viewing. Art as function. The simple interior is swathed in margarine-colored leather. It is the steering wheel that takes center stage, with a red start button to one side and the yellow-boxed Cavallini stallion bulls-eyeing the center.
With a foot full of pedal, I hit sixty in the time it takes to fasten a button on your shirt. The F430 uses F1 paddle shifters just behind the steering wheel. For this reason, it is easy to drive and deceptively docile, like playing with a sleepy-eyed circus bear.
If the engine is the F430's id, the enormous ceramic brakes function as its superego. I dove full force into an ugly C curve and waited until the last moment to give the brakes the full stomp: only feet away from the edge of the curve thundering at 100 m.p.h. (a sure crash) and then suddenly I'm not. Newton's laws are shrugged away.
The F430 Spider (pictured) has a soft top, all the better to hear that engine and enjoy the view from the cockpit. The price tag—about $200,000—almost seems reasonable. If that sounds too reasonable, buyers can consider the $300,000 Superamerica, featuring a retractable glass roof, a 533-horsepower V-12 and bragging rights as the fastest convertible in the world. Even if those eight-year-old dreams of becoming an astronaut or a baseball player didn't work out, this may be just as good.
Scorecard: 2006 Ferrari f430 Spider
BASE PRICE/WITH F1 TRANSMISSION: $195,100/$204,867
ENGINE: 90° V-8
TORQUE: 343 foot-pounds
WEIGHT: 3,351 pounds
ZERO TO 60 MPH: 4.1 seconds
TOP SPEED: 193 m.p.h.