Somewhere in a scarlet Ferrari factory in downtown Maranello, Italy, there are some very smug engineers. Every year the luxury sports car brand unveils a raft of gleaming new models, launching technological breakthroughs that demonstrate the continued development of a much-loved marque and opening up yet more purchasing possibilities… And so now to the Ferrari 458 Spider, unveiled in 2011 at the 64th Frankfurt International Motor Show. The mid-rear engine V8 super car is a world first, featuring as it does a cabriolet roof without compromising the performance of a coupé, thanks to a fully retractable aluminum hard top roof and ultra-sophisticated engineering. By pushing the Ferrari frame ever further, the Spider is an invitation to drivers to combine luxurious, carefree lifestyles with some seriously sporty, aggressive driving that soft-top technology cannot support — a disappointment for some who already invested in the straightforward Italia coupé.
Stripping down from coupé to cabriolet in just 14 seconds, the Spider’s roof is 25kg lighter than a traditional soft-top, and is both quieter and more thermally efficient when closed. There has been no compromise on aerodynamics – the roof adds only 45 kg on the coupé and occupies just 99 liters of space, less than a soft-top. Sliding under a dramatic pair of buttresses behind the seats, the roof’s pieces flip 180 degrees and pile on top of each other, leaving plenty of luggage space.
The buttresses also channel air toward the grilles on the engine cover, maximizing the flow to the intakes, the clutch and gearbox oil radiators, as well as protecting driver and passenger if the car rolls over. The roof also brings the driver closer to that famous Ferrari sound, roaring out through 570 horsepower at 9,000 revs per minute (rpm), accelerating up to 320 kilometers an hour (km/h). The rear window can also be fully opened to enjoy the sound in coupé mode, and the same ‘window’ is an adjustable electric wind deflector positioned between the buttresses, ensuring efficient aerodynamics and reducing buffeting, enabling normal conversation even at speeds as high as 200 km/h.
Under the hood, the Spider has everything in common with the earlier 458 Italia model, and delivers the same performance despite the technological challenges presented by the roof. Though no longer displayed under a glass engine cover due to safety reasons, the Spider is powered by Ferrari’s 2011 International Engine of the Year. Developed by F1 engineers, the naturally-aspirated direct-injection 4.5-liter V8 engine sprints from 0 to 100 km/h in 3.4 seconds and from 0 to 200 km/h in 10.8 seconds. Ferrari also modified the throttle mapping and suspension tuning to accommodate the cabriolet form, and it is only traveling over very poor roads (like Lebanon’s, sadly) that the driver can feel a mild tremble in the chassis and some vibrations through the windscreen pillars.
While the Spider is proving Ferrari’s ability to forge ahead, the brand is also giving clients the opportunity to add some old-world style to their luxury. The new ‘Tailor-made’ program harks back to the glamour of choice offered to clients in the 1950s and 60s. Exclusive personal designers can customize models with a wide range of cloth trims, colors, finishes and technical materials within the Classica, Scuderia and Inedita collections, giving Ferrari fanatics worldwide the chance to put their own mark on a brand that’s staying ahead of the game.
NADIM MEHANNA is an automotive engineer and the pioneer of motoring on Middle Eastern television since 1992