Car Design

Ferrari’s Throwback 12Cilindri Is an Exercise in Tasteful, Purposeful Design

by Matteo Licata
10 May 2024 4 min read
Ferrari’s Throwback 12Cilindri Is an Exercise in Tasteful, Purposeful Design
(Photos: Ferrari)

Last week, Ferrari gave us yet more proof that whoever coined the phrase “Money can’t buy happiness” has probably never been anywhere near one of its showrooms.

Of course, most, if not all, Ferraris are special cars, almost by definition. Yet Maranello’s latest creation, the 12Cilindri, is perhaps an even more fascinating object than usual.

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On the one hand, it’s a genuine technological tour de force. It’s got active aero, independent four-wheel steering, plus a whole host of performance-enhancing electronic systems. But on the other hand, it’s also a delightfully old-fashioned proposition. After all, it’s a big front-engined, rear-wheel-drive grand tourer with a bonnet large enough to have its own zip code, and the only battery in sight is there to start up its massive engine.

And what an engine it is.

Ferrari-12Cylindri-Engine

A 6.5-litre naturally aspirated V12 that can rev up to 9500rpm is simply Ferrari doing what it does best. And with such a glorious, unapologetic tribute to the gods of internal combustion under the hood, it’s no wonder Ferrari elected to give the engine top billing, even if that meant testing its international customers’ mastery of the Italian language.

Ferrari-V12-Cylindri front three quarter silver

The new 12Cilindri picks up right where its predecessor, the 812 Superfast introduced in 2017, leaves off. But it also marks a significant and welcome step up in the aesthetic department.

In the recent past, Ferrari’s Centro Stile hasn’t been immune to the odd slip-up, and in my view, the old 812 counted among those. But over the last few years, Flavio Manzoni’s crew in Maranello really seems to have hit its stride.

2020-Ferrari-SF90 front three quarter
SF90

Beginning with the SF90 in 2019, the Prancing Horse’s styling team has knocked out a sequence of genuinely outstanding designs, from the gorgeous 296 and Roma up to and including the impressive Purosangue. The new 12Cilindri definitely is no less accomplished a design, but to fully comprehend what makes it so captivating, let’s start from the fundamentals.

As I’ve already stressed in previous articles, beauty in car design is, first and foremost, a matter of proportions. But I have to say that, in this case, Ferrari’s designers have had it easy.

Being a wide, low-slung two-seater packing a large engine placed well behind the front axle, the Ferrari 12Cilindri is the automotive equivalent of a supermodel: naturally endowed with attractive proportions. With such a technical package, Ferrari’s stylists already had all the makings of a pretty car before drawing a single line.

Still, even such a big head start won’t count for much if you don’t know what you’re doing, and one has to look no further than the Mercedes-AMG SLR to see what I mean.

Thankfully, the folks at Maranello rose to the challenge and created a perfectly sculpted volume that reminds me of one of my favourite Ferraris, the Monza SP roadster, but with a sharper, more contemporary feel. For example, I love the way the lower bodyside’s surface twists in a well-controlled manner from the front wheel arch to the rear, creating an interplay between light and shadow that visually “lightens up” the car.

I also appreciate that Ferrari’s stylists kept the car’s volume remarkably clean. In car design jargon, a “character line” is a crease on the car’s volume serving no purpose other than aesthetics. There are precious few on the 12Cilindri’s curvaceous body, and the main ones are the two running parallel and “breaking” the door’s surface just above the handle.

However, by deftly tying these lines to graphic elements such as the shutline of the clamshell hood and the front and rear lights, Ferrari’s designers have created a continuous line that “guides” our eyes around the car and puts it all together into a cohesive whole.

But, without a doubt, what stands out the most about the new Ferrari’s design is its rather bold graphics. That’s the term vehicle designers use when referring to everything that “cuts” into the car’s volume, like shutlines, air intakes, the glazing’s contours, and lights.

Ferrari-V12-Cylindri front three quarter silver

At the front of the car, Ferrari’s designers made a wise decision by using a clamshell hood instead of having unsightly shutlines cutting through the 12Cilindri’s voluptuous fenders. The trapezoidal headlight units are visually connected by a black trim piece, which certainly isn’t a novel idea but is used to great effect here, paying a tasteful homage to the full-width acrylic panel used on the legendary 365 GTB/4 Daytona.

Ferrari-V12-Cylindri high angle rear three quarter silver

By contrast, Maranello’s stylists’ approach to the 12Cilindri’s rear-end design is decidedly more radical. The two active spoilers get a black finish to visually merge with the rear window and create an arrow-like graphic on the roof. That won’t be to everyone’s taste, and it does render the 12Cilindri very colour-sensitive: Spec yours in black or any other dark shade, and it’ll all become nearly invisible.

Still, if you really don’t like it, Ferrari has you covered.

Ferrari-V12-Cylindri group

In a surprising break from usual practise, the company presented the spider variant alongside the coupe. When closed, the retractable roof panel fits seamlessly with a pair of flying buttresses to give the 12Cilindri Spider a similar profile to is hardtop stablemate. The two active rear spoilers and the small decklid between them still get a contrasting black finish, but the effect isn’t nearly as convincing as on the coupe.

Italians are known to take great pride in Ferrari and its successes. And, being a citizen of this small country in the middle of the Mediterranean, I’ll confess that I’m no exception. Moreover, as an enthusiast who has witnessed the near-terminal decline of Italy’s volume car industry over the last few decades, the fact that there’s still a small company in Maranello building some of the world’s finest rides does indeed give me some solace.

Just like nearly everyone else, I’ll never own any Ferrari, let alone a 12Cilindri. But I’m glad it exists, and rest assured that when one of these roars past me in traffic, you’ll find me smiling and gazing longingly at its curves while I think: “We’ve still got it!”

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