"It's totally empty," says an AAA counselor. "There are no points of interest. We don't recommend it." The 287-mile stretch of US 50 running from Ely to Fernley, Nevada, passes nine towns, two abandoned mining camps, a few gas pumps, and the occasional coyote. "We warn all motorists not to drive there," says the AAA rep, "unless they're confident of their survival skills." – Life Magazine, July 1986
ON MARCH 9, 2017, IN THE MIDDLE OF NEVADA and at least 20 miles from any living individual not belted into its cockpit, Ferrari GTC4Lusso No. 223367, build date November 2016, did something deeply and ferociously illegal.
No one was hurt or put at risk. No animals were harmed. It had nothing to do with drugs, immigration, politics, or anything controversial—it was just a car, being a car, in the middle of the desert.
And then we kept driving, and the Lusso's V12 made yowly noises, and I felt better.
This is the thing about the desert: It almost always makes you feel better.
IN JULY 1986, Life magazine called Nevada's US 50 "the Loneliest Road in America." It was not meant as a compliment, probably because Life was not a car magazine. US 50 crosses multiple states, but in Nevada, it runs around 400 miles, from Stateline in the west to Baker in the east. This is essentially border to border, California to Utah, in the state's midsection. The road traverses a lot of open land, connecting various bits of nowhere to other bits of nothing at all.
Credit for this belongs to Nevada, which is not a particularly populous state. Those 400 miles cover the towns of Carson City, Dayton, Fallon, Austin, Eureka, and Ely. Fallon to Austin is 112 miles; there are no gas stations between the two communities. You crest ridges and see unpopulated space to the horizon. Austin to Eureka is 70 miles and basically the same hard-core brand of empty. Same for Eureka to Ely (78 miles) and Ely to Baker (64). The region is little more than wide valleys, sloping mountains, and one of the highest empty-highway-to-citizen ratios in the country.
But no one goes to the Loneliest Road to find people. In an age of information overload, I went to chase the nothing. Maybe it's selfish, but several months after this nation elected a new president and almost immediately descended into discussion of how every person here disagrees with everyone else, I wanted to take a moment and kill the noise.
And preferably replace it with some other, better noise.
I asked R&T contributing editor Colin Comer to come with me to Nevada, mostly because he has a racing license and two small children. This meant I could trust him to drive an obnoxiously powerful car, and that he would know how to be quiet. We also roped in Richard Pardon, one of R&T's crack photographers. And a 2017 Ferrari GTC4Lusso, on loan from Ferrari, for the aforementioned noise.
Below, in four discrete chapters, is what happened. There may have been speeding. Correction: It would be imprudent to make that claim in a public forum. Consider everything that follows to be a work of fiction. Also, the high-speed impressions come from track time on a large closed course and the images were built entirely in a computer and none of this should be taken seriously, or attempted in any form, by anyone.
A WORD ON THE DESERT
WE SPENT THE FIRST NIGHT IN ELY. Population 4255. Drove in from Salt Lake City, where we picked up the car. (When you ask Ferrari North America to loan you a car, they sometimes send it to a dealer. In this case, that dealer was in Salt Lake.)
The middle of Nevada is brush country. The lowlands are painted either with grass that is two feet high and parched to light brown, or an inch-tall version of the same stuff, just slightly more desperate-looking. The hills are covered in powdery dust and scrappy little trees, the same tree seemingly repeated over and over, as if a single plant had been cloned in Photoshop. There are thousands of them, dense but uneven, dotting the land like stubble.
The mountains are graceful. They fall into the valleys in long, flowing ramps that remind you of how volcanic islands slope into the ocean. Which is fitting, because many deserts were once underwater, and the ones that weren't usually feel like they were—desolation draped in the notion of nature bleeding a place dry. The only moisture is snow on the mountaintops, drizzling off the peaks like icing. Every other valley holds a single tree in the middle of a huge field, or a squad of five bony cows, miles from anything resembling a farm. It's impossible to look at them without wondering how they got there.
