I’m the type of person for whom the distinguishing feature of a car is its colour. I empathise with the girl at a dinner party who, when asked what kind of cars she liked replied, offhandedly, “Oh any old thing so long as it gets me from A to B” only to later discover that she had been speaking to Ayrton Senna.
But when I was offered a ride in a Ferrari recently, I swallowed the urge to ask what colour it was. There is only one Ferrari available for hire in South Africa and it’s a 2003 model 550 Maranello. In silver. I knew, because I’d looked it up.
I could hear it coming up the road. It’s distinctive roar stood out even to my unattuned ear – all the normal cars of Woodstock were reduced to little squeaking mice in comparison. It wasn’t Tom Selleck behind the wheel (I guess I couldn’t have it all now, could I?) but co-owner of Status Luxury Vehicles, Antony Ashley, who had kindly offered to take me for a spin.
I felt I ought to attempt to look the part and had found a scarf and, on a dusty shelf in the bathroom, a slightly wonky pair of Jackie O type sunglasses. But all elegance went out the window as I folded myself awkwardly off the pavement and into the passenger seat.
Encased in a soft leather bucket I was already too out of my depth even to give coherent directions, and we inadvertently ended up in a rather grimy part of Observatory, nose-to-tail with clapped out student cars. A couple of well-timed revs of the Ferrari engine had the effect of a ray gun, and all vehicles around us simply melted to the side to let us through. I tried to be embarrassed but was really rather thrilled.
And suddenly we were on the M3. Wheel of Death-like, my head was pressed back into the leather headrest as Antony’s foot went down on the accelerator. As we dodged and weaved and roared our way through the other cars in a stretch five lanes wide, Antony raised his voice over the engine. “This is where all the fast cars are test-driven” he explained, as we veered around a Toyota Tazz with seven people in it. “Great view of Cape Town, isn’t it?” he continued. Obediently I swivelled my eyes in their sockets to look at the view flashing by. “Snffsnsffnnnngg”.
We were a silver blur as we flew along De Waal Drive towards town. Along this road the glare of the hard, wide tarmac is softened by the wild grasses waving either side and, hugging the contours of the lower slopes to the mountain, it offers an awesome vista over the city from a steady stream of undulating curves. I’ve heard grown men speak rapturously of its perfect cambers, its faultless surface. According to Antony, Jeremy Clarkson himself has declared South Africa’s roads to be amongst the best in the world and here were we, driving one of the best of the best… in a Ferrari. It was an open invitation, really, wasn’t it? I tried to ease my foot off the imaginary brake in my footwell.
Within minutes we were zipping effortlessly up the steep hill to Camps Bay, a speedboat cutting through a lake of pedaloes. We turned sharply at the saddle to head down Kloof Road – a road that, cut into the side of Lion’s Head mountain, careers downhill towards Clifton in a series of hairpin bends.
‘Hugging the road’ is an expression that is commonly used for cars though not, I think, any I have ever driven. Now that I was actually feeling it in action, I could be sure of that. It was really quite an extraordinarily new sensation for me – a Spiderman-like grip that provided a fig leaf of reassurance for my naked fear as we flew downhill at warp speed.
It was real James Bond stuff. At any moment I was convinced we would either crash into the cliff face or fly off the side of the mountain if we didn’t hit another car first. My heart was in my mouth and my stomach was in knots. I screamed, but I think only dogs heard.
We roared into Camps Bay and slid into a spot that seemed reserved for us, bang in front of Café Caprice, hang-out of the cool and sophisticated. All faces were on us as, fumbling the opening mechanism, I fell out of the car on all fours. Standing slowly, I tugged at my cheap nylon dress and adjusted my ridiculous shades. Gratefully accepting the offer of a juice from the gracious Antony, I felt my way to a table in the corner.
From the safety of a gloriously stationary chair it was fun to watch the attention that the car drew. It was almost cartoon-like. Not one, but two separate people walked into a lamppost before they could tear their eyes away from the Ferrari’s sleek lines.
I must admit, despite my wilful ignorance of cars, I could see the attraction. I’d known that it was beautiful and pretty darn speedy but now, having been inside, I understood that the throaty growl of the engine had a Barry White quality that takes a body and vibrates it at just the right pitch to make all the clothes fall off.
I tugged at my dress again and decided I must watch some reruns of Magnum P.I.