Peter Kalikow’s Superamerica 45 is the latest Ferrari to emerge from the company’s thrilling Special Projects division. In an exclusive interview, the man who commissioned it tells us how it feels to have the freedom to create your own one-off Ferrari.
Estimated reading time: 11 minutes
With apologies to George Orwell, all Ferraris are special but some are more special than others. New York property magnate Peter Kalikow, who reckons he’s owned around 50 Ferraris since 1966 and still has 27 of them now, has become something of an authority on that specialness. Like all of Ferrari’s most committed clients, Kalikow is at the very top of his game; his company is responsible for some of the most iconic buildings in Manhattan. Yet talk to him about Ferrari and his distinctive New York brogue softens, and the tenor of the conversation becomes more reverent. ‘One of the problems with this place,’ he says, leaning forward in the white leather chair in the Maranello Atelier to reveal a striking pair of rosso corsa socks, ‘is that the stuff the guys do here is generally so great that I can’t really think what I would want to change.’ It’s a nice problem to have, and also one that Kalikow has managed to circumvent. On the other side of the Atelier’s glass wall sits the Superamerica 45, the latest one-off creation from Ferrari’s Special Projects Division, meticulously executed to Kalikow’s precise specification. It’s his car and his alone, and commemorates 45 years of Ferrari ownership.
Ferrari’s Special Projects Division caps a significant noughties trend, albeit one that has its roots in the 1930s and ’40s. In those days, numerous carrozzerie catered for the whims of the wealthy car enthusiast, clothing chassis in often outrageously beautiful bespoke bodywork. Back then, the panels would be handcrafted by skilled artisans. Ironically, it’s the relentless march of technology that has breathed new life into these old techniques. Ferrari, naturally, is interested in exploring such endless possibilities, along with its most dedicated and passionate patrons. However, with all Special Projects one-offs, the engine, chassis and safety structure of the base car remains the same. In issue two of this magazine, we profiled Junichiro Hiramatsu’s SP1, an F430 re-bodied according to a design by former Ferrari luminary Leonardo Fioravanti in a manner that called to mind the ’70s BB model.
Issue seven featured Edward Walson’s re-imagining of the 599 GTB Fiorano as the P540 Superfast Aperta, with inspiration drawn from an obscure Fellini film. Now there’s this, the Superamerica 45, another 599-based car but one that takes the “openness” of the recent SA Aperta limited edition to a different level. There are only 80 SA Apertas, which automatically places it in a rarefied part of the Ferrari pantheon. But you don’t get more limited than an edition of one, which is why the man in the red socks is looking so pleased with himself. ‘I have a 575 Superamerica,’ Kalikow explains. ‘It’s a great car, I love it. But it’s six years old now, so it’s a generation behind in terms of its handling and so on. So I discussed this over lunch with Piero [Ferrari, Company Vice President] and Amedeo [Felisa, Ferrari’s CEO], and I said, “you know what I’d like? A Superamerica-style top on a 599 GTO…” And these guys don’t say no to you. They just nod and smile and say that they’ll go away and study the idea. It’s easy for me to say, difficult for them to do. But they did it. And the execution was flawless.’
You get the impression that the Special Projects Division is an amazing buzz for all concerned. Flavio Manzoni, Head of the Ferrari Design Centre, explains: ‘They’re a great opportunity for us to explore new forms and try new solutions. It’s a liberating process, in some ways like creating a concept car. We need to listen to the customer’s wishes but also guide them, where possible.’ CEO Felisa, the man, whose fingerprints as a great engineer are all over everything Ferrari does, agrees: ‘The stage of defining the product concept and the car’s styling for the customer is perhaps the most exciting part. With Special Projects, we enter a world that is normally a secret for anyone who doesn’t work inside a car manufacturer.’ It’s a fascinating process. Even in a car company where volumes are as intentionally low as Ferrari’s, this business is primarily still about creating models that will appeal to the maximum number of customers. The new FF, for example, has all-wheel drive in response to a desire for greater all-weather useability, and a roomy shooting brake body. Such concerns don’t apply in Special Projects, however; here the client’s imagination is the only limiting factor, and Ferrari will try to deliver wherever that imagination takes them. ‘The project engineer said, “tell me everything you want to have on the car and we’ll see how many of your requirements we can fulfil.” I don’t think there was anything they didn’t do,’ Kalikow says admiringly. ‘Mr Kalikow was very precise about what he wanted and he’s really satisfied with the result,’ adds Manzoni. ‘The finished car is very faithful to the original concept, which was actually quite difficult to realise: the 599’s roof has a peak above the passengers’ heads, so we needed to flatten and lower the roof, and alter the rake of the windscreen. The client also wanted the roof to be hidden, when it was open, which is why we introduced that integrated rear spoiler.’ Interestingly, although the sky is theoretically the limit, Kalikow elected to keep his feet on the ground. He wanted a car that he could use, rather than creating an art piece that would sit in his garage and merely look pretty.
