Ferrari got its start building two-seat sports GTs with V12s up front. With ladder chassis, live rear axles, and drum brakes, they weren't the most technically advanced, but they were fast, durable and beautiful. Equally at home at all the great European race circuits and posing in the French Riviera, these front-engine V12 two-seaters quickly helped establish the Ferrari legend.
But in the 1960s, this sort of car fell out of favor in racing. In 1962, Phil Hill and Olivier Gendebien won Le Mans in a front-engine Testa Rossa, which was soon rendered obsolete by the 1963 and 1964 winner, the mid-engine 275 P. It took a little longer for road cars to follow, with the entry-level Dino 206 GT arriving on the scene in 1967. And finally, in 1973, Ferrari got rid of the front-engine, V12 two-seater entirely, replacing it with the more fashionable mid-engine, flat-twelve Berlinetta Boxer.
The move towards mid-mounted engines wasn't surprising—it's just the way the sports car world was headed at the time. On the racing side, there was a limit to how much performance could be extracted from a car with its engine up front, while the 1966 introduction of the Lamborghini Miura birthed the modern supercar, challenging Ferrari to respond with one of its own.
Ferrari never forgot about its roots, though. Looking at the 812 Superfast, I'm reminded in particular of the 250 GT Short Wheelbase. Their proportions are similar, sure, but it's the spirit I'm more interested in. The 250 SWB was a road-going grand tourer that could be driven to Le Mans and be extremely competitive. In 1961, a privately entered 250 SWB won the over 3.0-liter GT class, placing third overall, which is astounding to think about today.
An 812 Superfast could never drive out of the Ferrari factory gates in Maranello and straight to a podium finish at La Sarthe. Don't blame the car; blame modern racing regulations. The Superfast is a perfectly usable street car with so much performance, its name feels like a vast understatement.
The basic layout might recall the earliest Ferraris and its engine may drive the rear wheels anachronistically without the aid of a turbocharger of an electric motor, but the Superfast is not what you'd call old-school. This is Ferrari throwing everything it knows about building cars into one extraordinary package.
You know how I said early V12 Ferraris weren't technologically advanced? Well, that's only partially true—their engines were truly state of the art. The same is true of the Superfast. Tracing its roots back to the Ferrari Enzo's V12, this engine displaces 6.5 liters and makes 789 horsepower. It's the most powerful naturally aspirated engine ever put in a production car.
It's also one of the most manic. Power peak comes at 8500 rpm, while it stops spinning at 8900. And this engine rips to its rev limiter seemingly with no friction whatsoever, as if all its internals are made from titanium. The immediacy of the throttle response is something that has to be experienced to be believed, too. It'll make you wish turbochargers had never been invented.
Then there's the noise. It exists somewhere between the refined, mechanical rasp of an early small-displacement Ferrari V12 and the shriek of one of the marque's glorious 1990s F1 cars. You kind of have to hear it to understand.
In spite of all the theatre this V12 provides when opened up, it's not actually high-strung, though. It's perfectly fine sitting in slow-moving traffic, water and oil temperature gauges rendered digitally on a small screen left of the big analog tach never move from their centers. And there's no lack of refinement driving around town.
The engine has an equal partner in a seven-speed dual-clutch transaxle. In its Race mode, this gearbox shifts as quickly as you can pull on the big carbon-fiber paddles mounted to the steering column. No transmission I've experienced comes as close to replicating the unrealistic shifting possible in racing games. The downshifts are especially impressive, with a perfect throttle blip executed in an instant.
With its 1950s and 1960s front-engine V12s, Ferrari was late to the party with independent rear axles—even the legendary 250 GTO had a beam out back. But, they still handled well, thanks to Ferrari engineers who knew how to sort out old technology. The 812 Superfast takes a different approach to chassis design.
Like most Ferraris of the past few years, the Superfast is equipped with magnetorheological dampers that can adapt to changing road surfaces in an instant, and an electronic locking rear differential. It’s also the third Ferrari to get rear-wheel steering after the F12tdf and the GTC4Lusso, and it's the first to switch from hydraulic to electric power steering.
Ferrari quotes a curb weight of just less than 3600 lbs for the Superfast, and out on the roads of Northwestern Connecticut and Western Massachusetts, it doesn't really feel that way. Credit hyper-quick steering, a modern Ferrari hallmark, which combined with rear-wheel steering, give the Superfast extraordinary agility.
The agility is especially impressive when considering the Superfast doesn't ride on ultra-sticky, low-treadwear tires. They're Pirelli P-Zeros–designed for Ferrari–measuring 275/35/20 up front and 315/35/20 in the back. Those 275-section fronts no doubt contribute to the Superfast's deeply impressive turn in, but they also lead to tramlining. Mixed with the aggressively responsive steering, this means the Superfast is never totally relaxing out on the freeways.
There's not a ton of steering feel either. It's light—very light, in fact—and accurate, but it doesn't talk back all that much. There's nothing wrong with the steering here, it's more that you might be disappointed if you want to feel everything through your fingertips.
It rides quite well, though. There's a button on the steering wheel with a damper icon, which puts the Superfast in "Bumpy Road" mode where the magnetorheological shocks are softened. Unless you're on a buttery smooth race track, you'll want it activated—it helps the car flow with surface changes, undulations, and yes, bumps, of real-world roads.
To be perfectly honest, I expected the Superfast to be the sort of car that only started to be fun at ultra high speeds. It's in the name, after all, but, there's a lot to enjoy at and around the speed limit. You don't need to do anything unconscionable to enjoy its sharp drivetrain and well-sorted chassis. Which is good because the one time I really put my foot down, it scared the hell out of me. Good thing the brakes aren't overwhelmed. As you'd expect, they're huge, with carbon-ceramic rotors measuring 15.7 inches up front and 14.2 inches in back. As is often the case with carbon brakes, they're a bit touchy and tricky to modulate at low speeds, but their stopping power is immense.
What's funny is that for all of the 812's supercar histrionics, it works well as a normal car. The steering wheel-mounted controls take some getting used to, and you'll never make a quiet exit with that V12, yet it somehow seemed like it'd be easier to live with day-to-day than a mid-engine supercar. The visibility is good, it's fairly comfortable—though, I'd skip the carbon-backed Racing bucket seats—and it's easy to maneuver thanks to the four-wheel steering. Even the ground clearance is high enough you won't easily scrape the nose.
You'd have to be comfortable with the Superfast's value—our tester carried a $335,275 MSRP $140,000 in options, mostly carbon fiber trim pieces—but it is daily drivable. In a more muted color than this Giallo Modena, it might even blend in, sort of.
The amazing thing about the Superfast is that it offers performance and visceral thrills equal to any modern supercar, with most of the usability and familiarity of a front-engine GT. It seems like it could be the product of an alternate timeline where mid-engine cars just never happened. A fully modern car on a platform almost everyone else decided was obsolete.
Only Ferrari could make a car like the 812 Superfast. It has the heritage to justify such a rolling contradiction, and a customer base who will line up to pay full price for it.
It's tough to make a car that pays tribute to the past without ever feeling like it's trying too hard. Ferrari seems to have solved that problem by throwing 70- years of engineering know-how at it. That's what makes the Superfast the best tribute to Ferrari's early days.