Experience D’Orth    By Bill Orth

 

FERRARI AND THE HUMANITIES                                                 

            

One of the obligatory courses during my fledgling Liberal Arts college career was Humanities 101.  Initially, I had no idea exactly what that was, but after a while parts of it got interesting and it promised to be an easy way to elevate my GPA, which I desperately needed, as I was on final academic probation at the time.  Anyway, the music and poetry segments didn’t zing me so much, but the architecture and design unit easily kept me awake in that big lecture hall—right after lunch—and I have appreciated being able to recognize lessons learned there ever since, particularly (and unexpectedly) in the Ferrari world.

Case in point:  the Ferrari 348 has often been criticized by non-enlightened observers for not having traditional Ferrari design characteristics, like round taillights, and the strakes in the doors were hooted at for having no aesthetic foundation.  In fact, that was the idea; it was an all-new car and broke a lot of fresh ground for Ferrari and pininfarina, and its design was very harmonious and functional.  I had learned that a basic element of most creative works—be they buildings, music, literature or vehicles—is called “theme in repetition.”  A signature characteristic is interwoven throughout the works’ design.  It is varied a bit to avoid visual or aural boredom, but its recurring presence evolves a design that continually complements itself and doesn’t allow jarring inconsistencies…like round taillights in a design that obviously was focused on straight lines!

Think about the 348 for a minute.  Few of the body panel lines are curved; those outlining the front hood form strong, straight lines down the fenders, as do the headlamp covers.  The black air inlet grille in the back portion of the front hood has a pattern of fine, straight, parallel ribs.  The engine cover in back is crossed by parallel louvers over the hot air exit on top and the rear lamp assemblies are covered by horizontal, parallel strakes that reinforce the low, wide stance of the car when viewed from the rear—a major departure from the compact 308/328 pattern.  True, horizontal stripes across the derriere wouldn’t be a good idea for Liz Taylor, but on the 348 they emphasized the car’s width very attractively.  And those even-bigger strakes across the doors?  The 348, like the Testarossa before it, had to have large air inlets in the doors for the rear-mounted radiators, and wind tunnel testing at the time indicated that such parallel vanes aided the induction of needed cooling air…and also repeated the parallel-lines design mélange on the rest of the car.  Further parallel features can be found in the stitching on the interior door panels, in the A/C vents, pleating in the seats, console elements and switchgear.  Indeed, it was a very harmonious design, but, unfortunately, was too far removed from previous Ferrari styling and wound up being chastised by ignorant savages in the press.

The upshot was that the later Speciale model of the 348 was made to run naked without its taillamp strakes and always looked like something was missing back there.  The absent strakes made the now-prominent rectangular lenses look out-of-place, when they didn’t before.  Even the Testarossa suffered a similar indignity in its final form, the 1995 512M.  Non-harmonious oblique-shaped headlights were inserted into the fenders and round boat trailer tail lights replaced the integrated rectangular ones, and did nothing to flatter the car’s posterior aspect.  But the journalists applauded the return of “Daytona-like” lamps.   Never mind that the Daytona was full of curved lines and looked “right” with round lights, while the poor TR certainly did not.

OK, moving on to this century, Ferrari hit paydirt five years ago with the concept of the 360 Challenge Stradale, a wonderful ultra-high performance version of the popular 360 Modena.  This car was a brilliant application of another one of my Humanities lessons, the Minimalist prodigy Mies van der Rohe’s concept of “Less is More.”  Ferrari stripped out all of the excess fluff like carpeting, sound dampening material, upholstered door panels, radio and plush seats to create, essentially, a street legal version of the Ferrari Challenge race car.  Augmented by stiffer suspension, higher horsepower, faster F-1 shifting, 19” wheels and more aggressive stability/traction assistance parameters, this car was an instant hit with enthusiasts who prized track-level prowess as opposed to boulevard cruising a la its sister Spider’s typical use in the US.  The Stradale continues to enjoy the highest resale/demand of any preowned 360 model.

Ferrari’s newest model today is the about-to-be-released F430 Scuderia, which is an updated version of the Stradale concept.  This car takes an even more comprehensive approach to maximizing track performance with little concern for creature comforts.  Like the Stradale, it has bare aluminum floors—but in metal color this time instead of matte black—little insulation, fire

                                                                                                 -- Bill Orth –