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Letter From Europe: Fairytales DO Come True!

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By Andrew Frankl
European Bureau Chief

The following story is the nearest thing to a fairy tale for lovers of fine cars. It is definitely not about green cars. Not, I hasten to add because there is anything wrong with green cars but because the cars my son and I have been driving at speeds of up to 285 km/h are most certainly not green! Shocking, outrageous but huge fun!

But I digress. The adventure started with Virgin Atlantic’s excellent non-stop service from San Francisco to London. A day at our European HQ and it was time to get on the train to Gatwick, London’s second biggest airport…Destination-Modena, home of Maserati. By lunchtime I was at the factory, and an hour later on my way to Monaco for the Grand Prix.

My carriage-a 400 horsepower GrandSport, Maserati’s latest offering. The coupe is surprisingly roomy and even with the seat back there was plenty of room on the back seat for my enormous suitcase.

There is a speed limit in Italy of course but someone forgot to tell the natives. So- if in Rome, do like the Romans do and drift along at a perfectly safe and reasonable 120 miles per hour. Of course at this rate Monaco was a lot closer than it looked on the map.

The Principality was chock full of cars and trucks but somehow we’ve managed to get through and into our trusted Meridien Beach Plaza Hotel, a home from home for so many years.

The Maserati ran like a dream and even during the chaos that is Monaco during the Grand Prix weekend it never overheated or misbehaved in any way. It wasn’t the car’s fault that a fill-up at the pumps came to the equivalent of 120 dollars.

Once the race was over Senior Editor Nicholas (my son) and I managed to squeeze even more luggage into the trunk and onto the back seat. It was late Monday afternoon at the end of May, just perfect for the run back to Modena.

Interestingly enough Red Bull gave 4 GrandSports to all four of their drivers, now I know why. With its 4.2 liter Ferrari engine and its distinctive dark blue paintwork the Maser is one helluva car for half the price of a Ferrari…Mind you, the Ferrari that was waiting for us at Maranello was probably the best car in the World.

The 599GTB with its 6 liter 620 horsepower engine does 0-60 in well under 4 seconds and the top speed is in excess of 205 miles per hour. Did we get there? Actually no. We got as far as 170 miles per hour but at that stage we came into some traffic so it seemed sensible to slow down. Slow down is of course a relative term, we continued at a steady 115 miles per hour, a sensible cruising speed in a car of this caliber.

We drove from Maranello to a little village near Livorno to interview the owner of Italy’s finest wine-Sassicaia. A quick lunch in the local trattoria and we were on our way back the factory.

They’ve asked us to be back before 6 in the afternoon and we just made it before they shut the gates. To read the full technical spec you’ll have to read the new issue of FORZA Magazine or get on line with Ferrari’s website.

What is so special about the 599? Just about everything. The engine is a masterpiece, the electronics are based on their Formula One cars, the suspension is also raced tuned at their private race track just across the road from the factory in Fiorano.

There are various modes one can dial in, such as snow, wet, sport and race. Just like in your everyday Honda Civic!

No day at Ferrari would be complete without dinner at the famous Cavallino restaurant over the road from the factory, a place which functioned as Enzo Ferrari’s canteen for decades.

The price? If –like the rest of us-you have to ask then you cannot afford it! Production is just now getting under way and the first 599s will probably be at Pebble Beach in August. Oh, I forgot the price! On the black market look for about 300 thousand plus, from a dealer, provided he is a friend, probably less. Not much less though. What do you get for 300 big ones? Probably the nearest thing to a race car which will be totally at home on Sunset Boulevard or on 5th Avenue in the rush hour. Not like in the old days when so-called supercars had a tendency to overheat and break down.

My European adventures were not over yet. Although moving on from a 205 miles per hour to a BMW diesel was, admittedly a bit of a come down. Not as badly as you think.

I flew SkyEurope from Bologna to Budapest and collected a very nice metallic grey 520d from BMW Hungary. It was a manual gearbox which was fun and the car was a perfect companion for a week. Fuel consumption was very good indeed with well over 30 miles per gallon.

I had a long chat with Tilo von Harling, BMW Hungary’s managing director and he told me that business has been very good and is still growing. Diesel tends to dominate because of the very high fuel prices, even at 7 series level.

Sales of parts has been exceptionally good, partly because a lot of people buy their cars in Germany but once they are back in Hungary that is where they get the cars serviced. There are daily parts deliveries from the factory in Dingolfing and the quality of the dealerships has to be seen to be believed.

Suzie and I live near to Sonnen, Marin County’s biggest dealer in Northern California who look after our trusted 530i. The Hungarian dealerships are just as clean and efficient and what is amazing is the amount of local money that is being invested in the facilities. The sales are dominated by the 3 series, just like in the United States followed by the 1 series and the 5. Mini are also doing well, the only product BMW have been unable to sell so far is the new Rolls-Royce but they haven’t given up trying!

I’ve seen the cars Hungarians have been driving for the past 40 or so years. The changes have been dramatic. After decades of highly polluting Trabants and Wartburgs the locals –depending on their finances-are driving little Suzukis, Fiats or VWs with prospering businessmen buying BMWs or Mercedes. Astonishing, especially if one remembers that there were still Russians tanks in the country in 1989!