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Blood-Pumping Performance

We put rubber to the road with the 488 Pista, Ferrari’s most powerful production automobile. And, here are a few new watches to match Ferrari’s high performance.

Cars and wristwatches are, for the most part, mechanical things that get the blood of like-minded enthusiasts beating – be it to the tune of a twin-scroll turbocharged V8 or a high-beat column-wheel chronograph.

Judging by the fact that auto manufacturers continue to ask me to cover their products in wristwatch-centric media, and similarly, that wristwatch-centric editors continually allow me to create this coverage (thanks, Gary!) there can be little doubt that the Venn diagrams outlining their respective collector communities is overlapping more and more.

And with numerous watch/automotive collaborations being rolled out annually – from Hublot’s Big Bang Ferrari collection to the Breitling clocks that adorn the dashboards of Bentley Continentals, the power players in both spaces similarly recognize the innate connection of their mechanical products.

Of course, not every automobile gets the blood pumping the same way as a Ferrari can. And not every Ferrari gets the blood pumping like the 488 Pista, Ferrari’s newest high performance model.

A (prancing) horse of a different color

The 488 Pista is Ferrari’s latest in a line of thoroughbred performance specials. It builds on the successful formula of developing ‘hot’ versions of production model cars that are a slot above the standard model in terms of power and handling, yet are powered just below the track-only variants that aren’t street-legal. Its recent ancestors include the 360 Challenge Stradale, 430 Scuderia, and 458 Speciale. But its lineage and raison d être reaches back decades to Ferrari’s nearly unrivaled motorsports heritage in sportscar and Formula I championships.

Building on the superb 488GTB platform, the Pista version offers enhanced aerodynamics, rigidity, downforce, and the best power-to-weight ratio of any production Ferrari in history.

Building on the superb 488GTB platform, the Pista version offers enhanced aerodynamics and the best power-to-weight ratio of any production Ferrari in history.

Read that again. In history!

Test drive

Given the opportunity to test this new vehicle in both street and track driving conditions, I was immediately struck by just how powerful this thing is. I have been the lucky recipient of both street and track driving experiences in a number of high performance cars over the years, including the Pista’s predecessor, the 488GTB. I once described that car as a ‘precision instrument’ – and it was…and is – but after a day with the Pista version, I can honestly say that the latter is on an entirely different level.

Blistering acceleration and unbelievably responsive handling and brakes that will cause your eyes to bulge out of your head are all by-products of this brilliant engineering triumph.

The 488 Pista is Ferrari’s most powerful production automobile.

Passing rainstorms at Miami’s Homestead Speedway kept us from getting all the track time we were originally allotted, and I found myself strangely relieved. A few more hours in that car and I might have thrown away my wildly successful career as a hack automotive journalist and signed on as pit crew for one of the Corso Pilota instructors, joined his traveling circus, eating nothing but beef jerky… just in hopes for the occasional shakedown lap handout.

Addictive would be putting it mildly. And so, so good.

As for the street-drive portion of the program, well, let me just put it like this: After completing a thirty-minute loop, I immediately got out of the car, handed the keys to my press contact, and asked – nay, begged– him never to give me the chance to drive one on a public road again. Forget just losing my driver’s license. One traffic stop in that beastie could have only resulted in a ‘go directly to jail’ scenario, with no stopping and no collecting $200.

I kid, but not really. The inherent danger of a vehicle such of this doesn’t come to life and limb. Its incredible onboard safety systems, traction control, and customizable drive modes will see to that.

Inside the Ferrari 488 Pista, where you'll find incredible onboard safety systems, traction control and customizable drive modes.

It comes from the fact that roads – and laws – aren’t up to even the starting capabilities of this incredible vehicle. So while this car was built to be the perfect version of a street-legal track car, roads in this country are simply not up to the task. Don’t blame the car for the world’s shortcomings.

In conclusion, the Ferrari 488 Pista is without a doubt the most exciting and dynamic thoroughbred vehicle I have ever had the opportunity to flog. It is nothing short of superb, and while it may be better suited for hot laps around your local cement playground than for a trip to the grocery store, for those who have the means – and the desire – it can, and will do both.

Performance for your wrist

Like the 488 Pista, there are some fantastically over-engineered new timepieces hitting dealers this year. Featuring high-performance movements, avant-garde designs, and space-age materials, these wristwatches are enthusiast specials that would be right at home in its cabin.

Hublot Classic Fusion Ferrari GT 3D Carbon

Hublot Classic Fusion Ferrari GT 3D Carbon

While wristwatch co-branding associations with Ferrari have involved numerous partners and go back to the 1950s, no manufacture outside Hublot has done a better job of getting into the mindset of pushing performance and technology – keystones of Ferrari’s own mission – into the wristwatch space. For their latest model, the Classic Fusion Ferrari GT 3D Carbon, Hublot worked closely with Centro Stile Ferrari for design and development, and the resulting carbon–cased chronograph truly feels worthy of the prancing horse logo on the dial. Powered by a Hublot Unico movement with column wheel flyback chronograph mechanism, this timepiece has horses under the hood too.

Zenith Defy El Primero 21 Carbon

The 488 Pista makes generous use of carbon fiber for weight-saving measures, so it should come as no surprise that one of our favorite new watches – the Zenith Defy – would make this list. Featuring the same retro-styled case language introduced in 2017, the Defy 21 Carbon looks positively futurist when clad in this ultra-light composite material. With two escapements, one for the chronograph mechanism and one for regular timekeeping, the Defy absolutely checks the box for next-level engineering and design. Properly fitting for a astronaut – and a racecar driver.

Ulysse Nardin Freak NeXt

To say that Ulysse Nardin has ever done anything pedestrian would be a bit misleading. But the new Freak NeXt, introduced earlier this year, perhaps perfectly illustrates exactly why the brand is known for thinking – and designing – out of the box. A design study in next-generation movements, Ulysse Nardin makes judicious use of titanium and silicon materials, as well as an entirely new gearing system referred to as the Grinder – all with an eye towards increased accuracy and efficiency in the escapement. Currently being touted as a one-off concept watch, there is little doubt that UN will find a way to incorporate this experimental technology into the next generation of horological machines. Oh, did we mention that large portions of the case glow in the dark? Freaky.

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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