If excitable scientists and tabloid journalists are to be believed the world is in the grip of an obesity epidemic. The problem apparently is we can’t stop piling on the pounds despite the best medical advice from TV chefs that a diet of good food and exercise is all we need to stay thin.
Our stead for this journey? It had to be the latest skinny latte option from Ferrari - the 430 Scuderia - a lightened dedicated track version of the F430. As I leave the house and grab the tan key fob I notice the rain is lashing down onto the pristine blue bodywork of Pinanfarina's latest design masterpiece. I lower myself into the stripped out interior and fire up the 4.3-litre 90 degree V8. It should come in useful as I have a lot of metal to see today.
Lightweight rule number one is to make the car and components out of something slightly more exciting and less bulky than sheet metal. In the deepest Sussex countryside the Ferrari and I find ourselves outside the Eagle E-Type workshops. Inside they harbour Jaguar's version of lightened motoring. Keeping with the first rule of lightening law this E-Type is fitted with lightweight aluminium panels throughout. This philosophy extends under the bonnet with an aluminium header tank and radiator. The resultant weight saving is dramatic and the car is a massive 165kg (363lb) less than a standard roadster.
The 430 Scuderia engineers were not ones to miss out on this law. But being a modern world the materials from the 1960s have been replaced and updated somewhat. Carbon fibre and titanium are the choice of this decade's arsenal and the Ferrari uses them liberally, from the titanium suspension springs and wheel nuts to the carbon fibre bumpers. Those willing to pay extra a further 15kg of savings can be had with carbon-fibre rear diffusers, door sill covers, engine compartment cover and front chin spoiler.
Leaving the silver aluminium E-Type behind I start to stretch the 430 Scuderia in the wet on the tight British roads. I have an appointment with PHer ‘Tony H’ and his 360 Challenge Stradale back in London and am running late. Wet roads and 510bhp isn't a mix that blends too easily but luckily I have Michael Schumacher with me. Well maybe not all of him, but I do have his brain. It has been sucked out and put into the electronics of the car - I wondered why he looked more vacant recently.
The Scuderia is fitted with a 'Racing Manettino' which does have the option to turn Schuey off. Set the car to no CST - which must be the initials for "I like to live" in Italian - and the car lets you take control. Instantly it is transformed into a ditch hunting, tail happy machine and in the wet it makes you put aside Michael's misdemeanours on the race track and wish him back controlling the rear wheels. Though a bit like Formula One these days it is fun not to have him around for a bit.
Pulling up outside Tony H's house I get to compare the 430 with its older brother. The Ferrari 360 Challenge Stradale lost 110kg from the standard 360 Modena by sharing the same philosophies of lightened components throughout. The Stradale was also the first car that a normal person could buy from Ferrari fitted with carbon-ceramic brakes - the abnormal person could get an Enzo with them. These brakes have now become standard across the Ferrari range, but at the time on a Ferrari they were pretty special.
The complaints of the ceramic brakes have always been the lack of feel when cruising gently around town. As the two Ferraris meander their way through suburban London I have to say the brakes feel responsive and fill me with confidence, even with another Ferrari in front.
I’m not scared I will suddenly lose brake power or lock up into the rear end. As we pull up for a photo opportunity I ask Tony if he ever gets use to the stares a Ferrari always seems to get. ‘People always turn and look at the driver of the car more to see if it is someone famous,’ he replies. ‘They always look slightly disappointed when they see no one they recognise.’
With the two cars side by side it is clear to see that the interiors of the lightened cars share something in common. They both could be cover models for Welding Weekly, with exposed joints of metal common throughout the cabin. I personally like seeing the guts of a car as it makes the car feel rawer but I could see the argument that a car worth near £200k could have a finish inside to match the outside.
In the world of Formula One milliseconds matter, take for example the Monaco qualifying this year. Massa clinched pole and Hamilton was floundering in third a mere 52 milliseconds behind. A formula one gearbox can change gear in under 40 milliseconds and six years ago this was up around 60 milliseconds and thus enough to lose pole. The 430 Scuderia can cut torque, disengage the clutch, unselect the old gear and put in a new one, re-engage the clutch and put power back on in under 60 milliseconds - 3 times quicker than the standard F430. You don't need to buy an ex-F1 car to have F1 performance.
Blasting through the Berkshire countryside the gear changes are blindingly quick. If you get someone to push you quickly in the back you would be getting close to the feeling of a V8 swapping gears behind you. As if the Ferrari is giving you a nudge in the back telling you it has changed gear this quick so can you please drive a little quicker. It’s your own personal motivator egging you on.
