Celebrities with tops off

Lenny Ann Low turns heads on a high-octane drive along country lanes and coastal cliffs.

The most amazing thing about hiring a Ferrari F430 Spider on a sunny afternoon and whisking through the countryside is not its speed, livery, reputation or staggering price tag. It's that the rental company has actually allowed me behind the wheel.

A first-time driver of the supercar, I am roaring along with a fleet of red Ferraris on one of Prancing Horse's chaperoned "drive days": a two-day round trip from Sydney to Gerringong on the South Coast. In front of me are a 2002 360 Spider, a 1998 F355 Spider and a 1988 328 GTS.

If, like me, these car names mean little more to you than jumbled numbers and letters, try to imagine the following: three low, wide and impossibly sleek convertibles and a coupe in racing red, all reeking of Italian style and all banishing thoughts of practicality, demureness and frugality.

Ferraris are the cars of film stars, formula one drivers, footballers and financiers (global financial crisis permitting). Tom Selleck threw one around in the 1980s television series Magnum P.I. and such notable Ferrari lovers as David Beckham, Steve McQueen, Brigitte Bardot and Miles Davis have fallen for the Italian stallion.

The long, low and undulating body design demands the driver get in and out as if negotiating a lilo but, once inside and sitting low to the ground, it's akin to manning a rocket.

We rumble through the Royal National Park, then burst out beside a glittering ocean and panoramic views at Bald Hill lookout at Stanwell Tops. I have never driven an expensive fast car but their appeal is beginning to make sense.

With Prancing Horse director Walter Szyszka leading the convoy, we snake over undulating coastal and country roads with a manoeuvrability and ease that, not three hours before, had seemed impossible to this first-time Ferrari driver.

The trip starts at Prancing Horse's Marrickville headquarters, where we meet the Ferraris. Like encountering a celebrity, I worry about acting normally in their company. Surely I'll make a fool of myself behind the wheel. Szyszka, operations manager Robert Felato and race engineer Matt Thio give a short briefing about the cars, requesting affably that we stay together on the road, obey the speed limit and not overtake the lead car.


Then there's a short, nervous test drive on the empty road out the front. The option of driving an automatic helps, as does Felato's low-pressure driving advice. "See how beautiful it is?" he says when I return. He's right but I leave almost all of the first day's driving to my husband.

At Bald Hill, we swap from the 360 to the 328 and motor across Sea Cliff Bridge, the stunning section of Lawrence Hargrave Drive, or Grand Pacific Drive as it is known, that sweeps impressively over the edges of the Tasman Sea.

Parked outside the Scarborough Hotel for a seaside lunch, our five resting Ferraris provoke attention reaching celebrity levels. Later, even cows look up as the convoy approaches the weaving, sun-dappled climb through Macquarie Pass and beyond, to extraordinary panoramic views at the Illawarra Fly Tree Top Walk.

The fear of wrangling an automobile worth more than my home fades and the drive becomes an exercise in appreciation.

My nervous test drive on a side road had revealed little of the Ferrari engine's extraordinary sound - a deep, fighting growl that changes subtly depending on which car we drive. The 328, the oldest of the fleet, becomes our favourite. Until, that is, I get a taste of the newest car, the $400,000 2006 F430.

After a wine-tasting visit via a stretch Hummer to Coolangatta Estate Winery at Shoalhaven Heads and a comfortable stay at Bellachara Boutique Hotel in Gerringong - the Ferraris parked like trophies in the car park - we turn back to Sydney.

At one of the designated car-swap stops, I slide into the F430. Reaching the Sea Cliff Bridge, I push down on the throttle and the sensation of speed moves through my arms and into my torso with a tingling wallop. It is beyond exhilarating. A car that leaps at the road, then hugs it tenaciously, gives those inside the leather-trimmed cabin the feeling they are being whisked rather than beaten by the engine.

We encounter roadworks and a man holding a stop sign. I brake quickly; rather than a jolting halt, the car comes to a standstill with ease. Unlike many other, highly strung celebrities, this one behaves impeccably.

Lenny Ann Low travelled courtesy of Prancing Horse Car Rentals and Tourism Wollongong.


Prancing Horse Ferrari Drive Days Australia is an overnight drive package along Grand Pacific Drive, from Sydney to Gerringong, for $1375 a person or $2750 a couple, including the chance to drive four different Ferraris, all meals and an overnight stay at Bellachara Boutique Hotel. Prancing Horse also offers a Grand Pacific Drive day tour for $880 a person, with breakfast and lunch. Phone 1300 307 050 or see prancinghorse.com.au.