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The science behind the fun of the 296 GTB: The Michael Leiters interview

Ferrari’s Chief Technology Officer answers our questions on the revolutionary wide-angle V6 – and reveals his nickname for the new engine
Words – Ben Pulman

Tell us about the new V6 engine of the 296 GTB  it’s quite a departure from the past?

Not as much as you might think – the very first mid-engined Ferraris sported V6 engines. To begin with there was an experimental single-seater in 1960 as we prepared for new Formula 1 rule changes, and in 1961 our first mid-engined sports car and our new F1 car also had V6 engines. The sports car, the 246 SP, won amongst others the Targa Florio both that same year and in 1962. And in 1961, Ferrari also secured its first Constructors’ title in the Formula 1 World Championship with the 156 F1, which was powered by a unique 120° V6.

Ferrari also first installed turbos between an engine’s cylinder banks 40 years ago on the 126 CK, and subsequently on the 126 C2 in 1982, which became the first turbo-charged car to win the Formula 1 Constructors’ World Championship title. This was followed up with a second title in 1983 with the 126 C3. Lastly, V6 turbo hybrid architecture has been used on all Formula 1 single-seaters since 2014. 

Even with the V6 at low revs, inside the cabin the harmonics are pure V12

TOFM: But this is the first six-cylinder engine installed on a road car sporting the Prancing Horse badge?

ML: Correct – and it really is a revolution for Ferrari, as the 296 GTB introduces a new engine type to flank our multi-award-winning eight- and 12-cylinder power units. This new V6 has been designed and engineered from a clean sheet specifically for this installation and is the first Ferrari to feature the turbos installed inside the vee. 

With the wide, 120° angle between the cylinder banks, aside from bringing significant advantages in terms of packaging, lowering the centre of gravity and reducing engine mass, this particular architecture helps deliver extremely high levels of power. The result is that the new V6 has set a new specific power output record for a production car of 221cv per litre –  this is a world record, and without turbo lag!

Furthermore, the new 663cv V6 is coupled with an electric motor capable of delivering a further 122 kW (167 cv). The combined maximum power output is 830cv, putting the 296 GTB at the top of the rear-wheel-drive sports car segment.

The 296 GTB is the first Ferrari to feature turbos installed inside the vet of the V6 engine

TOFM: How have you combined the electric motor and battery into the 296 GTB?

ML: The electric motor is powered by a battery with the best specific power-weight ratio in the automotive industry, and this allows us to have a 25km electric range – this is the first ever Ferrari with a rear-wheel drive-only PHEV (Plug-in Hybrid Electric Vehicle.

The transition between electric and hybrid modes is fundamental to the sports car characteristics of the 296 GTB, and this is why a power management selector (eManettino) has been adopted alongside the traditional Manettino. The eManettino has four positions: eDrive, Hybrid, Performance, and Qualify. 

This V6 earned itself the nickname 'piccolo V12' (Little V12) during the development phase

TOFM: We hear you have a nickname for the new engine…

ML: (Laughs). We do! This V6 earned itself the nickname “piccolo V12” (little V12) during the development phase. It is the first engine in the F163 family, and sound-wise it rewrites the rulebook by harmoniously combining two characteristics that are normally diametrically opposed: the force of the turbos and the harmony of the high-frequency notes of a naturally-aspirated V12. 

Even at low revs, inside the cabin, the soundtrack features the pure V12 orders of harmonics which then, at higher revs, guarantee that typical high-frequency treble. These characteristics are what lend such purity to the orders of harmonics, which are further helped by a limiter that hits an impressive 8500 rpm. 

Sound is so important, and together with perceived acceleration and a go-kart feeling, they are the three ways we can measure and design the 296 GTB to be “Fun to Drive”. This feeling was the key target when developing our new berlinetta.