Rule two of supercar lightening is making sure the car doesn't float off. With all these lightened components fitted to the car it is now subject to disappearing with a gust of wind so keeping it on the ground is of paramount importance. The next car on my Slimfast menu was made to stick and go quick - the Porsche 996 GT3 RS.
The Porsche engineers obeyed rule one and replaced flywheels and windows to shed weight, throwing out normal seats and sticking in lightweight versions. But they also stuck on a featherweight carbon rear wing to force the car onto the road and changed the front end. Even though they had only saved 20kg from binning heavier parts they had generated twice as much downforce from their aerodynamic changes. The problem with sticking a bigger spoiler on the rear does mean the drag coefficient is raised a little and the 430 Scuderia designers didn't like that idea.
The GT3 RS, owned by PHer Henry-F from 911Virgin, shares another thing in common with the Scuderia. In the game of supercar development, size does matter, and millimetres even more. With added performance the dimensions of the fatter version of the car need to be tweaked to stop the thing finding the nearest Armco. Stretch the chassis by 5mm and add 44mm to the rear track and stability is restored to the Porsche. On the Scuderia 10mm wider rear tyres and a ride-height drop of 15mm keeps the Italian on the grey stuff.
Driving away from the Porsche and heading onto the M4 it is time to stretch the 430 Scuderia. If you had a heavy right foot and felt like pushing it up the slip road then 11.6 seconds later you would be touching 124mph and probably a bus pass a few months later. This car is devastatingly quick on a wide open road and I can feel my license quivering in my wallet every time I floor the car flat out. But the sound from the engine is so distinctive and addictive it is worth the stress.
I head into London and as the traffic slows the car is transformed into a gentle city stop/start cruiser. This cruiser has a different sound track to the standard London fare and even gently pottering along you can drop the gearbox into neutral and childishly rev the engine. As I do this again I spot the next car, which is the one I have been longing to see, a definite rival for the sounds of the Scuderia.
Back in 1960 Bizzarini, Chiti and Forghieri designed for Ferrari a new chassis - type 539, or better known as the ‘Short Wheelbase’. The wheelbase was shorter by 200mm at 2.4m and for the first time disc brakes were fitted on a GT Ferrari.
The body was made from aluminium along with parts of the engine, gearbox, floor, dash, firewall, transmission tunnel and full length under tray. But the car in front of me is something even more special as it is not merely the standard competition SWB, but one of the 23 specials built in 1961. Known as the ‘SEFAC Hotrod’ cars, or their official name ‘Comp./61’, this lightweight Ferrari 250 GT SWB tips the scales 151kg less than the 250 GT.
The 430 Scuderia's sound has been designed in virtual simulators which look at the air intake, exhaust and sound proofing to create the unique Ferrari sound. The engineers used a direct descendant of the exhaust system from a F430 Challenge race car and introduced resounders into the air intake system to modulate and emphasize the engine's voice. They should have just tried recording the Ferrari 250 GT SWB revving beside me and played it out of a large speaker.
As central London basks in sunshine and the local policemen are admiring the Ferraris side-by-side my final appointment of the day growls round the corner. The final rule of making the ultimate lightweight car is attention to detail, and this car is perhaps the best exponent of the discipline: the Harrods McLaren F1 GTR.
This is the 1995 Le Mans car, one of the 28 GTR race cars of the 107 total production run of the F1. It finished third in the hands of Derek Bell, son Justin and sports car legend Andy Wallace, and here I am testing it around Belgrave Square on a (fortunately by now dry) Saturday afternoon.
The sound of these three cars literally bounces off the walls of this most desirable of central London locations. The speeds aren’t high, but the noise level from the production V8 and two motorsport V12s is electrifying, not least to the rather bored embassy guards enjoying what would otherwise be a rather mundane weekend shift.
To save 128kg over the original F1, the GTR designers went all out with attention to detail. The standard rule of throwing out heavier substances was observed and interior trim was binned along with radio and speakers, but the GTR has had weight skimmed a little further. The engine and gearbox casings are made from magnesium, the wishbone, springs and suspension from magnesium alloy, and they even made a custom thinner windscreen for the car whilst still managing to retain the heated element from its production sibling.
The 430 Scuderia is now parked next to one of the all-time motoring icons and shares this attention to detail too, with the weight saving even going as far as hollowed out anti-roll bars. Both cars have been developed by the leading teams in Formula One technology and the detail and lengths they have gone to produce dedicated track cars that work well on the roads is extraordinary.
Though you can now pick up an F430 for around £80k in the classifieds I couldn’t help thinking I had bought the wrong 430. The lightweight version is simply outstanding as a car which, thanks to the weight savings, actually rides even better than the standard car.