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Maerati MC12

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On Race Cars, Collectibles & Floor Lamps: The Maserati MC12 Makes One Hell of a Road Ride

J.P. VETTRAINO

Published Date: 4/18/05

MASERATI MC12

ON SALE: Now

PRICE: $800,000

POWERTRAIN: 6.0-liter, 630-hp, 481-lb-ft V12; rwd, six-speed manual

CURB WEIGHT: 3142 lbs

0 TO 62 MPH: 3.8 seconds (mfr.)

Hard to peg this Maserati MC12. It’s assuredly one slick 630-hp fire breather, when it works the way it’s supposed to work. It’s related by DNA to the Enzo Ferrari supercar, but the MC12 is rarer by a factor of seven, and it’s no floor lamp. The MC12 is the first factory race car in nearly 50 years from one of the most successful racing marques ever, but it won’t be racing at Le Mans, which was the idea to begin with. The MC12 is certified street-legal in most markets. In the United States, even if you are one of the handful with commitment and a pile of cash large enough to try, you might not be able to import one.

An exotic enigma, in some respects a refugee, the MC12 is nonetheless more charming and more intriguing than an Enzo or a Porsche Carrera GT. It’s also cooler.

More Power!

If someone in the United States actually buys and imports one of the MC12 homologation cars (for a sum sure to exceed $1 million), that person will be pleased to know the road car makes more horsepower than the race cars. The FIA restricts the MC12, drastically reducing airflow through its roof-mounted snorkel. While Maserati won’t say how much power the comp cars generate, the fundamentals suggest it is less than the 630 hp published for the road car.

Clearly, much of the technology in the MC12 is derived from the Enzo, though Maserati engineers are reluctant to say exactly how much. Just as clearly, the MC12 is substantially different. As Ferrari did with the Enzo, Maserati shared its development load with suppliers. Ferrari worked with racing partners Magneti Marelli and Bridgestone; Maserati used Bosch and Pirelli. Brembo supplied brakes in both instances, but the Enzo’s are carbon fiber. The MC12 gets good, old-fashioned cast iron.

Maserati boldly asserts the MC12 beats the Enzo in several respects. The company claims its supercar is more driveable in all circumstances, thanks to a broader, flatter torque curve; is more stable at high speeds, thanks to its longer wheelbase and wider track; and is more rigid, though it won’t say by how much.

The MC12 is 17 inches long-er than the Enzo (202.5 inches) and 2.4 inches wider (82.5 inches), with seven more inches between its single-nut wheel centers. While the Enzo’s carbon fiber monocoque is augmented with aluminum honeycomb, the MC12’s load-bearing chassis has no metal. It is built entirely of carbon fiber and Nomex. With its larger footprint, a ready-to-drive MC12 weighs 133 pounds more than an Enzo, or 3142 pounds.

The MC12’s 6.0-liter alumi*num V12 engine block is identical to the Enzo’s—same bore and stroke (3.62 inches x 2.96 inches), same compression ratio (11.2:1). Yet the MC12 is force-fed through that roof-mounted snorkel, and its cams are turned directly by gears rather than chains. Peak torque is the same for both engines (481 lb-ft at 5500 rpm, according to Maserati), but Ferrari’s generates nearly 5 percent more horsepower (660 at 7800 rpm vs. 630 at 7500 rpm). The difference is largely a function of the MC12’s 7700-rpm redline, 500 revs lower than Enzo’s for an additional margin of racing reliability.

The MC12 uses a particularly beefy variant of Maserati’s six-speed Cambiocorsa manual transmission (in turn derived from Ferrari’s F1 road transmission), hung behind the mid-mounted V12 with a twin-plate electrohydraulic clutch. Extra-large shift paddles mounted on the steering column are easy to find even when the wheel is cocked off center.

The final MC12 design was fashioned from a Giugiaro design idea by former Gruppo Ferrari chief designer Frank Stephenson, who says he found the MC12’s interior “very difficult to theme.†He settled on mostly organic shapes, then went shopping in Milan’s fashion district for upholstery. Broad swathes of the dash and doors are covered with a fabric called Brytex, which resembles soft carbon fiber. Maserati’s traditional analog clock sits prominently at the top of the center stack.

There is an abundance of leather and soft cloth inside the MC12, and its cockpit recalls the old-school grand tourer. Inside, in the tactile and aesthetic senses, it’s more inviting and accommodating than the Enzo, with all its hard carbon fiber and abrupt edges.

The same applies outside. With its F1-for-the-street intent, the Enzo is avant-garde and purposeful, but standoffish. The MC12 is prettier. At first blush its long, race-car tail seems ungainly, even awkward. Yet it’s full of complex, voluptuous classic GT curves, and it’s more alluring—Italian—than the Enzo.

Real Deal

Slide in through conventional front-hinged doors. The air inside the MC12 smells like speed. Cinch up the four-point harness and the mix of anticipation and apprehension builds fast. Push the start button and the V12 spits to life. Call it a purr: deep, smooth, but not as loud as you’d expect from a free-breathing engine displacing 6.0 liters.