Fifty sits in the middle of it all. It is two lanes and almost entirely straight, cresting ridges and diving through long, flat valleys. You lose sight of the road only at the horizon, where it climbs the next set of mountains.
Ely is the largest town in the area, but that doesn't make it big. It holds a couple of chain hotels, a scruffy downtown, a central square. All of this is nestled against a small canyon, two hills forming a vee behind the square. I walked into a La Quinta Inn and booked three rooms. The desk was staffed by two friendly women. As I signed the bill, one asked if I needed anything else. Her name tag said Schyler. I thought for a second.
"This might sound strange, but . . . is one half of U.S. 50 empter than the other? East? West?"
The ladies smiled at each other, as if they knew this was coming. Schyler spoke up.
"They're both pretty much—"
The other woman chimed in: "deserted!"
Schyler handed me a road guide, a passport-shaped booklet published by the state. Its cover was printed to look like grained leather. It read The Official Nevada Hwy 50 Survival Guide: 30 Years—America's Loneliest Road!
I first visited U.S. 50 about 15 years ago, on a cross-country trip with friends. At the time, the road was so empty, you could sit in the middle of the highway for an hour without seeing another car. Maybe there were state survival guides then, but we didn't find any.
Standing in Ely that first night, I briefly wondered if the place had grown crowded.
Man, was that train of thought unnecessary.
A WORD ON THE CAR
WE ARE GOING TO CALL THIS CAR THE LUSSO. Ferrari calls it the GTC4Lusso. This is a nice name made to look ridiculous, no spaces, but then, these are the same people who have named cars Ferrari TheFerrari (Ferrari LaFerrari), Ferrari Guy Who Founded Our Company (Ferrari Enzo Ferrari), and Ferrari Name That Resembles a Four-Letter Word for Take Your Pants Off and Get Rowdy (Ferrari FXX K). At this point, no one should be surprised by an alphanumerically batty Ferrari. And really, when you build bonkers-ass, 680-hp V-12 hatchbacks, you earn the right to call them whatever you want.
But "GTC4Lusso" looks dumb on the page, so we'll shorten it to "Lusso."
The Lusso is basically a face-lifted Ferrari FF. The FF was built from 2011 to 2016 and represented a number of departures for the marque: It was the first all-wheel-drive Ferrari production car and the first Ferrari with two transmissions—a seven-speed transaxle at the rear wheels, a two-speed gearbox at the nose of the crankshaft, driving the front tires. It was also the first Ferrari to look like a BMW Z3 Coupe filtered through a Prince album. Despite relatively modest proportions, the FF had four seats and a cabin designed for four grown adults. Its 6.3-liter V-12 made 651 hp at 8000 rpm.
Ferrari said the FF was optimized for everyday use. The car was relatively comfortable, more a haul-your-third-wife-from-jet-center-to-ski-lodge device than a caffeinated hand grenade like the 488. You were supposed to spend long days with it, not aim the explosion for 30 minutes and then collapse into a nap. The Lusso's lines are curvier, but it's the same idea. The exhaust is quieter, a change that Ferrari claims people asked for. Thanks to a host of other small updates, including new pistons, the engine makes 680 hp at 8000 rpm.
That beast is geared long, even for a V-12: 2800 rpm in the Lusso's seventh gear works out to 100 mph. First gear at redline is 54 mph. Weight, according to Ferrari, is a whopping 4233 pounds, and being Italian, they have been known to understate that sort of thing. The factory says the Lusso will do 208 mph and accelerate to 62 mph in 3.4 seconds.
At one point during the drive, I mentioned these numbers to Colin. He raised an eyebrow.
"Let's say 4800 pounds with fuel, three occupants, and luggage. All-wheel drive. Built by a company once owned by Fiat Chrysler. This is a Jeep Grand Cherokee. And the same shape."
I nailed the throttle. We flung into the next county.
"Okay," Colin said, chuckling. "A Cherokee SRT-8."
