TEST DRIVE: F430

Jim Weed

Volume 45 Issue 13

Jun 20, 2020

I don’t get to drive many Ferraris like I used to. There was a time back in my service manager days when I drove everything that came into the shop.

    I don’t get to drive many Ferraris like I used to. There was a time back in my service manager days when I drove everything that came into the shop.

    Often, I would drive before the service to gain a baseline of performance and then drive again after to verify all the performance parameters were met.

    Test driving can be pleasurable or a nightmare. The good ones usually are measured by the grin of a successful drive with no problems noted. With Ferraris, at least older Ferraris, having everything work as intended is often just a goal. Not an attainable goal, but a goal nonetheless.

    I have had the opportunity to drive almost every model made from the mid-fifties up through the F355 series. Not just one, or the same one, but multiples of the same model.

    Each Ferrari has a personality. The fun is getting to know that personality and how it wants to be interacted with. Think all Lussos are the same? I think not. Drive several different 250 Lussos and you will find they each drive, handle and perform a little different.

    I often love to hear from people who want to quote the Road & Track version of the 365 GTC road test and how it is not as great as the 330 GTC. Clearly, these people have not had the pleasure of spending some quality seat time with both cars.

    I have driven both models at Roebling Road at FCA events and I’ll take the 365 GTC any day of the week. It’s smoother to operate with more power that transfers to the road along with better brakes.

    Test driving is an art. When a customer would come and say “It starts to shudder a bit at 6,500 RPM in fifth gear” you must learn to be sensitive enough to find the problem without getting to that extreme. A Daytona or Boxer should not be driven like that on the street unless they are willing to hand a ‘get out of jail free’ card to the poor test driver.

    Those are the fun drives. The nightmare ones involve clutches that decide to not release or water hoses that decide to explode five miles from the shop. Yes, it is possible to drive without a clutch. South Carolina to Atlanta including traffic in a Mondial QV Cabriolet.

    I once drove a 308 QV after the water hose let go. Accelerate to 60 MPH, shut the engine off, glide to 30 MPH and repeat. It did not overheat and I made it back to the shop.

    The point is, I can usually shake down a Ferrari pretty quickly and feel all that it has to offer in a relatively short period of time. I haven’t had the opportunity to enjoy any Ferrari in quite a while so when Gary Dowling offered to let me drive his F430 Berlinetta, how could I refuse?

    Dowling is one of the nicest guys I’ve ever met. It’s true, but I can assure you if you ever want me to drive your car, you will also be one of the nicest. Few would tell you “go drive” and hand over the keys without some hesitation, limitations or orientation.

    The F430 is new to me. I didn’t have any experience in it so this could be a steep learning curve. I need to do some homework before I slide behind the seat.

    Ferrari first built a V-8 engine in 1962 for its sports racing cars. Only three cars were built. In 1964, the Formula One rules changed to a maximum 1.5-liter formula. The 1.5-liter V-8 engine was an expansion of the 1.5-liter V-6 Dino engine. Logically the V-6 was called a 156 and the V-8 was a 158. This nomenclature would set the stage for many of the non-V-12 engines to come.

    The numbers relate to the engine displacement and then number of cylinders. This system would stay in place with the Dino 206, 246, 308, 328 and the 348 series of engines.

    The F355 would shift the numbering system with a 3.5-liter engine and 5 valves per cylinder. The 360 with its increased displacement would be a 3.6-liter engine size but not utilize the number of cylinders. Maybe calling it the 368 wasn’t as sexy as the 360 Modena.

    The F430 would follow the 360-numbering system ignoring the number of cylinders but keeping the displacement of 4.3-liters in the name. While similar to the preceding 360 engine the F430 was vastly improved.

    The increase of displacement from 3,586 cc to 4,308 cc increased torque by 25 percent and horsepower by 23 percent. Output was now 490 bhp at 8,500 rpm.

    Completely new heads were designed with ports and valve diameters derived from Formula One engines. The heads have four-valves per cylinder with dual overhead camshafts and hydraulic tappets.

