News and views on motorsports

Wednesday, May 19, 2004

Luca and the NSX

In previous posts, I have lambasted the Ferrari team for being a political cronie type organisation. However, I am not blind to the fact that they have won 5 consecutive world drivers titles and 6 constructors' titles. Whilst much of this unprecedented upturn in Ferrari form in recent years is due in no small part to Michael Schumacher, nevertheless, one cannot deny the fact that the chief architect to Ferrari's grand plans is Luca di Montezemolo.

Yes, I hate the crap he dishes out at times. Heck, I hate the crap that the entire Ferrari team dishes out. But I have to admit, this guy is a man who has the right stuff. For he not only made the Formula 1 operation the class of the field, he has also managed to revitalise the Ferrari automobile division as well.

In the 80s and early 90s, Ferrari was producing really horrible cars. The Testarossa was quite a nice thing to look at, however, side by side with a Porsche or Lamborghini, it would be beatean sight unseen. The Ferrari 328s may be a classic but cars like the Lotus Esprit Turbo and the Honda NSX would simply leave it eating exhaust fumes. Even its replacement the Ferrari 348, would have its face stuffed in the mud.

The only people who seemed to defend the scarlet cars were the motoring hacks at the time. Pitted against that paragon of engineering, the Honda NSX, they would applaud the Ferrari 348 and its "soul." Never mind that it handled like crap. The Japanese they reckoned could never produce a car to truly challenge the cars from Maranello.

And yet, the people who knew better knew that these journalists were talking complete rubbish. I suspect these motoring hacks (especially European ones) were trying to defend their territory and not let the sports car industry in Europe fall victim as had the motorcycle industry, to Japanese supremacy.

McLaren engineer Gordon Murray who designed the McLaren F1 owned an NSX, for instance. And this was a man who really knew cars. Luca loved it as well. He had one shipped to Maranello and told the Ferrari engineers to drive it and build a car that was as usable and better. The result of course, was the Ferrari F355.

What did Luca think of the Ferrari Testarossa? A "show off." The 348 he deemed "the worst Ferrari I've ever driven." So much for the emotional sentiments of motoring journalists. Ultimately then it was victory for the Honda NSX that proved a point that supercars need not be a dog to be a challenge. Driving a wonderfully balanced and sorted car was more satisfying than trying to tame a terminally oversteering or understeering bitch.

However, the motoring hacks did get their way in a sense. Honda thereafter altered the handling characteristics of the NSX to make it more of a "challenge" to inject more "soul." The Honda NSX Type S Zero was proudly introduced by Honda as being a car that was "difficult to drive." How did these motoring journalists respond to that? They called it a dog. Honda just couldn't win.

But Luca was smart enough to see that Honda had got it right the first time. And he envisioned future Ferrari models that were easier to live with and produced more satisfaction derived from a well balanced machine.

I must salute him for that. For he has proven himself a man not only of vision but of the correct vision to move that most emotional icon of motoring into the 21st century.

And of course, at the same time he totally revamped the Ferrari Formula 1 team or the squadra from a bunch of losers to the current standard setter. Hail Luca!

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