The need for speed

Test drive

September 16, 2006|By Joe Burris | Joe Burris,sun reporter

To the highway patrols that monitor Northern Virginia's roads, I have a confession to make. Recently I test-drove a Ferrari 360 Modena in Dulles, Va., for a story about exotic cars and for a brief moment, I was going very fast. Rocketlike, actually.

I can't say exactly how fast, because I was too busy watching the horizon come at me rapidly to gaze at the speedometer. And I did it for the simplest reason of all: I was driving a Ferrari.

Hamid Adeli, president of the exotic cars company that rents the car, suggested we take it for a spin on the closest thing to a closed track-- a scarcely traveled secondary road. Once I got out there, the need for speed overtook me.

That's because everything about the Ferrari says auto racing. It's low to the ground, wide, but compact inside. The interior is black leather with lots of metal. There are gadgets and monitors everywhere. It has Formula 1-style paddle shifting, levers on the steering wheel that you squeeze whenever you shift gears.

And as soon as you turn on the key, the Modena surrounds you with the smooth thunder of an auto-racing vehicle. Step on the gas, and the roar becomes more refined, like the purr of a starved lion that has just come up on delectable prey. The car will give you an adrenaline rush backing out of a parking space.

The first time I tried it, the car jolted forward then sputtered a bit. The Modena has both automatic and manual transmission, I drove in automatic, and Adeli says that first gear in automatic is similar to driving in manual.

"It has so much torque, you have to rev it up a little bit," he added.

Then I tried again. By then, I was a bit reticent, fearing a highway patrol would come out from an adjoining road at any second.

I slowly mashed the pedal to get up to speed and rev up my nerve.

"Give it a little bit of gas," said Adeli. "Give it gas, give it gas!"

I gave plenty.

Picture free falling on a super roller coaster, except that the road was flat. "This thing is like testosterone on wheels," I said.

And then Adeli told me it was time to take the car back to the parking lot. I'm sure he saw a look on my face that said if I had my way we'd see how that baby ran on Interstate 95. In Miami.

Exotic cars like the Ferrari fly in the face of the notion that all true happiness comes from within. Less than 10 minutes in the car, I had a bounce in my step for the rest of the day.

Of course, that kind of joy doesn't come cheap. I couldn't afford to rent a car like that for a half-day, much less own one.

Still, it's good to experience how the other half drives -- if only for a moment.

As I headed to work in my engine-envying P.T. Cruiser, I kept thinking back on having all that power, control and speed, what it must be like to get behind the wheel of a Ferrari every day.

By then, it was back to reality on the Baltimore-Washington Parkway, of driving with caution and frequently checking my speedometer.

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