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I lost interest in new Ferraris so long ago that I’m completely out of touch with the current range.
A short perusal of the 2021 line-up holds no surprises: the mid-engined V8 ones look as if they were designed by (and for) children, and the front-engined V12s – despite being almost handsome in a couple of instances – are just too obese.
There is hope on the horizon in the form of the beautiful new Roma, however, which is the first modern Ferrari I’ve seen for a very long time that doesn’t make me groan.
This is a car so visually different from its siblings that it must be a tacit admission by Maranello that, for too long, its styling direction has leaned too much towards the immature tastes of emerging but previously untapped markets.
But the truth is that Ferrari never completely abandoned its ‘traditional’ customers.
In the ’90s there was the 456, which I always thought was a very good-looking car.
Latterly there has been the rather intriguing ‘breadvan’ FF and its GTC4Lusso replacement, both front-engined V12s with a more grown-up image; Ferraris you could just about drive down the road without causing people to assume that you were a £200,000-a-week footballer.
And in between came the 612 Scaglietti, built to the tune of 3025 examples from 2004 to 2011.
As the name suggests, the 612’s body was made by the famous coachbuilder at a new facility in Modena, with final trimming and assembly at the Maranello works.
Each 612 took a month to complete, so Ferrari was not exactly knocking them out like Mondeos.
The shape was by Pininfarina (like all the best-looking Ferraris) – or more specifically by Ken Okuyama, the tri-lingual Japanese Renaissance man who joined the legendary styling house in 2004 as creative director.
Mr O had history with the two Italian companies going back to the Ferrari Enzo and the facelifted 456M, and can justifiably call himself an industrial designer rather than a ‘mere’ car stylist: since going freelance in ’06, his CV has included trains, massage chairs and even an eyewear range.
It was stated from the beginning that Okuyama created the 612 as an homage to the beautiful, scallop-sided Roberto Rossellini 375MM of the 1950s.
That car was a strict two-seater, but the 612 is a generous 2+2 that boasts a 0.34Cd, having spent 3500 drag-reducing hours inthe wind tunnel.
Naturally, it had to be V12-powered. Its dry-sump, 5748cc 65º Tipo F133 unit, managed by one Bosch ECU per bank, was essentially the same as that used in the later 456M and 575M Maranello, featuring Nikasil cylinder linings, quad overhead camshafts and hydraulic tappets.
In other words, the engine that had in effect replaced the decades-old Colombo V12, last seen in the 412 of the late ’80s.
Running an 11:1 compression ratio and with its intake tracts and porting further massaged to facilitate air flow and reduce back pressure, it would lunge this 16ft car from rest to 60mph in 4 secs flat and on to a 199mph top speed.
Long in the nose, with a short rear deck and huge doors, the 612, as well as being the firm’s second all-aluminium car after the 360 Modena, introduced the front-mid-engined chassis architecture still in use today, mounting the V12 well behind the front-axle line in a new, super-rigid all MIG- and spot-welded aluminium spaceframe.
Thus the 612 was lighter and much stiffer than its predecessor: 60% more efficient, claimed Ferrari, on a weight versus rigidity basis.
Its integrated stability and traction-control systems were a first in a Ferrari, while the continuously variable damping, with wheel sensors giving instant updates, made the most of the classic rose-jointed, forged aluminium double-wishbone suspension with its anti-dive and anti-squat geometry.
It was a pleasing fusion of tradition and the latest electronics that allowed the engine, gearbox, brakes and suspension systems to ‘talk’ to each other.
You’ll be lucky to find one of the 199 six-speed manual 612s, because the majority came with Ferrari’s six-speed paddle-shift F1 gearbox, a £7000 default-choice option.
In either case it was mounted at the back in-unit with the differential to form a transaxle, thus optimising the weight distribution in this 4056lb, 533bhp 2+2 that, even at £177,000, had soon generated an 18-month waiting list.
The 612 became the basis for three sets of special-edition models in 2006, the most notable being the Sessanta – built in a run of just 60 examples, mostly in two-tone colour schemes, to mark the 60th anniversary of Ferrari.
