The One Thing the Ferrari 458 Speciale Was Missing

ferrari 458 speciale
The One Thing the Ferrari 458 Was MissingDW Burnett
ferrari 458 speciale
The Speciale is the more engaging of 458 models. This Speciale is even more engaging. DW Burnett

The Ferrari 458 Speciale is damn near perfect. Naturally, Jeff Segal had to change it, waving the magic wand that Ferrari overlooked: a ­manual transmission.

This story originally appeared in Volume 22 of Road & Track.

My first sip of the 458 Speciale came at Fiorano in 2013. Like a bright-red aperitivo, its bracing flavor haunted me for months. No one imagined it then, but this 597-hp distillation of a standard 458 Italia would be the last naturally aspirated Ferrari V-8 in series production, a raging supercar diva with the lungs of Maria Callas. I wrote that the Speciale—built from 2013 to 2015 in coupe and convertible Aperta forms—would enter history as one of the company’s greats. That prediction gained traction when the 488GTB arrived. This next-gen berlinetta seemed flat in comparison, its voice auto-tuned into submission by turbocharging.


Segal, a professional racer who drove Ferraris to class wins at Le Mans and Daytona, was also seduced by the Speciale’s 9000-rpm song. His Modificata outfit spent three and a half years reengineering a 458 Speciale, exchanging its dual-clutch gearbox for a six-speed manual of the clickety-clack gated variety. That straw stirred the drink in some of Maranello’s most classic concoctions, from the 275GTB of 1964 to the F40.

ferrari 458 speciale
Once a staple of Ferrari interiors, the gated manual shifter makes one last stand in this 458 Speciale.DW Burnett

My reunion with the Speciale takes place at a Connecticut coffee shop, and time hasn’t dimmed its slinky-hipped appeal. No time to waste or paddles to thwack: It’s time to remember everything I’ve forgotten about heel-and-toeing a Ferrari, here with an AP Racing pedal box and carbon-ceramic brakes from a LaFerrari. The ball-topped lever clacks into first gear after start-up. H-patterned metal gates are chamfered just so to let the shift rod glide with extra-virgin smoothness. The redheaded V-8 plays peekaboo under a Lexan panel, purring its flat-plane-crank come-on. Just a decade ago, that engine set a historic high for specific V-8 output, coaxing 597 horses from a 4.5-liter displacement.

ralph gilles
Ralph Gilles “What I love about the 458 is its super-quick steering, its very tossable rear end, and the perfect linearity of the naturally aspirated V-8, not to mention the wail of that engine in Race mode near red.”portrait by marina de santis

For Segal’s team, the trickiest bit was unplugging the dual clutch from a deep matrix of Formula 1–based systems—including Ferrari’s first-ever side slip control—without compromising any digital function. Prosaic stuff like shift indicators and reverse lights presented more engineering headaches. In every way, Segal says, “the car is blissfully unaware” that a phantom shifter limb now sprouts from a reworked center console.

Systems amnesia aside, the Ferrari clearly remembers its athletic prowess and accomplished past. Within minutes, I’m conducting this supercar through a slim baton to 9000-rpm climaxes, perspiring like Leonard Bernstein directing virtuoso players. Those soulful shrieks resound through a Speciale cabin that left the factory with no sound deadening or carpeting over its composite floor.

Segal admits his Speciale is objectively slower than the original, with its seven more tightly spaced gears and 100-millisecond changes. But who’s counting time when you’re having so much fun rowing gears and practicing fancy footwork, once-­critical skills now verging on automotive extinction?

ferrari 458 speciale
A three-pedal AP Racing setup replaces the stock 458’s two foot levers.DW Burnett

“You’ve got all the feels of the Speciale, all the visceral sensation, but there’s more of a mental and physical challenge,” he says.

The result is an extra-Speciale Ferrari that deviates from the modern supercar template by not giving up its secrets in the first 10 minutes. Or the first 10 drives. Sounds like perfection to me.

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