    Phase variators on the camshafts allow the cam timing to be adjusted and those changes can be accomplished in 0.1 second. The cams are driven by chains eliminating the belt drive used on the 360 engine. This removes one of the major service headaches of frequent belt changes.

    The intake system features a variable length runner that controls the volume of air in order to optimize engine torque throughout the entire performance envelope.

    The overall height of the engine is reduced, and the addition of a dry-sump system keeps the oil away from the crankshaft and provides a low-pressure environment to reduce drag inside the engine.

    All of this power is transmitted to the transmission which now incorporates the engine dry-sump oil tank and the new E-Diff unit.

    The F1 transmission has been improved with smoother and more precise shifting. Gear changes take just 150 milliseconds. In the fully automatic mode, new software makes in-town driving pleasurable with seamless shifts. The F430 also was available with a manual 6-speed transmission.

    The E-Diff unit is a new feature directly from Formula One technology. The E-Diff distributes torque to the wheels and is fully integrated into the other electronic features of the F430. This increases handling, balance and grip with a noticeable improvement over the 360 Modena.

    There is a lot of technology in the F430. The ability to harness and utilize the technology is found right on the steering wheel. The Manettino we are used to seeing on the wheel was started on the F430. This control ties all the electronic controls into five different settings.

    The ability of the car to react differently to various conditions creates a Ferrari that can be driven everyday in all conditions and still perform like the sports car it is on the track.

    The settings range from ICE in which RPM and shifting are restricted to prevent wheel spin to RACE where gear change is quicker and shock absorber damping becomes stiffer. For those who wish to emulate Schumacher, the last setting turns off all the driver aids allowing the pilot to have full control without any electronic assistance except ABS braking and EBD (electronic brake distribution).

    Braking has also been improved with vented and cross-drilled cast-iron discs with optional carbon-ceramic discs available.

    Time to go visit my ride.

    Dowling’s F430 is a Berlinetta, S/N 147383, and it is a manual 6-speed with the carbon-ceramic brakes. Now, this is going to be special. I have driven only one F1 transmission car, an F355. The early F1 set-up, to me, was very clunky. It did not feel like it wanted to shift at the right points; it either was slow to upshift in the middle of a corner or the downshift seemed to be very rough.

    Admittedly, at speed and high RPMs it was much better but under normal cruising conditions it seemed out of place. I was expecting to see how much improvement Ferrari had put into the F1 in the intervening years. I guess I will have to experience someone else’s car for that update.

    The manual transmission F430 cars are more unique. It is the last of the manual cars, discounting the few 575 Maranello and a double handful of 599 GTB with a clutch pedal.

    I expected to have Dowling ride with me so he could ‘sell’ me on the advantages and features of the F430. Instead, he insisted Linda and I take the car for the day and enjoy an extended drive.

    Dowling is one who believes the “Ferraris are meant to be driven” mantra. OK, I can do that.

    We go to Atlanta Motorcar Club to pick up the car. Atlanta Motorcar Club is a country club for those who don’t golf. It is a social club with large television screens permanently on Speed Channel showing racing in all forms from F1 to ice racing on any given day.

    The comfortable couches are a great place to wind down with a drink or sandwich with other like-minded car nuts. The variety of beautiful cars parked in the warehouse add to the ambiance.

    Dowling has provided all his receipts and papers he has collected about his car. He wanted to be sure the Ferrari Market Letter could record and archive the information as a backup. We always appreciate being able to fully document the history and that includes the invoices, letters and any other documentation.

    I slide into the tan Daytona seat and spend some time checking out the gauge layout and switches. I put the key in and rotate to turn on the electrics. Soon the OK flashes on the tach and I push the big red ‘start’ button on the steering wheel.

    The engine barks and settles into a throaty idle.  Oil pressure is up, no warning lights are on; so far, so good. Adjust the mirrors, check the lights and turn signals. I think I’m good on the basics.

