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The Relentless Rise of Horsepower

The Ferrari power curve has been steep, from barely more than 100 cv back in 1947 to more than 1000 cv today
Words: Gavin Green / Video: Rowan Jacobs

Maranello horsepower has come a long way since 1947. Powered by a 1.5 litre Colombo V12 (the smallest V12 in history) the very first Ferrari 125 S produced 118 cv, whilst today’s SF90 Stradale delivers 1000 cv. And now, as we’ll see, the new SF90 XX takes that figure even further.

See the steep rise in Ferrari horsepower figures from back in 1947 all the way up to the present day… 

The Ferrari horsepower journey has, naturally, meant much enhanced performance. And perhaps more surprisingly, it has been accompanied by much greater driveability. Modern Ferraris are much more tractable and easier to control, especially at low revs. They are faster, even more exhilarating yet – when you want them to be – more docile, too.

But back to that horsepower curve. Over 77 years, the progress has been steep, and it’s got progressively steeper as the journey has progressed. By 1950, Ferrari V12s were producing more than 200 cv.

Ferrari’s very first car, the 1947 125 S, was powered by a 1.5 litre Colombo V12 engine which produced just 118 cv

By 1959, when the most coveted version of the 250 GT Berlinetta was unveiled – the Short Wheelbase – power was up to 280 cv. The Colombo V12 had grown to 3.0 litres and power had more than doubled, mostly because capacity had also doubled. Still, the V12 used single cam heads and two valves per cylinder and breathed through Weber carburettors, just as on that 1947 125 S.

A quad-cam V12 (double overhead cams per cylinder bank) version of the venerable Colombo engine – with much improved engine breathing – was introduced in the 275 GTB4 in 1966. A 4.4-litre version of that engine would power the 365 GTB4, alias the Daytona, which debuted in 1968. Ferrari’s most powerful road car to date, the 352 cv Daytona was more mighty warhorse than rampant pony: bigger, more muscular, a grand tourer as much as a track star, with a top speed of 280 km/h, or more than 170 mph.

The 2006 599 GTB Fiorano had a new V12 engine based on the unit used in the Enzo Ferrari supercar, and produced 620 cv – a huge increase over the 575M Maranello that preceded it

A new flat-12 engine (in essence, a 180-degree V12), derived from Formula One, came in 1971. It was first used in the 365 GT4 BB, better known as the Boxer. The ’70s were a difficult time for performance cars, as new emission regulations strangled power. However, through fuel injection and sophisticated engine management, these hurdles were soon overcome. Subsequent cars were not just cleaner than ever before, they were also faster. By the time the flat-12 appeared in the 512 TR (successor to the Testarossa), power had now comfortably breached 400 cv (428 cv, to be precise).

The limited edition F50, which was launched in 1995 and used a version of a Formula One engine, saw the 500 cv mark surpassed. The first series production car to exceed 500 cv would be the 575 M Maranello (with 515 cv) of 2002.

A much bigger leap would take place just four years later, with the 599 GTB Fiorano. Its new V12 was based on the Enzo Ferrari supercar’s unit, and maximum power increased to 620 cv. Its huge power was due to numerous technical advances (including continuous variable valve timing), a bigger 6.0-litre capacity and its willingness to rev. The car’s redline was a staggering 8400 rpm.

The same V12 engine used in the 599 GTO – but enlarged to 6.5 litres – is used in the current Purosangue, which puts out 725 cv

Today that same stunning V12 – enlarged to 6.5 litres – is used in the Purosangue, and in the 812 (Superfast and GTS), in which it produces 800 cv. Maximum revs are 8900 rpm. With 123 cv/litre, it is one of the most efficient naturally aspirated engines ever made. Technical niceties such as 350-bar direct fuel injection and variable geometry inlet tracts ensure high power and excellent pick-up, even at low revs.

But in order for Ferrari to get to 1000 cv, new technology was needed. The 963 cv LaFerrari of 2013 first showed the possibility of electric hybrid drive, as had recently been showcased in F1. In 2019, the plug-in hybrid SF90 Stradale combined a 780 cv turbo V8 and three electric motors to produce a stratospheric 1000 cv.

The SF90 XX Stradale is the most powerful road car to ever come out of Maranello

The latest SF90 XX raises that by a further 30 cv. As with the SF90 Stradale, the supplementary electric motors don’t just increase power and total performance: they help boost low-down torque and driveability. In a move that not even a visionary like Enzo Ferrari could possibly have forecast, these SF90s aren’t just the fastest and most powerful road Ferraris ever. They also have the lowest official fuel consumption and can drive emission free.

Cover image: The latest Ferrari SF90 XX Stradale produces a dizzying 1030 cv, 30 cv more than the plug-in hybrid SF90 Stradale