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Ferrari On Ice

Ferrari builds a performance automobile that has impressive specs and can ‘walk the walk’ in the most demanding of circumstances. We know a few watches that can make the same claim.

In shocking news that will come as no surprise to our readers, the world of horological marketing is filled with hyperbole.

Sporting timepieces are touted by many brands to be the superlative solution to whatever adrenaline-rich hobbies prospective clientele partake, be it saturation diving, speedboat racing, aerobatic flying, skydiving, or extreme mountaineering. Of course, very few of us actually engage in any of these pursuits. The majority of active-lifestyle geared wristwatches end up on the wrists of desk-divers or sky-mile-accumulating business travelers at best. Not that there is anything wrong with this; we all know that buying a luxury sports watch is just as much about the feelings they give the wearer as anything else. Sporting a watch that could accompany us on more extreme adventures is plenty of justification for most of us, so we buy them and wear them with a knowing smile.

Like watches, the modern supercar industry is full of excitement-inducing advertising. Of course the capabilities of most modern sporting automobiles will never be fully explored by owners. Whether promises of blistering acceleration, skid pad figures, or ridiculous top speeds, the realities of daily life, speed limits, and Johnny Law’s watchful eyes will keep most drivers from actually being able to enjoy their cars to their full potential. Auto manufacturers know this, and rely on futuristic looks, space-age materials, and exclusivity to provide the emotional food for their owner’s appetites, making no moves to prove their prowess beyond official press releases and clever marketing materials.

But Ferrari isn’t most auto manufacturers.

For those of you who see the prancing ponies from Maranello as nothing more than overhyped and overpriced Italian muscle, you owe it to yourself to take a closer look. Ferrari’s latest people mover, the GTC4Lusso, is nothing short of a masterpiece on four wheels, and more importantly, one that can actually do what it says on the box. To prove it, Ferrari North America invited me to experience the car in the least-inviting environment imaginable, the frozen tundra of northern Quebec, to put the new all-wheel drive, four-seat grand tourer to the test…on an ice-racing track.

Exceedingly capable

Ferrari introduced the FF, its first production AWD vehicle, in 2011, and the GTC4Lusso is its much-improved successor. The latest iteration of Ferrari’s stylistically unique shooting brake is more customizable than a Bamford Watch Department TAG Heuer Monaco, and slots in near the top of their Grand Touring range with prices starting around $300K.

The front-engine 6.3L unit in the GTC4 proves Ferrari hasn't forgotten its heritage.

To be clear, these fantastic machines are already on a wait-list only basis, and preference is given to current Ferrari owners. With that out of the way, it should also be clear that this review has nothing to do with selling you on the car; Ferrari doesn’t need our help on that front. What it does have to do with is making sure that your perception of the GTC4Lusso, and Ferrari in general, is properly sorted.

In no uncertain terms, the take-away should be this: While most Ferraris will be driven lightly and pampered in climate-controlled garages, the GTC4Lusso is an exceedingly capable vehicle, in driving situations that go far beyond the rigors of occasional joyriding in Miami Beach.

As a lifelong New Englander, I’ve had my share of winter driving. I used my 1987 Audi 400CS Quattro as a makeshift snowplow in Vermont, I blew the engine on my ’94 Range Rover while using it in -35 degree temperatures to an ice-climbing event in New Hampshire, and I crashed my 1973 BMW 2002 repeatedly into snow banks while relying on the little rear wheel drive antique as winter transport in Maine. I once even built an ice-racing car, a 1994 Ford Escort wagon with a trampoline-frame roll cage and four bald tires I studded with screws by hand.

But the thought of taking an Italian super-GT with a sticker price of nearly $400K as equipped, on street tires (!) on an ice-covered racecourse surprised even me. I’ve been the lucky participant of numerous high- performance driving schools, including a memorable two-day Corso Pilota school with Ferrari, but this seemed more than a little ill advised.

Northern breeze

The Lusso performs like a much smaller and lighter sports car, both on-road and on-track.

Let me set the scene for you: Snow. Ice. A rudimentary course plowed through towering drifts over what is ostensibly a motocross course in the warmer months. An icy skid pad. A chilling northern breeze. 680hp.

Paired up one-on-one with professional instructors, my colleagues and I were handed the keys and spent a day putting the Lussos through their paces on the slick surfaces, all the while being treated to plush comfort and a soundtrack that only a Ferrari V12 can provide.

