x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 21 July 2017

My Italian dream duo

Mike Brownhill considers himself very fortunate that he's got two cars, one for work and one for play.

Mike Brownhill with his brand-new Gran Turismo Maserati, his everyday car, and his classic 1989 red Ferrari, which he takes out at weekends, at Dubai Marina.
Mike Brownhill with his brand-new Gran Turismo Maserati, his everyday car, and his classic 1989 red Ferrari, which he takes out at weekends, at Dubai Marina.

Mike Brownhill considers himself very fortunate that he's got two cars, one for work and one for play. Very lucky indeed when you consider they're both Italian sports cars: a brand-new GranTurismo, metallic-black Maserati and a classic 1989 red Ferrari 348. It's clear to see, however, that Mike's interest goes beyond what he'd term "the bling" of owning an Italian sports car; he's passionate about what goes on under the bonnet. "Some people probably buy Ferraris because they look nice, they make them look good," he says. "But at my age I'm not bothered about that anymore, and if my wife thought I purchased a car because it made me look good, she'd probably have something to say about it!"

A lifelong fan of sports cars, Mike went straight out and bought himself one when he passed his driving test at 17, an Austin Healey Frog Eye Sprite. "They were old in the early 70s and considered an enthusiast's car in the UK, but not expensive," he recalls. Although Mike wouldn't be drawn on how much he paid for his classic Ferrari ("I might want to sell it later!"), he does point out that with an Italian sports car, it's not so much the buying of it, but the maintenance of it. "I do a lot of the work on the Ferrari myself because my enthusiasm is not just for driving the car, it's also the engineering that goes into it so the Ferrari is modified mainly for the track time I do," he explains.

Mike bought his Ferrari three years ago to use at weekends, putting his driving skills to the test at Dubai Autodrome during the monthly track days with the Ferrari Owners Club. "Mine isn't the fastest car on the track and I'm certainly not the fastest driver," he says, "but I can get it up to 200kph down the main straight." He's quick to point out that it's not all about speed. "It's about how you approach corners, how you get braking distances right and how you apply power." But when he gets it right, he says, it feels good. "It's just you, you know, seat of the pants stuff," he says.

"You get positioned into a bend right, get your speed right, hit the apex right, put the power on properly and you feel great. With the old Ferrari's sound so nice at the redline, it's a lot of fun!" The odd times Mike takes his Ferrari out on the roads, he's invariably approached with offers to buy it, at service stations, shopping malls and the like. "As it's an older car, it attracts a lot of attention and there's probably only about four or five of this model in the UAE," says Mike. "People see it and think 'I'd love to own that', but they probably don't realise how temperamental they can be."

Mike concedes that it's not a great road car because of its vintage, being built in the days when Ferraris were in the colt stage, if you like, and they didn't have the modern driving aids that owners of today's Ferraris take for granted. "My Ferrari has quite heavy steering, not power-assisted, an old-style manual gearbox and it doesn't have any electronic traction controls," he says. However, would he have traded up for a new Ferrari, with its electro-mechanical gearbox? That's a horse of a different colour.

As the managing director of a security training company, Mike travels throughout the UAE and chose the Maserati as a vehicle to drive on a daily basis. "I would have liked a new Ferrari, of course, and the Maserati is in a similar price band, but after careful consideration, I felt the Maserati would be a better car in daily traffic," he says. Mike's Maserati cost Dhs640,000 just five months ago, a couple of hundred thousand less than a Ferrari V8.

"I was looking for a car with a genuine automatic gearbox but without losing any of the sporting features. A Ferrari or a Lamborghini has a semi-manual gearbox, in that the clutch is electronically operated and you can change gears through the paddles on the steering wheel. But in stop-start traffic, they can be a little jerky." Mike's Maserati, on the other hand, is one of the very few cars that can be classed as an Italian sports car but it has the option of the automatic ZF gearbox, but gives the feeling of using a semi-manual box when you want it. "The point is that driving daily in UAE traffic, you're better off having an automatic pretending to be a semi-manual, than a semi-manual pretending to be an automatic," says Mike.

"I reckon there'll be purists out there who would disagree, but I think it's a bit tiresome on a daily basis, which is why I bought the Maserati - the ZF box mated up to a Ferrari V8 engine in a gorgeous design and a Maserati badge - it's got everything going for it! motoring@thenational.ae