Up Close and Personal with the Ferrari 458 Speciale

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Being the only guy at Hooniverse that regularly talks about new cars, I always enjoy seeing one of the cars I cover in The News for the first time in the flesh. Not all of the cars I cover are ones that I fall in love with or even like,  but I still look forward to seeing any car I talk about online in person to actually see what it’s like when it isn’t 720 pixels wide and described by a press release. For some cars though, it’s different. There are some cars that I wait anxiously for, dream about, and obsess over until I finally get to see it in person, if I ever do.

Typically the cars I look forward to seeing the most are the ones that are the most memorable, ground-breaking, or special in their own way. It could be ferociously quick, dangerously beautiful, or rare – sometimes they may even be all of the above. The car I got to see this past weekend is one that I would describe as “all of the above” because no matter what other car is in its proximity, it still manages to be special in its own way. Or in this case, speciale.

What I found at last weekend’s Caffeine and Octane show in Atlanta, a show which has already contributed greatly to Hooniverse, is the Ferrari 458 Speciale – the most track-focused, hardcore road car Ferrari currently makes that isn’t a LaFerrari. It’s also one of the rarest, as the first batch arrived in the U.S. just last week. And boy, was this one worth the wait.

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This one caught my eye the second I rolled in to the show at 7:00 AM Sunday morning and I had only caught a quick glimpse of it when there was a break in the crowd. Sitting up near the front in the kind of spot the guy probably had to wake up at 3:00 AM for, it was easily the star of the show, dethroning the reigning champ known as the Lamborghini Aventador. It’s exactly the kind of car that a sleepy gearhead on caffeine would die for: it’s fast, gorgeous (to some), dramatic, and focused on nothing but providing the greatest driving experience to those brave enough to explore its limits. It’s also red and has stripes.

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The longer the show went on, the harder it was to get a clear view of the Speciale. This is the last picture I got where you could see the whole car without it being blocked by my fellow enthusiasts and the puddles of drool on the pollinated asphalt. We all like to judge a car in the first batch of press photos, arguing whether or not the new bumpers make it look crappy or if the wheels are too big. I’m guilty of this myself with plenty of cars including this one, but I have to say Ferrari did a damn good job with this car. It was simply stunning to look at and being around it, especially while running, was an experience.

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Like every exotic at a car show, the opening of the bonnet is mandatory at some point. The Speciale’s weapons bay is one of the cleanest yet most sinister looking displays of power I’ve seen in recent memory. Everything that wasn’t actually the engine block, exhaust, or supplementing wiring/tubing was carbon fiber, leaving just the engine block and valve covers as the only source of color. It all really does an amazing job of showing off that 4.5-liter V8 and the 596 horsepower it produces. Maximum power, in true naturally-aspirated Ferrari fashion, isn’t available until it’s approached its 9,000 RPM redline. I only heard a couple of quick throttle blips (something about the car having delivery and “orientation” miles prevented it from redlining), but 9,000 RPM out of this engine must be enough to wake the dead.

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That takes me to the part of the car where all of that power is controlled. Some argue that the interior of the 458 is too busy and that having all of the important buttons on the steering wheel is distracting and unnecessary, but looking at it from outside, I find it functional and impressive. The perfect mix of fine Italian leather, red stitching, and carbon fiber only sweetens the deal.

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The 458 Speciale has some stunning small details both inside and out. One of the most unnecessary yet coolest details is this carbon fiber… thing. It’s a unique and somewhat awesome way of putting the F1-style gearbox controls right where the driver needs them to be. In the background you’ll also notice the lack of carpets and the fire extinguisher in its own leather pouch, which I’d imagine is nice to have in a Ferrari.

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A structure similar to the gearbox controls can be found outside, just before the rear wheels on both sides. This little fin acts as a turning vane to improve downforce while cornering yet promote smooth airflow when going straight. It was probably done by the same wind tunnel lab technician who had just finished designing Räikkönen and Alonso’s F1 cars. I just hope it doesn’t break off as easily as it looks.

The rear decklid is graced by a larger lip spoiler than what’s found on the normal 458. It’s the kind of spoiler that adds just enough downforce to be functional without being large enough to ruin the looks. If anything, it makes it look better.

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The Speciale’s clever aerodynamics exist in spades up front as well. On each corner of the front bumper is its own little turning vane as well to improve its crucial turn-in grip. The entire front end is designed in a way that moves air as efficiently and effectively as possible. It’s also dynamic, with three flaps mounted down low under the nose that open and close depending on the speed to either promote low drag at speed or provide extra air to the radiators. Few cars can be so scientific and yet beautiful from every angle.

Also in frame is the simple yet attractive wheel, which is a forged twenty-incher designed to save weight. The rubber of choice is a super sticky Michelin Pilot Sport Cup2 compound and the stopping power comes from the very best Brembo has to offer. The center cap was also made of carbon fiber, which I’m sure contributed greatly to its relatively slim 2,800 lb. curb weight.

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At no point does the 458 Speciale fail at conveying its purpose in life to someone fortunate enough to stand near it, which is to go as fast as physically possible, provide the best driving experience on earth, and look as stunning as a modern Ferrari should. Being in its presence was enough to make me abandon all unfair judgments and critiques I had made about it before and simply fall in love with it, awestruck by its drama, athleticism, and beauty (yes, I called it beautiful).

The Ferrari 458 Speciale is a wonderful showcase of classic, smooth lines penned Pininfarina’s artists and the many minor details modeled by Formula 1 engineers and how they can coexist in awesome harmony. In this hoon’s totally justified opinion, it’s one of the few modern cars which can be both nerdy, sporty, functional, and awesomely gorgeous all at once in a way that only Ferrari can pull off. I guess you could call it… speciale?

If you’ve fallen in love with the carbon fiber goodness like I have, you can view and download full-resolution images (including a bunch of extras not seen here) from my Flickr

[Images Copyright 2014 Hooniverse/Greg Kachadurian]

 

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