In fact, he’d previously dipped a toe in the water when he asked Pininfarina to personalise his 612, the resulting car, the Kappa, having appeared in 2006. It’s more evidence that Ferrari’s most dedicated clients like to exercise the same intellectual rigour they use in their professional lives when indulging their passion. ‘I was always thinking about the feasibility issues,’ Kalikow says emphatically, perhaps betraying his experience in the construction industry. ‘For example, those buttresses on the 599 are there to direct air and to create downforce at the rear of the car. So my car has that spoiler on the trunk, to help do the same thing. This is a 300km/h-plus convertible that becomes a coupé in about eight seconds. But as the Ferrari engineers told me, just because you’ll probably never do 300km/h in this car doesn’t mean that we can build a car that won’t function properly at that speed… ‘There was six months of brain work, working on the car’s structural rigidity, using some of the things they learned on the Aperta, then making the roof work. Itwasn’t just a matter of taking the 575 top and sticking it on the 599 body, by the way. The mechanism is the same, but that’s about it. We had to find a way to drain water out of it effectively. And I wanted a spare tyre. The guys here said no at first to that one, because it adds weight and it’s hard to package it. But it was very important to me. So they did it.’ The Superamerica 45 marries a suggestive aggression with a seductively nuanced elegance. Following the GTO and the SA Aperta, it’s interesting to see a further evolution of the 599 GTB. At first glance or from a distance, that devastating Pininfarina silhouette looks to be largely intact. But get closer to the car and the level of detail alterations, both in terms of the aesthetics and the engineering, becomes more apparent. There are subtle aerodynamic modifications at the front based on the 599 GTO. There are new intakes in the bonnet, and an extra intake on each side behind the front wheel arches, GTO ground effects and rear bumper with a large vent to exhaust air. The A-pillars, door mirrors and door handles have a chromed aluminium finish, creating some welcome decoration on the car. But most of the changes obviously centre around the roof and the work done at the back of the car to accommodate it. As Kalikow says, the SA 45 takes its cue from 2005’s 575 Superamerica, but the end product is a more graceful looking car. The tapered roofline flows into the solid rear buttresses (on the regular 599, these are actually open to facilitate air-flow), and then seamlessly abuts the car’s boot-lid, which features a new rear spoiler and lends the car a vaguely nautical look. There are grooves in the rear deck, into which the carbon fibre roof folds back in one elegantly engineered movement. The GTO’s rear diffuser is as impressive as ever, framed on either side by four almighty exhausts.
It’s a truly magnificent looking car, this, set off perfectly by its bespoke Blu Antille paintwork, chosen from Ferrari’s back catalogue to match the colour scheme on Kalikow’s 1961 400 Superamerica convertible. Even the alloys are unique, blending the A pillars’ aluminium look with the blue that prevails elsewhere. ‘It would be great to be considered as part of that legacy of one-off Ferrari specials. I think a lot of what we’re seeing now is a result of the strides that have been taken in the computerisation of design. Now the whole car is on CAD and they can input the changes. With reference to the older cars, I never liked the outlandish one-offs in the ’50s. I like it a little more conservative, it has to look like a real car. That matters to me.’ As Kalikow walks us round the car, his evident pride in what the project team have achieved is tempered by something I didn’t expect but nevertheless find very refreshing: a complete lack of sentimentality. Like so many other top Ferrari owners of my acquaintance, this might be one of the world’s best automobiles, and it certainly represents a significant investment for the man behind it, but what distinguishes a Ferrari from, say, a painting, or a shrewd stock investment is that it exists to be driven. And that’s exactly what Kalikow intends to do with it. Whenever, wherever. ‘It’s a car, it has to get you somewhere, and you have to be in roughly the same shape when you arrive as you were when you left. The 612 Kappa and Superamerica do that for me, as do Ferrari’s regular production cars, by the way. This had to be a car I could use all the time, not just an artwork. That’s why there’s protective film on the front, because we’re going to get stone chips. But so what? That’s part of life. I didn’t buy the car to look at, I bought it to use!’
Indeed, as his son attests, Kalikow regularly gets up early, and heads on to the expressway out of Manhattan to nowhere in particular, just for the hell of it. ‘He called one time,’ Nicholas says, still sounding slightly bemused, ‘and I said, dad, where are you?’ And he replied, “no idea! About 100 miles away I think…”’But lest you think that Peter Kalikow is utterly immune to the romance a Ferrari can engender, let me put you straight. An owner since the age of 23 (‘I had great parents, I was very lucky’) and a man who describes his remarkable stable of Ferraris as more of an ‘accumulation than a collection… there are no rules, if I like it, that’s enough…’, allows himself a little nostalgic reverie. ‘Europe was always the logical market for these cars,’ he says, ‘yet America was always the biggest. Americans appreciated the craftsmanship, the fine detail, the designs… we had a V8 engine that was two-valve, single cam, we made fun of it. It was a great engine, of course, and it still is. But when they were making five million units a year, why would you get excited about it? Enzo Ferrari and Luigi Chinetti did a great job of making cars Americans would love. ’ He leans forward and smiles. There’s another glimpse of those fabulous red socks.‘You remember the film Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow? Well that had a Ferrari in it and it starred Sophia Loren. I was the only one who went to see the film because of the car…’
Published on The Official Ferrari Magazine issue 14, September 2011