    The manual transmission shift lever falls comfortably into my right hand. It’s all coming back to me now. The sound, the smell, the feel of the controls. Suddenly, I’m back in the ‘office’ ready to see how much Ferrari technology has moved forward in the intervening years.

    One of the first things I notice is the shift pattern. Besides being a six-speed, first is up and to the left. This is unlike every transaxle Ferrari from the 275/330 era to the Testarossa that has first down and to the left making the 1-2 shift an awkward dogleg up and to the right.

    Reverse is conveniently over to the left and down making it very difficult to accidentally catch the wrong direction on a fast shift. I slide the lever into first, blip the throttle and promptly stall the engine.

    Oops. I hit the start button and the car forgives my clumsiness immediately. I head out to the road. Like all Ferraris there is no blasting out of the box. I cruise down several streets shifting at lower RPMs as the water temperature begins to climb towards the normal range.

    Several miles later the oil temperature begins to move off the peg which indicates its time to see what this Ferrari is all about. I push the engine a bit harder, accelerating up to 5,000 and then towards 6,000.

    The F430 feels confident while I put it through its paces. Steering is positive and firm. It gives good feedback through the bumps and ripples of the road. The brakes feel incredible and I know I haven’t even warmed them up yet.

    The Manettino is on ‘sport’. This is the normal driving setting, best for most conditions. I find a quiet stretch of road with good visibility and no side street surprises. Time to see what this car can do at high RPM.

    Acceleration is mostly linear with a slight increase as the tach winds past 5,000. The sound is fantastic. Red line is 8,500 but I shift around 8,200. Remember, its not my car and I’m not going to have to explain why I blew it up to Dowling.

    Several runs later I remembered the brakes are carbon-ceramic and do not retain the heat like cast iron rotors. Braking efficiency appears to be the same whether loafing the car down the street or hauling it down from speed on surface streets I’d rather not divulge.

    Now that I’ve gotten a feel for what the car can do, I head to my favorite curvy test track. It’s a two-lane road that usually has very little traffic. Somewhat secluded, it offers several challenging corners that can be taken at moderate speeds but requires a precise line to go through smoothly.

    I make the run two times, once in the ‘sport’ mode to gain a base line and then again in the ‘race’ mode to feel the difference. Clearly ‘race’ stiffens up the damping and makes the F430 feel like it is on rails as I push it through the turns.

    If this F430 had the F1 transmission I would also been able to see the benefit of quicker shifting. I did not get bold enough to turn off all the aids and attempt my twisty test track. There is no runoff, and again, it would not be good to tell Dowling how I put his car into the Chattahoochee River.

    Overall, I am extremely impressed with the F430. The brakes, handling and engine are everything I would have expected from a Ferrari. It is willing to do everything asked of it and delivers with a high degree of confidence.

    I imagine on a track where it could really be rung out with little fear of oncoming drivers, police, etc., it would truly prove to be better than most drivers.

    I do have a couple of nit-picks with the car. There was a fair amount of wind noise that comes through the sideview mirror. I drive with the window down and the radio off, so I can hear the music. The wind noise was annoying. With the window up it was not noticeable which really means from an aerodynamic point of view it is probably perfect.

    The other pick was the clutch. The engine revs so easily, when the clutch is put in the engine loses RPM so quickly it was difficult to drive smooth. When really getting on it, it was not noticeable, but when cruising it was jerky. It was easier to downshift smoothly than it was to upshift. I can see why the F1 transmission is so popular with these cars. There just isn’t enough flywheel to get from one gear to the next quick enough.

    I am grateful to Gary Dowling for letting me enjoy his F430 and to have the rare experience of driving one of the last manual transmission Ferraris made. Life should be full of unique experiences. Ferraris are meant to be driven and Dowling is one of those who enjoys his car. More should be like him.

    Mileage equals smiles. The more miles you drive in a Ferrari the more smiles you will enjoy. Is there really such a thing as a bad day when driving a Ferrari?