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The 12Cilindri  Drawn to the future

With the new 12Cilindri, Ferrari has invented a radical new design language. We speak to the design team to get the inside line on its place in Ferrari’s proud lineage of iconic V12 front-mid-engined models, and understand its radically futuristic design ethos
Words: Chris Rees

Like spoken tongues, design languages usually evolve slowly; but in the case of the new 12Cilindri, Ferrari’s design team has created a completely new, bold, radical language. The expressiveness of the new design lexicon is unlike anything that has gone before. Indeed, the 12Cilindri makes an audacious statement, especially when one considers how it fits into the hallowed line of Ferrari V12 front-mid-engined two-seaters that stretches right back to the birth of the marque in 1947, and encompasses such iconic models as the 250 GT SWB, 365 GTB/4 ‘Daytona’, 550 Maranello and 812 Superfast.

The 12Cilindri's front-end may nod to the classic Ferrari Daytona, but the design of this latest model is more focused on function informing form than it is with celebrating the marque's past glories

Ferrari is of course informed by its illustrious past, but is never constrained by it. The new 12Cilindri boldly writes its own design story with a completely fresh language, says Flavio Manzoni, Ferrari Chief Design Officer. “With the Ferrari 12Cilindri, we wanted to radically transform the stylistic codes of Ferrari’s previous mid-front-engined V12s. It marks a clear departure from the sculptural language of its predecessor. One of the objectives was to explore design languages only tangentially related to the car world.”

To appreciate the 12Cilindri’s design, it is vital to understand the context of the new model within Ferrari’s line-up, says Andrea Militello, Head of Sports Cars Exterior Design. “At launch, the 812 Superfast was the most powerful, highest performing car in the Ferrari range. That’s not the case anymore, because the SF90 Stradale and SF90 XX Stradale – with 1000 cv and 1030 cv respectively – have since usurped it. That opened new opportunities to explore a more sophisticated approach, a more holistic approach, rather than being all about performance and the communication of sportiness.

The 12Cilindri boasts an entirely new design language. "It marks a clear departure from the sculptural language of its predecessor," says Flavio Manzoni, Ferrari Chief Design Officer

Militello continues: “The 12Cilindri has a very strong legacy but the inspiration is definitely not from the past. Instead, we took a disruptive approach, to take this car and project it far into the future, almost a spaceship design, almost sci-fi.”

In the 12Cilindri can be seen a new formal design rigour, a more functional approach to form. For example, the wings are muscular yet also express a clear geometric precision, while the flanks sweeping back along the length of the car are ultra-clean.

From left: the 12Cilindri's exterior and interior are sketched out, while colour and material combinations are discussed by experts at the Ferrari Styling Centre

One of the key elements in the design team’s scrupulously forward-thinking approach is the nose, which eliminates any form of traditional grille-and-lights ‘face’ in favour of a single wraparound band that incorporates all the lighting functions, and from which the daytime running lights emerge like blades.

The notion that this is a mere reinterpretation of the legendary Ferrari 365 GTB/4 ‘Daytona’ and its Plexiglass headlight covers is dismissed by Andrea: “The fact that there is a link between these two models is of course not by mistake, but the idea is not that we’re in love with the Daytona, and wanted to put that feature on the car at all costs. It’s more about function informing form, which is as valid for Ferrari today as it ever was. This approach has also been used to interpret the cabin shape, the geometrical bridge connecting the two rear wings, and the rear screen that is as one with the rear lighting system.”

From left: the clay modelling of the 12Cilindri is a delicate, time-consuming process, but produces spectacular results. Flavio Manzoni checks progress with Andrea Militello (far right)

Flavio Manzoni highlights the rear end design as especially significant: “Here we find what is possibly the Ferrari 12Cilindri’s signature theme, demonstrating how we have been able to meld technical and functional demands with beauty. Two active aerodynamic flaps are integrated with the rear screen, creating a signature delta theme.”

The coupe’s sister model, the 12Cilindri Spider, also adopts the same ‘form follows function’ approach, with a similar black element that links the rear end with the aerodynamic flaps, while the two buttresses that sweep down to the tail echo the expressiveness of the car’s flanks.

In the 12Cilindri, then, Ferrari design expresses itself in a completely fresh way, one that eschews nostalgia and embraces radical new thinking. An approach that, more than ever, demonstrates Ferrari’s bold vision.