Get first gear pulling the right paddle; the car creeps toward the 4.75-mile tri-oval at Fiat’s Balocco development complex. Floor the accelerator for a second, just to gauge how the rear end behaves. Hmmmmm...

At pit-out the gas goes flat and stays there. The initial surge is what we’d expect in a standard 911, then brrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr. Will we ever have to shift? Before a curiously placed chicane at the end of the long front straight, the MC12 carries a buck-twenty, tops. We’d expect more in a Nissan 350Z. Two laps around the tri-oval, and there’s no sense of exhilaration. Only puzzlement. Before we can figure out what just happen*ed, we’re chauffeured in a Quattroporte to the road course.

This is the so-called Alfa circuit: 6.7 miles with long straights and upward of 20 corners. Here the ritual is the same, only this time, with that first exploratory jab at the pedal—holy s***.

Can’t be the same car. Maybe two-thirds throttle out of the first slow corner, and the g load wells in the stomach fast enough to briefly disturb equilibrium. On the next straight it’s bap!bap!bap!bap!, up through the gears almost as fast as the lever can click. The MC12 finds more speed than it did on the oval in half the distance.

Halfway through the first lap, and the exhilaration builds. Computerized rev-matching for the electrohydraulic downshifts makes a hack sound like Fangio. Get an exit reasonably correct and the MC12 rockets out of a corner like nothing this driver has experienced on four wheels, short of the back seat of a two-seat Indy car at Long Beach. It’s clear why Maserati insisted the traction control stay on. The MC12 obliges with all the speed, response and grip you’d expect for a million bucks.

Through a high-speed constant-radius sweeper, almost like a giant skidpad, the car requires no steering correction. The Bosch ASR throttles back with almost instantaneous adjustment and an ache in the neck grows as the gs build. There is a little body roll (a relative term), and in the slower stuff it’s clear this Maserati’s suspension is tamely tuned. The MC12 wants to rotate laterally around its center of gravity. There is a hint of understeer first, then a desire to oversteer when it’s back on the gas.

Two laps end all too quick-ly on this track. Sweaty and finally impressed, we insist: This ain’t the same car. Maserati engineers patiently explain it is—same gearing, same calibrations as the oval car. With the hand-assembled engines, there might be 2 percent variance in output...

Then the Quattroporte returns with another load of journos, and the truth is known. When the oval car came into the pits belching smoke, a quick download determined a lambda sensor had failed and forced the engine into safe mode. All this means to us—ha ha—is two extra laps on the oval.

This time the chicanes make more sense. In roughly a mile before the end of the longest straight, the MC12 hits sixth gear, short-shifting a little only in fifth. A quick glance at the speedo before the brake point shows 275 km/h, or 170 mph, and then it’s hard on the binders, down to maybe 50.

The last writer to go, an experienced racer, brings the MC12 back with a cone mark on the right front and flames flickering from underneath the brake calipers. Before the last chicanes, he says, the brakes had faded to the point where the best course of action seemed to be plowing through.

Even million-dollar cars break. Maybe they break more than $30,000 cars.

Want One?

Maserati says the MC12 race cars have the same cast-iron rotors as the homologation cars, but use racing pads too finicky for street use. Other differences? Race cams are optimized for the smaller air inlet, and the suspension is competition-tuned. There is a more pronounced splitter-type lip on the race car’s front air dam and enclosures over the headlight cutouts. The race car also has a flat, two-post rear wing, a different rear diffuser and different exhaust tips.

$1.33 million). They’ll bring it over, too, even if it’s not clear where you would race it in the States. The homologation cars get trickier.

Maserati has built 50 road-ready MC12s, or 25 each for the 2004 and 2005 FIA GT seasons, and it plans to build no more. The first batch has been sold, though at least a handful from the second are available for !600,000 ($800,000). While the company will gladly sell an MC12 homologato to a custom*er in North America, it won’t import it. That’s up to Bill Gates or Martha Stewart or whoever wants one badly enough, and there are no guarantees it will get past Homeland Security or the EPA and DOT.

The MC12 seems a perfect candidate for importation under the Show or Display rule passed by Congress. Yet even if a mid-level DOT manager in D.C. agrees with that assessment, the importer must have the car emissions-certified at a private lab, requiring another fortune. Further, the DOT (safety) decision is not binding on the EPA (emissions), and the two agencies have been known to disagree on exactly what is street-legal more than once.

Next

The MC12 is not likely to influence lesser cars developed over the next five years to the extent the Enzo will, and it will not cultivate a legion of loyalists as quickly or efficiently as the Carrera GT. If investment potential is a consideration, conservative mutual funds are the better choice in all cases.

Ultimately, the MC12’s relevance lies here: It was built by committed engineers and craftsmen to win races, whichever races those might be (see sidebar, left). Sure, it would be nice to say your car won Le Mans. Or even Sebring. Regardless though, it’s rare, beautiful and, foremost, an exceptionally forceful kick in the seat.

That’s all the relevance it needs.

:bounce::bounce::bounce:

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