The meeting of Speed Gods
4 days in a gorgeous Blu corsa Ferrari 488 Spider in California. Meeting aviation legends (SR-71 Blackbird) enjoying spectacular sunsets.
I have spent most of the last three weeks answering a very simple question; where have you been? To which I replied trying frightfully hard not to look so awfully pleased with myself, oh I was test driving a Ferrari 488 spider in Los Angeles! As you might imagine I am still grinning from ear to ear from the experience. Planning for my second Los Angeles Ferrari experience began several months ago. The key objective was to escape the mind numbing traffic log jams of L.A. and head sixty three miles north to the aviation mecca of the Antelope valley, home to The Blackbird Airpark, Air Force Plant 42, and the US Air Force test pilots base at Edwards Air Force base. Yes in addition to being a supercar enthusiast I am also an aviation enthusiast, particularly military aviation. So I will jump upon any chance I get to combine these passions. I have long admired the SR-71 Blackbird, the world’s fastest reconnaissance aircraft, and when I discovered the aptly named Blackbird airpark in Palmdale California, I knew I had to visit this icon of speed and do a photoshoot with the Ferrari 488. As my planning evolved it included my wife Kelly coming with me. She had never been to L.A. and as she is an actress she wanted to see some of the famous L.A. sights, primarily Hollywood Blvd. I spent months dreaming about parking my Ferrari 488 test car between the two Blackbirds at the airpark.
3 days before I headed down to L.A. I got an email telling me that the Rosso Corsa (red) 488 GTB coupe I was supposed to be testing had been replaced by a Blu(e) Corsa 488 spider. Now I felt a mixture of emotions; why do I always receive blue or black Ferrari’s to test drive? I was so looking forward to finally getting a Rosso Corsa Ferrari (yes I can hear the chorus of violins playing as readers feel my pain). I had planned to put my GoPro camera inside the glass covered engine bay of the 488 GTB to get some engine noise and see the engine moving about under acceleration. The spider version of the 488 does away with the glass cover in order to make room for the folding hardtop roof. I then looked at some images of the 488 spider in Blu Corsa and my disappointment soon turned to joy.
It had rained in L.A. the week prior to our visit which is unusual for L.A. As it happened it also rained on the day of our arrival, and seeing a man running with an umbrella was a rather odd spectacle for Los Angeles. The downside of the rain for me was that the fun canyon roads of Angeles Crest highway and Angeles Forrest highway, where I was planning to drive up to Palmdale were closed due to a rockslide caused by the rain. However these thoughts were put aside for the moment as we arrived at the Ferrari service center to pick up our test car. We were happily surrounded by a plethora of Ferrari’s. One non Ferrari treasure stood out, an Alfa 8C in candy apple red, a seductive exotic I have been waiting several years to see, and it was worth the wait. Inside the workshop lurked not one but two red Ferrari F50”s, a red LaFerrari, and a rare Ferrari 250 SWB being rebuilt. All of these paled in comparison when I saw our Blu Corsa 488 spider test car. Blu corsa is my favorite new color, the color I would order for my 488 spider Ferrari, of course this option will set you back $12,486. I was gob-smacked by this vision, even three weeks later I am in awe looking at my pictures of the car. I have never been so affected by the styling and color of a car before.
After dealing with the necessary Ferrari paperwork Kelly and I headed out onto the streets of L.A., where for the first and last time I had to use the windshield wipers on the 488 thanks to a 10 minute burst of rain. The cockpit of the 488 was very familiar to me thanks to my drives in the 458, the F12 and the FF. I am finally comfortable using the steering wheel mounted indicators. Sadly the same cannot be said for the air conditioning which remains a mystery of operation even to my wife who is far more technically adroit than I am. We turned to our onboard navigation to help guide us to the Hilton hotel in Glendale, here we encountered our first major problem as it turned out our particular 488 was a European spec model and the navigation system was calibrated for Europe not America. We discovered this problem after going through the menu where we discovered Armenia but no America and Ukraine and the United Kingdom but no USA. So how do you navigate around L.A. without onboard navigation? Thankfully our trusty iPhone google maps came to the rescue. Thanks to time lags and occasionally dropping out of connection, which was a major source of frustration for my wife and me. I was often enthusiastic with my right foot while my Kelly was trying to read sign posts, then the choosing which one of the six lanes we needed to be in at the right moment. I am extremely grateful Kelly was with me or else I might still be trying to find my way around LA.