From early 2008 the 612 Scaglietti became a special-order model via Ferrari’s OTO – or One To One –programme, whereby clients hand-picked colours, materials and options in order to personalise their vehicles.
Steve Cunningham’s black, 2009-registered 612 is one of these later OTO variants, with the electrochromatic glass roof panel (it tints or lightens at the touch of a switch) and the upgraded paddle-shift with improved software.
“I bought my first 612 a decade ago,” says Cunningham, “when I needed something with more room in the back than my Aston Martin Vanquish for my growing children.”
That first car was mechanically nice but needed a repaint because the combination of steel and aluminium construction had caused paint reactions.
“At the time I ended up swapping it for a Lamborghini, but since then I have owned two silver 612s and this black one.
“I find them much cheaper to run than the Astons. Apart from eating track-rod ends they are lighter on suspension components and tyres, and I have never had to replace clutches in the paddle-shift gearbox.
“The transmission in this car is much better than the earlier models, with acceptable gearchanges even in fully automatic mode. I’ve done long business trips to Switzerland in it quite happily, although it’s more a ‘special occasion’ car than everyday transport.”
Despite that, apart from the fuel consumption (just into the teens) and the sheer length and width of the thing – Cunningham says it’s longer than his Volvo estate, and only just fits in his garage – there would be no practical reason not to use the 612 every day.
Finished in Daytona Black with Crema Daytona patterned leather, this 16,600-mile 612 came into the world in July 2008 and is one of just 38 OTO Scagliettis sold new in the UK.
Cunningham is the car’s third owner and has maintained its full Joe Macari service history.
From the outside, the quad 3in tailpipes and massive, bright-red four-piston calipers inside the Pirelli P-Zero shod 20in wheels advertise the car’s intentions.
Yet apart from the flashes of yellow and black from the badges, not everybody would necessarily know for certain that this is a Ferrari – which could be a good thing or a bad thing, depending on the occasion.
Even with its tiny front and rear overhangs it is 139mm longer than the 456M it replaced, and almost 100bhp stronger under the bonnet.
It does not attract unwanted attention from the law or otherwise (one passer-by thought it was a Porsche), and most importantly the shape – simple and clean rather than musclebound – has aged far more gracefully than almost any other Ferrari of the modern era.
Details such as Prancing Horse badges on each and every piece of glass, and the beautifully presented leather folder for the clutch of handbooks, tell a story of a brand that controls every aspect of its image aggressively.
The glorious V12 engine is magnificently presented; no plastic covers here, and owner Cunningham says that servicing is easier than on the more tricky to access mid-engined cars.
The doors open wide on specially articulating hinges to give easy entry to a lavish interior.
With conspicuous ‘hand stitching’ on its six-way electrically adjustable seats and an airy feel from that big glass roof, the cabin is a mostly uplifting mixture of cream leather and satin-finish aluminium details, although certain components are already beginning to suffer from the ‘sticky plastic’ disease that afflicts some cars of this period when the components degrade.
Slightly PlayStation in design, the thick-rimmed steering wheel has a red ‘engine start’ button and the famed manettino for toggling between sport, comfort and track modes.
The boot is commodious (Pininfarina-designed fitted luggage was a £2500 option) and the rear bucket seats are on the roomy end of the +2 range, although I’m not sure that full-sized adults would be happy in them for very long.
The dual-zone air conditioning is efficient and the Bose sound system Ferrari was so proud of in 2004 is still excellent. The 612 even has parking sensors and a reversing camera. You learn to trust the latter feature in a car that somehow goes backwards beautifully, always keeping to the desired trajectory.
But let’s talk about going forwards. From cold, the V12 sits at a high idle for 20 secs, appears to test its fans, then settles to a normal tickover.
Setting off, you can press the full ‘auto’ button on the centre console or flick through the gears on the paddle-shifters, which are fixed rather than moving with the steering wheel.
I tend to favour the latter for smoothness and control. You can go up and down all six gears faster than you ever could with the manual and without ever fluffing a shift, missing a gear or extending your left leg.
