The mysterious magic inherent in the Divine Proportion was written at the beginning of time. Man is simply playing by nature’s rules, and because art is man’s attempt to imitate the beauty of the Creator’s hand, you can imagine we might be seeing a lot of instances of the Divine Proportion in art...
-The Da Vinci Code, Dan Brown
‘The measure of your faith is the measure of the pain you can endure,’ the teacher told Silas.
Alright, you won’t know Silas if you have not read the Code. But you will certainly appreciate what the teacher said if you have been passionately following something in life. I know. I have been nurturing the ambition to drive a modern Ferrari for some time now. And you thought these things come easy, right? Just as you resign yourself to your fate, as your faith gets watered down, as your head starts drooping, comes the reward. In my case, the unthinkable happened on a fine morning, with a blast across the Mumbai-Pune Expressway in a Maserati Quattroporte to catch up with, ahem, a blood red Ferrari 360 Modena. Sure, the model has been superseded by the F430, but to me the appeal of a Ferrari can and should outlast the effect a mere model change can create.
Let me cut through the peripherals and get to the fundamental. How does it feel driving the Maser and the Ferrari back-to-back? Be honest and skip the following line if you are below 17. Driving the Maserati is like learning the art of love-making through a correspondence course. Good fun. Driving the Ferrari is like being molested by a bunch of Miss Universe contenders backstage. Dream come true.
The Maserati is complete, beautiful and perfectly formed. The Ferrari is sinful, stunning and chiselled. These are true-blooded Italian cars that reaffirm the one myth that we all want to believe in – that Italians make the most beautiful cars in the whole world. There is The Divine Proportion that you see everywhere in nature as explained very well in the Code again. And in front of me were two cars created the way God intended them to be.
The Ferrari interior reflects a lost opportunity with a dashboard that would have been all right in the San Storm. Panel gaps that tempt you to put whole hands in and glued-in monikers accentuate the fact that it is all hand assembled. But look close and you see unreal numbers on the large, white-on-black dials, you see the 8500 rpm redline and take a deep breath, you run your hands through the six-speed shiftgate and bite your lower lip, you see the 340 kph listed on the speedo and let out a sigh. You know you are moments away from a para-normal encounter. And before you know, you are hyperventilating and craving for the drive of your life. The Maserati interior certainly didn’t come that easy for Italian craftsmen who are used to smaller exotics. But they have worked hard to create a sporty ambience that drips sex. Super quality leather and aluminium adorns it and it is all built around the driver. The cascading centre console with the Maserati oval clock is a master touch while the inorganic instrument binnacle is a definite add-on. Overall, the ambience is more ‘let me drive you, pretty thing, to my 47-ft boat with four bedrooms and a jacuzzi’ than ‘come, let’s teach the Bentley GT boys a lesson after blowing another million at the casino’.
And then God created engines. Fiery V8s that drink the cleanest petrol available in large quantities and generate close to 400 bhp of raw power. The Ferrari motor is a 90 degree V8 with a dry sump that throbs on idle and screams from its innards when letting 400 prancing horses run amok. Four overhead camshafts operate five valves per cylinder and it breathes through two separate injection systems for each cylinder bank. The sum of it looks so achingly beautiful that it can be seen through a plexiglass panel making it the fastest display of modern art. I won’t be surprised if they decide to give it a place inside the Louvre, next to Da Vinci’s finest.
The Quattroporte was a test-bed for the engine that now powers the Ferrari F430. That means the four-door sedan in this story has the more sophisticated engine. But it has been severely silenced so that only when your right foot sinks deep into the carpet does it let you know of its Maranello DNA. For full effect, you need to lower the windows while travelling at ‘shell’ velocities through a tunnel. It still manages 400 bhp in this ‘restrained’ format and sends power to the rear wheels through a slick six-speed semi-automatic gearbox.
The red car had a traditional shiftgate and going through the gears alone can send all your erectile muscles on high alert. With 38 kgm of torque at your disposal, you can start from second or third gear and click-clack your way through to sixth with your very own Philharmonic providing a mighty enjoyable aria from just behind your ears. By the time I managed to shift to fifth, I was saying hello to certain death waiting in the form of a truck that seemed to be absolutely stationary in the middle of the road. A flick of the Gran Turismo style wheel skids the car into the next lane and I was soon yelling profanities that start with a capital F. The steering of the 360 is so precise that the Maserati feels as if it is steered by rudder. Of course it is not, and for a four-door barge, the Maserati is quite nimble as I found out when attacking corners in and around Lonavla, where the Expressway gets serpentine in character. Really, the Maser needs to be flogged hard and fast to really appreciate it – otherwise it is just another stiffly sprung S-Class – but a very beautiful one at that. While flooring the Ferrari can be as orgasmic as it gets, tapping the brakes brings on an experience not too dissimilar to the arrival of room service at the wrongest possible time. You are pinned to your seat as the sports car decelerates almost instantly. Things are much calmer in the Maserati, where the stopping department is not really helped by the semi-auto gearbox which is perpetually thinking of ways to keep you moving fast. The brakes of these exotics actually state the obvious – one is occasionally meant to go around the Nurburgrings and Silverstones of this world while the other is built to chase the Orient Express at leisure as it pants its way from Paris to Istanbul.
I can go on and on. But the story won’t be complete if we don’t tell you that we managed some serious speeds with these machines. The Maserati terrorised fellow motorists at 220 kph, while we had to contend with traffic when we were out with the Modena (we don’t want to mention the top speed here, really). Is it all about speed? About how quick and fast? I don’t think so – I have driven some very fast machines before but they didn’t feel the same. They were not red, they didn’t have the Bologna trident for a grille ornament, they were not as loud and they didn’t have the same effect on people.
As mornings go, this was proving to be a bloody brilliant one. One that made me understand why people pay obscene amounts of money to buy a rather small car made of red plastic with a big engine attached to it. Or why someone needs a classically elegant motorcar with 400 bhp packed under the bonnet. These are not cars. These are serious toys for people who like to and, here comes the operative word, can, live their dreams. And without them, the world isn’t complete.
Which one would I keep? Well, the 360 Modena of course, though I may have to pay entertainment tax for just driving one around. And then someone will ask me why anyone would buy a screaming V8-powered Italian sports car in India and I will be only too happy to quote Da Vinci...
Blinding ignorance does mislead us.O! Wretched mortals, open your eyes!
We’d like to thank Dr Vijay Mallya for allowing us to drive his gorgeous Quattroporte and Adar Poonawalla for letting us drive the awesome 360 Modena.