James May and his Ferrari 458 Speciale


James May wavered for years over buying a limited-edition Ferrari 458 Speciale. So long, in fact, that by the time decided to bite the bullet and call his local Ferrari dealer, the order books for the car were already closed. James explains what happened next, “But then he rang the factory, which agreed to make one more – for me. Imagine that. I would own the last example of the last normally aspirated mid-engined V8 Ferrari. Yes, please, I said breathlessly.”

Just as he was patting himself on the back for securing the last ever 458 Speciale, things immediately took a turn for the worse. The new Top Gear deal fell through after Clarkson got into a tussle with a producer and May was left with a £250,000 bill for the Ferrari – and no income. “We were all three of us on the brink of a new three-year contract. I decided to reward myself with a new motor from Maranello, James says. “Then, suddenly, it had all gone. Oh cock, as I used to say when I was on telly.”

From there, things began to move ahead at a rapid pace. An invitation arrived to visit Ferrari in Maranello, and James found himself in a room that is a real-life version of one of those car configurators we all love to play with online. “A car of the type you have ordered is parked in the middle of the space. Along one wall wheels of different styles and colours are displayed. Along another are the seat options to sit in, James explains. “Books of carpet and Alcantara swatches are artfully littered around the top of an exquisite mahogany table. Multicoloured cataracts of beautiful hide cascade down walls. Painted metal panels stand in serried ranks for your inspection.  It’s an intoxicating experience. I was in there for hours, troubled only by the knowledge I couldn’t pay for any of it,” he says.

I think they may have smelt a rat when I started talking about my vision of a “tastefully austere 458 Speciale”. And then another when we arrived at the colour choices for that stripe that runs over the bonnet and roof. My dark-blue- with-gold-wheels scheme looked good with a two-tone grey one, but then I noticed the stripe costs almost exactly the same as a basic Dacia Sandero. Maybe I didn’t need the stripe. The sat nav? Yes. Reversing camera? Might as well. Nose-lift system for clearing speed humps, extra Alcantara trim on the dash, floor mats? Yes, yes, yes. When you haven’t even made provision for the colour-coded wheel centres, it’s all a bit academic.

Driving it, compared with his previous Ferrari F430, is akin to seeing TV in ultra-high definition for the first time, he says. “The Speciale is a 458 broadcast in 4k — it’s sharper all round. The downside is that to some I look even more of a knob than before — largely down to me ordering it in orange with gold wheels.” But as it turns out, there was one rather important and extremely useful option James forgot to specify.

“The first time I arrived at the garage door I rotated the mirror knob [to fold in the mirrors] and nothing happened. Later I found out that you get the folding function only if you specify it as an extra,” James says. “Each time I park I have to get out to fold the mirrors, and then get back in again.” So, that’s £250,000 for a Ferrari with manual mirrors.

But luckily for James, things are now looking up. He, along with Jeremy Clarkson and Richard Hammond, have signed a lucrative deal with Amazon, and the Speciale has rocketed in value. Good news.