812 Competizione is the latest in a line of front-engined V12

Ferrari – Keeping the flame alive

How can a V12 Ferrari become something battery-powered only and is the era of electric cars going to kill some of the most revered names in the automotive industry?

Enzo Ferrari died 33 years ago. The greatest character in automotive history passed away aged 90 and his cars and his marque would have to live without their founder from 1988 on.

Things started to go awry pretty quickly, Ferrari not having a clear direction on what its future should be. And so, Gianni Agnelli, the president of Fiat and leader of a family who at one point controlled 25% of the companies listed on the Italian stock market appointed Luca Cordero di Montezemolo as Chairman of Ferrari. Montezemolo was an aristocrat who had been the Formula One Team’s boss when the Scuderia won with Niki Lauda in 1975 and, from there, his position within the Fiat empire had only grown stronger. Now he was leading the world’s most famous cars.

Anyone who knows the history of Ferrari knows that Luca comes right after Enzo himself in the list of people that made Ferrari what it is today. He became a celebrity of such credentials that, during the 2010 financial crisis, Italian polls suggested he would win the general election in case he decided to run. He didn’t. He remained with the Cavallino until Ferrari became a public company in 2015. Share price of the IPO was $52. Share price today? $225.

But why am I writing about Montezemolo? Well, actually I am not. I am writing about the end of an era and would like to pose a question that I believe is relevant to the auto industry as a whole.

To do this, I will take the example of the Ferrari 550 Maranello, a model that turns 25 years old in 2021. When Luca arrived at Ferrari, the brand’s V12 model was the 512 TR, or the second Testarossa. The original had come out in 1984 and the 512 TR, its successor, was basically an evolution with improvements at various levels in order to boost performance and keep it ahead of the game. The engineers were already in the final stages of the development of yet another evolution, the 512M, which would stretch the Testarossa envelope as far as it could go.

So, it was Luca’s job to define what Ferrari should do next to the 512M. And he set about changing Ferrari’s approach to this kind of cars forever (maybe not forever, but it is still going on today). Montezemolo said that the engine in the back, such as it was the layout of the Testarossas, gave the car an edgier driving style and detracted owners from using their cars on a daily basis. He didn’t want the cars to be left in their garages – he wanted them out and about and it was Ferrari’s responsibility to make their cars easier to drive.

The engine would go back to the front as it was in the old days of such iconic cars as the 250 GTO, 275 GTB or the gorgeous Daytona and, in his words to the engineers, ‘a lady should be able to drive the new car with stilettos’. And the 550 Maranello was born, a car that revived the traditional front-engine, rear wheel drive layout and that would launch Ferrari into the 21st century.

The Maranello is seen today as one of the best Ferraris ever made and a pivotal piece in the brand’s history, as it was the car that started a lineage that still exists today. In 2001 came the 575M Maranello, then the 599 GTB Fiorano in 2006, the F12 Berlinetta in 2012 and the 812 Superfast arrived in 2019.

For the purposes of this text, I will even take the 812 Superfast limited-edition model that has just been announced as the 812 Competizione (basically it’s an 812 turned up to eleven and more suitable to track work than the regular car).

Now let’s look at the numbers. In 1996, the 550 Maranello – in effect the best car in the world at the time and more expensive than a medium size apartment in the centre of Lisbon – had a 5.5 litre V12 engine with 485 horsepower and was capable of 0-100km/h in 4.4 seconds, topping out at 320km/h. Think about the car you were driving in 1996 and how fast (slow) it was compared to the 550.

Today, the 812 Competizione has a 6.5 litre V12 engine producing 830 horsepower, gets to 100km/h in 2.8 seconds and exceeds 340km/h. It is the most powerful road-going naturally aspirated V12 engine ever made and also the last time Ferrari will produce a V12 without any kind of electrical assistance. Like I said, the end of an era.

Now, the EU has banned the sale of all fossil-fuel cars from 2035. Looking at a brand like Ferrari, that feeds from its clients emotions, the passion they have for the cars, the engines and the noise they make, and seeing as how everything changed since 1996 but, also, pretty much stayed the same, my question is: can Ferrari – or similar names like Lamborghini or Pagani – survive this new reality? Looking at the 550 Maranello and the 812 Competizione, will an electric Prancing Horse be able to produce the same effects on the people who dream about these cars? I myself cannot see it. Can you?

By Guilherme Marques

550 Maranello is looking better with every passing year
812’s racy interior is quite different from the 550’s classical look
812 Competizione is the latest in a line of front-engined V12
Luca di Montezemolo
Connolly leather dominated the 550’s cabin