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MONTEREY, Calif.—”Let me tell you about the very rich. They are different from you and me.” Those words were written by F. Scott Fitzgerald back in 1926, and they remain true almost a century later. It's certainly true when it comes to cars, where having a telephone number bank balance opens doors to machinery that the rest of us only ever get close to in video games. Recently, I got a chance to take a peek behind that curtain at the historic Laguna Seca racetrack in California.
Once upon a time, the supercar was the top of the tree, and cars like the McLaren F1 and Ferrari Enzo re-wrote the rules on how fast a car could go and how much it would cost. Before too long, that kind of performance trickled down—even a Tesla P100D will beat either of those cars in a race to 100mph, for example—and so we got the hypercar.
Carbon fiber hybrids with around 1,000hp on tap and seven-digit price tags became the new apex predators of the car world, but for some, even these are now too common, too pedestrian. So what do you do if you've got several million dollars burning a hole in your pocket and you want to go fast, really, really fast? For a certain kind of person, the answer is, you call up Ferrari and ask about its Corsa Clienti program.
Ferrari's XX program got started in 2005 when the company decided to offer a small number of its best (and possibly most demanding) clients something a little more hardcore than its then-range-topping Enzo supercar. Thus was born the FXX, which dropped any pretense at street legality to instead incorporate some technowizardry from its all-conquering Formula 1 program. An XX variant of the front-engined 599 appeared in 2009, then a 599XX Evoluzione, then more recently the LaFerrari-derived FXX-K, and now FXX-K Evo hybrids. Obviously if you have to ask the price you can't afford it, but don't expect much change from $3 million.
That is, by any stretch of the imagination, an extravagant amount of money to spend on a car, particularly one you can't drive to the shops and back. The Corsa Clienti program is fearsomely strict when it comes to the privacy of those clienti, but I was able to sit down with Ferrari's Filippo Petrucci, who runs the program, to find out more.
“[The XX Clienti] program is very exclusive, to have a direct deal from the customer to the factory. We are a manufacturer, we are not the dealer. So the feedback I have from my customers about the car, I can give directly to the design office,” he told Ars. “I'll give you an example: when we released the FXX-K, there was the project to do the Evo version, which now we have. And before we start the project with the people that actually saw the design office in Maranello, I had the goal to interview our customers and ask them what would you do to this car. ‘OK, you're handing this car, what you like to do better, what do you wish to have?' And obviously, when the car was done, the Evo most have the new implementation comes from suggestion.”
I'd read previously about how Ferrari was using the XX Clienti program to improve its future cars. I had imagined that the customer feedback was along the lines of chassis balance or perhaps the intervention limits for Ferrari's Side Slip Control (SSC) electronic driver aid. It turns out I was overthinking it.
“For example, the steering wheel: someone was complaining about the wheel not being enough of a racing steering wheel, [but instead more] like the street version of the Ferrari steering wheel. Following the suggestion of our customer, we decided to put a proper racing steering wheel in like in the GTE, GT3 cars. Now there's a proper racing wheel,” Petrucci explained. “Or, someone was complaining about some layout in the cars— ‘Well, we prefer to have this switch in another position.' We really got to their suggestion, and we try to follow as much as possible their suggestions, which is quite unique [for a car manufacturer].”
<p><em>Listing image by Jonathan Gitlin</em>