Ferrari Enzo VS. McLaren F1

Comparing the ultimate supercars is much like comparing the various attributes of the world’s top supermodels: It’s all about what fantasy turns your crank, as few of us mere mortals will ever get to test drive the cars or date the models. Those few who own both an Enzo and an F1 will tell you straight-off that the performance level of either car is so high that only professional drivers can explore and compare the limits.

THE CHAMP: MCLAREN F1—Developed by McLaren Cars and designer Gordon Murray, the motivation behind the F1 was to build the best street car ever, regardless of cost. The design goal was to create the highest power-to-weight ratio possible in a user-friendly, road-worthy machine. To this end, the McLaren F1 was the first road car to use a complete carbon fiber chassis and body with lightweight composites and exotic metals throughout. A magnesium-cast BMW engine mated to a very lightweight (and very expensive) transverse gearbox further helped weight savings.

The F1 is surprisingly small on the outside, but it actually seats three people, with two passengers flanking a center-positioned driver. The driving position is difficult to get used to, but it makes for an ideal weight distribution. Appropriately, the first two pages of the owner’s manual are entitled “getting in” and the next two cover “getting out.”

Once you master entry, the McLaren’s controls fall perfectly to hand, with the shifter to the right at four o’clock. The panoramic view from the wrap-around windshield and the gauges’ big, bold numbering on a white background are a study in efficiency. But despite the excellent ergonomics, the McLaren dash layout and shifter feel dated, especially when compared with the cutting-edge styling of the Enzo.

Behind the wheel, the steering and brakes are on the heavy side, but with incredible feedback, as should be expected, while the 6.1-liter V12 gives staggering performance, with torque that never ends, in any gear, at any time. Fifth is absolutely usable from 35 mph all the way up to 210—the push just increases astronomically as the revs rise.

McLaren chose to reject technology like power steering, power-assisted brakes, anti-lock brakes, traction control, and stability control, all well known and accessible at the time by virtue of its relationship with the McLaren Formula One race team. But really, only the ABS is missed—and how—as it takes a top-level racing driver to feather the brakes on this car in the wet or a panic situation. Even so, the savings in weight with all the electronics absent is huge: The F1 weighs a mere 2,500 pounds, vs. 3,230 for the Enzo.

For all that it “lacks,” the car does incorporate active aerodynamics, with a pair of lightweight fans that suck air from diffusers under the car so that no huge rear wing is needed to maintain stability at speed though a small tail spoiler does rise to lend some rear downforce.

Your greatest fear when driving an F1 is that the car is simply so good that it eggs you on to drive faster and faster, entering a performance fantasy land that can bite back when you exceed your own talents.

THE CHALLENGER: FERRARI ENZO—The Enzo is certainly Ferrari’s best effort in the supercar wars to date, but it still comes up second in the running for the fastest car title. Styled by Pininfarina, the Enzo is built to resemble a Formula One racecar, but without McLaren’s hell-bent-for-speed attention to maximizing power-to-weight. The result is that the Enzo tries too hard to merge the design of a road car with an open-wheeled racer, and at least to my eyes, the styling suffers, especially when compared to Ferrari’s previous efforts, the much more attractive F40 and F50.

As is now standard practice in most supercars, the Enzo’s chassis is made of carbon fiber, while the bodywork uses a combination of aluminum and carbon fiber. Huge air intakes allow the Enzo to generate immense downforce, while a small retractable rear spoiler comes up at speeds in excess of 100 mph. The cab-forward interior sports lots of carbon fiber, a semi-automatic six-speed gearbox, launch control, and a variable damping suspension for luxury cruising.

The Enzo’s 6.0-liter, naturally aspirated V12 can rev to 8,000 rpm, yet 80 percent of its torque comes in at only 3,000. In keeping with the lightweight theme, its V12 is one of the lightest in the world at just 496 pounds. By comparison, the 427-ci engine in the Cobra weighed 680 pounds.

