James Edwards, Contributor
The mountain people gathered outside the trattoria. The school leaked adolescent boys. The thin man from the tire shop closed his door and walked down the cobbled hill. The old dowager bent steeply over her walking stick and hobbled over; those already assembled parted to allow her through.
They know their Ferraris up here in Zocca, perched high in the Apennine Mountains along the spine of Italy. They should, since Maranello is only a half hour away and the narrow, tortured road that leads here is a favorite of Ferrari test drivers.
The locals know instantly that the 2011 Ferrari 599 GTO parked with insouciance at the front door of the trattoria (at the pleading of the chef himself) is out of the ordinary. And they couldn't be more right.
This is the fastest road-going Ferrari ever built — a lightweight, V12-powered coupe that is a masterpiece of competition-style detailing. When told, there's an assembled intake of breath from the crowd.
Even the crooked old woman knows that this car is special, even for Ferrari.
Living Up to the Legend
Even almost 50 years later, the legend of the Ferrari 250 GTO endures, a story of dominance by an Italian sports car that has never been equaled and one still compelling even after all those Formula 1 championships.
The 2011 Ferrari 599 GTO also has its connection with the racetrack, as the car began as the 599XX, the track-only version of the Ferrari 599 GTB Fiorano available for track-day hire by Ferrari clients at rates that would make you faint. And though the Ferrari 599 GTO is the street-legal version of the 599XX, Ferrari executives still expect this car to rarely stray from the confines of a racing circuit. And why not, since at Ferrari's test track at Fiorano, the 599 GTO is a second faster than the
Ferrari F430 Scuderia, not to mention the mighty Ferrari Enzo.
As you'd expect, there's plenty of power, with the DOHC 5999cc V12 pumping out 671 horsepower at 8,250 rpm. There's also the sheer, crushing strength of 457 pound-feet of torque at 6,500 rpm.
There's not much mass to move around, as the 3,538-pound GTO is 220 pounds lighter than a 599 GTB, thanks to thinner-gauge bodywork and thinner windows. Even the exhaust has been hydroformed to reduce wall thickness from 1.5mm to 0.8mm and thus shave away 29 pounds. Meanwhile, the interior has been stripped, while the aero additions are built from carbon fiber.
This car has been designed to get where it's going in a hurry. The single-clutch, automated manual transmission has shorter gear ratios than the conventional 599 and the shift intervals come at 60 milliseconds. The car's top speed is 208 mph, making this the fastest Ferrari street car ever.
Cockpit, Not Cabin
The lightweight carbon-clad door flings open to reveal a two-seat cabin stripped of its luxury. There's artificial suede instead of leather and the racing-style Sabarth seats have carbon-fiber shells. At the same time, the 2011 Ferrari 599 GTO has a radio, though plenty of people would consider any music other than that made by the V12 to be sacrilege. Aside from the air-conditioner (which is loud and struggles to keep the temperature down in the late spring heat), that's it for luxuries.
There's an old-fashioned ignition key for this old-fashioned, front-engine, rear-wheel-drive coupe, and once you hit the start button on the steering wheel, the fuel pumps whirr for a long moment before the starter motor defeats the 11.9:1 compression ratio and the V12 lets loose a high, sharp raaap before settling down to a gentle idle. Of course, the gentleness of the idle depends on where you set the steering wheel's manettino. If the knob that determines the chassis calibration is on either Low Grip or Sport, it's a gentle idle. In Race, CT-off or CST-off modes, it's aggressive, eager.
It's a doddle to roll out of driveways despite the car's lower ride height, and the single-clutch automated manual lets you trickle around town with more dignity than robotized manuals usually allow. And so we're off.
It doesn't take much straight road to understand what they've done to the engine and gearbox. The first time you stand on the throttle, the gentle burble erupts into a ferocious, seamless howl of anger. There won't be a flurry of wheelspin or tire smoke, because the GTO is too sophisticated to think that's the fastest way. Once you've dialed up the launch-control mode, it will instead punch off the line with j-u-s-t a trace of wheelspin and, 3.4 seconds later, the car has smashed beyond 100 km/h (62 mph). Within 9.9 seconds, you're going 200 km/h (124 mph).
