It seems that in any extended conversation I've had in the last year, the idea comes up that if time doesn't necessarily bring wisdom, hopefully it does increase your sense of perspective. Thanks to my wife, on Sunday I had the opportunity to happily extend my perspective of what "fast" means.
For my birthday, my wife bought me a 50% off Living Social deal for a "speed tour" with DFW Drive Your Dream. This deal gives you a 2 1/2 hour drive in 4 supercars, mostly on open country roads. The Living Social deal puts this experience within reach for a special occasion, about the same price as an expensive dinner for two.
(Best appreciated full screen, of course)
I'm lucky enough to be able to drive the Midlife Crisismobile, a 2013 Mustang GT. It has "FAFNR" vanity plates named for Fafner, the dragon from Wagner's Ring Cycle, a part I played as an extra in two Dallas Opera productions. To be honest, I stalled a little bit on this deal because I was a little nervous. At 420 HP, Fafner's no slouch, but I'm not a lead foot driver any more. I have no desire to get a ticket in this very visible car! And a couple of the cars I'd be driving in this experience have far more power and even greater power-to-weight ratios. I finally registered for the deal, and drove it on Sunday. My perspectives are blissfully ignorant of the hundreds of thousands of words already written about these cars.
It was easy to find the place, in a warehouse area just east of Fort Worth, when I got close. It was the only business with a Ferrari F430, Ferrari 360 Sypder (convertible), Aston Martin Vantage convertible, and a gold Lamborghini Gallardo out front! I learned more about this unusual business once I met the tour director and signed a fairly normal rental car agreement. The cars are all privately owned by one fellow, part of his larger collection. It's a little hard to wrap your head around, but these cars are his second tier autos. When he puts some miles on his exotics, he waterfalls them to this driving experience, then eventually sells them. He's a real example of the old saying about getting rid of a car when the ashtrays are full!
I needn't have worried about the driving experience. Though you are indeed in sole control of a supercar, you simply follow a lead car (a BMW X5) that the tour director drove. He knew the route, the places to slow way down for low-clearance vehicles, and the wide-open areas. (He also presumably had a radar detector.) We followed him and stayed in line, in order. It was a three-quarter-million dollar rubber band experience; the tour director would accelerate where the road was clear and safe, F430 following him would wait a few seconds, then punch it to catch up. No one seemed to have any problem with this; we all had our hands full just absorbing the cars.
As we moved into the driver's seat of each car, we got a brief rundown of the basic controls – seat and mirror adjustment, how to start the car, and choice of manual or automatic shifting -and off we went. This was a hilarious, and frustrating, reversal of the usual situation: Staring into an exotic's interior from behind a velvet rope line, hands in pockets or on camera, studying the controls and wondering what it would be like to drive. In the Gallardo, I had about 30 seconds to get set in a completely unfamiliar environment before we took off!
I asked the tour director how the local cops felt about this regularly scheduled Top Gear-style parade through their territories. He said that in the two years he's been running these tours, no one has ever gotten a ticket. In fact, out in the country where we drove, there are at least two sheriffs that are exotic car buffs that have stopped by at our driver/car exchange stops to look at the cars. One of them even offered to lead! (which he politely declined.)
We went out to the cars, and he handed me the keys to the 360 Spyder. (Think about those words for a second!)
Ferrari 360 Spyder
0-60: 4.2 sec
Quarter mile: 12.8 sec
The 360 was a great car to start the tour with, and I mostly drove it on the freeway as we (quickly) drove the quartet out to the country. The car's power was within reach of what I was familiar with in the Mustang, though the experience is of course completely different. When you get in, you immediately notice how low to the ground all these cars are. The seats are very firm, with a feeling of being a bit more rocked back than I'm used to. The side bolsters are designed for narrow Italian torsos; even though I'm a fit 40-42R, it was noticeably tight.
All the cars have F1-style clutchless paddle shifters rather than conventional manual shifters, which takes away the need for skilled clutch driving. I was a little disappointed at first, but for this drive it was perfect as these "flappy paddles" (as Top Gear's Jeremy Clarkson likes to call them) protect both the driving…and the car. We
were so occupied with the driving experience already, it good to not worry about grinding a very expensive gearbox.
