Va-va-vroom… the engine runs perfectly. A light touch on the steeringwheel rocker, first gear engages without hesitation, a press on the accelerator and the dual clutch allows the 458 Italia to edge gently towards the area where it will set out for the road test. Little more than two days ago its chassis had been painted and it joined the production line in the bodyshop. Now the first example of the new model is ready for the road and, more specifically, the track. It seems almost impossible that such technology and so much mechanical and productive complexity can arrive at the end of the production line in perfect working order, yet it does. ‘This is the strength of Ferrari – it is what separates us from the others,’ claims Amedeo Felisa. The CEO of Ferrari is an engineer.
Before reaching this top position he designed and built new models; that was his life. The great successes of the past 20 years –from the F355 to the 550 Maranello, from the 360 Modena to the 599 Fiorano, from the F430 to the California – are the fruit of his labours and those of his formidable technical team. A team from different and complementary production families: the first of which is the designers. Here the cars are designed from a blank sheet of paper and, based on the design indications, the first prototypes are built in absolute secrecy until the complete definition of what will be the production car is reached. The components are also prototypes and the experimentation with different solutions does not stop until this phase is completed. The second ‘production family’ is made up of those who have to transform a prototype that is approved in terms of style, mechanical components and interior into a production car. At Ferrari, building by hand as well as the limited and exclusive production remain fundamental characteristics. The working phase that starts at this point is complex. On a carefully concealed production line called the ‘pilot run’, the assembly procedures start for the first cars. These are the early-series and the preproduction cars.
The former are intended for testing and endurance trials while the latter are for the initial launch phases, yet both are still not destined for customers. Here the work is extremely complex as it involves two other production families: the technologists, who define the sequences and procedures of the operations that are to be conducted when production starts, and the quality specialists. We can confirm, having followed the production of the first 458 Italia in person, that the role of the quality specialists is obsessive in its detail. There is no operation that is not monitored and that has not been checked for quality. The third sector of the extraordinary family of technicians and specialists is that of production. Here the die is cast. When the new model is finalised, the production process starts. Initially, it starts at a very slow pace – one car per day normally – in order to carry out the necessary training of the operators of the various stages. Even though the operators of the various sections are all specialists, they have to understand the technical and production solutions used by the new model and to learn how to carry them out. For this reason the assembly of the first cars are overseen by the technicians who work on the ‘pilot run’, as their insight is indispensable. So this is the extraordinary system of creation that makes Ferrari so unique.
And as we thought that the readers of The Official Ferrari Magazine would be interested to learn about this in more detail, we thought we’d recount a week we spent on the construction of the first 458 Italia to be built: joining the technicians and their colleagues as they assembled the car piece by piece. [If I had to say just one thing about this experience, I would say that now I understand why Ferraris are so special.
It is because those who work there, from the foundry to the panelling, from the mechanics to the painting, from the engine assembly to the production line, are all professionals who know to combine manual skills with knowledge of the processes, often connected to complex information systems and with quality; professionals whose commitment to customer satisfaction is fundamental. Congratulations.]
HOW A FERRARI IS BORN
Wearing overalls, safety shoes and white gloves, we arrive at the Foundry at 8am sharp. It will be a week of real work, especially because of the complex reality of understanding what really happens in the course of the production of a Ferrari. The car chosen is the 458 Italia – Ferrari’s latest creation and one that’s about to confront all the examinations that each model faces on the production line. The result? One of the most fantastic experiences in my life.
1- THE FOUNDRY
The aluminium ingots waiting for smelting are gathered, according to the casting number, by the tall ovens. The smelting oven operates at over 800 degrees, 900 kilos of metal each time. during the smelting, components are added that form the final alloy. The smelted metal is then poured into a crucible – a very delicate operation carried out under the strictest safety regulations. It is then transferred to the second oven, called the waiting oven, where the smelted metal is kept at 750 degrees. At the same time, the preparing of the cores in sand takes place. The complexity of the Ferrari components – heads, blocks and numerous other components – require absolute precision at this stage so that the narrowest passage-way intended for cooling fluids corresponds to the design. In practice, this starts with positive mouldings, which contain the shape of the piece that is to be smelted, and they are filled with sand, using different techniques according to the type of component, and then solidified with a catalyser. Before sending the mouldings to the area where they will receive the molten metal, they are flashed with an acetylene flame to encourage the cast liquid metal to run. I watch the arrival of the moulding that contains the cylinder block of the 458. The waiting oven is ready and the casting takes place of the metal which flows into all spaces left free by the shapes in the sand. After a few minutes, once the first consolidation stage is complete, the sand falls away and a crude shape is left of what will be the engine of our car. The process is certainly not finished: the components are passed through an X-ray machine to check that the casting is perfect, and then treated and sanded before being sent to the mechanical workshop.
To be continued...