Saturday morning saw L.A. return to its customary blue skies, thus mandating we put the top down and become a convertible. As with the California T I drove last year the transformation from coupe to convertible is accomplished within 20 seconds. The spider with its hardtop folding roof gives you the best of all worlds, I don’t understand why Lamborghini has not gone down this route as well. Canvas soft tops are yesterday’s news as far as I am concerned. But open top cruising in the 488 spider is extremely civilized. We got lots of thumbs up from fellow motorists. This was my second experience with a Ferrari V8 twin turbo, the first was with the California T last year, and while some have complained about the loss of the naturally aspirated V8, I am not one of them. Yes, the roar of the 3.9L engine is not as deep and beguiling as the old 3.8L, but it still sounded like a Ferrari engine and the performance, brief though it was in the dash between traffic lights was extremely rapid and only made me want to use more of the 660 horsepower on tap. L.A. driving does showcase how versatile modern Ferrari’s are; the 488 coped easily with the `bumpy roads`. The Ferrari has one button that is essential for LA traffic, namely a bumpy road setting which helps to smooth out the jarring highway tarmac. This was also my first Ferrari with the new Ferrari key fob, (though I confess to being a fan of the old key) none the less one must move with the times and a Ferrari key is always a treat to have in one’s possession regardless of the shape.
Our next stop on our L.A. Ferrari adventure ride was the California Science Centre which houses the space Shuttle Endeavour. It’s not often a parking lot deserves any special mention, but one with an A12 spy plane mounted on a plinth is worthy of mention. The A12 was the predecessor to the famed SR-71 Blackbird, so naturally I had to position the Ferrari to enjoy an impromptu photoshoot. It was a full of irony that I borrowed a parking space for electric vehicles to park a supercar in front of a spy plane that could fly 3 times the speed of sound, symbols of the past the present and the future. It is somewhat bizarre to think of the space shuttle Endeavour in the past tense, none the less what an impressive monument to space exploration. I became a little kid wandering around the shuttle display, mouth agape, wonder etched on my face. Looking at the carbon scoring and space grime gave the Endeavor a tangible patina that is permanently etched in my memory.
We then made our way to the famed Hollywood Blvd, home of the Hollywood walk of fame. We parked the Ferrari in the largest underground carpark I have ever seen, then joined the rest of the tourist mass on Hollywood Blvd where we began dodging street-performing superheroes, enthusiastic street vendors, and local street preachers. The energy of the street is infectious as you observe this melting pot of Americana. It was amusing to see a travelling Jesus Saves group parading up and down Hollywood Blvd in front of the Hooters restaurant. After a few hours of walking along Hollywood Blvd the cacophony of the street had worn us out. We had bought our obligatory L.A. livered baseball caps and we ready and eager to get back into the Ferrari.
After 2 days of driving round seeing the sights I was eager to get out of L.A. and finally do some open road driving. The Angeles Crest highway was still closed so I was forced to take highway 405, thankfully early Sunday morning saw minimal traffic so for the first time in the trip I was able to put my right foot down and taste a little bit of the performance of the 488 spider. Turbo lag is a thing of the past, I put my foot down and even in auto mode the 488 took off like a scalded cat. The Ferrari double clutch gearbox is near perfect. The power delivery is equally smooth, one moment you are doing 60 miles an hour next minute you are at 120mph. A novel (and costly option of $4,129) for your passenger is the passenger display which shows the passenger your speed, the revs, and a few other parameters. Kelly enjoyed this display until our last day when I found a road on our way back from Palmdale, then she closed her eyes as she did not want to see the speed or the revs I was using but more of that adventure later.
I loved watching the landscape change from urban to desert. I could even see snow on the distant mountains. The desert landscape has a simple beauty of its own; and sixty three miles and 45 minutes later we entered the city of Palmdale. As we drove down East Avenue P my excitement began to mount as I anticipated seeing the Blackbird Airpark. Geographically the Joe Davies heritage airpark proceeds the Blackbird airpark, and the first aircraft that comes into view is the Nasa 747 that was used to transport the shuttle. I was so excited I slowed the Ferrari down to a crawl and Kelly had to take over the steering as I was no longer concentrating on the road. And then there they were, two blackbirds, an SR-71 and an A12 just like I had seen countless times on my computer screen only now they were physically right in front of me. Still lost in the bliss of viewing the Blackbirds we were met by Kim a volunteer who manages the website and the social media for the Air Force Flight test museums.
I cannot adequately describe my feelings seeing this long thought about photoshoot come to fruition. Driving the 488 out of the parking lot and up on to the aircraft display area housing the Blackbirds was utterly surreal. With the assistance of Kim and Chris Roe another Airpark volunteer I maneuvered the 488 between the Blackbirds. I’m getting goosebumps as I write these words recalling that moment. I remember standing on a ladder talking pictures, occasionally I would look up and take in that I was standing in front of the legendary SR-71 Blackbird, and I was driving a Ferrari 488 spider. The photoshoot with the Ferrari and the Blackbirds would not have been possible without the permission of George Welsh curator/director of the Air Force Flight test center.