Doubtless standards have risen since the 612 was new, and you wonder if a manual gearbox even has a place in a car like this any more.
This Ferrari robotised transmission was probably the best compromise anyone had come up with at the time, even if there is still something to be said for the pleasure of matching gears with revs the old way.
It shifts 20% quicker than the transmission in the first 612s, the changes firming up as you push the car harder.
As the miles roll by, what had seemed like an unnecessarily large car on first acquaintance begins to feel quite compact.
There is more bark to the sports exhaust fitted to Cunningham’s car than the standard item, but it is not insanely intrusive; you can drive this big Ferrari quite peacefully at low speeds, and sometimes that’s important.
The chassis lives up to expectations, offering a neutral resistance to understeer and body roll that is something close to sublime.
No front-engined Ferrari I have ever driven before felt this agile, never mind the big, lumpy four-seater ones.
If I was being ultra-picky I’d say that the steering is fractionally too light, but that’ sonly because the car sets such high standards of clean turn-in that somehow manages not to feel twitchy.
This car was ordered new with the HGT2 handling package, which could be responsible for the slightly jiggly, even rattly ride. It smooths out as the speeds rise and the engine noise fades into the background.
Now, having rattled its cage, it feels wrong not to stretch its legs and take it on one of those long road trips where the end point is completely incidental to getting there.
Sadly, timescales didn’t run to that. What I can tell you is that the 612 has the sort of acceleration you have every right to expect: endless thrust to a magnificent 7000rpm on the yellow-tinted tachometer.
You can break the national speed limit – and then some – in second, find yourself in court in third and enter a whole new world of improbable overtaking opportunities that get you safely on the right side of the road before you’ve had much time to think of the implications.
The 612 has a brawny yet sophisticated personality, but does not extract the same physical or mental toll its forebears did – and maybe not the financial one, either.
Mike Wheeler, the Ferrari specialist in Hindhead, Surrey – who kindly found this car for us and is selling it on behalf of the owner – is adamant that many 612 owners do use them every day.
I loved the old 365 and 400 four-seaters, but the advance the Scaglietti represents has to be acknowledged.
Those earlier 2+2 cars, while better than is generally supposed by people who have never driven one, were really slightly unwilling extrapolations of the then-existing two-seater technology.
In contrast, the Scaglietti was designed from the beginning to seat four, a change of mindset that meant some deep thinking had to be done on basic matters such as heft, weight distribution and rigidity, while also taking advantage of the latest lightweight materials and electronic management systems.
The result is a fine modern grand touring machine, a four-place Ferrari created with a genuine sort of relish for the task, an urge to do something different and definitive in the world of exotic four-seaters perhaps not seen since the Lamborghini Espada.
It could have ended up as an Italian car with the brutal but slightly sterile competence of a German one, yet the 612 Scaglietti retains that essential sense of theatre and occasion that makes it every inch a Maranello product.
Maybe, in years to come, it will be the first four-seater Ferrari you will buy for its own sake, not just because it’s the only one you can afford.
Images: John Bradshaw/Ferrari
Thanks to Mike Wheeler, Rardley Motors
Ferrari 612 Scaglietti
- Sold/number built 2004-’11/3025
- Construction aluminium spaceframe with aluminium panels
- Engine all-alloy, dohc-per-bank 5748cc V12, electronic fuel injection
- Max power 533bhp @ 7250rpm
- Max torque 434Ib ft @ 5250rpm
- Transmission six-speed automated manual, RWD
- Suspension double wishbones with anti-squat/anti-dive geometry, coil springs and continuously variable damping f/r
- Steering power-assisted rack and pinion
- Brakes ventilated ceramic discs, with servo and anti-lock
- Length 16ft ¾in (4897mm)
- Width 6ft 4in (1930mm)
- Height 4ft 4in (1320mm)
- Wheelbase 9ft 6in (2895mm)
- Weight 4056Ib (1840kg)
- Mpg 13
- 0-60mph 4 secs
- Top speed 199mph
- Price new £177,000
- Price now £60-120,000*
*Prices correct at date of original publication