Ferrari Italia

At last, a proper Car of the Year. The Daily Telegraph motoring supplement has elected the Ferrari 458 Italia COTY in its Money No Object category. It is also Car magazine’s and Auto Express’s Performance Car of the Year, GQ’s Supercar of the Year, MSN Car’s Car of the Year and even Fifth Gear and Top Gear agree about it. How welcome. What a contrast to the self-serving European Car of the Year jury’s Nissan Leaf (see earlier blog), which flaunts the COTY logo shamelessly on television.

I didn’t drive a lot of Ferraris in 1992. The Fiorano test track was instructive. I avoided being driven round by Ferrari testers, who aimed to frighten passengers to death within a lap. One of our number, I forget who, managed to punt one of the 512s down the banking after the overpass bridge but I’m glad to say I managed to keep it on track and return a respectable performance, along with Michael Scarlett. We weren’t racing of course.

The 458 Italia won, according to The Daily Telegraph, “Because of the pure driving pleasure it delivers – to drivers of all abilities. It flatters your driving while involving you fully in the experience. Despite its towering performance … the 458’s astounding levels of tactility and refinement clinch it. It has almost telepathic steering, superbly linear major controls, looks (and sound) to die for. Hell, it’s even comfortable."

Not sure about the rhetoric but you can see what they mean. Read what I thought in The Sunday Times of 19 April 1992. Click to enlarge

The conversation with Luca di Montezemolo, an aristocrat to his fingertips, then as now was also instructive. Enzo Ferrari may have founded a great dynasty of sports cars but it was Montezemolo who made them work properly, got rid of the red stains on the balance sheet and developed a practical range of road cars instead of stark 2-seaters. One of Berlusconi’s henchmen called on him to resign at Ferrari after losing the world championship. Luca had his ups and downs in football and ran Fiat for seven years until displaced last April, by 34 year old John Elkann, grandson of Gianni Agnelli.

Montezemolo’s title is not Marchese or Marquis but Nobile dei Marchesi di Montezemolo (Noble of the Marquises of Montezemolo), indicating his descent from a Marchese although not one himself. Luca is youngest son of Massimo Cordero dei Marchesi di Montezemolo (1920–2009), a Piedmontese aristocrat whose family served the Royal House of Savoy. His grandfather, Mario (1888–1960) and great-grandfather Carlo (1858–1943) were both Generals in the Army and he is cousin of a Cardinal. Aged 44 in 1992 makes him 63 now. Luca’s uncle, Admiral Giorgio Cordero dei Marchesi di Montezemolo (1918–1986) was a commander in the Royal Italian Navy, the Regia Marina in WWII. Good if you think Italian frogmen disabling HMSs Queen Elizabeth and Valiant in Alexandria on 19 December 1941, less good at Taranto and Cape Matapan.