Emerging from the gloom in just a pair of pyjama bottoms, the owner of a luxuriant coppery chest rug crunches across the gravel before gruffly enquiring, “Just what the f**k do you think you’re doing?”
Photographer Greg hastens adjustments to his camera mounting, illuminated in the torchlight from the topless gentleman’s iPhone. This guy is positively bristling, and it’s apparently not with enthusiasm for the rare and coveted supercar I’ve just inadvertently driven straight through his beauty sleep. He notes the Ferrari’s numberplate, and trains his camera on my abashed mug as Greg retreats, offering sincere apologies.
“This is a private f**king residence,” he seethes. My dashboard says it’s five degrees, I’ve got a coat on and the heater maxed but this bare-footed, semi-naked Viking isn’t even shivering. Clearly he’s not to be trifled with. Terribly sorry. We’ll leave. Immediately.
Unfortunately, the Ferrari 812 GTS does not have ‘make a subtle exit’ in its locker, and as we scurry back into the night, it fires a cackle of revs at our hirsute pursuer, drowning out his parting words. Something like “Good luck yourselves, lucky stunts” I think?
Damn. The whole point of skipping bedtime was to avoid this exact sort of encounter. I have just 24 hours with Ferrari’s first series production, front-engined V12 drop-top for 50 years, the 812 GTS.
We could get bogged down in semantics and pick holes in chassis rigidity or 75kg of extra weight, or we could accept what we have here is nothing more or less than an outrageous noise on wheels. Where do you go to enjoy a car this big, this fast, this loud, this obnoxious, without peeing off everyone in an 8km radius?
We hatched a plan to wait for sunset, quit the towns, and wring out an 812hp Italian dragster in the sticks while England sleeps. No one in my way, and no one in earshot. I presumed the unassuming lay-by we just pulled up on the outskirts of the ‘burbs didn’t lead anywhere. Turns out it was someone’s driveway, and he’s a lot less excited about being kept awake by a 6.5-litre V12 tonight than I am. Sorry chief.
Chastened more by the sight of such pinprick-sharp nipples than the bollocking, we plunge deeper into the rural Midlands, searching for a flicker of a naughty opportunity to stretch the 812’s legs just a little. I’m not sure the roads to do this car justice exist in the UK, or Italy’s supercar valley, or outside of the Australian outback.
One of my handier colleagues texts me, charitably branding the hard-top 812 ‘a handful’. I’ll call that and raise you; this open-air GTS is a certifiable psychopath. Ferrari wants me to note the comfort-spec chairs in place of carbon buckets, and tell you this is the gently-does-it, leather elbow patch-wearing cruiser of the family, but that’s cobblers.
Any car with this engine – a baleful, wailing, soaring 9,000rpm V12 that fellates your ego while it pulverises your senses – would be remarkable. But when it’s matched to steering this reactive, a turn-in appetite that defies belief for such a girthy beast and a gearbox that somehow sends lightning bolts of dopamine down your spine just from a quick tug of the paddles… wait, where was I?
The 812 is the apex predator of front-engined cars, now and possibly forever. It’s savage. Frightening. And with the roof down, everyone can see you scream.
Even with the roof motored under the rear buttresses (meaning the boot shrinks from the hard-top’s 320 litres to 210, squashy bag fans), you’re not as bathed in the cacophony as you are in, say, a Lamborghini Huracán Spyder. Induction noise bled through the bulkhead is surprisingly subtle. It’s the exhaust that shrieks and warbles like Florence Welch treading on a hot Lego brick, but only after the revs climb from the monotone idle, which is about as tuneful as a light aircraft.
That means most of the volume is behind you. Find some traction and this monster outruns its bellowing lungs in the zero to 62mph dash in less than three seconds. We need an acoustic stage where we can do the fandango.
Kensington High Road tends to be the venue of choice, but I’m sick to the tonsils of supercars being relegated to circus animal dignity ripping through first gear in SW1, aren’t you? After upsetting Gandalf the Ginger, I’m determined not to disturb anyone else with tonight’s mission.
It’s well past 2am before the tunnel mouth glows into view at the tip of the tennis court-sized bonnet. I should be sleepy, but every time I short-shift from third to fourth and the 812 merrily lights up the rears while sneering at my ill-judged confidence, I feel awake all of a sudden.
It’s colder now, the heater is fighting a losing battle with the night air, vindictive autumn showers have spotted the Ferrari’s leather and someone forgot to option heated seats on this S$1.6m (sans COE) roadster.
Perhaps they expect you’ll achieve the same effect by spoiling your underwear when you squeeze the throttle peeling off a roundabout. A flare of revs. A yowl from the organ pipes out back. A snatch of oh-Christ-please-no counter steering, and a quiet prayer of gratitude to whoever dialled in the stability control to indulge me the fantasy I helped catch that one.
Anyone who reckons there’s too much technology, too much health ’n’ safety and not enough good old-fashioned brown trousers moments in modern cars needs to have a go in one of these. If this is the funeral pyre for the big-hearted non-hybrid V12, it’s taking as many of us with it as it can.
The tunnel is riddled with cameras but they don’t record sound, so I select second gear on approach. The 812 arrests itself, impatiently straining against the engine braking. I ought to be able to grab third at the crescendo then back off before setting a new Hertfordshire land speed record. Both side windows and the rear glass are ritualistically lowered. Heater off. Radio muted. V12, no filter.
This time, I can’t hear my own swear words over the row that explodes against the concrete.
If I close my eyes in a quiet place, I can still hear those precious seconds of fury. The LEDs streaking across the steering wheel, zapping from red to blue at the optimum moment to swap gears. The sensational traction, as the overworked rear tyres at last find some purchase on a rare dry stretch of road.
And the solid wall of noise that ricochets off the sides of the tunnel, bouncing straight back into that breezy cockpit. It’s the sort of transcendent, air-ripping shriek I still fall asleep grinning about. Or if it keeps you up at night, I can only apologise.
STORY Ollie Kew
PHOTOS Greg Pajo