There's plenty of trickery within the engine to boost its output, notably a reduction in engine friction by 12 percent to create 16 hp out of nothing. The tiny piston skirts are coated in graphite; the cam lobes have a super-smooth finish and diamond-hard carbon coats the tappets. The crankshaft has been reshaped to reduce power-sapping turbulence in the crankcase and the aluminum intake manifold comes from the 599XX.
You might forget all of the engine technology every time you stand on the throttle, but with 8dBA more sound entering the cabin, you won't forget the 6-to-1 exhaust headers or the way the induction noise rises to keep pace with the exhausts as the revs climb.
Never Mind the Subtlety
The 2011 Ferrari 599 GTO has had all of the functions of its electronic safety net developed in unison with a new, faster ECU, so it feels especially precise and useful even when the electronics intervene. A second-generation carbon-ceramic braking system from Brembo matches the carbon-ceramic rotors with carbon-ceramic pads. Forget about subtlety, Ferrari's test drivers say; just stand hard on the pedal and keep pushing.
Out on the mountain passes, the GTO proves itself to be not only faster than the 599 but more stable as well. The way the rears hook up is ferocious and the grip at the front end feels unending. The GTO is not Porsche-like in the way it turns into corners, because the steering effort itself is too light and the feedback it gives feels reactive, rather than proactive. But the GTO is 20 percent quicker to react to the wheel than the 599 GTB Fiorano, and wherever you point it, the GTO goes.
Map all of this knowledge together, and the result is a mind-bending array of corner exit, short straight (no matter how long it actually is), a braking point much later than it looks and then enough midcorner grip to hurl the wax out of your ears. And the GTO does it all while throwing each of your senses into turmoil.
Your ears are assaulted, because the GTO attacks its rev limiter as though it would like nothing better than to smash it into oblivion for restraining this unburstable V12 masterpiece. Even as you're thrilling to the changes in timbre and tone and depth — from a profoundly deep bass at 2,000 rpm that promises impending violence to an irrepressible scream at 8,000 rpm — you're also marveling that the sound and vibration have an essential harmony. Meanwhile, you struggle in vain to keep everything in your peripheral vision from losing shape and dissolving into a mass of colors.
The Physical Dimension of Speed
It's your body that registers the lasting impression of the GTO's performance, and not just because the blistering acceleration is like a kidney punch every time you go near the throttle in the first three gears. Instead, it's the cornering grip. Few road cars have ever boasted so much, and it feels consistently available here, a virtue of the car's front-engine layout. Moreover, such a powerful braking system with the promise of consistency unaffected by heat also helps you to trust this astonishing missile, and the car rewards that trust with an agility that belies its size.
Out of the mountains and back at the Fiorano test track, it doesn't take long to figure out the usefulness of the Race mode for the chassis control. If you try to drive without the electronics, this car is a giggle generator, impossible to control. The absolute fastest way to drive the GTO is with the Race mode on, which opens up the bypass valve in the exhaust but moves the magnetorheological dampers, the brakes, the skid and traction control, the gearbox and the throttle settings to maximize every scrap of grip.
The Race mode makes the engine note drone dreadfully on a constant throttle and the chassis throws you around when it hops at the rear as the stability control fights for traction out of corners. The shifts come with ridiculous speed, but they can also hurt at low revs.
Altogether, the Race mode is simply magnificent on the track, with those astonishing Brembos laughing at the idea of fade and smashing the front aero splitter against the asphalt. So you tip it in toward the apex and the GTO snaps its head like a midengine car, and then you can just nail the throttle on the exit. If you're on the right line and steering smoothly, the F1-derived stability control will feed in exactly as much drive to the tires as they can handle. And you will not get out of corners any faster using your own judgment, even if you're Fernando Alonso himself.
It's the 2011 Ferrari 599 GTO. As in GTO. As in legend.
Edmunds attended a manufacturer-sponsored press event to facilitate this report.
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