Strange how sometimes perception doesn't quite level up to reality. Take, for instance, the Ferrari California: a car remembered for being a bit dumpy to look at, not sharp enough to drive and not all that quick, it's become the 21st century Mondial. Maybe. Or, to put it another way, not a "proper Ferrari".
Yet it shouldn't be like that. Look back on the first UK press reviews of the California and you'll find the praise is considerable and effusive. See the PistonHeads review, in fact: "Stunning? Yes, yes, and thrice yes. We know some critics have been less than overwhelmed by the California's (relatively) bulky rear three-quarters but, glistening in the spring sunshine amongst more ordinary metal in the PH office car park, Ferrari's Avus Bianco (white!) stallion looked every bit the exotic GT. In fact, a few of us thought it seemed more glamorous in the metal than the last one we'd seen, so perhaps it's a 'grower' too."
Those qualms about performance and dynamics? What Car said it was "nothing less than a thoroughbred Ferrari when you ask it to be"; Classic Driver went even further, suggesting that the £155k as-tested price was exceptional value "considering that roof-up it has much in common with the 599 GTB, and roof-down the F430 Spider; you are getting two cars for the price of one." And if you don't trust those, refer back to PH: "Also extremely impressive is the driving experience the California provides. It's not a car for hardcore racetrack-types, admittedly, but Ferrari has other models in its line-up for that...
All of which makes the prospect of a California like this one, a 24,000-mile car on offer at less than half its new price, a good deal more tempting than it might once have been. £70k, after all, is the sort of money that buys a Boxster 4.0 GTS or F-Type, and here it buys a Ferrari. Moreover, while certain elements will naturally feel a bit old, aspects of the California are familiar from much more recent Ferraris. The DCT gearbox saw service in the 458 then 488, the driver's view will be recognisable, and so will the dash layout. Not as fresh, sure, but not all that dated either.
Some might not like the spec of this particular Cali, though more subdued configurations are on offer at similar money. Just £5,000 more buys a Handling Speciale version, too, if the standard one is too limp. Whatever, for a Ferrari with that superb 4.3-litre V8 and a dual-clutch gearbox that can probably still cut it 10 years later, the California looks reasonably simple to make a case for.
Or is it? See, £70,000 or so opens up the possibility of buying one of many super-GT convertibles with not that many miles on them. While not carrying quite the brand cachet of the Prancing Horse, a used Mercedes-AMG SL offers a huge amount of performance and luxury for the money; see this SL63, still with a four-figure mileage (and some warranty remaining), for sale at £65k. Perhaps more fitting, however, are the British alternatives: if the California's looks really are a problem, it's hard to imagine anyone complaining about the styling of an Aston Martin DBS Volante. This car is the same age as the Ferrari, with comparable miles, and is for sale at £72,850 - nice. Finally, there's a glut of Continental GTCs available; perhaps less exclusive, but then a Supersports like this one does have 630hp...
Plenty on offer, then, if a California doesn't fit the bill. However, if now is the time you've promised yourself a Ferrari that's traditional enough to be an absorbing drive (the engine should see to that) yet modern enough to not be a total pain in the backside, the California looks to have a lot going for it. Yes, seriously.
SPECIFICATION | FERRARI CALIFORNIA
Engine: 4,287cc, V8
Transmission: 7-speed dual-clutch automatic, rear-wheel drive
Power (hp): 460@7,750rpm
Torque (lb ft): 358@5,000rpm
Price new: £143,320 (2009, before options)
Yours for: £69,995