A Ferrari in Italy: Driving the 812 GTS Convertible

The gates to Ferrari’s factory in Maranello keep prying eyes out. Behind them is more than 80 years of automotive history, passion, and the source of so much Tifosi fanaticism. And yet the gates themselves are entirely unremarkable. Ferrari’s headquarters is on a semi-industrial street entirely typical of the towns in Northern Italy’s Emilia-Romagna region. It’s lined with gas stations, a hotel, some anonymous warehouses. Blink and you’d miss the red buildings from which all Ferraris are born.

Once inside the gates, a security guard escorts us into a little lobby, we sign some paperwork, and then a man from Ferrari hands over the keys to a deep blue 812 GTS. It’s a slightly surreal moment, and we decide to hit the road before anyone thinks twice about handing over this $469,318 car. Rain is belting down, pinging off the car. To say it’s not ideal weather for a convertible with 789 horsepower all going to the rear wheels is an understatement.

Our route for the day will take us up in the Apennine Mountains just south of Maranello. It’s a route said to be favoured by Ferrari test drivers, but today the first dozen kilometres of the road is shrouded in the thickest, soupiest fog we’ve ever seen. Going fast is out of the question.

Twisting the steering-wheel mounted manettino dial to Wet mode sets the car up for the soggy drive. Considering the low-slung stance and supercar-level performance of this car, it is mercifully docile, calm even. It’s a mystery how Ferrari pulls this off. There are some very clever electronics working in the background to be sure, but the fundamental engineering and balance of this mid-front engine chassis are also superb. The suspension is cushy over bumps but keeps body roll tightly controlled. It doesn’t clunk or thunk over the road. Big pools of standing water on the two-lane highway are nerve-wracking, but the car barely twitches going through them.

ferrari 812 gts spider

As the fog loosens its grip on the mountain’s foothills, the road itself gets tighter. The tarmac is twisty, uneven, and most corners are blind. The 812 is a big machine, but despite that – and the 6.5-litre V12 under the hood – it never feels front-heavy. It changes directions like a sparrow, thanks in part to lightning-quick steering. Even on wet roads, the front-end grip is so tenacious I dared not test its limits. Rear-wheel steering (Ferrari’s Virtual Short Wheelbase system) certainly helps in the tightest switchbacks. From the driver’s seat you can really feel the rear wheels turning since the cabin is so far back in the chassis. By the time we’re high in the mountains, some blue splotches of sky are starting to poke through the clouds. It’s now or never.

The folding hardtop of the GTS lifts up and disappears under a pair of flying buttresses in 14 seconds. The sound. The sound! Ferrari’s 6.5-litre, 48-valve, 12-cylinder motor isn’t muted by turbochargers, nor is it aided by any hybrid system. This is the latest – and perhaps last – in a long line of pure, unadulterated V12s that date back to Ferrari’s first, which was designed by Gioacchino Colombo in 1947. Inside the motor is a wickedly complex mechanical ballet, choreographed down to the micrometer. Spinning to 8,900 rpm – impossible to do for more than a split second on this winding road – the sound is something no driver will ever forget. The high-pitched crescendo reverberates through your bones, enveloping your body and making the hair on the back of your neck stand to attention. The sound. There is nothing finer than a Ferrari V12 at full-volume.

Ferrari 812 GTS First Drive

1 of 7

Ferrari 812 GTS First Drive

2 of 7

Ferrari 812 GTS First Drive

3 of 7

Ferrari 812 GTS First Drive

4 of 7

Ferrari 812 GTS First Drive

5 of 7

Ferrari 812 GTS First Drive

6 of 7

Ferrari 812 GTS First Drive

7 of 7

This unadulterated V12 engine is rare, something of an endangered species in the automotive kingdom these days. It’s the reason people splash out half-a-million dollars on the 812, rather than one of Ferrari’s smaller cars. The GTS version simply lets more of the motor’s beautiful symphony reach the driver’s eardrums. The convertible-top GTS is roughly 75 kg heavier than the fixed-roof 812 Superfast, tipping the scales at around 2,000 kg. Can you feel the added weight? On the road, no, and even if you could it would still be worth getting the GTS for the extra sound it provides.

Unlike some of Ferrari’s previous V12 convertibles – the 550 Barchetta, 575 Superamerica, and 599 Aperta – the GTS is not a limited-edition. Ferrari will keep making ‘em so long as people keep buying, which is fine by us. The more of these Ferrari V12 motors there are in the world, the better.

A driver can only take so much adrenaline, and so the return trip back down the mountain is leisurely. You don’t expect this car to be comfortable, but it is a true grand-tourer. Assuming we packed light, it’d happily take us down the length of Italy, but sadly it’s time to give the keys back.

The gas station attendant working the pumps in Maranello, just a couple blocks from Ferrari’s main gates, is clearly accustomed to seeing all manner of blood-red exotica pull up. He doesn’t need to ask: premium fuel it is. The bill comes out to over 100 euros; it’s money well spent. If it was the last tank of gas on Earth, this is the car you’d probably want to put it in.