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Prancing Horse Ferrari Drive

“Am I a Ferrari fanatic?” repeats the elderly gentleman about to lower his portly frame down, down, deeper and down into the sleek fuselage of a F430 Spider. “Aren’t all boys?”

01 Aug 2010

By Steve Meacham

“Am I a Ferrari fanatic?” repeats the elderly gentleman about to lower his portly frame down, down, deeper and down into the sleek fuselage of a F430 Spider. “Aren’t all boys?”

He’s one of eight privileged males about to embark on a $1000 midweek bonding adventure - the masculine equivalent of a woman being given all day to shop at the department store of their choice, followed by the most luxurious spa treatment, then a night sipping champagne in front of Grey’s Anatomy.

If that sounds sexist, sorry, but nothing divides the men from Mars and the women from Venus quite as much as a fire engine racing red boy’s toy that bears the name of Enzo Ferrari.

Today we’re here in Marrickville, one of Sydney’s least glamorous suburbs, at the Piccola Scuderia workshop containing around 24 Ferraris (and the occasional Maserati and Porsche) belonging to some of the richest men (presumably men) in NSW.

The luxury cars are all being serviced - and when you think the recommended Pirelli tyre costs around $1000 and last, say, 6000 kms each, that doesn’t come cheap. But the eight of us are being introduced to the four very special cars we will each drive on our 300km return trip down south to Kiama, via the Royal National Park, the Illawarra escarpment, the beautiful contours of Saddleback Mountain, and the NSW cliff bridge.

Matt Thio, a former race engineer and now partner in Prancing Horse - which claims to be the world’s only independent company offering a one day (or weekend) Ferrari driving experience - is giving us a pre-drive briefing.

Each of the four Ferraris is very different, but part of the same lineage, he explains. The oldest, the classic 328 GTS, which featured in Tom Selleck’s Magnum PI TV series, is over 20 years old. The newest? The latest Ferrari F430 Spider. Together they demonstrate the technological development of a truly world class brand. In the next nine hours we are going to drive ALL four of them - even the two with the Formula One paddlestick gear changes on the steering wheel.

Not that Thio is particularly reverential during our briefing session. On one model, he points out the LC button (for Launch Control, only to be used on a racetrack): “The LC stands for ‘Late for Coffee’,” he quips.

Another model, an F355 Spider, has a door almost impossible to open from the outside: “It’s like the G-spot,” advises Thio. “You know it’s there, you just can’t find it.”

Finally, a safety tip - Never leave any Ferrari parked in neutral: “Ferrari do all their research on the engines. They’re not well known for their handbrakes. They’re terrible. So always park a Ferrari in first gear.”

It’s quite daunting having our test drive up the short straight along Marrickville’s Barclay Street. So much to remember, in front of seven strangers. What if I crash? Or worse still, stall?

As it happens the worst thing to befall me on my roar up the 50-metre street is the withering look from the middle aged lady emerging from one of the neighbouring suburban businesses. She says nothing, but I can see it in her eyes. “Men! Don’t they ever grow up?”

Ninety per cent of the people who book a Prancing Horse adventure, apparently, are women. Not for themselves. But for their husbands, sons, brothers, fathers - anything to get them out of the house. Mainly for birthday or Christmas presents (gift vouchers are available on the website).

So in the two years since they first started trading, Prancing Horse - with very little advertising - has achieved a waiting list of several months for their day trips south of Sydney. Already it has featured prominently on TV’s Getaway and Sydney Weekender programs.

And now there are plans to expand the business. Buy more Ferraris. Transport them between Brisbane, Melbourne, Perth, even Adelaide - offering Ferrari tours of the Yarra Valley, Great Ocean Road, Gold Coast hinterland, Margaret River and/or Barossa valley.

I speak as someone who is not a car nut. My clapped out (but endlessly reliable) 16-year old Holden Commodore looked a sorry addition to the shining red chassis of the fabulous Ferraris.

However, the fact that I enjoyed the nine hours I spent in the four Ferraris suggests several things:

(a) I am even more shallow than I thought.

(b) I was adopted at birth, and must have had rich, Italian natural parents who wanted me to have a Ferrari to follow family tradition.

(c) The considerate Prancing Horse team have hit onto a real winner.

I opt for the third choice.

I won’t bore you with the technical detail - basically because I don’t understand it. My fellow drivers were much more clued-up, talking over lunch in Kiama about “E-Diff”, “a  4.3, V8 engine, which delivers 483bhp at 8,500rpm and 465Nm of torque at 5,250rpm”, and “a top speed of over 193mph (where legal) and a 0-62mph time of 4.1 seconds”. Frankly, I stand a better chance of understanding the G-spot.

But, my, did we have fun! The day trip costs $990 - and if that doesn’t suffice, there’s a weekend package, staying at the Sebel Kiama, for $2980 per couple.

Don’t scoff: it’s one of those things Jack Nicholson and Morgan Freeman should have included in their joint “Bucket List”. Must dash - I think I saw Michael Schumacher.

More information: 1300 307050 or www.prancinghorse.com.au.


Published: 01 Aug 2010