Rumour has it Ferrari will unveil a hardcore version of the 812 Superfast imminently, most probably badged GTO. It'll be more powerful than the existing model, faster, lighter and more uncompromising, its emphasis shifted away from the public highway and towards the race track. And this being PistonHeads (where Speed Matters), the 812 GTO will of course be the V12 front-engined Ferrari we'll covet above all others.
Except maybe it won't. Isn't there something quietly appealing about a version of the 812 that's not so highly strung, that won't beat you up on the road, that's perfectly usable over longer distances, that still uses that life-affirming naturally aspirated V12 and has, I don't know, a removable roof as well? The good news is such a car exists already, and in place of the O for 'omologato' you get an S for 'spider'.
So maybe the 812 GTS is the one to have. Remarkably, it's been half a century since Ferrari last paired a V12 with a spider body, that honour going to the 365 GTS4, otherwise known as the Daytona Spider. But it's a matter of semantics: the 550 Barchetta Pininfarina in 2000, the Superamerica in 2005, the SA Aperta in 2010 and the very rare F60 America in 2014 all matched twelve cylinder engines with retractable roofs. More recently, the Monzas SP1 and SP2 from a couple of years ago were both V12 cars with no goggles, let alone hats.
Ah, says Ferrari. But the 812 GTS is our first series-production V12 spider since the Daytona. Fair enough. In place of the Superfast's fixed aluminium roof you get a folding hardtop, which contorts itself into the boot in 14 seconds (while driving at town speeds if you really want to show off), plus a little powered window over your shoulder that you can drop with the roof in position to let some of that V12 sing-song flood into the cabin. So much body strengthening material has gone into the GTS to offset the decapitation that it weighs 120kg more than the Superfast. Ferrari quotes a dry weight of 1645kg, but that includes lightweight options. 1800kg at the kerb? That sounds both about right and entirely wrong.
The 6.5-litre V12 is carried over, still producing 800hp and 530lb ft of torque. It spins to 8900rpm and could well be the greatest road car engine in production today. But we'll come to that later. Ferrari says the 812's cabin hasn't been impinged upon to make space for the hardtop or its mechanism, meaning you should find the GTS's cabin as roomy as the Superfast's. This is an important point: the Lamborghini Huracan Spyder and its close relation, the Audi R8 Spyder, both lose several inches of cabin space to their hoods, meaning taller drivers just can't get comfortable.
Even so, I found myself ever so slightly pretzeled at the wheel of the Ferrari, my legs just a bit more bent at the knee that I'd have liked. The windscreen header rail also felt uncomfortably close. Ideally you'd sit slightly lower with the wheel a little closer and the pedals a couple of inches further away.
Such concerns tend to fade away once that big V12 has been summoned to life. You squeeze the bright red button on the steering wheel with your left thumb, hearing the starter motor whir away for a second or two before the engine fires with a noisy burst of revs. There is such theatre in rousing a combustion engine like this one. You feel a pleasantly warm kind of anxiety in your stomach as it catches and you reflect on its very fine tolerances, the need to allow it to warm through first and, more than anything, the elemental power you suddenly find at your disposal.
Once it's up to temperature, you have to steel yourself before deploying every ounce of muscle it has to offer. Several times I tried to wring it all the way out to its redline in second gear, but every single time my right hand disobeyed all instructions to the contrary and pulled the paddle on the right for an upshift and some relief. This engine hauls from 2500rpm onwards and by 7000rpm it's shifting the car along so violently you almost can't bear it any longer. Eventually you find the resolve to reach all the way out to 8900rpm, at which point the V12 just ahead of you - now screaming so hard you swear it's about to atomise itself to a mist - is winning its battle against the electronic systems and combusting both rear tyres.
The you stand on the brakes, laugh out loud, change back down to second and do it all over again. Modern engines are so rarely at the very heart of a car's appeal, but this one absolutely is. Meanwhile, the dual-clutch gearbox is faultlessly responsive, downshifts in particular eliciting a wicked crack from the exhausts.
Curiously, the 812 GTS doesn't seem all that loud, at least not from inside the cabin. Perhaps that's because it's trying to exhale through a particulate filter. But what it lacks in sheer decibels it more than makes up for in the richness of its soundtrack, the sheer musicality of its sonics. Given the choice, I wouldn't want any more volume whatsoever.
There is enough cushioning in the ride, at least in Bumpy Road mode, that you can happily mooch along without feeling like you're being knocked about. The body structure feels rigid and only seems to deflect marginally over very uneven surfaces, while with the roof off, the cabin is calm enough to be perfectly bearable at motorway speeds. Apart from its enormous length, this isn't a difficult car to drive in amongst everyday traffic at all.
Sport mode is the default setting, so you switch to Race when you fancy having a push. Then you find yourself guiding along the road an almost flawlessly responsive and agile front-engined supercar, not the refined grand tourer you'd been operating moments previously. Grip at both axles is enormous, the brakes are mighty and body control is vast. Only when the road bucks up and down violently where the hillside beneath it has subsided do you sense the car's mass getting the better of its springs and dampers. Otherwise, the body is locked into the road surface, always flat and secure in corners.
Let me tell you about this car's steering. It's electrically assisted. The rear wheels articulate as well as the fronts - Ferrari labels its four-wheel steering system Virtual Short Wheelbase 2.0 - and it features a system called Ferrari Peak Performance. This function can automatically increase or decrease torque in the steering rack to give you a nudge when the car begins to under or oversteer. It's literally thinking and reacting for you.
All of that should mean this car is difficult and unnatural to direct along a road. With so much going on between your palms and the front contact patches, how can it possibly feel intuitive? Somehow, it just does. The wheel doesn't wriggle and writhe in your fingertips, but you have so much confidence in the rate of response and the grip down at road level that you just don't think about the steering more than once. Ferrari has a habit of making ferociously complicated electronic systems behave in a transparent way, never more than here.
The 812 GTO, if that's the form Ferrari's flagship front-engined V12 takes when it arrives very shortly, will undoubtedly be a breathtaking machine. There'll be a tremendous clamour for the limited number Maranello will build, I'm sure. And yet, I find I'd make do quite happily with the slower, heavier model with the folding hardtop roof, thanks very much.
SPECIFICATION | FERRARI 812 GTS
Engine: 6,496cc V12
Transmission: 7-speed dual-clutch, rear-wheel drive
Power (hp): 800@8,500rpm
Torque (lb ft): 530@7,000rpm
Top speed: 211mph
Weight: 1,645kg dry
MPG: n/a 'under homologation'
Price: £293,150 (as tested, £335,582)
1 / 6