We drive what could very well be Ferrari’s best naturally-aspirated, mid-engined machine: the 458 Speciale Aperta.
Words: Wilhelm Lutjeharms
Images: Charles Russell
There’s immense pressure on automobile manufacturers these days to reduce emissions and improve fuel economy, and Ferrari isn’t immune. As a result, hybridization, as we have seen, is a certainty for current and future models from Maranello. In fact, it’s unlikely we’ll ever again see a naturally-aspirated V8 model, as first the California and then the 488 adopted turbocharged powerplants.
It's exactly that which makes the 458 Speciale A (for Aperta, or open) so special. When the model was unveiled in September 2014 at the Mondial de l’Automobile in Paris, it was already suspected that this would be the last mid-engined, naturally-aspirated, V8-powered Ferrari to emerge from the storied factory gates.
Furthermore, only 499 examples were produced, and sold to Ferrari’s most loyal clients. The drop-top featured all the go-fast hardware from the closed-roof Speciale, from active aerodynamics to Side Slip Control electronics, to the intoxicating 445kW 4.5-liter V8, honed by ex-Formula 1 engine guru Jean-Jacques His, that revved to a stratospheric 9 000rpm.
Ferrari’s performance specifications make for interesting reading, too. Maranello claims a 0-100kph time of 3.0 seconds, which is the same as the Speciale coupé, but a 0-200kph time of 9.5 sec, which is 0.4-second slower. This is presumably due to the Aperta weighing 50kg more, although Ferrari also claims an identical Fiorano lap time for the pair, at 1:23.5 seconds!
The slightly less slippery Aperta hits “only” 320kph, versus 325 in the Speciale coupe. In reality, though, four-tenths here or 5kph there matter little when the car in question was developed with the lessons learned from winning Le Mans, Daytona, and Sebring, among many other events. Very few manufacturers can draw such direct parallels between their road and racing cars!
A quick glance reveals our featured Ferrari is not a “typical” Speciale Aperta. For starters, it’s a rare right-hand-drive version, seen in markets such as the U.K., Japan, Indonesia, Australia, India, and, in this case, South Africa. While it wears the same Giallo Modena Triplo Strato livery with a central stripe in Blu NART and Bianco Avus as the Paris show car, this was only the beginning of a very specific look its owner had in mind.
The distinctiveness of this Aperta's exterior (“I wanted the three-color paint because I wanted it to be the only one of that colour in South Africa,” the owner says) is paralleled by its interior treatment. Bright red leather covers the dashboard, steering wheel, tops of the door panels, the rear bulkhead, and the roll-hoop area. The seats are covered in three different materials: Alcantara, leather, and 3D fabric, each in a specific colour (red, dark grey, and yellow, respectively). Yellow stitching is used everywhere, while matching yellow rings wrap the buttons nestled in the carbon-fibre tower rising to the left of driver’s seat.
While the show car featured blue carbon fibre on the door panels and central tunnel, which also made their way onto this car, at the time the company wasn’t sure if it could deliver this much-desired material in any other areas. (Today, availability is much improved.) Due to these and other decisions, the owner had to be patient and wait longer than usual for his car to be built.
As a result, this Speciale Aperta was one of the last 458s to be manufactured; its assembly number reveals it was produced after the first 488 GTBs. It’s rumoured this car might have been the very last one, although Ferrari won’t confirm this.
The owner wasn’t done when the car finally arrived in South Africa in April 2016. He promptly handed it over to Race!, a company based in Johannesburg that specializes in custom design, performance, tuning, and paint, which fitted a blue carbon-fibre aero kit from Novitec Rosso. Race! also painted the wheels and added a number of other small details, including the blue carbon-fibre fuel cap. The result is truly a one-of-a-kind Ferrari!
Fortunately, while all of the owner’s cars are meticulously maintained, paint-protected, and pampered, he does enjoy them properly. “I’ve driven this car and my F12tdf at Kyalami Grand Prix Circuit in Johannesburg, and they were both magnificent,” he says. “The 458 is definitely less intimidating than the more powerful F12tdf. The latter is great to drive on and off track, but with the Speciale Aperta you can play with it more on the track than the tdf. The tdf definitely commands more respect at the limit.”
He’s also happy to share the experience. With key in hand, I get inside and take my time to appreciate the colourful interior. The weather is perfect, so I press the button to lower the folding hard top, a process which takes 14 seconds. Then I press the red Start button on the steering wheel and the V8 barks into life.
As I edge onto the road, the steering wheel feels perfect in my hands by virtue of its delightful combination of carbon fibre and leather. Otherwise, there’s little initially that reveals the true nature of the car. On this smooth road, at least, it feels comfortable: There’s almost no scuttle shake and the damping is wonder- fully pliant. I short-shift through the first four gears and discover that, even at these sedate speeds, the throttle pedal is very sensitive to inputs.
The steering ratio is fantastically sharp. Through the twists and turns of this majestic road, the rev lights on the wheel relay the redline to my peripheral vision, allowing me to keep my eyes fully on the tarmac unwinding ahead.
Sunlight and wind in your hair are two benefits of a Spider, but they’re not the main attractions. The real appeal is that I can hear the V8’s rich, unfiltered engine and exhaust note better than in the closed version. The moment I decide to make use of all the available performance, the engine’s scream, especially as it ricochets off a nearby cliff face, is an experience few road-going Ferraris of any engine configuration can offer.
I discover later, during our photo shoot, that the haunting sound emitted by the two exhaust pipes sounds even better from the outside.
Sound aside, the eagerly revving V8 feels the same as before, as it indeed is. Running to the redline isn’t required for enjoyment, although it only takes a few moments behind the wheel, with the needle zooming around the rev counter, to realise why this 4.5-liter engine has raked in so many awards - which are listed on a small plaque behind the seats.
Ferrari’s carbon-ceramic brakes do an excellent job of scrubbing off speed. Like the engine, the brakes do exactly what I want whether driving at full tilt or merely cruising along.
This sense of control extends to the Speciale Aperta's aggressively bolstered seats. The seating position is perfect, and the buckets provide impressive lateral support yet are also comfortable enough to sit in for a few hours. The driver’s seat is an intoxicating place to be, with the 9 000rpm rev counter dead ahead and the bright yellow fenders gleaming through the windshield.
Compared with an F12, the Aperta is undoubtedly easier to place on a tight road. I’ve only had a brief encounter with an F12tdf, but I share the owner’s thoughts. The tdf demands its driver to be hyper alert due to the abundance of power, while the 458 feels more balanced, its slightly less potent engine more accessible, more of the time.
I have driven a 488 GTB, the 458’s turbocharged replacement, and it is, without a doubt, a more polished, faster and more usable machine than the Speciale Aperta. It is also capable of comfortably crushing continents and commutes. On the other hand, the newer Ferrari isn’t as involving as the final 458. It seems this model will remain one of Ferrari’s best modern-day driver’s cars.
Specifications – Ferrari 458 Speciale Aperta
Engine: 4.5-litre, V8, petrol
Power: 445kW at 9 000rpm
Torque: 540N.m at 6 000rpm
Transmission: 7-speed dual-clutch
0-100kph: 3.0 seconds
Top speed: 320kph
Kerb weight: 1 445kg