Those of us older than 25 remember a time when driving a sports car meant using both hands and both feet, operating a steering wheel, shift lever, and three pedals all at once: the manual transmission. The younger among us will roll their eyes, call us dinosaurs, and tweet-worship Elon Musk. But over a period of about ten years, from 2000 to 2010, the manual transmission went away, creating a sharp divide between "old" and "new" supercars. Ferrari and Lamborghini, the world’s most exclusive mass-market sports car manufacturers, put their collective eggs into the dual-clutch basket. So did newcomer McLaren. For those of us who’ve had the pleasure of driving the final run of modern, six-speed supercars, these are sad times.
The last manual transmission-equipped Ferrari sports car, a special-order California, left Maranello in 2010, effectively ending the hopes of any Ferrari owner who preferred to row their own gears—and sharply spiking the prices of suddenly-desirable used F430 and 360 Modena models with an extra pedal.
Since then, the price delta between two and three-pedal Ferraris has only grown. When the F430 was new, the F1 gearbox was a $10,000 option. Today, ten years later, a stick-shift car is worth anywhere from 30 to 50 percent more. What that means in dollars is that you, dear customer, can expect to spend up to $30,000 more for a six-speed 360 Modena. If you bump that up to the faster and more modern F430, that number looks more like $50,000 in today’s market.
You don’t really have to look hard to understand why: automated gearboxes are like computers or cell phones. As technology marches on, past iterations feel older and slower by comparison. Everyone had to have the first-generation iPhone when it came out in 2007, but try one today and tell me it’s not basically unusable. Meanwhile, you could have bought a record player in 1976 that would easily sound just as good today as the day it was made.
A stick is forever. How it feels today is how it will feel tomorrow, is how it will feel in 50 years, no matter what kind of progress occurs around it. Today, it will change gears as fast as you can move your hands and feet, and until Boston Dynamics comes out with a humanoid-robotic Ayrton Senna, that’s going to be the speed it will shift tomorrow.
Too bad Ferrari never offered the wake the dead 360 Challenge Stradale or spine-tingling 430 Scuderia with a manual. That really would have been something.
Which brings me to San Antonio, Texas, and the unassuming European Auto Group, led by mad scientist Art Bartosik. Art has found a hole in the matrix, realizing the value difference between a factory six-speed F430 and an F1-equipped model is more than what it would cost him to convert one. Thus, a business model was born. Sitting around the small but very tidy shop are a half-dozen F430s in various states of conversion, a couple of Porsches, and one car that was never supposed to exist: The world’s only manual-transmission Ferrari 430 Scuderia.
It didn’t leave the factory that way, and it wasn’t exactly a picnic converting it. This particular 13,000-mile, triple-black Scud landed on these shores in 2008 with a 505-horsepower 4.3-liter V-8 and a set of paddles connected to Ferrari’s "Superfast 2" single-clutch F1 gearbox. Normal F430s had the Superfast, but the SF2 has better synchros. In the stock cars, the upgraded gearbox helped improve the Scuderia’s shift times over the regular F430, but more importantly, the Scuderia featured unique software allowing the engine to interact with the automated gearbox in a very specific way. This is the biggest challenge in making the Scuderia conversion work, and it's not an issue in the standard cars.
“With a regular 430,” Bartosik explains, “we’re really just converting the car from one model the factory made, to another. All the parts are OEM Ferrari. They get annoyed when we order them, but pretty much everything we do here aside from the ECU programming uses genuine Ferrari parts. The converted cars are not distinguishable from stock without decoding the VIN.” He got tight-lipped when I asked about the specifics of what he does with the ECU to re-program the cars, only going so far to say, “it’s more than just plugging in the computer. We actually have to disassemble the ECUs and move pins around. Not really the kind of thing you’d want to try at home.”
He continues, walking me towards the Scud, idling before my drive. “Converting a Scud is much harder. The plasma ignition system that the Scud uses is designed specifically for the F1 gearbox and does all this ignition-cut stuff when you shift using the paddles. Programming that stuff out so you can drive it just like a normal stick is very, very hard. So far, we are the only place that has done it.”
The car itself looks almost factory. It’s really, really close. If I were nitpicking, I’d say the leather around the shifter riser, one of the very few non-factory parts, isn’t quite tight enough for Ferrari standards. But you need it to get the shifter into the right place in the cabin; the Scuderia console is lower than the standard car’s.
