Last Updated: Fri, Jul 29, 2011 19:20 hrs

There’s no other word to describe a visit to the home of Ferrari.

Would you ever have thought that one day, the iconic prancing horse would officially come to India? Ferraris have been around in the country for a while now, brought in by various (and not always kosher) means, but now, provided you have the required monetary strength, you can walk into India’s first Ferrari showroom in New Delhi (with more to come) and ask to be put in line for one of its magnificent machines. I ask because technically, you have to be invited by Ferrari to come and buy one, but my guess is that it’s not going to toss out punters with serious money and pull. Yes, a Ferrari remains in the realm of a very privileged few, make no mistake — but every now and then, the average Joe (yours truly, in this case) gains temporary entrance to this exclusive club.

For any car buff, a visit to the Ferrari headquarters in Maranello, Italy, is a pilgrimage, and it was one I was lucky enough to make. Hop on and join the ride, then!

Maranello is a little town near Modena, where Ferrari has had its headquarters since 1943. It was bombed heavily during WWII, but was painstakingly rebuilt, and thank goodness for that — the world would have been a far poorer place if Ferrari had stopped production for some reason. The factory today is one of the most modern in the world, and very eco-friendly as well — it has plants and trees in the assembly line that help regulate humidity and temperature, photo-voltaic cells on the factory roof take care of power requirements (with surplus power going into the national grid) and its carbon footprint has thus been hugely reduced. It’s also the only car factory in the world with an on-site foundry, which is no mean feat. If you’ve been invited on a factory tour, you’ll be astounded at the sheer number of classic Ferraris on the premises — the restoration division does an incredible job of bringing old Ferraris back to mint condition.

The museum, next door to the factory, is another place that’ll make your jaw drop. Legendary cars like the 125 S, F40 and Enzo are on display, not to mention championship-winning F1 cars. You’ll also see priceless memorabilia — Enzo Ferrari’s office, transplanted as is from its original location, helmets, gloves and other racing gear worn by the greats (Juan Manuel Fangio, Michael Schumacher, Alain Prost, Phil Hill et al) and a staggering number of racing trophies.

At this point I hear you asking “But what of the cars themselves?” The answer to that question is simple — they’re fantastic. If you see or hear a Ferrari and are unmoved, then surely there is ice water running through your veins. Take the car that I drove, for example — the 458 Italia. The 458 is the successor to the F430 which is widely considered to be among the best sportscars ever made — and the 458 is better.

To begin with, the car looks sensational. It doesn’t stop you in your tracks — it pushes you head first into a wall.

Especially in red, those sinewy lines arouse all manner of base passions, as any Ferrari should do; you fall in lust with it at first sight. Some are of the opinion that the F430 looked better, but I disagree — the 458 is a great piece of design, flowing smoothly from end to end. And what an end! Stand at the back and you’re greeted with the sight of a glorious, red Ferrari V8 engine, there for all the world to see through a glass ‘bonnet’.

If you think the engine looks great, just wait till you start it up — it’s the kind of sound that makes your knees go weak. A press of the engine start button brings the V8 to life behind your head, and a blip of the throttle has the 570 thoroughbreds rearing right up. Inside the cabin, you’re ensconced in a racing-style seat and harness, with all the essential controls right on the steering wheel, especially the famous racing-derived ‘manettino’ switch which allows you to switch between different modes of suspension settings, electronic differential, traction control and the speed of the gearbox. Large paddle shifters complete the race-car feel.

Find a deserted stretch of road, floor the throttle and prepare to have your insides given a working over, because the 458 will rocket from zero to 100 kmph in a scant 3.5 seconds. Given enough road, and guts on your part, the car will tear through the digital speedometer until you see 325 kmph, which is rather a lot of kmph. While doing so, it will also produce one of the most glorious soundtracks on the planet, one that makes you want to plant your foot on the accelerator and keep it there.

This car isn’t about outright speed, though — indeed, it’s quite docile when you’re puttering about in slow-paced traffic. To truly realise what it’s capable of, you need to seek out some twisty roads with lots of corners (or, preferably, a racetrack) and let it loose. All the racing technology that’s gone into it will immediately begin to show — in the way that the car shrink-wraps itself around you, in the way that it connects itself directly to your brain, in the phenomenal grip that it exhibits and in its enormously powerful brakes. I cannot remember the last time I drove a car that was this ferocious in intent, this razor-edged with excitement and this soulful, all rolled into one. Welcome to India, Ferrari!

The writer was invited by Ferrari to drive the 458 Italia. Look out for a full-blown driving impression in the September 2011 issue of BSM

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