Hard-driving Ferrari Not For The Weak

Paul Newman one of few to master it

Restored Daytona needs concentration

I don’t have much in common with actor Paul Newman. I don’t have a mantle full of film awards and I can’t make a good salad dressing. But we do share one thing – we’ve both driven a Ferrari 365 GTB/4.

For him, it was in 1977, as he piloted the car to a laudatory fifth-place finish at the Daytona 24-hour race a month after he turned 52.

For me, it was 27 years later when I finally got a chance to experience the magnificent GTB/4, otherwise known as the Ferrari Daytona.

All Ferraris have an aura about them. They are enveloped in a blanket of class, elegance, detail and design.

The Daytona is all that, but it’s the black sheep of the family. The car’s rugged appearance makes it stand out as the bully in the Ferrari group.

When the car debuted in 1968, it had a top speed of 275 km/h. Production numbers varied, with about 1,400 Berlinettas (coupes) built and 124 Spyders. A few of the latter were not factory-original convertibles and remain in a gray area for collectible status and value.

In its heyday of the late 1980s, prices for the Berlinetta reached $750,000 (U.S.), while asking prices for the Spyder went as high as $2 million.

Replica kits became widely available and replicas were seen in such television shows as Miami Vice.

It also stars in the movie Gumball Rally, driven by Italian race car driver Franco (played by actor Raul Julia). His line – “The first rule of Italian driving: What’s-a-behind me, does not-a-matter,” as he whips the rear-view mirror aside – has become a cult saying among Ferraristas and car buffs alike.

I fell in love with the car a year ago, after a long drive as a passenger. The car had been sold and needed to be driven to the border to be shipped. But with the wrong paperwork, it was refused entry to the U.S. after several hours of waiting.

A wasted day perhaps, but in my eyes, it was like winning the lottery – we would have to drive back.

With the heater not working, I wrapped myself in the car cover and sat back to experience the sounds of 12 musical cylinders. When a piece of the dash popped into my lap as we accelerated, I placed this model on the top of my wish list. I yearned to experience the car from the only other seat: the driver’s.
My wish finally came true recently with a fly yellow 1971 GTB/4 that has been restored meticulously to showroom condition. The owner is an avid collector who, like myself, holds this model as his most favoured.

Grabbing its tiny handle at the base of the window, I open the lumbering door and jump in enthusiastically.

It has a simple Ferrari interior that would later be found in other models, such as the 308. The leather seats have beautiful ventilated inserts, adding to the sporty look.

I wonder: has Paul Newman ever graced this particular car?

It’s distracting to have such a long front end and I am tricked into thinking the car is longer than its 4,425 mm (about the length of a Honda Civic).

With a curb weight of 1,633 kg, it’s not a lightweight, but at speed, the Daytona is dedicated to the asphalt and quite maneuverable.

Small mirrors restrict what visibility there is ahead, but the suede dash reduces glare. The seats comfortably hold your driving position, but the seatbelts fall short in keeping you planted firmly when cornering.

At start-up, I have goosebumps.

The sound is hard to describe. The interior noise level is high, which would normally make me cringe, but this car is different.

A V12 gives off a primal sound that intimidates the weak. The roar can be heard kilometres away. It echoes in a tunnel, and I grin.

Shifting is typically 1970s-style Ferrari, notchy when cold, easier when warm, yet always with a temperament. A little blip to coax the shifter into gear; smoothness only happens at higher revs.

It is a hard car to drive, taking full concentration, strength and stamina. Driving any modern car seems like a cake walk.

But driving it is exhilarating. The clutch is hard and the gearing set up such that it lurches at low speeds. City driving would be insane. What the Daytona wants is a long stretch of roadway to give it an Italian tune-up.

A 0-to-100 km/h start is recorded at less than six seconds and the vented disc brakes easily bring the car to a stop.

Rumour has it that Enzo Ferrari himself thought highly of the Daytona. Known to be a fan of the front-engine and rear-wheel-drive cars, he said it was best to “put the horses in front of the cart.”

The difference here is that the horses have a wild streak (at 350 horsepower) and the Daytona is far from a cart.

With its racing heritage at Le Mans, Sebring and Daytona, the car is legendary. For five years after the end of production in 1974, the car would race until its fitting exit at its namesake track, where it finished second.

My respect for the car is only surpassed by my respect for owners who drive them. Once, when Paul Newman brushed past me at the Road Atlanta racetrack, I blurted out, “Any man who can drive the 365 GTB/4 the way it is meant to be, I will always adore.”

He stopped, gazed at me with those piercing blue eyes and said, “Thank you.”

No, thank you, Mr. Newman.

My drive left me aching for two things: a certain Hollywood actor-turned-racer, and the Ferrari 365 GTB/4 Daytona.

Nika

Nika

Nika has had a love for cars and racing since childhood. A regional racing license holder she has been involved with the industry, working with racers, teams, journalists and automobile manufacturers in sponsorship solicitation, logistics, hospitality, road show and communication program implementation.