Bartosik is waiting on a bit of software from Bosch that will allow the mannetino switch on the steering wheel to function as stock, dialing up the car's different driving modes. For now, it is disabled entirely. “You have zero driver's aids right now, so be careful,” he warns. Eh, ABS is overrated anyway.
I head off. Within 30 seconds I decide that EAG’s creation, the Ferrari that doesn’t exist, slots easily into my top five motoring experiences of all time, handily bumping the spectacular 488 Spider off my "personal favorite Ferraris" podium. This is everything I want from a Ferrari. Literally, everything.
The rest of the car is completely stock. That 4.3-liter engine just fizzes with energy—strong, fluid, snappy, and ready for war. The pedals, stock units from the regular F430 coupe, are perfectly placed as always, and the Scud offers a great driving position, with plenty of room in the cabin and good visibility all around, though the Lexan rear window vibrates a bit at idle, blurring the image. The clutch throw is on the shorter side, though the pedal is light, with excellent feel and a forgiving friction zone.
Departing EAG’s shop, I head north and immediately find myself in a morning traffic jam. I turn on the (factory, still awful) Blaupunkt radio and crank the A/C, and have a relaxing 30-mile transit to hill country. The car is smooth, not exhausting, with a fantastic ride and beautiful, linear power delivery with an eagerness to rev. Even when traffic creeps up past 40, 50 mph, I find myself leaving the gated shifter in second, just to hear it run. Conversely, I catch myself overshifting, upshifting just so I can blip the downshift again.
Remember those upgraded synchros I mentioned in the SF2 gearbox? Well maybe you can time them with the paddles, but with a lever you can feel them working. Because of this, a manual-converted Scuderia will shift even smoother and slicker than a factory-built stick 430. Though I wasn’t able to compare back-to-back, the synchros, especially in first and second gear, are particularly slick, and I have no problem stating definitively that this is one of the finest manual transmissions I have ever used. My mind wanders for a bit as I creep north outside the city, surrounded by “Texas Edition” Silverados on their way to work. There is no reason at all I couldn’t commute every day, even in bad traffic, in one of these. It’s got tons of feel, but requires very little effort. Spectacular.
Once I arrived in the surefire middle of nowhere, it was hammer down and scaring cows for hours. Unlike today’s twin-turbocharged supercars, shoving hundreds of pound-feet of torque down your throat at 2000 rpm and threatening to sublimate the tires at the slightest application of throttle, the Scuderia is remarkably ... tame? Don’t get me wrong, 505 hp is nothing to sneeze at, especially in a 3100-lb car, but it only makes 347 lb-ft of torque, and even that happens up high, at 5200 RPM.
It’s fast, sure, and loud, and fun, and exciting. But it doesn’t feel like it’s going to get away from you, even without the benefit of traction control. The power is there, but it’s not overwhelming. Coming out of the McLaren 720S I'd driven a week before, the performance feels much more accessible and usable. Though the Scud’s top speed technically knocks on the door of 200 mph, like every 430 variant I’ve driven, things get very light and mildly hairy over 130. But if you want to spend time deep in the triple digits, I’d recommend a different car anyway. The Scud's happy place is from 40 to 120, the just-right spot for a canyon blast or a medium-sized race track. The brakes, stock, are excellent with a tight pedal. It was hot out, but on public roads, I didn’t feel- any fade.
First owners are always looking for the greatest tech, the quickest shifts, the most power, and the highest top speeds. And when the 430 Scuderia was new, it delivered on that promise. Now, ten years down the road, EAG is here to keep it from withering, to make it so second and third owners have a permanently brilliant experience, not a progressively decaying one. Art Bartosik’s fountain of youth has arrived so that the drivers—not the speculators, not the concours nerds, not the FChat numbers-matching whiners—can experience what it’s like to drive a modern, manual-transmission Ferrari for the love of driving.
While I don’t expect Ferrari to release a special-edition 488 Manuale any time soon, and while gearbox technology will march on as it has done for the last 20 years, the Ferrari 360 and 430 will only get older and more outdated. And they'll seem like a better and better value knowing that, for just $30,000, EAG can remove them from the aging cycle, permanently. But if you want a Scuderia, you’re going to have to either buy this one—for a lot of money—or wait. “If you had the only one of something, and you were the only person who could build another,” Art explains, “you’d probably hang on to it for a little bit before letting it go.”