There are negatives, as with any good car. In automatic mode, the Lusso's transaxle can be unpredictable; it occasionally leaves you a gear higher than you'd like, throttle wide open, the car accelerating hard but off the cam. The standard Brembo carbon-ceramic brakes produce no perceptible fade but bite softly; the latter is surprising, given the marque and supplier. The steering rack always seems too quick for the car's weight and purpose—corners are dealt with in a series of small corrections, as if some engineer was insecure about the Lusso being the fat kid in Ferrari's lineup. (Oddly, this doesn't affect straight-line stability, which is mind-blowing.) And even in Comfort mode, the magnetorheological dampers occasionally feel too stiff for relaxed travel.
All this would be understandable if the Lusso were an ordinary sports car. The steering, for example, would fit a 488, a nervy beast by design; the ride quality would be perfect on a car built for shorter rips. On a $300,000, 4250-pound touring car, those details just give you pause.
As with a lot of Italian cars, sexual allusions abound. When you activate the electronic parking brake, the dash displays the words "Parking brake inserted." (Nice verb. Because this is a family magazine, I will make no jokes about the oft-unnecessary act of notifying someone that an object has been "inserted.") The seats are sculpted in such a way that you occasionally feel as if you are sitting on a bony human, not leather and foam. And then there's the key fob—a tapering red bullet meant to be stored in a slightly undersize, vaguely organic felt pocket between the front seats. The fob is held there by stiction, but it takes a strong shove to seat, so the first hundred times you store the key, you think about what you're doing. (If you're me and Colin, you also make more jokes. You can guess where they went.)
Maybe the nuance here is cultural, lost in translation. But you find yourself wondering why a company that builds such inarguably great machines seems to be trying so hard to pimp itself. The effect comes to a head in the flashy dash trim and the small, flat-bottomed steering wheel—the latter absent control stalks and festooned with buttons, obviously meant to reference Formula 1. It does, sort of, but it's also loud and garish in a car that's relatively calm and restrained.
New Ferraris sell, so on a certain level, this is what people want. But it does leave you wondering if the oldest and sexiest carmaker in F1 should have to yell its résumé at your face.
Thankfully, the good bits tend to outshout the weirdness and complaints. The engine is standard-issue modern Ferrari V-12: a linear, animal ball of madness capable of cavitating your eyeballs. The hydraulically assisted steering is lively and talkative, if less so than the systems in other Ferraris. In manual mode, the transaxle is quick and seamless. Stability at high speed, over uneven pavement, is a benchmark: Below 160 mph, the car is essentially bored.
People trot out that line for supercars all the time, but this is different. If you were the kind of person to drive this car 160 mph, or perhaps even faster, you would almost certainly start to experiment. You would maybe relax one hand, curiously, while still holding the wheel. And you would notice that, absent crosswinds, a triple-digit Lusso can be held on course by a finger.
I am not the sort of person to try any of that, but let's pretend, for a moment, that I am. And that it was incredible.
This much comfort and bucksnort silliness in one package is rare, even for supercars. The Lusso is a gem. It inhales mileage while somehow also reminding you of both symphonic brass and all those times in college when you were naked. After three days in the desert, on nowhere roads with no one in sight, I kind of wanted to hug it.
A WORD ON THE CAR IN THE DESERT
AT THE END OF THE SECOND DAY, we made our way east. Backtracked and headed toward the Utah state line, over another few ridges and another pass and through another valley and it just went on and on.
The landscape blurs in my memory, but I remember the last valley. It was huge—maybe 15 minutes to cross, at an rpm in seventh gear that had the engine on cam and howly. The road beelined to the other side, then arced left, parallel to the valley, angling up the side of a mountain. The latter was craggier than anything we'd seen in the middle of Nevada, and tinted purple by the sunset.
As we climbed, Colin glanced out the window.
"Look," he said. "Wind farm."
The valley tapered to the north. The mountain we were climbing and the ridge we had just left approached each other but didn't meet, leaving a small gap at the horizon. A grid of wind turbines—big ones, propeller blades like a semitruck—sat at the narrows.