Looking back I should have taken another thousand pictures, however the Ferrari was beginning to draw a crowd in its own right. I had the pleasure of meeting Brian and his family who came over from Australia on a skiing holiday and had popped into see the Blackbirds. It’s no fun if you have a Ferrari and you don’t share it with others, so I took the family (one at time) for a little joy ride down 25th street East. As 25th street was dead straight I was able to give a demonstration of the rapid acceleration capabilities of the 488 spider as well the superior stopping power of the LaFerrari ceramic brakes. I venture to say that where it not for the police cruiser I saw on one of my runs, and the fact I am a law abiding driver, I could easily have taken the 488 to 180/190mph down this stretch of road. The look of joy on Brian’s son, Keith’s face was ample reason to share a ride in a Ferrari supercar. His joy also made me recall an incident while slogging it out in LA traffic the day before an SUV pulled up beside us and a women leaned out and asked “can I be your friend”, very friendly town L.A. especially if you happen to be driving a Blu Corsa Ferrari 488 spider.
Kim and Chris had told me earlier I had to head into the Blackbird Airpark gift shop to meet retired USAF Lt. Colonel Bill “Flaps” Flanagan who has flown the SR-71 and the B-2 and who is now a docent at the Blackbird Airpark. During my research on the airpark I had watched several videos featuring Bill talking about his fascinating flying career with the SR-71. I was absolutely thrilled to meet Bill and spend several hours talking to him, about the SR-71, the ejection sequence in Top Gun, the crash of the B-2 in Guam a few years ago and his book that is coming out in April which can be ordered on Amazon. Amongst the numerous displays and photographs of the SR-71 there is an actual SR-71 ejection seat taken from the Blackbird Bill took his first flight in(serial 955), and the ejection seat Bill was sitting in when the Blackbird in which he was flying experienced a twin engine flame out. Thank fully Bill did not have to use the ejection seat that day. Naturally I had to sit in the ejection seat and have a picture taken with Bill. The visit would not have been complete without taking “Flaps” for a spin in the Ferrari. I cannot say how thrilling or not it was for Flaps to experience a ride in the 488 spider, but for me it was a thrill and privilege to give a man who knows what it’s like to fly at more than three times the speed of sound a ride in the 488 spider. I could have happily have stayed talking to Flaps and giving joy rides for many days, but we had another appointment.
Edwards AFB is the home of test flying for United States Air Force, it was here that Chuck Yeager broke the sound barrier in the Bell X-1. I could not get onto the base, but I could get to the west gate which has the old Edwards control tower and 5 fighters from the century series of fighter aircraft on display. The road out to the base is called Rosamond and it is flat and dead straight and empty of traffic. I was sorely tempted to see if I could hit the 488’s top speed of 205mph, but Kelly restrained my speed ambitions to more modest figures. The 488 applies its power so smoothly, in contrast to the violent rush of the Pagani Huayra I drove so enthusiastically a few months ago. We made it to the west gate just in time to enjoy a spectacular California sunset. It was a fitting end to such a wonderful day. A part of me will always be out there in the 488 spider at sunset.
All good things must come to an end so Monday morning we headed back to L.A. to return the Ferrari but not before I detoured to find a substitute road for Angeles Crest highway called Bouquet Canyon road. This road enabled me to give the 488 a workout. It was a short but vigorous workout that forced my wife to close her eyes and not look at the display in front of her. The 488 steering rack is quick and accurate allowing you to point the car to where ever you want it to go. I used the manettino switch on the steering wheel to alternate between sport and race mode, but most importantly I put the gear selection in manual so I could control gear selection myself using the carbon fiber paddles located behind the steering wheel. I honestly did not look at the speed display I was solely focused on achieving a rhythm with the 488. My eyes were constantly watching the LED shift lights indicators on the rim of the carbon fiber steering wheel ($7,593) advising a gear change at the top of the rev range. It was all very Formula One like for 30 minutes or so before we ran out of road.
The 488 spider I tested in L.A. with options came out to $392,784 is a civilized rocket machine. I am utterly smitten by the Blu Corsa which is definitely worth the $12,486. The only change I would make to my Ferrari 488 spider apart from a functioning navigation system, would be to swap out the $4,049 Daytona seats for the standard seats, as I developed a small backache after a few days of driving. What an adventure! A gorgeous Ferrari, a meet with legends of aviation in metal and in the flesh. I want to thank Ferrari USA for the Ferrari and all the wonderful volunteers at the Blackbird Airpark, whose passion and enthusiasm made for such a memorable visit. You don’t have to have a Ferrari for a road trip but it sure does help. Do yourself a favor and go visit the Blackbird Airpark in Palmdale (Afttcmuseum.org), you will be glad you did.