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Letter From Europe - Monaco; Ferrari; Ferrari; Ferrari, Lamborghini; Maserati; Passo della Futa; Fast Boat To Nowhere; Father Son Driving Fun


Monaco meanderings

Regular readers-and I know several who have every issue since No 1- will recall my annual and much anticipated trips to the Monaco Grand Prix. This year it was my 52nd..

Mind you, I was very lucky. I left on British Airways the week before their computer meltdown- and flew back to San Francisco the week after they’ve sorted out the problem. Phew.

You will have read umpteen reports  of the race by now, it was nice to see a Ferrari one-two although  in my opinion Kimi could have looked a shade less miserable on the podium. Monaco was of course the usual mayhem but they have a way of coping. What astonishes me how they manage to get the track spick and span by 7 am even though three hours earlier it is completely covered in trash . As for the flag marshals who stand there hour after hour in the blazing sun in their fire proof overalls for days - full credit to them.

For many years now daughter Annabelle volunteered to collect our test car from Maserati. This year her schedule simply did not allow it. Luck in the shape of Randy Steyer came to the rescue. He was visiting the Ferrari factory and I’ve asked if he could possibly drive the Maserati S Q4   from Modena to Monaco. Being a great friend he agreed. Mind you, 404 horses and all wheel drive would have been hard to resist, especially on the last section  of the journey when the Med suddenly comes to view.

I have a funny feeling that he and fellow enthusiast John  may have done a quick lap of the circuit before handing over the keys, they certainly looked if they had fun.

This was the first  Ghibli  SQ 4  we’ve had after a series of Quattroportes . Navigating the streets of the Principality is always fought with danger-scooters passing right and left,  high kerbs, tourist buses, you get the picture. Still, it is  always huge fun to zap up in the  Maser to the  Palace for the Saturday evening cocktail reception.

Sunday evening, once I’ve filed my race report for FORZA it was time to hit the road.

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I am always amazed how my peers in the automotive press go on endlessly about things that are of little relevance to the person buying the car. Highly  complicated  mechanicals details which 99% of customers  understand and the constant moaning about the Maserati’s instruments and switches which come from the corporate bin.

The “experts” will notice that similar parts exist on some Chryslers as well but as long as they work and are not cheap and nasty who cares!? I certainly don’t. On the hand they never ever mention that it is virtually impossible to change from R to D without ending up in N.

Maybe they’ve never had to do a three point turn in a hurry. Anyway, I cannot pretend that  90 thousand dollars is  not a lot of money to pay for the top Q4  with twin turbo Ferrari built V6  engine but it is dramatically different from  the usual fare of  fast German cars.  I am sure there are deals to be had. Maserati sales have been rising steadily in the United States, with the help of the new SUV it will comfortably exceed last year’s 12,500.

It would be silly to pretend that Ferrari’s 680 hp  GTC4Lusso wasn’t more exciting. A car with four comfortable seats, with four wheel drive, stability control and  the symphony of that glorious, naturally aspirated engine. To make things interesting my son Nicholas turned up in the latest 610 horsepower Huracan spyder from Lamborghini. You can of course argue that you cannot compare a 4 seater Grand Tourer with a two seater pure sportcar but to the man on the No  99 omnibus (old English expression) comparing any Ferrari with any Lambo is a test of two great Italian manufacturers. In any case the Ferrari was heavier so 680 v 610 does not sound quite so outrageous.

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My son Nicholas -a three times Olympic bob sledder is a pretty quick driver so keeping up with him to the legendary Futa Pass did seem like a tall order. At least on the face of it. Younger guy, more nimble car it should have been a no contest. Should have.`

He clearly wasn’t counting on my years driving V12 Ferraris . 365GTC in the Memorial Cannonball run across America in 1999, the  happy hours behind the wheels of the 550, 575, 599, F12, FF and now the Lusso. Maybe all that gave me sufficient courage to go for it. Interestingly there were no screeching tires, no going on to the dirt by the side of the road, no scraping of the barriers, no silly heroics. 

The realization hit me a day later. It wasn’t me suddenly becoming an ace driver-it was the Lusso. I very much doubt that owners dishing out 400 thousand dollars which includes hand made luggage will know that the reason they have not ended up in the ditch is due in part to power vectoring-assisted steering. Sounds complicated and it is. Let’s just agree that it works and it keeps you out of trouble.

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Still, I needed  the prodigious torque of the Lusso’s V12 to keep up with the Lambo. Second, third, back to second , accelerate, up to third, quick dab on the brakes for the next hairpin, it was glorious.  Boccadirio,Monte Piano, only Italian villages could have names like these!

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On we went until reaching the legendary Passo della Futa restaurant at the top of the Futa Pass. Scene of the Mille Miglia,  bike races, motor cycle races, the place reeks  of history. It was established in 1890 by family Poletti and it is still owned them! I saw at least three generations cooking, baking and pouring wine or in our case water. I am not being sanctimonious, you would have to be pretty stupid to drive down those passes after a few glasses , the road is full of new barriers  on the corners indicating indiscretions or worse. Then it was time to head back towards Maranello after yet another glorious adventure.

Before I forget ! My bête noir- the positioning of the horn . It’s  back where it belongs-in the middle of the steering wheel. Please keep it there!

Finally- the 400 thousand dollar question- would I buy one? The answer has to be no. I am more than happy with my 2012 California which is all I need. But as an engineering marvel which carries four people in total comfort and safety at a steady 130 miles per hour it has no peer in the auto industry. It is as simple as that.

And I thought this was the end of the story! Got back to Belvedere and went to look at a local auto show. 200 yards from where we live I hear this unmistakable sound of a Ferrari engine. Upon closer examination it turned out that sister company Maserati were doing a drive and sail!

Some sail! As you can see from the enclosed pictures the boat was a trimaran-very similar to the ones racing in the America’s Cup in Bermuda. This was no ordinary sail, in fact it was probably THE most exhilarating 20 minutes of my life. This monster got up on its foils-and  hey presto –the  gentle cruise became a mad dash at over 40 miles per hour. Bouncing into and over the waves in the Bay of San Francisco getting drenched while hanging on for dear life.

The nearest comparison I can think of would be an old Austin Healey with no windscreen in  a gale. I have been to a few car promotions-from helicopters to concerts but nothing can come close to this. Phew!