And of course the engine is behind you rather than in front. A mid-engine car is such a different experience! There's very close-to-the-road feel, with very good visibility, and the wonderful 50-50 balance that allows you to feel confident in the turns.
The 360 was very easy to drive, with the high-idling, high-revving 4.3L V8 easily doing whatever I wanted. I also learned the value of the aluminum plate in the passenger seat's footwell – to keep from wearing out the carpet as you clamp your feet down to hang on!
The most noise generated wasn't from the Spyder, however; it came from the F430 just in front of us.
0-60: 3.7 sec
Quarter mile: 12 sec
The F430 was the successor to the 360. It has almost 100 more horsepower than its predecessor. And it has, hands-down, the coolest sounding engine / exhaust combination. You wanted to play with this car just to hear the sounds! Unfortunately, the full video at the bottom just doesn't convey quite the sound, but I did make a recording with a 24-bit digital recorder. It still doesn't do it justice; you can better hear what the car really sounds like from my recordings from the cars behind it.
This car was a ton of fun, and I wish I'd been able to drive it longer and in less traffic. The exhaust note, the responsive engine, the shove-you-back-in-your-seat power, the bright red tach…it was just a wonderful experience.
You can listen to a minute or so of my F430 recording here.
0-60: 3.5 sec
Quarter mile: 11.5 sec
This car (named after a famous Spanish breed of fighting bull) was very different than the Ferraris. It's to be expected, as tractor maker Ferrucio Lamborghini started making cars when he became disgusted with Ferraris and what he felt was their lack of power (!). It was a bit tougher to get into, and the control layout and style was brand new. And as I said, I had about 30 seconds to get it figured out before the cars started moving!
The windscreen was at such a steep angle it was a bit tough to see out of when headed into the sun. And, unlike the Ferraris, the tach and speedo were rather small and matter of fact. I hardly ever looked at them because they were hard enough to read and I was generally preoccupied with other things, and chose to drive by sound. I do know Lamborghinis are far more comfortable to drive than they used to be; the joke was that your left leg would wear out from pressing down the huge clutch long before your desire to drive did.
But I did find the gas pedal. Did you know a Gallardo makes a "chuffing" sound during shifts after strong acceleration? It quite surprised me; the tour director later explained it was the big air intakes just back of both doors "inhaling" fresh air. The downshifts were distinctive as well, because the engine management electronics pre-match engine speed to the gearbox so if you aren't too close, you get a big rev out of it. The brakes took longer to engage firmly than either of the Ferraris, which was a bit disconcerting entering the first bend.
But oh, the power! With all wheel drive, I could just tell that we were really not tapping fully into this car's power. And the sound is also distinctly different than the Ferrari's (especially the F430's) howl.
You motorheads can listen to the Gallardo here.
Aston Martin Vantage Roadster
0-60: 4.6 sec
Quarter Mile: 13.4
The Vantage was a different animal than the rest, a luxury sports car. It was also black, so in this bright collection of reds and orange it was very easy to go unnoticed. The leather seats felt almost sinful after the firm and spartan racing seats of the other three. We had the top down on this one, and it was very quiet, both the engine and the wind.
Until the tach cleared 4K RPM, then a little solenoid down somewhere in the exhaust flipped and we could suddenly hear the muscular V8, so much more like my Mustang than any of the others. It was definitely a fun drive, and we certainly kept our place in the long rubber band of exotics, but it wasn't the "oh my god" experience of the F430 or the Gallardo.
All these cars were very tight, responsive and fast. With the exception of the Astin Martin, they all made you want to stomp on it and drive high on the tach. That's what they were made for! And the newer of them had safeguards in place to protect the car from the driver. The almost universal favorite among the drivers was the F430, with the Gallardo coming in second. The 360 was a lot of fun, too; I'm sure it would have really shown off its skills had we been able to drive on twistier roads.
This drive reset my perspectives on what fast and powerful really is, and how the Mustang compares to them. Though it's close to the same weight as them, the much greater horsepower, very high revving characteristics, and mid-engine configuration really made this a memorable experience.
PS: Dang it – I forgot to honk the horns! Guess I'll have to go back.