Ferrari unveils two new models for U.S. market

August 31, 1994|By Dan Neil | Dan Neil,Special to The Sun

MONTEREY, CALIFORNIA — MONTEREY, Calif. -- Ferrari is shifting gears.

No, the Italian automaker will not design family sedans. The company's latest models, unveiled in a gala ceremony Friday, will be as exotic and powerful as its previous cars.

For the budget-conscious, Ferrari's new entry-level model -- the F355 -- will sell for $120,050. The two-seat, eight-cylinder, mid-engine sports car accelerates from 0 to 60 mph in 4.6 seconds, with a top speed of 183 mph.

For those who want a little more car, there is the 456GT 2+2, a 12-cylinder, four-seat front-engine car. The 456GT is a little more sluggish, going from 0 to 60 mph in 5.1 seconds. Matching handmade leather luggage fitted to the shape of the car's trunk is standard equipment. The 456GT will cost you $207,000.

Dual air bags and anti-lock brakes are standard on both models.

Ferrari is making some other concessions to passenger safety and comfort. Both the F355 and the 456GT feature adjustable suspensions, which drivers can use to dial in hard or soft settings, according to driving conditions. In thepast Ferraris had one, buckboard-like suspension setting.

Also, Ferrari's balky transmission shifter -- a source of persistent complaints, even among enthusiasts -- has been in the F355 smoothed with dual synchronizers in first and second gears. An automatic transmission -- anathema to enthusiast drivers -- will be made available on the 456 next year

Even the familiar Ferrari red and yellow is giving way. Fully halfthe 456 production will be painted blue.

But what's radically different is the number of cars Ferrari will produce: 3,000, one-third fewer than in 1991. Only about 400 will be sold in the United States.

The move is intended to head off another crash in the exotic car market, especially for Ferraris. By 1991, speculators helped to create a run on Ferraris and to drive up prices; one model, the F40, which was selling at dealers for less than a $1 million, was reportedly being bought by speculators for as much as $15 million.

But then the bottom dropped out. Hundreds of Ferrari orders were canceled, and the value of Ferraris plummeted. Annual sales in North American fell 50 percent in just two years. In 1992, the U.S. subsidiary lost money for the first time.

The company was blamed for not doing enough to stop the profiteering, allowing its cars to be treated like junk bonds.

Never again, promised Luca Cordero di Montezemolo, president and chief executive of Ferrari. He pledged to hold down production in the hopes of controlling who buys the cars.

"We don't want to sell to speculators," he said on Friday at the Monterey Car Classic, where the cars were unveiled. "These are cars to drive -- not just cars to park in the garage."

The U.S. market, the largest for Ferrari, will see only 80 to 100 of the 456GT, a mere 300 to 350 of the F355.

The company hopes to create a more collegial, exclusive club of Ferrari owners, trying to dissuade speculators by producing just enough for Ferrari enthusiasts. The automaker also hopes to encourage a bond between owners, promoting race events for them like last week's in Monterey. The company has also opened its first factory dealership, in San Francisco -- to better control who buys its cars.

After speaking at a press conference Friday morning at the Lodge at Pebble Beach, Mr. Montezemolo led a crowd of automotive journalists and Ferrari buffs to the official unveiling near the 18th green of the Pebble Beach Golf Club.

Both cars, featuring the trademark Ferrari grille and subtle, sophisticated linens, were designed by Sergio Pininfarina, whose design house has collaborated with Ferrari on many of its most significant designs over past four decades.

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