Starting off slowly, I quickly realized that not only was the GTC4 capable of this ridiculousness, but it excelled at it. Switching between drive modes (rough surface, wet, comfort, sport, ESC-off), the car would allow a certain amount of slippage while pirouetting gracefully around sharp corners, but never became unruly or unresponsive, and even with traction off completely on the icy skid pad, its all-wheel drive system and four-wheel steering made the entire experience feel effortless.

What’s particularly impressive is that unlike Ferrari’s smaller, sportier offerings, the GTC4Lusso is packaged as a rather large luxury cruiser. At nearly 195 inches in length, with a wheelbase of 118 inches and a curb weight of more than 4,200 pounds, the car is only marginally smaller than a 1984 Cadillac Fleetwood sedan. Despite these specifications, the Lusso performs like a much smaller and lighter sports car, both on-road and on-track.

While many Ferrari enthusiasts tend to think only of the brand’s mid-engine V8 offerings, the Italian marque cut its teeth on V12-powered racecars in its early years, and the front-engine 6.3L unit in the GTC4 proves they haven’t forgotten their heritage. Indeed, whereas throwing around a race track a V8 488GTB for a few hours left me supremely impressed but also exhausted, a turn behind the wheel of the Lusso conjured images of Sacha Baron Cohen driving a NASCAR racecar at speed with one finger while sipping a cup of tea in “Talladega Nights.” Except in my case, it had nothing to do with the driver’s skill.

Wrist capable?

So, what does any of this have to do with the watches you came here to read about? Like some of our favorite manufacture timepieces, everyone knows Ferraris are fast and look amazing, but few will experience just how capable they are, even when the conditions are anything but inviting. Very few of us will pilot a high-altitude reconnaissance plane at the edge of space, break the speed barrier in a skydive free fall, or plunge to the darkest depths of the ocean in an experimental submersible. But we can own the watches designed to tackle those very challenges.

And similarly, very few sports car owners will test the upper limits of what their automobiles can achieve, but like the watches capable of those extreme limits, Ferraris can do exactly what they were built to do, sensibility be damned.

Watches That Walk the Talk

Most wristwatches will never be truly tested on the claims made in their marketing materials, but here are three of our favorite purpose-built timepieces that have proven themselves in the field.

Zenith El Primero Striking 10th

The Zenith El Primero Stratos Flyback Striking 10th

In 2012, Zenith sponsored Felix Baumgartner’s record skydive attempt, getting the attention of adrenaline-junkies and timepiece enthusiasts the world over. Baumgartner went on to achieve the record, becoming the first man to break the speed of sound in a free fall from over 128,000 feet. On his wrist? The Zenith Striking 10th chronograph, which performed flawlessly. While most El-Primeros are used to time the wait at the local post office, this highlighted the timepiece’s capabilities at the very edge of space.

Rolex DeepSea Special

The Rolex Deepsea Challenge, circa 2012

Rolex has been involved with undersea exploration for decades, and the introduction of the DeepSea Challenge simultaneously paid homage to their involvement with past expeditions and a new collaboration with filmmaker/adventurer James Cameron when it was released in 2012.

The Rolex Deep Sea Special and the cockpit of the Bathyscaphe Trieste from 1960.

An example of the production watch, based on the Sea-Dweller, accompanied Cameron to the bottom of the Marianas Trench affixed to the outside of his submersible, giving it “street cred” most manufactures could only dream about. No wonder why it has become one of the most collectible pieces in Rolex’s contemporary range.

Bremont MB-II/U2

Bremont's MBII is ejection-tested.

Bremont forgoes most of the flashy marketing that other luxury brands thrive on, but their watches are indeed Tested Beyond Endurance. The MB-II line, developed in partnership with Martin Baker ejection seats, are not only chronometer certified, but are subjected to the same testing as military-grade ejection seat hardware, including vibration, altitude and extreme temperature experimentation. Bremont U2 models were developed originally on request for pilots of the legendary U2 spy plane, who regularly fly at altitudes of 80,000 feet. Credit where credit is due.

James Lamdin is the Founder of Analog/Shift, a leading vintage watch retailer based in New York City. He is also a freelance contributor to a number of automotive and horological publications.

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