Fri 26 Mar 2010
Maybe the 512 is neither the most practical nor the nimblest of Ferraris, but it still has an almighty presence that shouts Ferrari; 78 inches wide, 44 inches low it still manages to be graceful in its Pininfarina clothes; and with 428 bhp from its flat 12 (boxer) 5 liter midships engine, it is also very fast but user-friendly with it. If Ferrari didn’t keep producing even more exciting but considerably less practical devices like the 288 GTO and the F40/ 50, ‘Berlinetta Boxer’ would have attracted the stronger following which its all-round ability deserves; that those that can afford them don’t usually buy a big Ferrari for its practically and the other offer more short-term exhilaration.
It started life back in 1973 when the Daytona was still in production. Ferrari was never one to leap into new technologies, although the company has always been good at perfecting them once proven – a sound small company philosophy. Thus Ferrari was beaten to the mid-engined road car draw by Lamborghini; such was the caution that both the mid-engined Ferraris were to be shown as styling exercises, well ahead of possible production, as a means of sampling public opinion before taking the plunge.
Its first public airing was at the 1971 Turin Show, two years before the production launch. At the time the Grand Prix and Sports, prototype racing cars were using a 3 liter flat-12 which gave a usefully low centre of gravity. It was a good configuration for a road car, too, giving a low rear deck height for better visibility but it dictated quite a wide car; however Ferrari preferred to keep the masses between the wheel-base and lifted the engine to put the gearbox within the rear of the sump – practically ruled over the last word in handling and the model has lived with that ever since.
While the engine followed the layout of 3 liter, its dimensions and many of its components came from the 365 V-12 Daytona unit, although its camshafts were belt driven; with 344 bhp, it was slightly less powerful than the Daytona with a lower compression ratio but would pull similar speeds – Motor recorded 172 mph.
Its style was unique, neither a big Dino nor a preview of the 308, with matt black below a line from the sharp nose to the rear bumper set under the short stubby tail. Its title was a mouthful 365 GT4BB, Berlinetta Boxer denoting the different layout from that of the 365GT B4 Daytona. The first model was usually known as the Boxer, even though all subsequent models used a boxer engine.
The first update came in 1976; in response to restrictive emission legislation the capacity was increased to 5 liter for no power increase, the engine was fitted with a dry sump, and the rear tyre size was increased – these had been the same size front and rear on the first car – adding also to body width; a front spoiler helped to keep the nose down at high speeds. This became the 512, following the new numbering system of capacity followed by number of cylinders; the fuel injection 512i followed in 1981 again with no power increase.
The first major change came in 1984 with a dramatically revised shape whose major feature was the side strakes leading to intakes for the radiators which had been moved from the front to just ahead of the rear wheels; the front intake stayed as a feed for brake cooling ducts. The 5 liter engine adopted 4 valves per cylinder to recover emission strangled outputs and generated 390 bhp; its heads were painted red to justify the revived Testarossa name. These changes, plus bigger rear tyres, widened the car by six inches, put another two inches in the wheelbase and increased the overall length of five inches – it had become a big car. It was faster too with a maximum speed around 182 mph.
Since then, it had minor styling changes with small power increases. For 1992 the 512TR had 428 bhp and anti-lock brakes, and the front showed a family identity that would be carried across to the 355. only two years later came the 512M, recalling the final version of the late sixties racing GT car, with 440 bhp in slightly less weight, new wheels and a revised front, with headlights now visible behind clear plastic, but the overall shape unchanged from the 512TR. The design has moved with the times, but the times may have overtaken the design.