It’s one word and a combination of numbers and letters that has the power to conjure up a raft of daydream images. Ferrari 599 GTB: attacking every twist and turn of the RN85 Route Napoleon from Grasse to Digne; stopping for café crème in St Tropez; piercing the air at Fiorano. Oh, and squinting through the rain lashing against the windscreen on the mean streets of Surrey.
OK, so the last one may not be up there with the best but life doesn’t always work out like that. Recently PH managed to bag the keys to Maranello’s second-most expensive car and since we tested it in Italy way back in 2006 we thought a more down-to-earth drive would be in order. Down-to-earth is one thing but a mixture of greasy, soaked, leaf-strewn roads around Chobham is quite another.
Inside it is an extravagant affair – carbon fibre wraps beautifully around the central air vents and while it is a quality affair a tan interior would be far more in keeping with the Ferrrari experience. The cockpit is wide too and feels spacious, with clear dials and of course the essential ‘mannetino’ switch sits proudly on the chunky wheel.
The car is fitted with an ‘F1’ gearbox which guarantees shifts in just 100 milliseconds and even if are still unconvinced by this paddle-shift witchcraft there is no denying it is a simply stunning system. But before you engage first, there is one thing that must be done. Blip the throttle in neutral and you have access to an Enzo-derived 611bhp V12, which makes this the most powerful series production Ferrari of all time.
What becomes disturbingly clear when you do move your right foot is that this is not so much an engine as an incendiary device. The unit explodes, the needle on the yellow rev counter cannoning around the dial in the blink of an eye, at odds with what you may expect from a huge dozen-pot engine. The noise too is best described as a musical detonation, all 12 cylinders shattering the air in perfect harmony.
The violent, free-revving shove and firm suspension almost make it feel like a lightweight track toy like an Elise, but it’s not. It’s a large GT, which makes it all the more impressive. Firing through the gears the acceleration is nothing short of savage, verging on the ridiculous, and the sound becomes an addiction. But it is best to go cold turkey from time to time as you’ll often be going far faster than you want to.
What you thought initially would be an accomplished continent crusher with a strong sporting edge turns out to be a hardcore Italian supercar, which can scare the living daylights out of you. But the 599’s reactions are instant and body-roll is almost non-existent, with impressive levels of feel through the accurate, albeit a little light, steering.
There is zero understeer and in these conditions you’ll often find the rear tyres lighting up and fighting for traction, despite what you have asked of the electronic aids. The road must be bad because underneath me the F1-Trac system and the variable limited slip diff are working overtime to second-guess what is about to happen and then jumping in to save me before it actually does. The brakes are incredible and while they have been criticised for not offering up enough ultimate feel, they never lock and provide instantanious, progressive stopping power.
Coming out of a roundabout or sharp turn it can all get a bit hot rod, the rear braking away in what threatens to be a £193,000 slide. This is a real car, and at times not for the faint-hearted, and certainly something that would be appreciated by fans of hairy-chested cars like the TVR Cerbera. It is not an easy car to drive flat out in the wet as you would in say a 911 Turbo, but for those of us who like to be challenged by a car, and learn to get the most out of it, it provides plenty of lessons.