It was truly heartening to spend the day recently at Blyton Park with the owner of a Ferrari F430 Spyder who had gone to great lengths to track down his perfect car. Nothing unusual there, I know you’re thinking. Most people in the market for a Ferrari don’t just buy the first car they see. They take their time, have cars inspected and study the market. But this car and owner combination was unusual. In the age of the paddle shift gearbox, I was very pleased to hear that The Owner had specifically tracked down a Ferrari F430 with a manual gearbox. In the argument of Ferrari F430 manual vs F1 shift, he chose manual. The heel toe downshift was one of our objectives that day of driver coaching.
That Clarkson coined term ‘Flappy Paddles’ sets my teeth on edge but there’s no denying that in the quest for lap times, the modern twin-clutch gearshift in the Ferrari 458 Italia is a remarkable mechanism. All modern performance car manufacturers are going the paddle shift route with some truly remarkable gearboxes in the marketplace. With Formula One at the heart of their marketing platform, Ferrari more than any other have the ‘F1 Shift’ at the heart of their engineering. But it’s easy to forget that, in my view, 50% of the pleasure of driving a Ferrari is the tactile gearshift action. I’ve been fortunate enough to be trusted with the keys to the iconic 288GTO and to this day, it remains a drive a recall over a glass of wine for many years to come. Sadly, I fear that as the Play Station generation advances, I’m in a minority.
However, this F430’s owner had previously owned a 360 Modena. I’ll be generous and call the 360 F1 shift leisurely, like many other early generation paddle shifts. That experience was enough for him and the manual car was the target. So on our day at Blyton, there was an absolutely essential skill to be conveyed to The Owner, the heel toe gearshift. What could be better? A convertible Ferrari, a sporty V8 with a lightweight flywheel, a metallic ‘clack’ from each gearshift and a set of perfectly placed pedals to pivot the ball of your foot on.
It didn’t take long for him to pick up on the skill and soon we were lapping with the appropriate blips, clacks and the accompanying satisfaction that perfecting that skill always brings. I’ve driven the Ferrari 458 Italia extensively and written about it for magazines in a comparision test that you can read here. And while I admire the twin clutch 458 shift with it’s Uzzi machine gun action and it’s pin sharp, majestic downshift throttle blips, there’s something about the old fashioned rifle bolt action of the manual gearshift that’s uniquely satisfying.
There only remains one thing to be rectified for next time. Blyton Park is a superb driving venue and Richard is an accommodating host. I need to discuss with him the possibility of installing a stone tunnel at the end of the main straight, just to get the full on effect.
The manual Ferrari is sadly gone from the options list. I suspect in a few years, Porsche and others will convince us that it’s the only way to change gear. Up there with vinyl records and valve amps, the Ferrari gearbox has a tactility that’s hard to describe. You either get it, or you don’t.