Cars

Photo: Max Sarotto

Italian Open

How Ferrari's Retractable Hardtops are uniquely engineered to deliver both open-to-the-elements thrills and perfect refinement
Words

Chris Rees

Ferrari’s simultaneous launch, in September 2019, of not one but two new open-topped models – the F8 Spider and 812 GTS – is clear proof of how enduringly popular the convertible form is at Ferrari. Right from the start of the Prancing Horse brand, there have been open-top models; indeed, Enzo’s first ever car, the 125 S, was open to the elements.

Like every aspect of design and engineering at Maranello, Ferrari’s roof mechanisms have evolved over time. The latest Ferrari convertibles all feature what is undoubtedly the zenith of car roof technology: the retractable hardtop (RHT).

Ferrari’s latest open-roof rear-mid-engined car, the F8 Spider, has a retractable hardtop that takes just 14 seconds to fold<em></em>
Ferrari’s latest open-roof rear-mid-engined car, the F8 Spider, has a retractable hardtop that takes just 14 seconds to fold

Ferrari is a real pioneer in this field, notably creating the world’s first mid-engined car with a RHT, the 458 Spider, in 2011. The RHT system also led to the 812 GTS becoming the first new Ferrari V12 spider model for 50 years, and the first ever V12 Ferrari with a retractable hardtop. Currently Ferrari has an unprecedented range of models that use retractable hardtop technology: F8 Spider, 488 Pista Spider, 812 GTS and Portofino.

Ferrari’s RHT systems offer a host of advantages over the traditional fabric soft-top. First of these is lightness, since the RHT makes extensive use of lightweight aluminium. The 458 Spider’s RHT, for instance, saved 25kg in weight compared to a fabric roof.

The second benefit is ease of use. Ferrari’s RHT deploys effortlessly at the press of a button in just 14 seconds. Moreover, it can be operated on the move at speeds up to 45km/h.

Ferrari launched the world’s first ever mid-engined car with a retractable hardtop, the 458 Spider, as early as 2011<em></em>
Ferrari launched the world’s first ever mid-engined car with a retractable hardtop, the 458 Spider, as early as 2011

The third advantage is design integration. The RHT system means there is no compromise on aesthetics, aerodynamics or overall performance. When the roof is up, Ferrari’s convertibles look every bit as alluring as their coupe siblings. The hardtop technology means that undesirable wind noise is suppressed, while aerodynamic efficiency, even at high speeds, is excellent. Year-round comfort is also ensured by the strong thermal properties of the RHT.

The small amount of space required to house the folded hardtop gives Ferrari’s designers greater freedom in terms of styling, as well as providing extra practicality. For instance, in the Portofino’s RHT both the folding roof and the cover move simultaneously, folding neatly into each other, thereby leaving much more space available for the boot – in fact, the Portofino’s luggage compartment can hold two cabin trolleys with the roof down, and three when it is up.

The 488 Pista Spider is the perfect car in which to enjoy the scintillating soundtrack that the RHT opens up
The 488 Pista Spider is the perfect car in which to enjoy the scintillating soundtrack that the RHT opens up

Of course, driving a convertible is all about the experience – wind rustling around you, senses sharp to the open air – and the RHT allows this in full measure. But comfort is equally important, which is why Ferrari’s RHTs are carefully designed to minimise turbulence. Even when driving top down, the adjustable electric wind stop – fitted to every RHT-equipped Ferrari – allows passengers to favour either maximum comfort or a pure open-roof experience. Air is always perfectly diffused throughout the cockpit, enabling normal conversations to be held even at very high speeds. In the case of the 812 GTS, the rollover protection integrates a clever aerodynamic device that minimises air intrusion, but still provides that crucial experience of a pleasurable flow of air through the cabin. In addition, Ferrari engineers always pay rigorous attention to roof seals.

Having the roof open also allows one other benefit: a more intimate experience of the car’s soundtrack. Ferrari grasps this opportunity fully, honing the engine and exhaust notes specifically for its RHT models, ensuring the open-roof driving experience is matched by the perfect mechanical soundscape. Whether you choose a V8 or V12 engine, the opportunity for intimacy with the greatest motoring sounds on the planet is not to be underestimated.

 

All photographic and video content of the above article was created prior to the Covid-19 emergency and related Government decrees

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