BY ANDY ENRIGHT
The California was a car that Ferrari needed to build. Leveraging economies of scale with sister company Maserati and infilling beneath the increasingly expensive mid-engined V8 models, the California offered a more affordable route to Ferrari ownership. Although it'll never be remembered as one of the classic Maranello shapes, the California can only be judged a success in that it boosted sales and opened up new markets to its maker without diluting the brand equity. Here's how to track down a used one.
MODELS COVERED: (2 dr coupe 4.3 litre petrol [California 30])
Think Ferrari and you'll often think of the no-compromise sports cars that have acted as the halo products - cars like the F40 or the beautiful GTO models. Beautiful designs with terrifying reputations that seemed to embody all that's impossibly exotic about this most storied of supercar builders. Yet despite the legends, it's often been the more prosaic Ferrari models that have kept the company afloat. If indeed you can imagine a 'volume' car in such a line-up - and all things are relative - it's vehicles like the 246GT, the 308 and the 355 that have made the biggest impact on the company's bottom line. With the advent of the Ferrari 360 Modena, the Italians started to realise that a junior supercar arms race was kicking off. That escalated with the launch of the F430 and plans were laid to introduce a more affordable Ferrari that would slot in beneath that design and its successor, the 458 Italia. That car was the California. Named after the Italian marque's now almost priceless 250 GT California of the late 1950s, it was first shown at the 2008 Paris Motor Show. A persistent rumour that this car was to have been a Maserati has been denied by Ferrari, who nevertheless built a new production line at the Maranello factory to accommodate its build. With a capacity of 6,000 vehicles per year, it's easy to see how the California is viewed with some pride by Ferrari senior executives. It introduced a number of firsts for Ferrari. It was the first Ferrari with its V8 mounted in front of the cabin rather than behind it. The first with more efficient direct injection. The first to feature a double-clutch sequential semi-automatic gearbox. And perhaps most noticeably, the first to feature that trendiest of modern sports car features, a folding aluminium roof. The biggest change to this generation car came in 2012 when Ferrari reduced 30kg from the body and added 30bhp to the power output, lifting it to 486bhp. The company also offered a Handling Speciale Package, which included Delphi MagneRide magnetorheological dampers. These units increased the steering response by 10 per cent and were teamed with stiffer springs and revised engine management software. The California was replaced by the significantly uprated California T for the 2014 model year.
What You Get
The California's styling initially attracted quite a bit of negative comment, especially concerning the perceived heaviness of the lines around the rear end, but as time has passed, it's become a bit easier on the eye. While you'd never describe it as particularly svelte, the California has a certain handsomeness about it and it integrates the folding hard top roof very cleverly. The retracting two-piece metal-folding roof takes just 14 seconds to do its electro-hydraulic thing. At the wheel, it's all beautifully fashioned, the days being long gone when Maranello machines featured Fiat switchgear and cheap plastics. The Italian brand describes the California as a '2+', which is a reference to the fact that the area directly behind the front seats can either play host to a couple of tiny occasional seats or an optional luggage shelf. Either way, should you need extra space, two flaps fold down to allow longer loads to creep through from the boot, increasing the capacity from 240 to 340-litres. Virtually all California customers specified the optional seven-speed dual clutch semi-automatic gearbox and it suits the car's personality better than the manual model. In fact at one point, Ferrari UK claimed that they had only ever sold one manual California.
What You Pay
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What to Look For
The California is basically a strong car. The life of the clutches in the twin-clutch transmission will depend very much on how they're used, but there are many cars with over 25,000 miles on the clock still on the originals. The interior is a bit of a mixed bag, with hardwearing fabrics alongside plastic finishes that can easily scuff. Check the body for parking damage as visibility isn't great to the rear three-quarters when you're manoeuvring into a space. Kerbed alloys are common as well. The roof is not entirely fault-free and some owners have reported water ingress and cases of the mechanism jamming, so look for any interior water staining and check the seals and runners with a fine-toothed comb. Check for uneven tyre wear, evidence of accident damage, wear to interiors not corresponding with the car's documented mileage and insist on a full service record.
(approx based on a 2010 California) Rear tyres will run you around £350 each, while an alternator is around £300. Should your camshaft position sensor go on the blink, you'll need around £75 to replace it although you'll pay many more times that figure in labour should you require a Ferrari dealer to diagnose your issue.
On the Road
Settle into the classily- cockpit and it certainly seems like a real Ferrari, an impression underlined by the glorious flare of power released by pressing the big red starter button on the steering wheel. It's a V8 that beats in front of you of course, a 4.3-litre unit borrowed from the marque's old F430 but improved by the addition of direct fuel injection. It's not quite as dementedly fierce as a 458 Italia - but then that car has 570bhp. Here, there are 486 braked horses in later cars (up from 450) and that, combined with a 30kg weight reduction, is enough to see sixty from rest flash by in just 3.8s. Flat out, nearly 200mph beckons if you've a test track, an empty autobahn or a very good lawyer. Maranello is also keen to emphasise the California's dynamic prowess too, offering an optional 'Handling Speciale' package on later first generation models that encompassed modifications to the suspension set-up aimed at minimising body roll and making the car even more responsive to driver inputs. The package also included Magnetorheological dampers controlled by an even faster ECU running patented Ferrari software. Plus buyers got stiffer springs for more precise body control combined with a comfortable ride. Lastly, these later dynamically improved California models benefit from a faster turn-in with smaller steering wheel angles thanks to an uprated steering box with a 10 per cent quicker steering ratio.
The California is a fascinating insight into what Ferrari does when it does sensible. It's a hugely accomplished vehicle and, while it'll never be the most glamorous Ferrari, all things are relative. It's still a handsome and classy addition to the marque's product portfolio and has quietly become their biggest money-spinner. A used example makes an interesting alternative to a new BMW M6 or a Mercedes SL and as long as you're prepared to shop around and do your homework, you should find one hard to resist.