Ferrari at 70: touring Britain in a 488 Spider and a vintage 166

This year, as Ferrari reaches its 70th birthday, it is perhaps worth remembering that Ferrari the person, Ferrari the team, even Ferrari the car constructor are somewhat older even than Ferrari the sports and supercar brand we all grew up with.

This article was originally published on 25 February 2017. We’re revisiting some of Autocar’s most popular features to provide engaging content in these challenging times.

Enzo Ferrari was a towering figure in motor racing long before he put his name on a car, and the prancing horse emblem of Great War air ace Francesco Baracca was well known years before any road car edged between the gates of Maranello.

So, amid the celebrations, let us remember also that Enzo would now be 119, and it is 97 years since he gained worldwide recognition by coming second in the 1920 Targa Florio. It’s also 85 years since his emblem was slapped on a series of Alfa Romeos that came to dominate grand prix racing in the early 1930s. And it’s 77 years since the first of two AAC 815s – Auto Avio Construzione – were built in 1940, Ferraris in all bar the name that Alfa refused to let him put on his cars.

But as none of those is a nice round number, I’m nosing the prow of a new 488 Spider through a famous tunnel and listening to the raw blare of its 660bhp twin-turbo V8 motor bouncing off the walls. It’s our first stop in a small pilgrimage to places of significance to Ferrari as we’ve known it these past seven decades.

We’re at Goodwood and I’d like to say our cruise through the home counties and up to the farthest corner of Norfolk will follow a chronological path through the history of Ferrari in the UK, but it won’t. So although our course will be geographically tolerably straight and true, we will also be jumping around in time like a berserk Tardis.

We’re at the circuit to celebrate two races that took place here and to remember one that went ahead without its key protagonist – one Stirling Craufurd Moss.

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In truth, and even with its independent front suspension, the 166 has a pre-war feel to the way it stops and steers. This is not a precision instrument but one that needs aiming in the approximately intended direction of travel and fine-tuned thereafter. But it rides well and the interior with those gorgeous Jaeger dials, each containing Ferrari’s fabled signature, is a truly special place.

The powertrain is something else, though. People used to say when you bought a Ferrari you paid for the engine and got the rest thrown in for free. You can see why, except I’d include the gearbox as part of the package. It has five gears – name another 1940s road car that can claim that – closely stacked and working in perfect harmony with the little motor. Given how small its dozen pistons must be, I’d expected it to need to be revved to its 6000rpm redline in every gear to provide even halfdecent response. In fact, the engine is inexplicably torquey and giving its all by 4500rpm. The gearchange is slow but precise, the engine as smooth and brimful of character as any I’ve known. In the 1940s it must have seemed like a spaceship.

It felt odd to jump between Ferraris designed 70 years apart and, to be honest, I struggled to find things they shared in common. Apart, that is, from an attitude. More than any other car, more than any other brand, Ferraris were, and remain, about the simple, delightful business of driving. Other considerations may enter the pot, but they do so second. It was that way when Ferrari built its first car, and it remains that way today. All we can hope is that in 70 years’ time our descendants will still be able to say the same thing.