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This was to be the story of a three-day trip up and down California's coast in a sports car that's sure to please any motoring enthusiast. A brisk jaunt to Monterey for the annual festivities, check out some cars, and then some canyon-carving back to L.A. It was supposed to be all about the Mike Tyson-like haymaker that Nissan delivered to auto manufacturers around the world when it unleashed its gadget-laden, 542 horsepower, Playstation-on-wheels Skyline GT-R into the sports car arena. I planned to go on and on about brute force in a heavy car that wasn't short on creature comforts, combining competitive performance with everyday drivability. Cup holders, ice cold a/c, a respectable sound system, and power everything; no shift lag, personalizable sport mode(s), 463 lb.-ft. of torque, four wheel drive, and twin turbos. The thing is a beast. I fully intended to spiral into a self-serving descent of verbal grandeur, lauding the deftly unioned usability of an everyday car with the take-no-prisoners performance of a deadly sleeper, and how I chest-puffingly man-handled it for 600 miles.
I brought my camera. I planned my route and departure in accordance with daylight so I could enjoy the backdrop of the ocean's foamy kisses against coastal cliffs that played early morning hide-n-seek in the foggy marine layer. I generously lined my wallet with go-juice coupons, and stashed a few Twinkies in the glove box so I'd have some fuel of my own. I even put a piece of tape over the button that disengages the traction control, so that my boyish fervor wouldn't be tempted to write checks that my hand-eye coordination can't cash.

But there are some contingencies for which there exist no manner of preparation.

While at a restaurant in Monterey, I ran into an old friend, Drew, who recently added a duo of Italian sports cars to his collection. With his buddy, Drew was running around town, getting familiar with two distinct and very different machines: a 1981 Lamborghini Countach S, and a 2012 Ferrari 458 Italia. At one point he tossed me the keys to the Countach and told me to take 'er for a spin. I did, and I learned two things:
1. I should probably lay off the Twinkies.

2. Italian automobile manufacturers in the '70s and '80s built cars exclusively for emaciated midgets. The original window sticker listed only one option: palsy.
Despite the contortionism, I enjoyed terrorizing this little seaside town in a Bertone-penned spaceship whose roof line was a mere 42" from the ground. Downshifts and throttle release resulted in blue flames that licked the rear bumper from the exhaust tips. Webers throated voracious breaths from the longitudinal, mid-mounted V12 that warred with the night's quietude. But at 2AM, Monterey's wharf offers a succession of green lights that, in a Countach, is an express lane to trouble. So I headed back to the restaurant before some overzealous cop would decide to whisk me away to Area 51.
But it wasn't the trapezoidal-bodied bull that bucked me. That night, Drew handed me the valet ticket for his 458.

"Come by the hotel in the morning. Pick up the 458, take it out, enjoy it, bring it back when you're done."
'Okay,' I thought; 'that comes with the territory, right? I have cool friends, I write about this stuff, this is normal, right? Other people just get casually handed the keys to Ferrari's V8 flagship, right?' I tried my best to play it cool. Valet ticket in hand, I headed back to my hotel; but nary a wink of sleep could be found. In a few hours, I'd be piloting a 458. How could I have possibly prepared for this?

As excited as I was, I still wasn't prepared for the excitement that the 458 instills. No matter what you're driving, it takes a minute to adjust to driving a 458. Everything you need is on the steering wheel: the start button, the horn, turn signals, high beams, windshield wipers, shift lights, the manettino - and then two curved, blade-like, carbon fiber paddles are seated about an inch behind the steering wheel, ensuring that, in effect, the driver's hands never leave the road. This setup instantly establishes an emotional reaction - and you're not even moving yet! The leather seats are super model thin, and I wondered if they'd be up to the task of supporting my Twinkie-friendly frame. But the carbon fiber backs provide ample reinforcement, and the bolsters are prepared for any g-forces a turn of the wheel can muster.

The gauge cluster is a single cone, host to a large-numbered tachometer, flanked by TFT displays that offer myriad information as you digitally toggle from screen to screen. With enough patience and know-how, you can start flipping through your iPod's playlist. Or, you can tug on the right paddle, play footsies with the throttle, and orchestrate 562 horses to score a movement whose notes consist of the road's chicanes and how aggressively you plot out their navigation.

Make no mistake - this is not a comparison article. As evenly matched as the GT-R and 458 may seem on paper, in hindsight, I feel as though the Nissan was put in my hands solely to demonstrate Ferrari's superiority. The Skyline's steering feels weighted at all times, so as not to place undue pressure on the driver when turning under load. But the Italia's steering is nimble and precise. In sport mode, the hefty GT-R's rigid suspension demonstrated its efforts to keep body roll at bay; whereas the 458 simply defies physics, scything through corners, practically straightening out the road with each apex exit.

I felt victorious when I took a last-minute detour in the hopes of being alone, and stumbled into a scarcely traveled den of switchbacks. Like the first night of passion with a buxom new lover, the thrill was exacerbated by knowing what to do, but never having done it with this partner. "These curves are so familiar - but I know I've never seen them before! What happens if I do this or go there or speed this up or wait 'til the very last moment before I stop doing what I'm doing? I wonder what this button does..." Before you know it, you're 30 miles into a windy road and your brow is now as w(h)et as your appetite.

The handling alone fosters an addiction that immediately interferes with your life; skipping a day at the office is par for the course. But upon hearing it - after opening your soul to the wail of the V8 as the tach needle lunges past eight grand - irrationality hijacks your train of thought. Now you can't even take a minute to call in "sick" - ain't nobody got time for that.

In the shallow end of the rev pool, the 458 politely growls its presence to those in its vicinity. Nothing raucous or obscene; just a guttural arpeggio of which to be aware. But give it enough gas to open up the exhaust's butterfly valves, and all of a sudden it's open mic night with last-lap F1 impressions.
An embedded, gibbous, curved bar of shift lights interrupts the gleaming carbon fiber top of the steering wheel. Five individual red lights appear one at a time as you get closer and closer to red line. The first light doesn't even come on until you're more than half way there, which is an unintended demonstration of just how much fun you can have without ever approaching the limit. But when those lights come on; when your foot is trying to suffocate that pedal in carpet fibers, when the V8 is F1-screaming, and g-forces are using your body weight to test the tensile strength of the carbon fiber seat backs, it's an emotional expedition into a world of visceral performance through which no one can guide you with the precision that Ferrari has so expertly honed. No amount of gadgetry, no amount of horsepower or torque, no palette of telemetry no matter how broad will ever match the ever-so-keenly tuned experience that Ferrari creates while simultaneously spotlighting a whole gamut of emotions that used to and still should be felt in the throes of white-knuckle motoring.

Photo courtesy Gene Sanchez-Leeds


2,391 Posts
Great write up and thank you for sharing your experience with us!

P.S really like the thread title as the Italia is wrapped in b/w
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