Stocked with all the latest high-tech gizmos adapted from its own F1 racing program, the Enzo is a techie’s dream. Advanced technology like stability control, electronic brake-force distribution, traction control, and ABS keep the car in check, making it more user-friendly than the McLaren. The Enzo also has a driver-controlled, up-down lift in the front, which takes the crunch out of getting in and out of driveways.

THE PERFORMANCE VERDICT—The numbers tell the story: While the stock F1 has a “mere” 627 hp versus the Enzo’s 650, and the McLaren must make do with 479 ft-lbs of torque versus the Ferrari’s 485 (not to mention a redline of just 7,500 rpm for the F1 against the Enzo’s 8k limit), its smaller mass puts the McLaren out ahead. The Enzo is a leaden 717 pounds heavier than the F1.

The McLaren goes from 0–60 mph in 3.2 seconds; the Ferrari in 3.5 seconds. The McLaren’s 0–100 mph time is 6.3 seconds, while the Ferrari takes 6.6 seconds. And finally, 0–150 mph in the McLaren takes just 12.8 seconds while the Ferrari is a few tenths back at 13.1.

The Enzo’s front-end aerodynamics and many high-tech gizmos weigh the car down to the point that top speed is only an estimated 218 mph, well below the McLaren’s documented 240 mph. Yes, the F1 is still the fastest road car of all time, even with its decade-old technology.

While the F1’s mid- and high-speed acceleration easily beats the Enzo, a factor of its much lighter weight, all who have driven both cars will agree that the huge, state-of-the-art ceramic disc brakes of the Ferrari easily surpass the McLaren’s steel brakes.

The McLaren F1 was a successful attempt to build the best road car ever, regardless of costs, while the Enzo was always intended to make money for Ferrari, which it most certainly has. This, by its very nature, creates entirely different production criteria: While the build quality of the Enzo is good, the McLaren is simply perfect.

Exclusivity is in the F1’s favor as well, with only 64 road-going cars built, against 399 Enzos (plus six to ten pre-production prototypes that will eventually find their way into private hands). This makes the ultrarich buyer’s odds of meeting anther Enzo on the street versus meeting another F1 a healthy six-to-one, causing the Ferrari to seem almost “common.”

MONEY TALKS—Maintenance costs on both cars are staggering, though doubtless their owners are not concerned with the shop bills. An F1 will need a new clutch every 3,000 to 6,000 miles, at a cool $12,000. Its $25,000 fuel cell needs replacing every five years. A starter motor replacement is a 90-hour job, as the engine has to be removed, and that runs $12,000. Should you break the transverse transaxle, expect a $100k repair bill.

As for the Enzo, they are all still under warranty but soon enough that will change and many Ferrari service managers will go shopping for new luxury boats. Once off warranty, a full brake job with new carbon fiber pads ($2,300 front and $2,100 rear) and rotors ($7,400 each) will be in the $40,000 range, while a new clutch assembly should cost only a modest $6,000.

The ultimate test of the cars is, of course, the market. The first U.S.-spec Enzo sold on the private market brought $1,350,000, but prices have been dropping and the current “ask” is in the $1,150,000 range, while the actual “sell” is certainly less. In the next few months, almost every U.S.-spec Enzo is due to pass its one-year, “you-can’t-sell” date imposed by Ferrari, and I personally know of six owners who are planning on putting their cars on the market. This will only further drive down prices.

Only a few McLaren F1s change hands every year, with the last recorded sale at the Christie’s auction in London on Dec. 2, 2003, for $1,257,750. (See English Profile, page 48.) Christie’s sold another F1 for $961,875 on June 16, 2003. While the Enzo may have the market edge as of this moment, the F1 has clearly passed the test of time, and should appreciate, while the Enzo loses value, albeit slowly, for the next ten years or so. In the long haul, the difference in production numbers means the F1 will always be worth more than the Enzo. How much more? At least 25 percent, in my book.

Both the McLaren F1 and Ferrari Enzo are cars few ever see, let alone drive or ride in, not to mention own. While I’m a Ferrari guy at heart, it simply must be said that the F1 is the fastest, most expensive and most exclusive supercar I’ve ever had the opportunity to drive. And either would certainly be welcome in my garage.