Spinning a Ferrari down the freeway: Walter Mitty would swoon

By , Automotive editor of The Christian Science Monitor

Driving a Ferrari along the Interstate is the consummation of a lifelong ideal. It's not the most expensive car in the world, by a long shot, nor is it the fastest. In fact, it may not be the "mostest" or "bestest" of anything, really. But what it has is image, class -- or aura, for want of a better word.

Indeed, it's the ideal way for a Walter Mitty-type motorist to vent his wildest dreams behind the wheel.

The Ferrari, in its race configuration, has won innumerable victories on the competition circuits of the world. It stands, in fact, for the indomitable spirit and dedicated commitment of its founder, Enzo Ferrari.

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What it is, I guess, is a ball of excitement a wheel.

Certainly, the Ferrari, with a 2,926-cc V-8 engine behind your back, 5-speed gearbox, 4-wheel vented disk brakes, all-independent suspension, and wide cast-alloy wheels with Michelin TRX tires, is not the most comfortable car around. It's extremely low to the road -- perhaps too low for the taste of most drivers. But when you're securely lodged inside the compartment, safety belts taut and foot on the throttle, it's the beginning of a trip that hasm to draw approving nods from other motorists on the road as well as pedestrians at a crosswalk.

In other words, people know you're around. Simply, you don't blend in with the scenery on the road.

If you like the car, and it happens to be your kind of motoring, the next hurdle to be cleared -- or maybe it's the first -- is the price. The Ferrari 308GTBi -- the one I've been sampling for the better part of a week -- goes for a cool $55,000. While the 308GTSi spider goes for even more, the Lamborghini dreamboat, by contrast, is tens of thousands more -- not Italian lire but US dollars and cents.

Smiling at the bright-red Ferrari by the side of the road -- across the street from New York's Waldorf-Astoria Hotel on Park Avenue -- Sergio Pininfarina, head of the famed Italian carozzerie, or styling studio, affirms: "The Ferrari is my life." Indeed, the Pininfarina studio has been designing Ferraris from almost time immemorial, it seems.

While not the fastest car around, the mid-engine V-8 Ferrari, nonetheless, is a very fast car on the road -- far too fast for the US driver to enjoy it. That's a big problem with a car of this caliber. It cannot be enjoyed -- legally, that is -- in the United States with its federal speed limit of 55 m.p.h. On the West German autobahns, by contrast, there is no speed limit overall.

But even inside the US speed limit, it takes a lot of gas. In driving the 308 from New York to Boston, I got somewhere in the area of 17 or 18 m.p.g. Estimated city-type mileage is 11 which puts it in the Rolls-Royce class in appetite.

Thus, it takes a hefty wallet to buy a Ferrari in the first place and a continued heavy infusion of cash to keep it on the go.

What it happily does -- and well, I might add -- is add a new dimension to the automotive game which the usual run-of-the-assembly-line vehicle cannot hope to meet.

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