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California Dreaming

The new Ferrari California, an exquisite V-8 convertible, conquers the traffic of São Paulo



AS FAR AS MEGACITIES go, São Paulo is arguably the least driveable. There are 20 million residents and well over 5 million vehicles. But on a Sunday, at the end of a long holiday weekend, the traffic is only slightly clogged along the Avenida Vinte e Três de Maio, the main artery out of the city. The concierge at the Hotel Unique (a hotel that lives up to its name; it is dark and stylish inside, with a cavernous lobby and popular roof deck, and it looks from the outside like a stone lemon wedge balancing on its rind) says that this is the quietest he’s ever seen São Paulo.

“Listen,” he says, dramatically looking around the entrance as though we’re being watched. “You don’t even hear any helicopters.”

Just then I hear the rumble of my ride, and the valet arrives with my stunning 2012 Ferrari California. Amid the high stone walls of the hotel and the gravel driveway, the cherry-red GT is a burst of sexy color. Based on the 250 Ferrari California (you’ll remember it as the car that flew out the window in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off), the California is a hardtop convertible with a 4.3-liter V-8 — the smallest Ferrari on the road. It is low-slung, with a grille just above the ground, a satisfyingly macho stance, and two round LED taillights that are reassuringly classic Ferrari.

However, rolling out into the light São Paulo traffic, it doesn’t feel diminished in the least. Unlike most Ferraris, whose engines are mounted just behind the seats, the California (back seats come optional) has its V-8 under the hood. Leaning back in the plush leather, I grab the wheel, which has ride selector switches meant to echo the Ferrari Formula 1 car, and blast into the traffic.

By the time I reach the city limits on the highway, I’ve collected a conga line of sports cars jockeying to get a good look. There are just four Ferrari dealerships on the entire continent of South America, so even though there’s a broad swath of wealthy residents in the city (hence the abundance of helicopters hopping over the snarled traffic), a Ferrari sighting is about as common as a cowboy hat.

The road twists out toward the coast, through lush jungles that cleverly conceal the state’s industrial belt. Eventually, we reach the coastal town of Bertioga, where I pull up to a ferry terminal.

“That’s a Ferrari?” asks the first mate, as the barge ties up and townspeople stream on. Yes it is. “Then you pay twice,” he says. Why? “It’s a superstition.” I comply. It’s only $1, which is a bargain compared with the price tag on the car itself (a handsome $192,000).

On the resort island of Guarujá, the tarmac winds through pine forests until we hit the beaches and the old colonial Casa Grande hotel on Avenida Miguel Stéfano. The valet happily takes the keys to the California, and as I sit down to a dinner of chilled crab legs caught just an hour earlier, I can hear the engine rev from down the street. Ferris Bueller, indeed.

MIKE GUY’s first ride in a Ferrari (an F355 Spider in 1997) ended with a stern talking-to from the local authorities.

The bells and whistles

Starting Price: $192,000

Engine: 4.3-liter V-8, mounted in the front of the car

Performance: Generating over 450 horsepower, the California will go from zero to 60 in under four seconds and hit a top speed of 193 mph. (So we’re told; there are laws in Brazil, you know.)

Interior: Lots of luxurious leather and a cool “manettino” steering wheel with a built-in shift light and ride adjustment dial, just like the Scuderia Ferrari F1 car.

Perks: The retractable hardtop is a first for Ferrari. While that may cause hardcore Maranello purists to scoff, we think it’s stylish.

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