California Dreamin’

This article was previously published in Elements Magazine.

The name “Ferrari” is synonymous with the most pedigreed sportscars on earth. With over 60 years of racing success and legendary models such as Testa Rossa, Dino, and Boxer, another familiar moniker has been dusted off in Maranello, Italy: the California. Best known as the coveted convertible that “Ferris Bueller” and friends used in the 1986 blockbuster, today’s California is just as sexy, just as stunning, and just as desirable as the 1960 iteration, which today commands more than $11 million at auction. Welcome to the Ferrari California.

Ferrari's California

Ferrari Firsts

The  California is the company’s first hardtop convertible, with a power-operated roof that folds into the trunk in a speedy 14 seconds. Amazingly, this roof is lighter than the canvas folding top fitted to the entry-level, late F430 Spyder. Perched in the Ferrari family tree below the FF (which has a front-mounted V-12 engine and can seat four comfortably), the California is also the first Ferrari with a V-8 in the front. The engine is actually mounted aft of the front axle and when the roof is down, the car has a 49% front, 51% rear weight distribution, which Ferrari considers almost ideal for handling prowess. Displacing 4.3 liters, this sweet-sounding powerplant produces 460 horsepower and can propel the Cali to 60 miles an hour in under four seconds, according to the factory. This figure is faster than that of the mid-engine F430, which is considered more of a “sportscar” than the California. Incredibly, this is the most environmentally friendly Ferrari ever, with the lowest CO2 emissions in the fleet. Stopping the glamorous machine are standard-fit Brembo carbon-ceramic brakes, which are optional equipment in the F430. The seven-speed transmission is Ferrari’s first “dual-clutch” unit, which ensures lightning-quick gear changes with the smoothest possible operation.  Rounding out the package—literally—are 19-inch wheels in front, with 20-inchers in the rear. Low-profile Pirelli P-Zero tires aid the car’s road-holding abilities.

The hardtop disappears into the trunk.

Living Legend

The California’s body is as sexy and sleek as anything we’ve come to expect from Ferrari’s favored design partner, Pininfarina. The car’s nose is an exercise in “elegant simplicity” and evocative of the carmaker’s offerings from the “classic GT age” of the early 1960s: There’s a large, “egg crate” grill that allows the engine to breathe, flanked by headlight arrays. Along the sides of the Cali, the most noticeable feature is the side air vent detailing (an homage to the original California Spyder) that flows into the door, and then helps form the car’s “haunches.” The rear, however, is decidedly 21st century, with two vertically stacked exhaust pipes on either side, a la the Lexus IS-F. The figurative “cherry” on top of this dessert is each tail lamp, which evokes those of the legendary Ferrari Enzo supercar and its F430 little brother. Nestled below these lights, and slightly above the rear diffuser, are ancillary units that illuminate for reversing and braking. Ferrari is proud to declare that this car is the most aerodynamic offering they’ve ever created for the road. Overall, the California is yet another tour de force of form, function, and Italian sex appeal that looks better with the top up than lowered—something rare in a drop-top.

The tail lamps are an homage to past Ferraris.

Sporting Luxury

With the California’s cockpit, Ferrari has embarked on a new course of sporting opulence. The amount of buttery-smooth leather inside contributes to sensory overload: it covers the doors, the dashboard, the console, and the seats. In fact, the thrones are constructed of high-tech magnesium and carbon fiber, for strength and weight-savings. There are two vestigial rear seats, which are suited for very small children or shopping bags from Giorgio Armani. Pop-up rollover bars behind the rear headrests are included for safety. A Bose “infotainment” center dominates the center of the dash, and it includes navigation functions, satellite radio, and a hard disk drive for music storage. With a top-up trunk capacity of almost 13 cubic feet, the California can haul more luggage than the 612 Scaglietti or even a VW Rabbit! Controls for the power top reside in a brushed aluminum console that rivals any of Lord Foster’s architectural masterpieces. Simply touch a switch and the sunshine is all yours in a quarter-minute. In keeping with Ferrari’s F1 heritage, a mannetino is found on the steering wheel. This rotary dial controls the car’s stability programming and traction functions—just like in World Champion Fernando Alonso’s racer.

Buttery-soft leather adorns the cockpit.

La Dolce Vita

Clearly, Maranello’s magicians knew when they set out to create a “Ferrari of firsts,” they had to acknowledge the past, too. Yet, the Italian company is obliged to recognize customers’ needs as well. As people grow attached to electric seats, navigation functions, and one-touch power roofs, Ferrari knows it must accommodate in a manner befitting the marque. Typically, the end result astounds, amazes, and causes excessive drooling. With the new California, Ferrari has created a modern interpretation of La Dolce Vita in 2012.


The corral, where the 460 horsies live.

  • 0 to 60 mph: under 3.7 seconds
  • Drivetrain: 4.3-liter V-8 with direct injection, 7-speed semi-automatic gearbox or 6-speed manual, rear-wheel drive
  • Power: 460 horsepower
  • Base Price: $250,000

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