It made sense; the landscape was a massive natural venturi. The turbines sat close to the highway. Every few seconds, the Lusso would come in line with one of the grid's rows, and the turbine stems would line up, looking like a single stalk. The props appeared to swing in unison. It was mesmerizing, like watching someone try to choreograph the wind.
For a few moments, no one in the car said anything. It occurred to me that I'd never seen mountains so complemented by a man-made object.
This seemed important; over the previous two days on 50, whenever we stopped for a photograph, the Lusso stood out from the land. The car has a nice shape. Maybe even a great one when viewed in profile—big hips, balance, fenders like a sine wave. But it's also a perfect illustration of how nature needs no footnotes: If a Ferrari doesn't add to raw earth, what hope is there for anything else?
As the sun set, we tear-assed to the other side of the mountain, over a 7000-foot pass and down into the windward side of yet another valley. The plain was so large as to appear limitless, no ring of hills on the horizon.
A Phillips 66 station sat on the road. It had a motel in the back and a small casino, because that's apparently how Nevada works. A sign out front read Next Services 83 Miles, so we stopped. As I topped off the tank, a young guy in ranch clothes walked up. He smiled and admired the car for a second, hands in his pockets.
I didn't know how to answer. "Yes" seemed douchey.
"It's a good car," I said. "Not ours, though."
"Who owns it?"
I offered a few sentences about working for a car magazine. "Well. How fast you guys go in that?"
I kept quiet. Colin said a number—not bragging, just sharing information. The guy laughed.
"Whoa, man. Be safe."
Over three days in the Lusso, we had a lot of conversations at gas stations. I've driven rare cars in countless places, from banked ovals to derestricted German highway. Nowhere have I been asked so much about speed as in the rural American desert. Standing at that Phillips, it occurred to me that this was probably not a coincidence.
Back in the car, the conversation wandered to horsepower. Colin collects cars and likes just about everything on wheels, but he has a fondness for unrestored 1960s Shelby Cobras. Our discussion gravitated to those. I asked about top speed.
"The 427s will do about 160 mph," he said. "The 289s are good for 140-something. Both of them, the way the air moves, it's nuts. At the top of fourth gear, the wipers are off the windshield, just up against their springs, hovering."
Such is the weirdness of a 208-mph Ferrari with a V-12 the size of Alaska that I thought to myself, Only a buck-sixty?
As night fell, we drove toward Utah. I climbed into the backseat to rest, but the lights out the windshield were too entertaining. Each began as a flicker, like a bright star. Ten minutes later, it would be in the same place, a hair larger. Ten minutes after that, the light would pass us in the opposite lane.
Not once during this entire process did I worry about what I was missing on the Internet.
A CONCLUDING WORD ON EXTRALEGAL SPEED AND THE JOYS OF A WIDE AND VARIED LAND BUILT ON THE IMPORTANCE OF FREEDOM, or GOD BLESS THE HIGHWAY, FOR SERIOUS
THIS EXPEDITION PRODUCED LESSONS.
One: Do not break the law, even if fast driving is occasionally prudent and satisfying. Remember that
Nevada has a highway patrol. They will find you. Two: One of the great things about this country is how it en- courages you to just get the hell away from people. Go far and long enough and you will find empty space. It's free, you just have to get in the car and chase it.
Three: It is intelligent, in times of emotional or societal overload, to chase it.
Four: Five minutes in the West is enough to remind you why people go there. Why the pioneers went, and why the place is such a magnet. There is still humanity in the desert, but you get to feel free of it for a moment, even if you really aren't. You can unplug from the endless national discussion and fighting over how we want life to be versus how it really is. The land forces a pause.
Toward the end of that last night, far from civilization, I stopped on the highway. I climbed out of the car and told Colin and Richard that I had to do something. Then I lay down in the middle of the road and took a deep breath.
The guys looked at me funny, but it didn't matter. Coyotes yipped in the distance. The moonlight was bright enough to read by. My pulse fell lower than it had been in weeks.
You can't do that in a city. You can't do it watching YouTube. You don't need a Ferrari, though that obviously helps. You just need a set of keys. And to go.