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Dream Gifts for Christmas

Sophisticated Games, charismatic cars, evocative books - Dick Suter checks some out

Choosing Christmas gifts, whether to give to others or for letting Father Christmas know what you would like in your stocking, is hardly the work of a moment. So here, to help car buffs especially, are a few ideas.

Psygnosis, the software side of Sony's sophisticated virtual-reality video games, has these past few years launched a whole series of products which test players' abilities and reaction time to the outer limits. Games such as Wipeout and Destruction Derby have achieved enormous popularity. More recently it has launched Colony Wars, Global Domination and World Tour Golf and many of its games are being developed in conjunction with companies like Mircosoft and Disney

'Formula 1 '98' is the latest to be launched and should create a sensation among video games aficionados and car racing freaks. Attention to detail is awesome. You can switch from cockpit to main car shots as you strive to break lap records or overtake the leader. The engine sounds are authentic, 'wheelspin' is evident as you endeavour to regain the track after a high-speed 'off' and even pit stops are included in this latest F1 game.

Like so many electronic games, this one looks relatively simple until you are in the hot-seat. And then you realise just how much practice and determination is required if you're going to be a winner. But like so many other goodies in life, this F1 game is addictive. And there is even a pukka TV team to comment on your progress as you attempt to set record laps. The English language version has the ITV commentaqry team of Murray Walker and ex-F1 star Martin Brundle, while the French soundtrack has TF1's F1 presenters Perre Van Vliet and Catherine Pic, Pierre being Belgium's leading F1-TV journalist. Versions are also available with Finnish, German, Italian and Spanish commentaries.

And, as Sales & Marketing Manager Vincent Kraft de la Sauulx observes, "these electronic games are becoming so life-like in their simulation that perhaps we'll have to supply seat belts in future so that players don't fall out of their seats while they're competing." He's got a point.

Dream Machines

Having spent as much time off the track as on itwhile trying to put a 'lap' together in Psygnosis' new game, it was something of a relief to leave virtual reality behind and drive a real car some minutes later. And what charismatic machines this Ferrari duo were.

First, climb into the supportive bucket seats and delight in the prefect driving position of the exquiite 550 Maranello, and take in its proportions: it's wider than one might imagine and the bonnet is long, as you would expect of a car which is powered by a 5474cc V12 engine.

Such is its engine torque that you don't work-out but it's cleaqr from a short test drive why those who have driven it at or near its limits are so gung-ho about it. Quite possibly the best ever Ferrari.

By now it was time to try the mid-engined F355, loosely based on the 348 but a much more capable car. With its V8 3500cc powerplant mounted between cockpit and rear axle, F1 style, it's an out-and-out sports car and probably the model Ferrari dreames most lust over.

The version tested had the F1 developed paddle-shift sequential gearbox, adding to what is already a gourmet's delight. Easy to operate, you simply pull the paddle mounted behind the right side of the steering wheel for upward changes, pull the paddle on the left side for down-shifts.

It's a six speed box and you don;t even have to lift your foot as you change up a cog. Wonderful, especially for budding Schmis. Roadholding of this classy screamer is, as you might expect, one of the reasons a Ferrari is so sought after.

If your Christmas budget is expensive, head for Garage Francorchamps - located between Brussels and Zaventem. It's the importer of these delectable machines and run by people who love the marque.

Alternatively, should you wish to give an original Christmas treat to your best customers or key members of your management team, you could phone Dirk Baeyens at CRC on 02 743 26 40 or fax him on 02 743 26 41. He can give you details about taking a trio or quartet of Marnello's beauties out for a day, or for a weekend.

Collectors' Books

If your enthusiasm for Ferraris includes books on this supercar, visit one of the better book shyops around. There have been many works on this charismatic marque and the man behind its creation, Enzo Ferrari. If you love great illustrations and are moved by both action and 'atmosphere' pictures, you cannot do better than choose 'Ferrari Formula 1' and 'Ferrari'. Both are sumptuous collections of evocative photos by one of the world's truly great masters of the art, Rainer Schlegelmilch.

The F1 work is a staggering 380 pages of memorable shots, the Ferrari road car pictorial history on equally collectable 384 pages of stunning photos. Hartmut Lehbrink's texts complement the pictures magnificently. Each book is a collector's piece. Should you have problems finding these materpieces fax Rainer Schleglmilch directly on 49 6956 04238 or on the internet at www.schlegelmilchcom.

Smart thinking for Christmas

A few days after sampling the Ferrari duo, it was time to try another two seater, also complete with semi-automatic six-speed 'box. Measuring a mere 2.50 meters in length, the Smart has been purpose designed as the perfect solution to spece and manoeuvrability problems in today's congested cities. It's a neat, pacy little performer but one hour's driving - including finding miniscule spaces to park it in - gave but a taste of what it's capable of.

We'll write more about it in a future issue. But meanwhile, consider it for your stocking-gift list. Prices for this cheeky upstart are from BEF 335,000.

©Dick Suter - December 1998 - (images source - Internationals in Belgium)

Original article appearing in "Internationals in Belgium" Dick Suter was an editor of the magazine and contributor and Ginny Suter was a regular contributor in the late 1990's and 2000's - The magazine had a circulation of 10,000 Please note that this article was first published many years ago and telephone and fax numbers are likely to be out of date and email addresses have been removed.

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