The Ferrari Barchetta


Once upon a time there was a car made by Ferrari called the Barchetta. This name is supposed to be pronounced “Barketta”, but it became immortalized in the non-Italian-speakig popular mind in 1981 as “Bar-CHetta” (in other words, said exactly as it is spelled in English) because this car was so hot that it became the subject matter for what many people regard as one of the greatest rock songs ever recorded by one of the greatest rock bands ever to formulate. The song was called “Red Barchetta”, and it was recorded by the band Rush.

The writer of the lyrics to “Red Barchetta” were written by Rush drummer Neil Peart, who admits to being a lifelong automotive fan and who today is an avid car diver and motorcycle rider. The song comprises a futuristic sci-fi story in which a tyrannical government enforces something called “The Motor Law” which, it is implied, makes combustion engines violations. The cars and vehicles of this pseudo-Communist future all have to be powered by air-forced turbines.

But an old farmer who lives reclusively out in the countryside “far outside the Wire” (you have to use your imagination) has preserved for his nephew “an old machine for fifty-odd years” that was built “before the Motor Law”, in a time when mankind was still free. The farmer-uncle keeps the car–the red Barchetta–hidden beneath some old debris in his barn, but in fact he maintains it in pristine condition. Every Sunday, his nephew eludes “the Eyes”, steals a ride on board a passing-by turbine freight train, and at the right point leaps from the train and runs to his uncle’s farm. He goes to the barn, strips away the debris, and commits “his weekly crime”: he drives the combustion engine powered red Barchetta across the countryside, the wind in his hair and sensing the “hot metal and oil” beneath his seat. In the story, this time he gets spied by a law enforcement “alloyed air car” who then gets joined by a second one, and militant law enforcement men are after the joyfully racing law breaker. But, presumably by virtue of its being the superior vehicle, the red Barchetta outruns the air cars until driving over a one-lane bridge that the air cars are too large to follow over. Unable to be tracked from that point on, the nephew in his uncle’s classic Ferrari races “back to the farm to dream with” his uncle next to the fireplace in the old farmhouse.

Neil Peart made the car in this brilliant lyric a red Barchetta because of what a magnificent vehicle it was–and is again, as it was re-introduced and updated by Ferrari in the mid-1990s. The car was originally built in the late 1940s through the very early 1960s, and its name is Italian for “little boat”. It had a removable top and was truly meant to be driven topless except in inclement weather. It was inspired by the Italian two-seat sports car model actually intended for racing. Consequently, its wind-resistance was minimized as extremely as possible, and the car was kept as light as possible (no wonder it outran those giant, turbine-driven alloy air cars). The Barchetta was also a minimalist’s dream: in order to keep it as fast and easy to handle as possible, it was engineered almost purely for performance. All unnecessary luxuries and equipment were kept out of its design and make. The reintroduced Ferrari Barchetta, the 550, listed for new at $245,000.